APS welcomes new STEM-Ed Fellow

APS is excited to welcome Ramon Barthelemy, the 2015 APS/AIP STEM-Ed Fellow, who will be working on STEM programs in the U.S. Department of Education. Ramon received his B.S. in 2010 in astrophysics from Michigan State University and Ph.D. in 2014 in science education from Western Michigan University. During the 2014-2015 academic year, he served as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, conducting research on gender issues in physics. Ramon has a long history of service within the physics community, most recently as a member of the AAPT Committee on Women, the APS Committee on LGBT Issues in Physics, and on the national working group for LGBT+ Physicists. He will begin his fellowship September 2015. The APS/AIP STEM-Ed Fellowship is a part of the AAAS Executive branch Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowships.

Comprehensive Senate Energy Bill Approved by Committee

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 with bipartisan support (18-4 vote) last week, after three days of markup and the approval of several amendments. Both Republicans and Democrats issued press releases.

Included in the comprehensive package were portions of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “E-Competes Act,” which authorizes 4 percent annual increases for DOE’s Office of Science and ARPA-E for five years. Additionally, the bill directs DOE to establish at least two partnerships – between industry, academia and national laboratories – for the research and development of exascale computing.

Other provisions in the bill that may be of interest to APS members include:

  • Helium: The U.S. government would continue its exit from the helium business. The bill would grant to the lessee of a natural gas well “a right of first refusal to engage in exploration for, and the development and production of, helium on land that is subject to the lease…” An accepted amendment offered by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) would require that environmental reviews for helium-related projects be completed on an expeditious basis.
  • Critical Minerals: Lisa Murkowski’s American Mineral Security Act of 2015 is included in the legislation. This section of the bill would establish R&D programs to promote efficient production, use and recycling of critical minerals and to develop alternatives. It would also call for the U.S. Geological Survey to establish forecasting capabilities for critical mineral reliance, recycling, price, etc., although the focus would be largely domestic. Additionally, Murkowski aims to reduce permitting time with a number of new requirements to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal permitting and review processes.
  • Energy Efficiency: Both parties tout the bill’s provisions to improve energy efficiency, including a smart buildings initiative and provisions of Portman-Shaheen. However, the bill also repeals several measures, such as the residential energy efficiency standards study and the procurement and identification of energy efficient products program.

Although the bill passing out of committee marks the first step of broad energy policy reform in eight years, putting too much stock into the legislation reaching the president’s desk is premature. There is no timetable for the bill to be heard on the Senate floor, and intel suggests several senators would require additional amendments to secure their votes. Additionally, the House is working on its own, less comprehensive, energy bill.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to track legislation impacting its membership and to advocate for their interests.

From NPR’s Science Friday: Interns at national labs do real science

Summertime usually means a lot of internships for eager students across the country. In some cases,
they are relegated to menial tasks such as making copies, running errands and filing papers.
Not so at the national science laboratories.
NPR’s Science Friday produced a story on interns at Brookhaven National Laboratory where they are working on projects that affect solar cells and superconducting magnets, among other scientific topics.
Photo credit: NPR’s Science Friday
Read the story

ASEE Board Recognizes Physics as Vital to Engineering Education


The Board of Directors for the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) recently adopted the following statement:
The ASEE Board endorses the recognition that academic preparation for high school students hoping to complete a college degree in engineering or engineering technology should include a full year each of chemistry, physics, and mathematics. The year of mathematics should be at least to the pre-calculus level; a year of calculus is preferred.

Engineering, which relies on the fundamental principles of physics, provides a rewarding career pathway and is a vital cog in America’s innovation economy. With the jobs of the future demanding even greater science proficiency, we have much work to do. In 2013, for example, only 1.37 percent of high school graduates took and passed the AP Physics B exam; and just 0.78 percent passed the AP Physics C exam. These rates are simply unacceptable in a 21st century economy dependent on a STEM-educated workforce.

To address the alarming statistics, it is essential that high schools offer physics courses ubiquitously, and that they recruit highly qualified instructors to teach them. We need solidarity between educators in different STEM disciplines to make the kinds of changes in K-12 education that will equip students to find jobs in an innovation economy.

The ASEE board just took a great step in the right direction, and APS looks forward to working with ASEE on other education issues in the future.

