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The Week of November 15, 2021

What’s Ahead

Three methods of fusion

A graphic depicting three methods for achieving fusion, created as part of a new website that showcases U.S. fusion programs.

(Image credit – Ana Kova for U.S. Fusion Outreach, CC BY 4.0)

Science Committee Rallies for Fusion Research

The House Science Committee is holding a hearing on Wednesday on ways to foster a “new era” in fusion energy research and technology development. Among the witnesses is University of California, Los Angeles physics professor Troy Carter, who led the development of a long-range plan for fusion and plasma science programs that are funded by the Department of Energy. Completed early this year, the plan recommended that DOE “pivot” its fusion program toward technology R&D and proposed facilities needed to prepare for building a pilot fusion power plant in the U.S. by the 2040s. However, those recommendations have not yet led DOE to seek a budget increase for fusion, disappointing members of the planning committee as well as Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). The committee has shown bipartisan interest in boosting funding for fusion and attached provisions to the Energy Act of 2020 directing DOE to establish several new fusion initiatives, which House Democrats have proposed to fund through their Build Back Better Act spending legislation. The other witnesses for this week’s hearing are Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Director Steven Cowley, U.S. ITER Project Office Director Kathryn McCarthy, Commonwealth Fusion Systems CEO Robert Mumgaard, and Tammy Ma, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility. NIF nearly achieved the milestone of fusion ignition in an experiment this August, prompting Johnson to urge DOE to establish a program that explores ways of generating energy from inertial fusion.

Build Back Better Act, NDAA, and USICA Pack Congress’ Agenda

With President Biden set to sign the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at a ceremony on Monday, Congress’ attention is turning to other items on its crowded schedule. The Build Back Better Act, Democrats’ nearly $2 trillion partisan spending bill, is awaiting a vote in the House, with some Democratic members saying they will not vote for it until the Congressional Budget Office provides estimates that affirm the legislation’s fiscal impacts are in line with the White House’s proposed framework. As action on that bill occupies the House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced over the weekend that the Senate will “likely” begin floor consideration of the annual National Defense Authorization Act this week. He also indicated the Senate “may” attach the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to the NDAA, stating that “there seems to be fairly broad support for doing so, which would enable a USICA negotiation with the House to be completed alongside NDAA before the end of the year.” USICA recommends Congress ramp up research funding by billions of dollars over a course of five years, much of it through a new technology-oriented National Science Foundation directorate. The Senate already passed USICA this summer but it has stalled in the House, in part due to debate over how much to strengthen research security policies. The bill is a signature initiative of Schumer and also includes $52 billion in direct funding for semiconductor research and manufacturing initiatives. As of Monday, senators had proposed more than 600 amendments to the NDAA, the full texts of which are posted here .

Weather and Wildfire Bills, NIST and NOAA Nominees on Deck

The House Science Committee is holding a meeting on Tuesday to advance two bipartisan bills specific to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a Democrat-backed bill that would establish an interagency wildfire R&D program. The PRECIP Act would direct NOAA to better incorporate climate considerations into precipitation models and the NOAA Weather Radio Modernization Act would require it to improve its severe weather alert system. The National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act addresses issues spanning observation, forecasting, and mitigation activities that the committee previously discussed at a hearing in July.

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee is meeting to advance several bills, including the bipartisan Learning Excellence and Good Examples from New Developers (LEGEND) Act , which would require NOAA to make the code underlying certain operational Earth system models available to the public. At the same meeting, the committee will vote on whether to advance the nomination of Laurie Locascio to direct the National Institute of Standards and Technology. A bioengineer who spent most of her career at NIST, Locascio rose through the agency’s ranks to oversee all laboratory programs across its campuses in Maryland and Colorado and is currently the vice president for research at the University of Maryland’s College Park and Baltimore campuses. In addition, the committee will hold a hearing to review several other nominations, including that of climate policy expert Jainey Bavishi as deputy NOAA administrator and Jessica Rosenworcel as chair of the Federal Communications Commission.

