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WEEK OF OCT 9, 2023
What’s Ahead

Psyche Assembly

Technicians attach the Psyche spacecraft to a payload fitting for a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket that will launch the mission to rendezvous with an asteroid.

(Kim Shiflett / NASA)

Psyche Asteroid Mission Set for Launch

Psyche, NASA’s mission to study an unusual metal-rich asteroid of the same name, is targeted for launch as early as Thursday from Kennedy Space Center. Further launch opportunities are available daily through Oct. 25. The mission was originally supposed to launch in summer 2022 but missed its launch window when issues with its navigational software could not be fully resolved in time. Subsequently, an independent review linked the delay to staff shortages across Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the center responsible for the mission, leading NASA to delay a Venus mission that JPL is also set to develop. A follow-up assessment reported in May that JPL’s response to the review had been “outstanding” and that Psyche was on track. However, shortly before this year’s launch window opened on Oct. 5, mission personnel found a subcontractor had provided incorrect data related to the spacecraft’s thrusters. The problem was discovered “by weird chance,” according to mission lead Lindy Elkins-Tanton, and with a rapid fix available the spacecraft has now been rolled out to the launch pad. At about $1.2 billion, Psyche is pushing the upper cost limit of NASA’s Discovery Program, which typically supports relatively inexpensive missions. It is scheduled to reach its destination in 2029, three years later than originally planned.

Mars Advisory Panel to Discuss Sample Return Review

On Friday, an expert panel that advises NASA on its Mars science portfolio is scheduled to discuss the independent review of the agency’s flagship Mars Sample Return mission that was released on Sept. 21. According to the review, NASA can expect the mission to cost somewhere between $8 billion and $11 billion, which is billions of dollars higher than previously released estimates. The review also found there is a “near zero probability” the mission will meet its target launch schedule. The discussion will be started by former NASA official Orlando Figueroa, who led the review, followed by current NASA officials who will outline how the agency is responding. NASA Planetary Science Division Director Lori Glaze will then address the review’s implications for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and the division as a whole. Finally, the co-chairs of the recent National Academies decadal survey for planetary science, which ranked Mars Sample Return as its top priority, will discuss the survey’s language on the mission. The advisory panel will shift its meeting to Oct. 20 if the launch of NASA’s Psyche mission is pushed past Thursday, as launch preparations would keep key agency officials from attending.

NRC Kicks off Fusion Regulation Meetings

This week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is kicking off a series of public meetings to discuss proposed rules for fusion energy systems. Congress has directed NRC to establish a regulatory framework for fusion energy systems by the end of 2027, and last week NRC released draft language that would modify existing byproduct material rules to incorporate requirements for fusion reactor licensing, waste disposal, and environmental reporting for fusion systems deployed in the near-term. NRC decided earlier this year to regulate near-term fusion systems as byproduct material facilities rather than under the framework used for fission power reactors, though it may revisit this approach if future fusion reactor designs present additional hazards. NRC staff are aiming to have a proposed rule ready for commission approval by early 2025. The first public comment session will be held on Wednesday, with additional sessions on Nov. 1 and Nov. 9.

National Academies to Host AI Policy Workshops

The National Academies will host a workshop this Thursday and Friday on the potential role of AI as “an autonomous researcher performing scientific discovery.” The event will examine hurdles to adapting AI for autonomous experiments, such as the need to root out the biases that AI systems adopt from their training data and difficulties using AI to conduct physical experiments. The workshop’s final sessions will focus on identifying “grand challenge” efforts to advance the field and reviewing the progress of existing pilot programs applying AI to science. The Academies’ Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable will also host an AI workshop on Wednesday focused on broader questions concerning development and regulation of AI applications, the competitive landscape internationally, and opportunities for collaboration. The workshop will feature a panel discussion with staffers for Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM), who co-chair the Senate’s AI Caucus, as well as Argonne National Lab official Rick Stevens, who is a lead figure in developing a pitch for a major AI R&D initiative at the Department of Energy’s national labs.

