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WEEK OF APRIL 15, 2024
What’s Ahead

2024 Total Solar Eclipse

A composite image of the April 8 partial solar eclipse over the Washington Monument.

(Bill Ingalls / NASA)

NIH Advocate Becomes Top House Appropriator as FY25 Cycle Heats Up

The fiscal year 2025 budget cycle is ramping up with new leadership atop the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) became chair of the committee last week after Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) stepped down from the role ahead of her planned retirement at the end of the year. Cole is a long-time advocate for biomedical research, supporting sustained budget increases for the National Institutes of Health during his time as the top Republican on the appropriations subcommittee for NIH.

In the Senate, leadership of key science appropriations panels is unchanged. Notably, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is remaining as chair of both the full Appropriations Committee and the subcommittee that oversees the Department of Energy, the latter of which she initially filled on an interim basis after the death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) last year. Murray’s interest in the subcommittee stems in part from her state being home to the Hanford Site, which formerly produced plutonium and now receives billions of dollars from DOE each year for environmental remediation efforts.

The House and Senate committees are now holding hearings to review the president’s budget request before advancing their own spending proposals. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson is testifying before the House panel on Wednesday. Policy committees are also delving into the budget request, with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. Granholm is also appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday along with Jill Hruby, the head of DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Hruby and other NNSA leaders are also testifying at a separate hearing by the same committee later that day.

NASA Delays Mars Sample Return Plans, Seeks New Ideas

On Monday, NASA released its response to last year’s independent review of its Mars Sample Return mission. Rather than settle on a well-defined mission design, the agency has left the specifics undetermined while pushing back the target launch date for its Sample Return Lander from 2028 to 2035, with samples expected to arrive back on Earth in 2040. NASA anticipates that it expects a revised mission architecture would cost the agency between $8 billion and $11 billion, in line with the findings of the independent review. Under its new schedule, design work on the lander and the ascent vehicle will proceed at a “low level” for a time in parallel with a review of ideas solicited from outside the agency that could help lower costs or shorten the mission timeline. NASA indicated it plans to spend $310 million on MSR in fiscal year 2024, just above the $300 million minimum set by Congress, and that it will only request $200 million for fiscal year 2025. In a statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson remarked, “The bottom line is, an $11 billion budget is too expensive, and a 2040 return date is too far away.”

While NASA is seeking “out-of-the-box options” for the mission, particularly the ascent vehicle, the agency has identified some expected features of revised mission plans. For instance, it anticipates that the Perseverance rover, which is currently caching samples on Mars, will return to the floor of the Jezero Crater once it completes sample collection and enter a “quiescent” state to await the arrival of the lander, and that it may resume science investigations after delivering samples. Plans no longer call for two sample-retrieval helicopters to be carried on the lander, though NASA has left open the possibility that one could still be included for redundancy. The lander itself is now set to be powered by a radioisotope power source rather than solar power to increase its resilience. The European Space Agency’s component of the project, a spacecraft that will make a round trip back to Earth, would launch in 2030 and remain in Mars orbit until NASA’s component of the mission transfers its samples to the spacecraft.

In Case You Missed It

NASA and Japan Rover

A model of a lunar rover that Japan will build and operate as part of an expanded collaboration with the U.S. announced on April 10.

(Bill Ingalls / NASA)

US and Japan Deepen S&T Collaborations During State Visit

The U.S. and Japan announced new plans for cooperation on a range of issues, including in science and technology, during Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s visit to the White House last week. The initiatives were detailed in a joint statement by Kishida and President Joe Biden and in an accompanying fact sheet.

Among them, the countries signed a lunar exploration agreement through which Japan plans to build and operate a pressurized lunar rover while the U.S. pledged to reserve two spots for Japanese astronauts on future Artemis missions, with one potentially becoming the first non-American to land on the Moon. The countries also signed a partnership agreement that aims to accelerate the commercialization of fusion energy through complementary research programs, facilities development, and regulatory standards. The partnership will build on existing research and exchange programs as well as the Biden administration’s recent strategy for promoting new partnerships in fusion. The two countries also reiterated their commitment to reducing the use of highly enriched uranium in civilian applications and welcomed news that HEU has been successfully removed from the Japan Materials Testing Reactor Critical Assembly.

AI, quantum science, and semiconductors were also major topics of discussion, with coordination plans announced for quantum technology standardization and supply chains, a shared R&D roadmap and workforce development program for semiconductors, and shared standards for the responsible development of AI, among other initiatives. Japan and the U.S. also signed a memorandum of understanding on global innovation, committing to deepen ties between entrepreneurs and expand technology investment opportunities.

Aggressive Timeline Proposed for Next-gen Gravitational Wave Detectors

The U.S. should aggressively pursue the construction of a new gravitational wave observatory to remain competitive in the field, according to a March report commissioned by the National Science Foundation. NSF asked an advisory panel to chart a path to a ten-fold improvement in sensitivity over the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), particularly given that Europe might build a much more sensitive detector called the Einstein Telescope. The panel solicited detector concepts and subsequently concluded that the ideal approach is the “Cosmic Explorer” plan, which calls for the construction of a 40-km-long, L-shaped detector and possibly a second 20-km long detector if the Einstein telescope is not built. The panel also concludes that maintaining current-generation LIGO facilities “does not significantly contribute” to the science goals of this future network, with the potential exception of a LIGO variant currently under construction in India.