Nuclear Science Panel Discussing Long-Range Objectives

The Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, which serves the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, is meeting on Tuesday. The agenda includes a discussion of the prospects for building a “ton-scale” experiment to detect a neutrinoless double beta decay, one of the highest-priority recommendations in the long-range plan the committee completed in 2015. If found to exist, the decay would indicate the neutrino is its own antiparticle, opening an investigative pathway into poorly understood physical phenomena, including the excess of matter over antimatter in the universe. DOE anticipates the experiment would cost nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to build and Tim Hallman, who leads DOE’s Nuclear Physics program, said earlier this year that funding the effort could prove “challenging.” At this week’s meeting, the committee will also hold a discussion looking ahead to its next long-range planning process. In addition, it will hear an update on the Nuclear Physics program’s pilot diversity program , which is funding undergraduate traineeships to help diversify the nuclear physics community.

Academies Holding Joint Meeting of Space and Physics Boards

The National Academies Space Studies Board and Board on Physics and Astronomy are holding a joint meeting this Monday through Thursday. Conversation surrounding the new decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics will continue, following some initial discussion last week at another Academies meeting . NASA Astrophysics Division Director Paul Hertz said at that meeting that he plans to present the agency’s initial response to the survey at the American Astronomical Society’s January meeting and that NASA will release its full response toward the end of 2022. Other items on the agenda include a discussion on Wednesday with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about the company’s Starship rocket, which NASA is set to use as a lunar lander. On Thursday, the physics and astronomy board will hear presentations on recent National Academies studies that recommended strategies for bolstering U.S. programs in fusion energy development and plasma science , followed by a presentation from leaders of the National Ignition Facility on “challenges and opportunities” following its breakthrough inertial fusion experiment in August.

In Case You Missed It

Glasgow climate pact meeting

COP26 President Alok Sharma, at right, discusses a draft version of the Glasgow Climate Pact. (Image credit – UNFCCC)

Coal ‘Down’ But Not ‘Out’ in COP26 Pact

The COP26 United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, concluded over the weekend with nearly 200 countries agreeing to a final statement laying out a path for constraining global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. A last-minute wording change proposed by India threw the final discussions past the conference’s official ending time and resulted in the statement calling for a “phasing down” in the use of coal rather than a “phasing out.” COP26 President Alok Sharma appeared frustrated with the situation on Saturday, saying , “May I just say to all delegates I apologize for the way this process has unfolded and I am deeply sorry.” Other elements of the pact include agreements on the operations of carbon markets, language on improving transparency in emissions accounting, and a recommendation that countries “at least double” adaptation-focused financial support for developing countries, especially those that are highly vulnerable to climate change. The conference’s outcome disappointed activists and led some climate scientists to express concern that actions agreed to will be insufficient to meet necessary emissions reduction targets.

Following the negotiations, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said , “The approved texts ... reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions, and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions. As I said at the opening, we must accelerate action to keep the 1.5 degree goal alive.” A press release from the White House similarly committed to keep the 1.5 degree goal “alive” and outlined various new initiatives to emerge from the conference, including a bilateral commitment with China to collaborate on reducing methane emissions and phasing down coal usage, and the launch of the First Movers Coalition , a group of companies committed to spurring the commercialization of emerging technologies needed to fight climate change.

Physics Societies Issue Calls to Action on Climate

Last week, 12 physics societies from around the world, including the American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, and Optica, released a joint statement on “the role of physics in delivering the global green economy.” They call for physicists worldwide to work to combat climate change and outline three associated “fundamentals for ongoing scientific breakthroughs and innovations”: using a multidisciplinary approach, supporting policies that enable scientists to work across national borders, and creating a diverse and inclusive workforce. Separately, Optica organized a summit in Glasgow on new technologies for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from cities, and the American Physical Society revised its statement on climate change, identifying human activities as the “dominant driver” of global warming. The society’s last major statement on the topic, released in 2015, used more equivocal language , such as “natural sources of climate variability are significant,” and “the magnitudes of future effects are uncertain.” APS President Jim Gates said, “Physicists have been essential to advancing our understanding of the climate system and humanity’s impact on it. With this new statement, APS renews its call for sustained research in climate science and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” (APS and Optica are AIP Member Societies.)