Research Security Panel Holds Midwest Summit

The National Science, Technology, and Security Roundtable of the National Academies is meeting at Northwestern University on Wednesday and Thursday to convene leaders from universities across the Midwest. Among the agenda items is a “case study” presented by FBI agent Jonathan Willett, who works in a field office in Arkansas and was involved in the government’s prosecution of former University of Arkansas engineering professor Simon Ang. A judge sentenced Ang to one year in prison after he pled guilty last year to lying to the FBI about whether he was co-listed as an inventor on several Chinese patents, and the government agreed to drop the other charges in the case. Other sessions at this week’s meeting include a discussion of research security at Department of Energy national labs led by the directors of Argonne National Lab and Los Alamos National Lab, a panel with vice presidents for research at Midwest universities, and a session on “pressures Chinese students face from the Chinese government while studying at American universities.” Separately this week, a National Academies panel examining the effectiveness of foreign and domestic talent recruitment programs is meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss ways of “creating welcoming environments for international students and scholars,” and to review a set of commissioned papers on immigration policy, current U.S. recruitment programs, and the state of U.S.–China S&T relations.

House in Limbo After Ouster of Speaker McCarthy

House Republicans are expected this week to attempt to elect a successor to former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was ousted from the role after he brokered a deal to avert a government shutdown. The two leading candidates are Reps. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH). The election has delayed the House’s plans to pass appropriations legislation that would stake out its priorities ahead of negotiations with the Senate, including the bill that covers the Department of Energy. The Biden administration issued a veto threat last week on the House’s version of that bill, objecting to its provisions restricting diversity programs, rescinding money from the Inflation Reduction Act, and cutting spending below the bipartisan budget caps negotiated earlier this year. It is unclear whether the House’s budget priorities will change significantly under a new speaker, though Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a top appropriator, has noted how the new speaker could choose to set aside McCarthy’s promise to seek steep spending cuts.

In Case You Missed It

Modest Growth Resized.png

A chart from the 2023 Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science that presents recommended notional budget profiles under two scenarios of annual growth above inflation.

(Nuclear Science Advisory Committee)

Nuclear Scientists Chart Priorities for Next Ten Years

The Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science published last week presents consensus priorities of the U.S. nuclear science community for research, facility construction, and workforce development for the coming decade. The plan’s highest priority is to capitalize on past spending by effectively operating current national user facilities, increasing the research budget, raising compensation of graduate students to levels commensurate with their cost of living, and expanding efforts “to ensure a safe and respectful environment for everyone.” The next highest priorities are to expeditiously complete construction of the Electron-Ion Collider (EIC) and pursue an international hunt for the theorized phenomena of neutrinoless double beta decay using three separate experimental designs. The plan also identifies additional projects that could be pursued if further resources become available, such as upgrades to the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility and the recently completed Facility for Rare Isotope Beams.

The plan was unanimously approved on Oct. 4 by the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, which reports to the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation. DOE and NSF charged the committee with recommending priorities under scenarios of a constant budget and 2% annual growth above inflation relative to the fiscal year 2022 budget. The committee also considered a 2% growth scenario above inflation relative to the fiscal year 2023 budget and a more ambitious scenario that follows the budget targets set in the CHIPS and Science Act. The plan concludes that it is possible to increase the research budget, raise compensation of graduate students, and make significant progress on both the EIC and the neutrinoless double beta decay search under the modest growth scenarios, though both projects would proceed on a delayed timescale and the operating budget of current user facilities would have to be reduced below optimum levels. The plan finds that the constant budget scenario “would sacrifice much of the new opportunities” presented in the report and result in “relinquishing U.S. leadership in key areas of nuclear physics.”

ITER Working Toward Revised Science Operations Strategy

ITER, the international fusion facility being built in France, detailed revised plans for its construction and operations last week that were recently endorsed by the project’s Science and Technology Advisory Committee. The new plans aim to smooth the facility’s licensing, increase its relevance for designing electricity-producing fusion reactors, and minimize the impact of delays stemming from the discovery of flaws in critical components. A baseline schedule established in 2016 projected ITER would achieve its “first plasma” milestone in 2025 and advance to “deuterium-tritium operations” in 2035, which would involve experiments actually generating more power than they consume. However, it has become clear that ITER will miss the 2025 target by years, though project leaders do not anticipate officially updating their schedule and cost estimates until later next year. Without specifying a timetable, ITER stated the revised plans envision three phases of operation and that the project will, during its second phase, meet its goal of demonstrating power production that is 10 times the power applied. In its announcement, ITER also affirmed it is redesigning the plasma-facing wall of its reactor to be made out of tungsten rather than beryllium, a highly toxic metal.

