ASEE Board Recognizes Physics as Vital to Engineering Education

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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

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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

Capitol Hill Quarterly Newsletter Features Op-ed by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, story on Jefferson Science Fellows

Check out the latest edition of Capitol Hill Quarterly newsletter, which features an op-ed by U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, and stories on the Jefferson Science Fellows and recent CNSF exhibit.

APS President Testifies on DHS S&T; Recommends Changes

Aronson Prez Pic

(Credit: aps.org)

APS President Sam Aronson testified today before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee on the lack of transparency with the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, as well as its failure to seek advice from academia or non-governmental actors regarding research activities.

Aronson spoke before the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies. Titled “Examining DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Engagement with Academia and Industry,” the hearing included witnesses from the Homeland Security and Defense Business Council and the Security Industry Association (SIA).

Subcommittee Chairman John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, and Subcommittee Chairman and Ranking Member Cedric Richmond, D-La, asked questions pertaining to the work of the directorate. In addition, subcommittee members Curt Clawson, R-Fla, and James Langevin, D-RI, questioned witnesses on the topic.

Aronson DHS S&T

(Credit: Chris Schepis)

Here are key highlights from Aronson’s testimony:

  • The S&T Advisory Committee should be expanded to embrace a broader and more balanced membership, reflective of DHS’s diverse scientific and technological needs.
  • An expanded Advisory Committee should play a more proactive role in providing outside advice to the Under Secretary for Science and Technology.
  • The Under Secretary should make greater use of the Advisory Committee, actively seeking advice, commissioning studies and requesting assistance with long-term planning from people who are not part of his or her inner circle.
  • The Advisory Committee should conduct its work in a more transparent manner, with meetings open to the public, to the extent feasible, and unclassified documents posted on the DHS website on a timely basis so that the public and members of Congress can easily access them.
  • The charter of the Advisory Committee should be sharpened to provide a more detailed description of its scope and expected outcomes

Read Aronson’s full testimony:

“Chairman Ratcliffe, Ranking Member Richmond and members of the Subcommittee, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate and its interactions with the scientific community.

I am a nuclear physicist and currently serve as president of the American Physical Society, representing more than 50,000 physicists in universities, industry and national laboratories. From 2006 until 2012, I was director of Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), where I now direct the RIKEN BNL Research Center.

As Brookhaven’s director, I oversaw the operation of a multipurpose research institution with world-class facilities and an outstanding staff possessing broad scientific and technological expertise, spanning the life sciences, the physical sciences and engineering. Brookhaven’s portfolio extends from discovery-driven research, such as studies of the birth of the universe, to applied research, such as exploration of energy technologies and problems relevant to national and homeland security.

Although I personally have had somewhat limited direct experience with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I have known many scientists who have attempted to engage with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. And their experiences have been mixed, at best. Unlike other federal agencies that have research missions, DHS to the outside world suffers from a lack of transparency and a culture that that does not encourage input from our nation’s outstanding science and technology community. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Like other federal agencies with science and technology mandates, DHS has an advisory committee that is intended to help the department develop and manage its S&T portfolio. But, from all appearances, it is quite dysfunctional. Other agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, with which I am very familiar, use their committees to solicit ideas, connect with the science and technology community and develop programming that help the agencies accomplish their missions. The advisory committees are broadly based scientifically, meet frequently in open sessions, provide opportunities for public commentary and make their recommendations widely known.

By contrast, the DHS S&T Advisory Committee comprises only six members drawn from a narrow, parochial community. It meets infrequently, almost always in closed session, and does not make its recommendations easily accessible to interested parties. By allowing the committee to operate in such a fashion, DHS is missing an opportunity to engage the best scientific and technical minds to help the department achieve its goals.

The department’s core missions are daunting: preventing terrorism and enhancing security; securing and managing our borders; enforcing and administering our immigration laws; safeguarding and securing cyberspace; and ensuring resilience to disasters. Each one of them requires the best science and technology the nation can muster. Collectively, they require scientific contributions from a multiplicity of disciplines. The present composition and operation of the S&T Advisory Committee is shortchanging the department and needlessly placing Americans at future risk.

What should be done?

First, the S&T Advisory Committee should be expanded to embrace a broader and more balanced membership, reflective of DHS’s diverse scientific and technological needs.

Second, an expanded Advisory Committee should play a more proactive role in providing outside advice to the Under Secretary for Science and Technology.

Third, the Under Secretary should make greater use of the Advisory Committee, actively seeking advice, commissioning studies and requesting assistance with long-term planning from people who are not part of his or her inner circle.

Fourth, the Advisory Committee should conduct its work in a more transparent manner, with meetings open to the public, to the extent feasible, and unclassified documents posted on the DHS website on a timely basis so that the public and members of Congress can easily access them.

Finally, the charter of the Advisory Committee should be sharpened to provide a more detailed description of its scope and expected outcomes.

In transforming the Advisory Committee, the DHS Science and Technology Directorate should take a cue from other federal agencies that depend on research and development in fulfilling their missions. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science and the Department of Defense provide two good examples.

The DOE Office of Science relies on six committees – comprising 15 to 24 members each – that follow procedures established by the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, with each committee representing a balance of viewpoints and diversity of backgrounds. The Department of Defense relies principally on one advisory committee, the Defense Science Board (DSB) with 32 external members chosen on the basis of their preeminence in the fields of science and technology relevant to the DOD mission.

A DHS S&T Advisory Committee more robustly constituted would help the directorate maintain continuity in its programming, better capture the expertise of the nation’s research community and instill greater confidence in its work.

Thank you. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.”

A new tax policy could help more companies invest in long-term research

In his latest Roll Call column, APS Director of Public Affairs Michael S. Lubell writes about how a new tax policy could lead to more companies investing in long-term research.

Bridging the Innovation Valley of Death

Is Wall Street’s influence in corporate boardrooms killing America’s innovation future? There’s a good case to be made that it is, and that it’s getting worse. But Congress can do something about it when it rewrites the tax code.

Just a few weeks ago, the Senate Finance Committee released more than 1,400 policy recommendations it had received. There’s one more it should consider: changing the rules on capital gains and stock options. Here’s why.

In the heady days following the end of World War II as the baby boomers were just emerging on the scene, American exceptionalism was at its zenith. AT&T, Chrysler, Ford, DuPont, GE, GM, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, RCA, Texas Instruments, Westinghouse, Xerox — the list is far too long to enumerate — were not only iconic corporate names, they were also powerhouses of research and development. The transistor, the laser, power steering, xerography, color TV, large-scale integrated circuits, high-speed computers and Teflon all trace their origin to industrial R&D of that era.

Read entire column

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