NASA Revises Lunar Exploration Plans

At a press event on Nov. 9, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson outlined schedule delays and cost increases facing the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program. He said the first, uncrewed launch of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft is on track for February, but that the agency has pushed back a crewed mission around the Moon from April 2023 to May 2024, while a crewed landing previously targeted for 2024 will now take place “no earlier than 2025.” He also noted that there will be an uncrewed test landing prior to the crewed mission. The head of NASA’s human exploration systems development directorate, Jim Free, said a “clearer picture” of the target date awaits further discussions with the company SpaceX, which is developing a crewed lander for the mission. Although NASA awarded SpaceX a contract for the lander in April, legal challenges to the award prevented NASA from engaging with the company until this month . (An audit NASA’s Office of Inspector General released on Nov. 15 projects that the agency “will exceed [the] timetable for landing humans on the Moon in late 2024 by several years.”) Concerning budgets, Nelson disclosed that NASA has raised the baseline estimate for Orion’s total development cost to $9.3 billion, up almost 40% over the previous figure of $6.7 billion. He also said that NASA’s fiscal year 2023 budget request will include funding for a second crewed lander that could be used on later missions, citing strong congressional interest in the matter. Nelson indicated NASA would require $5.7 billion over six years to fund a two-lander program.

Science Committee Seeks PCAST Spectrum Study

House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) sent a letter to the White House on Nov. 5 that recommends the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology undertake a study on protecting radio-spectrum access for scientific applications. They cite concerns that expanding uses of spectrum for telecommunications applications could interfere with weather forecasting activities as well as Earth science and astronomy research that rely on sensitive observations at specific radio wavelengths. They argue the study is necessary to inform domestic and international spectrum management decisions, and that the U.S. government should develop “unified, pro-science policy positions” on the uses of spectrum ahead of the next World Radiocommunication Conference in November 2023. “A clear message from PCAST would also empower OSTP and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to advocate for science spectrum needs more effectively,” they write. Johnson and Lucas have kept a focus on spectrum-allocation issues since 2019 and held a hearing this past summer at which witnesses urged reforms that would give scientific users better access to decision-making processes in federal spectrum management.

Events This Week

All times are Eastern Daylight Time and all congressional hearings are webcast, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement.

Monday, November 15

SC21: Annual supercomputing conference
(continues through Friday)

AAAS: “Science and Technology Policy Leadership Seminar”
(continues through Thursday)

National Academies: Space Studies Board fall meeting
(continues through Wednesday)

Small Business Administration: Inaugural Innovation Ecosystem Summit
(continues through Wednesday)

NASA: Planetary Science Advisory Committee
meeting (continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “Convergent Manufacturing Platform: A Future of Additive Subtractive and Transformative Manufacturing”
(continues Nov. 19 and 22)

Progressive Policy Institute: “American IT Innovation Under Threat: Restrictive Legislation and Global Competition”
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

National Academies: “Laying the Foundation for New and Advanced Nuclear Reactors in the United States: National Reactor Innovation Center”
1:00 - 2:15 pm

Brookings Institution: “The Future of America’s Defense Industrial Base”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

National Academies: Polar Research Board fall meeting, day one
3:00 - 5:00 pm

National Academies: “U.S. Global Change Research Program Pilot Listening Session: Health”
3:30 - 5:00 pm

Yale Physics: “Old Divisions and New Realms: Physics Across Borders”
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Tuesday, November 16