NSF Exceeded Pay Caps for Some Staff

Federal News Network reported on Sept. 29 that the National Science Foundation will cut the salaries of about 315 employees that it accidentally paid in excess of statutory caps on compensation. While most federal workers fall under the general schedule, which sets standardized salaries across agencies, NSF has authority to set pay rates for select employees on a separate scale. However, that scale is currently capped at an annual salary of $195,000, while salaries for some NSF employees were as high as $206,541 in 2023. In a recent notice to employees, NSF said that its former general counsel concluded the agency had the authority to exceed the cap, but that this determination was recently invalidated by the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Justice. The issue first arose in February, when NSF said it would limit pay raises for some staff and then backtracked following pushback from staff. The episode led OPM to examine the agency’s compensation structure more closely. The cuts will go into effect in January and will not apply retroactively.

Regional Innovation Takes Center Stage at CHIPS Hearing

Senators from both parties expressed ongoing interest in regional innovation initiatives at a hearing last week examining CHIPS and Science Act implementation. Of particular interest were the National Science Foundation’s Regional Innovation Engines and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR), as well as the Commerce Department’s Regional Technology and Innovation Hubs. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told senators that the $500 million appropriated to the Tech Hubs program for fiscal year 2023 is insufficient to achieve the program’s goals, noting that the CHIPS and Science Act recommended it be funded at $10 billion in total over five years. She also noted the department has received over 400 applications for hubs and will ultimately pick at least 20 hubs to support. “We have been overwhelmed by the quality and quantity of the tech hub applications,” Raimondo stressed. NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan testified that NSF aims to have spent nearly $200 million on regional innovation by the end of the year and reported that it has met the CHIPS and Science Act’s growth target for the EPSCoR program in 2023.

Imprisoned Iranian Engineer and Activist Wins Peace Prize

Narges Mohammadi was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her activism on behalf of women and human rights in Iran. After studying physics at Imam Khomeini University, Mohammadi worked as both an engineer and a journalist. Since 2011, she has been repeatedly arrested for her political activities and is currently imprisoned in Iran on charges that include defamation against the state. In 2018, Mohammadi received the American Physical Society’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for her “unwavering efforts to promote the human rights and freedoms of the Iranian people, despite persecution that has forced her to suspend her scientific pursuits and endure lengthy incarceration.” This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics went to Pierre Agostini, Ferenc Krausz, and Anne L’Huillier for work enabling electron-illuminating ultrafast laser pulses. The chemistry prize went to Moungi Bawendi, Louis Brus, and Alexei Ekimov for developing “quantum dots” that can alter the color of semiconductor crystals.

Upcoming Events

All times are Eastern Daylight Time, unless otherwise noted. Listings do not imply endorsement. Events beyond this week are listed on our website.

Monday, October 9

Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Tuesday, October 10

National Academies: “Artificial Intelligence at the Nexus of Collaboration, Competition, and Change”
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: “International Talent Programs in the Changing Global Environment Committee,” meeting six
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: U.S. Research Data Summit
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: “Global Microelectronics Models for the Department of Defense in Semiconductor Public-Private Partnerships”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Hudson Institute: “Spectrum Availability and American Security”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Wednesday, October 11

National Academies: Midwest Regional Meeting of the National Science, Technology, and Security Roundtable
(continues Thursday)

National Academies: USGCRP Advisory Committee fall meeting
(continues Thursday)

Brookings: “One Year Later: The Inflation Reduction Act and Climate Progress”
9:00 - 11:45 am

NASA: OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample unveiling and media call
11:00 am and 2:30 pm

NRC: Meeting on proposed regulations for fusion energy systems
1:00 - 3:00 pm

Thursday, October 12

National Academies: “Workshop on AI for Scientific Discovery”
(continues Friday)

National Academies: Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics fall meeting
(continues Friday)

National Academies: The Strategic Council for Research Excellence, Integrity, and Trust, meeting eight
(continues Friday)

Columbia University: “Understanding the Potential of Carbon-Negative Hydrogen”
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

AAAS: “Exploring How Carbon Credits are Evolving in the Oil and Gas Sector”
12:00 - 4:00 pm

Friday, October 13

NASA: Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group meeting
9:00 am - 12:00 pm PDT

National Academies: “The Current Status and Future Direction of High Magnetic Field Science in the United States, Phase II”
10:00 - 11:00 am

Sunday, October 15

Geological Society of America: Annual meeting
(continues through Wednesday)

Monday, October 16

IAEA: 29th Fusion Energy Conference
(continues through Saturday)

AAAS: 2023 Science, Technology, and Human Rights Conference
(continues Tuesday)

NSPN: “How To; Now Do - Science Policy Writing for Advocacy Workshop,” part one
6:00 - 7:00 pm

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

Opportunities

NSF Hiring Chemistry Division Director

The National Science Foundation is hiring a director for its Division of Chemistry. Candidates must have substantial research contributions in areas related to chemistry, broad understanding of universities, and fiscal management experience. Applications are due Jan. 3.