DCMP Chair-Elect Promotes APS Helium Initiatives at Congressional Hearing

Credit: Karen Sullivan

Professor Halperin during his testimony. (Credit: Karen Sullivan)

“For many scientists, including me, liquid helium is our professional lifeblood,” stated William Halperin, professor of physics at Northwestern University and chair-elect of APS’s Division of Condensed Matter Physics, during his testimony to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

Halperin was joined by four other witnesses – Anne-Marie Fennell (U.S. Government Accountability Office); David Joyner (Air Liquide); Walter Nelson (Air Products & Chemicals); and Tim Spisak (Bureau of Land Management) – who testified during the subcommittee’s July 8 oversight hearing on The Helium Stewardship Act and the Path Forward.

The Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 (Act) averted the pending shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve and allowed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to continue to manage its operations until 2021, the new date established for the reserve’s permanent closure. The act also aimed to develop a competitive domestic helium market, but two years after it was signed into law, there are questions surrounding BLM’s implementation and interpretation of the act.

While the hearing was mostly focused on how BLM can improve and expand competition in the domestic helium market, Halperin informed the committee on the importance of liquid helium to the scientific community, the community’s concerns regarding its availability, and steps APS is taking to help academic researchers. Briefly, his testimony highlighted:

  • The impacts of helium’s volatility, both in price and availability, on the scientific community.
  • The early success of the helium brokerage APS launched via a partnership with the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). The program has produced savings for all enrollees and helped some researchers gain access to liquid helium for the first time.
  • The need for academics to reduce their helium demand going forward. APS, ACS and the Materials Research Society are beginning a joint study aimed at determining the best path forward for transitioning as many academic researchers as possible to systems that recycle and reliquefy helium.
  • The benefits in keeping the Federal Helium Reserve open beyond 2021, noting the impact to the research community could be immeasurable.

Halperin’s testimony can be read in full here.

U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) showed particular interest in Halperin’s message, using all of her initial five-minute allotment for questions to follow-up on his testimony. Lummis’ questions enabled Halperin to further discuss the importance of stability in both price and supply of liquid helium for the scientific community.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to lead efforts to help alleviate the issues academic researchers face with liquid helium procurement. For more information on the liquid helium brokerage or other APS activities concerning liquid helium, please contact Mark Elsesser, APS senior policy analyst, elsesser@aps.org

Wonder and awe for cheap: New Horizons


Three billion miles and nine-and-a-half years ago, NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to explore our solar system. Today, New Horizons will snap close up pictures of Pluto and send those pictures back to earth, a journey that will take four-and-a-half hours at the speed of light. And the world is tuning in, with huge amounts of media coverage. The Internet, including the popular website Reddit, is exploding with news.

We are all very excited about New Horizons! But that excitement is coupled with wonder about what the future will bring and how NASA will manage to generate wonder and awe with an ever decreasing budget. Case in point: Construction on the New Horizons spacecraft began in 2003, when the NASA budget was $18.9B in constant 2014 dollars. And now? NASA’s budget has shrunk by more than a billion dollars to a projected $17.6B in 2016.

NASA has a great history of doing awe-inspiring science. To pass down that history to future generations, Congress must chart a new, upward course for NASA’s budget.

Senators seek input on how to improve R&D, innovation

South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner recently teamed up for an op-ed in The Hill Newspaper, outlining a plan  to gather input from the scientific community on ways to improve R&D, innovation.

Read the piece.

APS Member Chris Jeffrey writes Houston Chronicle op-ed about science, innovation

APS Member Chris Jeffrey, a recent graduate of the University of Texas in Denton, recently wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, supporting the Energy Title of the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act, which would put the nation back on a path of robust scientific research and innovation.

APS joins more than 250 groups, CEOs in call for stronger investment in R&D

Scientific research has paid huge dividends to our nation in the form of innovations that include the Internet, MRI, iPhone, GPS and many more. Today, APS joined with concerned businesses and CEOs who support improved federal policies and stronger investment in research and development. Spread the word on social media. Use the hashtag #innovationimperative. Read the press release.

APS criticizes proposed 7% cut to Department of Defense Research Budget

U.S. Department of Defense research funding is responsible for equipment that keeps soldiers safe on the battlefield and technologies that have revolutionized our lives.
Read more


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