National Academies: “Developing a Long-Term Strategy for Low-Dose Radiation Research in the United States,” meeting five
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: “Workshop on Laboratory Automation and Accelerated Synthesis: Empowering Tomorrow’s Chemist”
(continues Wednesday)

STAT: Annual Summit (continues through Thursday)

House: Meeting to advance wildfire and weather legislation
10:00 am, Science Committee

Commerce Department: Environmental Technologies Trade Advisory Committee meeting
10:00 am - 5:00 pm

DOE/NSF: Nuclear Science Advisory Committee meeting
10:00 am - 5:15 pm

House: “Plugging in Public Lands: Transmission Infrastructure for Renewable Energy”
10:00 am, Natural Resources Committee

Senate: “Domestic and International Energy Price Trends”
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee (366 Dirksen Office Building)

House: “National Security Implications of Climate Change in the Arctic”
10:00 am, Foreign Affairs Committee

Atlantic Council: “The Role of Minerals in U.S. Transportation Electrification Goals,” report launch
10:00 am

American Security Project: “A New Mission: Mainstreaming Climate Adaptation in DOD”
10:00 - 11:30 am

House: “Securing America’s Future: Supply Chain Solutions for a Clean Energy Economy”
10:30 am, Energy and Commerce Committee (2123 Rayburn Office Building)

Hudson Institute: “Is a Nuclear Iran Inevitable?”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

CSPO: “True Stories That Matter: Applying Creative Nonfiction to Science and Policy Writing”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

National Academies: “Mentorship Matters: Supporting the Careers of Women in STEM”
1:00 - 2:30 pm

National Academies: “University of the Virgin Islands Virtual Town Hall: Successes in STEM Education, Research, and Workforce Preparedness”
1:00 - 3:00 pm

CSBA: “A Conversation on the History and Future of Arms Control”
2:00 - 3:00 pm

CSIS: “Building Blocks for a Hydrogen Economy”
3:00 - 4:00 pm

APS: “Scientific Collaboration Across Borders”
3:00 - 4:00 pm

National Academies: “The Mysteries of Havana Syndrome”
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Wednesday, November 17

White House: Environmental Justice Advisory Council meeting
(continues Thursday)

National Academies: Physics and Astronomy Board fall meeting
(continues Thursday)

National Academies: Marine Board fall meeting
(continues Thursday)

Stimson Center: “Hashing the Atom: Exploring Blockchain Solutions for Global Security”
(continues Thursday)

House: “Fostering a New Era of Fusion Energy Research and Technology Development”
10:00 am, Science Committee

Senate: Meeting to advance LEGEND Act, NIST director nominee
10:00 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

Senate: Hearing on nomination of Jainey Kumar Bavishi as NOAA deputy administrator
10:00 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

House: “Examining the Implementation of COVID-19 Education Funds”
10:15 am, Education and Labor Committee

National Academies: “Advising NSF on its Efforts to Achieve the Nation’s Vision for the Materials Genome Initiative,” meeting 14
10:00 am - 4:00 pm

US–China Commission: Annual report release
10:30 am

House: “U.S. Role in Global COVID-19 Vaccine Equity”
10:30 am, Appropriations Committee

AAAS: “The Social Responsibilities of Scientists and Engineers: A View from Within”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Baker Institute: “Scientists Developing Policy: Views from OSTP”
12:00 - 1:00 pm, CST

NITRD: “From Exascale to Quantum and Beyond: The Future of Federal HPC R&D”
12:15 - 1:15 pm CST

National Academies: “Anticipatory Research for EPA’s R&D Enterprise to Inform Future Environmental Protection: The Road Ahead,” meeting nine
1:00 - 5:00 pm

Arms Control Association: “China’s Nuclear Expansion: The Challenges, Implications, and Risk Reduction Options”
2:00 - 3:30 pm

House: “Combating Coronavirus Cons and the Monetization of Misinformation”
2:00 pm, Oversight and Reform Committee (2154 Rayburn Office Building)