DOD Hiring Deputy Assistant Secretary for Applied Technology

The Department of Defense is hiring a deputy assistant secretary for applied technology, who will oversee a portfolio that spans directed energy, hypersonics, and integrated sensing, and cyber. Applications are due Oct. 17.

Open Philanthropy Hiring for Global Catastrophic Risks Team

Open Philanthropy is hiring multiple positions to fill out its Global Catastrophic Risks Team. The team covers AI policy and safety, biosecurity, and other global catastrophic risks and has openings for program associates, senior program associates, research associates, and a variety of leadership positions. Applications are due Nov. 9.

Know of an opportunity for scientists to engage in science policy? Email us at fyi@aip.org.

Around the Web

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

White House

White House: Biden-⁠Harris administration kicks off sprint to catalyze workforce development efforts for advanced manufacturing jobs and careers
OSTP: Readout of the Nanotechnology Infrastructure Leaders Summit
OSTP: Readout of White House roundtable on AI and health
OSTP: Marine carbon dioxide removal: Potential ways to harness the ocean to mitigate climate change

Congress

Science: US avoids shutdown, but prospects for boosting science funding remain dim
Federation of American Scientists: CHIPS and Science: FY24 research appropriations short by over $7 billion
Nature: US science agencies on track to hit 25-year funding low
AAAS: AAAS launches STPF Rapid Response Cohort in AI to support policy development in Congress
E&E News: What McCarthy’s fall means for energy, environment policy
Washington Post: A bipartisan coalition is the way forward for the House (perspective by Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY))

Science, Society, and the Economy

NSF: Business R&D performance in the US tops $600 billion in 2021
NSB: Business funding for university research grew faster than federal funding in 2021
Wall Street Journal: 3M investors and scientists worry a shift in R&D strategy is stifling breakthroughs as the company faces billions of dollars in lawsuit payouts
New York Times: Americans are losing trust in science after COVID (perspective by M. Anthony Mills)
Computer Weekly: Top science journal faced secret attacks from COVID conspiracy theory group
Science: Modern government and science advice (perspective by Patrick Vallance)

Education and Workforce

NSF: Research doctorate conferrals rebound, leading to record number of US doctorate recipients in 2022
New York Times: China is suffering a brain drain. The US isn’t exploiting it
Battelle: Battelle and national lab partners expand HBCUs Consortium with Howard University
Chronicle of Higher Education: Are racial-affinity groups a form of segregation or student support?
Research Professional: Academics dismayed by UK science minister Donelan’s ‘wokeism’ speech
CERN: CERN inaugurates Science Gateway, its new outreach center for science education

Research Management

DOJ: Stanford University agrees to pay $1.9 million to resolve allegations that it failed to disclose foreign research support in federal grant proposals
Retraction Watch: Signs of undeclared ChatGPT use in papers mounting
Times Higher Education: Is Substack a brave new world for academic publishing?
Inside Higher Education: A call for an open debate on open science (perspective by Tom Ciavarella)
The Lancet: NIH grant reporting policies: Bridging gaps or building walls? (perspective by Hossein Akbarialiabad, et al.)
Science|Business: European Innovation Council to adopt lump sum funding next year, sources say

Labs and Facilities

SLAC: Q&A with SLAC Lab Director John Sarrao
Brookhaven National Lab: Brookhaven Lab statement on Nuclear Science Advisory Committee 2023 recommendations for nuclear physics research
Jefferson Lab: Nuclear Science Advisory Committee hails a new era of discovery with release of Long Range Plan
FRIB: New Long Range Plan for Nuclear Science recommends FRIB enhancements to forward the field
FRIB: DOE awards $115 million for operations of High Rigidity Spectrometer project at FRIB
Argonne National Lab: Argonne to recycle magnets from Advanced Photon Source in new physics experiment at Brookhaven
Optics and Photonics News: Fifty years of progress at the National Ignition Facility
CERN: CERN inaugurates Science Gateway, its new outreach center for science education
optics.org: ‘SYLOS 3’ high-intensity laser system installed at ELI ALPS
NOIRLab: US Extremely Large Telescope program receives $15.3 million from NSF