AIP: “Physics Identity: Empowering African American Undergraduates in Building their Physics Identities”
3:00 - 4:45 pm

Asian American Scholar Forum: “Managing Academic Collaborations with Chinese Institutions at U.S. Universities”
8:00 - 9:30 pm

Thursday, November 18

House: “Tribal Voices, Tribal Wisdom: Strategies for the Climate Crisis”
9:30 am, Climate Crisis Committee (210 Cannon Office Building)

Senate: “Inclusive Disaster Management: Improving Preparedness, Response, and Recovery”
9:30 am, Special Committee on Aging (562 Dirksen Office Building)

Senate: “Vaccine Diplomacy in Latin America and the Caribbean: The Importance of U.S. Engagement”
10:00 am, Foreign Relations Committee (419 Dirksen Office Building)

Bureau of Industry and Security: Materials and Equipment Technical Advisory Committee meeting
10:00 am

USRA: “Landing Sites and Capabilities for Future CLPS Deliveries”
10:00 am - 4:00 pm

EESI: “Recap of COP26: Key Outcomes and What Comes Next”
10:30 am - 12:00 pm

National Academies: “U.S. Global Change Research Program Pilot Listening Session: Energy”
12:00 - 1:30 pm

New America: “Creating an AI Bill of Rights for Automated Society”
2:00 - 3:15 pm

Atlantic Council: “State of the Space Industrial Base 2021: Building Space Infrastructure and Services for Security and Prosperity”
3:00 - 5:00 pm

National Academies: “Climate Conversations: Decarbonizing the Health Sector”
3:00 - 4:00 pm

National Academies: “Review of FCC Order 20-48 Authorizing Operation of a Terrestrial Radio Network Near the GPS Frequency Bands”
5:00 - 7:00 pm

NSPN/ESEP: Science policy happy hour
6:00 pm

Friday, November 19

NSPN: Annual National Science Policy Symposium
(continues Saturday)

National Academies: Energy and Environmental Systems Board fall meeting
8:00 am - 3:00 pm

National Academies: “Post-Exascale Computing for the National Nuclear Security Administration,” kickoff meeting
12:00 - 2:00 pm

Springer Nature/National Academies: “Science on the Hill: Climate, Jobs, and the Economy”
1:00 - 2:00 pm

National Academies: Polar Research Board fall meeting, day two
2:00 - 5:00 pm

Washington Post: “A New Call to Action,” with DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins
2:30 pm

Atlantic Council: “The Future of Fusion Technology in the U.S.”
2:30 - 3:30 pm

Sunday, November 21

Wilson Center: Polar Law Symposium
(continues through Tuesday)

Monday, November 22

IOP: Physics and the Green Economy Summit
(continues through Thursday)

IAEA: “Pushing for Fusion Energy — What is Happening Now?”
11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Opportunities

OSTP Seeking Input on Orbital Debris R&D Plan

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is seeking comments on the interagency Orbital Debris Research and Development Plan released at the end of the Trump administration. OSTP plans to publish an implementation roadmap for the plan in 2022. Comments are due Dec. 31.

NSF Hiring Director for Atmospheric Sciences Division

The National Science Foundation is seeking a director for its Atmospheric and Geospace Science Division, which funds basic research on the Earth’s atmosphere and its interactions with the Sun. Applicants must have a doctoral degree or similar level of experience in a relevant field. Applications are due Nov. 29.

National Academies Hiring Director for Lab Assessments Board

The National Academies is hiring a director for its Laboratory Assessments Board, which reviews the “technical quality of the work and staff at federal laboratories, as well as the adequacy of resources at those laboratories.” Applicants should have a doctoral degree in a science or engineering field and ten years of related experience.

For additional opportunities, please visit www.aip.org/fyi/opportunities . Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

Know of an upcoming science policy event either inside or outside the Beltway? Email us at fyi@aip.org .

Around the Web

News and views currently in circulation. Links do not imply endorsement.

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