Computing and Communications

Nature: How to stop AI deepfakes from sinking society — and science
Physics: How AI and ML will affect physics (perspective by Sankar Das Sarma)
Science|Business: European Commission gears up to confront the risks generative AI poses to science
Nature: How open-source software could finally get the world’s microscopes speaking the same language
DARPA: Reinventing microelectronics manufacturing (audio)
New York Times: How the big chip makers are pushing back on Biden’s China agenda
Wall Street Journal: SMIC’s role in America’s semiconductor industry fuels debate on whether technology restrictions are tough enough
Science|Business: EU launches Chips partnership as it moves to boost semiconductor innovation

Space

Washington Post: Astronomers are worried about this satellite that’s brighter than most stars
Nature: ‘Immense relief': Universe-mapping Euclid telescope fixes problem that threatened mission
Space Review: An ambitious decadal survey for research in space
Space Review: Secrets of ExoMars
Space Policy Online: FCC issues first space debris fine
Financial Times: It’s up to governments to declutter space (perspective by Anjana Ahuja)
NASA OIG: NASA’s efforts to demonstrate robotic servicing of on-orbit satellites (report)
Reuters: Russia pinpoints cause of moon shot failure, looks to bring next missions forward
SpaceNews: China outlines Chang’e-8 resource utilization mission to the lunar south pole
Reuters: China to double size of space station, touts alternative to NASA-led ISS
South China Morning Post: Scientists from China, Europe to target gamma rays from Tiangong space station
SpaceNews: China wants a lunar satellite constellation to support deep space missions

Weather, Climate, and Environment

Holy See: Apostolic exhortation laudate deum of the Holy Father Francis to all people of good will on the climate crisis
PBS NewsHour: Pope Francis urges world leaders to act on climate change as planet nears ‘point of no return’
Washington Post: A new measure of the political-cultural gap on climate change
AP: Montana is appealing a major climate change ruling that favored youth activists
SpaceNews: NASA expands purchase of commercial Earth-observation data with latest award
ANS: DOE environmental cleanup office lacks clear view of operating costs, GAO says

Energy

E&E News: Democrats rally around Granholm after GOP attacks
New York Times: Firestorms over Chinese investments, like a battery factory in Green Charter Township, are erupting as officials weigh the risks of taking money from an adversary
Physics World: Why is there no Nobel physics prize for nuclear fission?
Science: Laser-fusion experiment squeezes out even more energy
ANS: New TRIGA fuel delivered to a US university reactor for the first time in a decade

Defense

DOD: DOD announces release of 2023 Strategy for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction
NSIN: Defense Innovation OnRamp Hubs to open in Arizona, Hawaii, Kansas, Ohio and Washington
SpaceNews: Military space groups in New Mexico expand recruitment and STEM
Inside Defense: Senators introduce bill for ‘Governing Council’ to oversee DOD AI priorities
SpaceNews: Air Force Research Lab awards design contracts for nuclear powered spacecraft
Union of Concerned Scientists: On the future of nuclear testing in America
Physics in Perspective: JASON in Europe: Contestation and the physicists’ dilemma about the Vietnam War (paper by Gerardo Ienna and Simone Turchetti)
Physics in Perspective: Secret science (editorial)

Biomedical

HHS: HHS to update 2005 Public Health Service policies on research misconduct
Federation of American Scientists: Wins, gaps, and looking forward in the US bioeconomy
Boston Review: Instead of pouring public funds into private industry — as the US did with COVID-19 vaccines — we must build public capacity and prioritize public objectives (perspective by Amy Kapczynski, et al.)
Stat: 3 questions for the future of Biden’s cancer moonshot

International Affairs

Washington Post: Schumer to visit China, Japan and South Korea with Senate delegation
NSF: NSF and the French National Research Agency sign a memorandum of understanding and announce two new lead agency opportunities
SpaceNews: Artemis Accords signatories seek to boost transparency and safety in lunar exploration
Scientific American: Mars sample-return missions could reduce tensions with China on Earth (perspective by Louis Friedman)
Nature: South Korean scientists’ outcry over planned R&D budget cuts
Science|Business: War in Ukraine prompts a shift in EU-funded defense research
Research Professional: EU pushes to be ‘player not a playground’ in risky technologies
Science|Business: New Zealand trumpets flying start in Horizon Europe
Research Professional: It would be ‘madness to separate education and research’: Head of Manchester Met warns against returning to the polytechnic era

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