As a result, the panel recommends promptly phasing out the U.S. LIGO facilities when the Cosmic Explorer observatory comes online sometime between 2035 and 2040. The 40 km Cosmic Explorer observatory is estimated to cost around $1 billion and the 20 km observatory has a price tag of about $0.7 billion. Such an initiative responds to the call for a next-generation gravitational wave detection network in the latest decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics. Astrophysicist Vicky Kalogera, who chaired the panel, presented the report to NSF last month and noted that it features a “rather aggressive” timeline. “Our European colleagues with the Einstein Telescope are ahead of us, and we would like to be coordinating for parallel observations,” Kalogera said.

Air Force Names New Director of Basic Research

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research announced this month that Kevin Geiss assumed the directorship on March 10. Geiss started his career in the Marines and later served in a variety of research positions in the Air Force and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He holds a master’s degree in chemistry and a doctorate in zoology, both from Miami University. AFOSR is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory and concentrates on basic research. The Air Force’s budget for basic research currently stands at $567 million.

Caregivers in STEM Need More Support, National Academies Report Argues

A report released this month by the National Academies calls for research institutions to increase unpaid leave and the availability of childcare resources for researchers. The report recommends that both private and public funders increase the flexibility of their grant start times, eligibility requirements, and delivery dates to accommodate caregivers. The report calls for Congress to expand the Family Medical Leave Act to require employers provide a minimum of 12 weeks of paid leave per year for bereavement and caring, including for elders. At present, the FMLA does not mandate the leave be paid.

Nuclear Fuel Recycling Options Weighed by House Panel

A hearing last week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee explored the potential for recycling spent nuclear fuel. Idaho National Lab Director John Wagner testified that the U.S. will have to pursue fuel recycling and reform its storage practices in order to triple its nuclear capacity by 2050, a goal set at the UN Climate Change Conference in December. Wagner called on Congress to revise the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act because the current framework provides no financial incentives for recycling, putting the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage relative to countries that have robust recycling programs, such as France, Russia, and China. Wagner also suggested that, with enough capacity, the U.S. could offer fuel recycling services to other countries in addition to meeting its own energy needs. He and other speakers highlighted the opportunity for recycling the high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel that many advanced reactor concepts plan to use. His written testimony offers a detailed timeline of U.S. policy toward fuel recycling, which has been significantly shaped by concerns that recycling technology could contribute to nuclear weapons proliferation. Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) expressed support for recycling, noting it could reduce U.S. reliance on foreign sources of nuclear fuel and increase competitiveness with Russia and China.

Former NIST and Army Research Lab Director John Lyons Dead at 93

The National Institute of Standards and Technology reported last week that former agency head John Lyons died on March 14 at the age of 93. Lyons spent the first part of his career as a chemist at the Monsanto Chemical Company, where he specialized in fire retardants. In 1973 he joined NIST, then called the National Bureau of Standards, to lead its new Center for Fire Research, and he became the first director of the bureau’s National Engineering Laboratory in 1978. President George H. W. Bush appointed Lyons director of the agency in 1990, shortly after Congress renamed it NIST and expanded its scope to cover research in support of industry in addition to standards and measurement. Lyons guided NIST through this transition before leaving the agency in 1993 with the changeover in presidential administrations. He then served as director of the Army Research Laboratory from 1993 to 1998, a period when the Army was consolidating its research facilities. He later was a distinguished research fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at the National Defense University in Washington, DC.

Upcoming Events

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

Monday, April 15

IAU: (Toward) discovery of life beyond Earth and its impact
(continues through Friday)

ASCE: Earth and Space 2024
(continues through Thursday)

Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat Reduction: DC engagement days
(continues Tuesday)

Johns Hopkins: Science Diplomacy Summit 2024
(continues Tuesday)

Atlantic Council: Looking north: Conference on security in the Arctic
10:00 am

Hoover Institution: The policy challenge of AI safety
1:00 - 5:45 pm PDT

Tuesday, April 16

NASA: Earth Science Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Wednesday)

NDIA: 2024 Missile Defense Conference
(continues Wednesday)

NASA: Applied Sciences Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Wednesday)

Columbia University: Navigating global challenges to accelerate the energy transition
7:30 am - 5:00 pm

House: Exploring SBA programs: Reviewing the SBIC and SBIR programs’ impact on small businesses
10:00 am, Small Business Committee

Senate: DOE budget request hearing
10:00 am, Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Senate: HHS budget request hearing
10:00 am, Appropriations Committee

NIST: National Artificial Intelligence Advisory Committee meeting
2:00 - 4:30 pm

House: Academic malpractice: Examining the relationship between scientific journals, the government, and peer review
2:00 pm, Oversight and Accountability Committee

Senate: Oversight of AI: Election deepfakes
2:00 pm, Judiciary Committee

DOE: 21st Century Energy Workforce Advisory Board meeting
3:00 - 4:30 pm

Wilson Center: Green Alliances: Cultivating US and Chinese climate leadership
8:00 - 9:00 pm

EESI: Demystifying ocean carbon dioxide removal
12:30 - 2:00 pm

Wednesday, April 17

National Academies: Notes from the underground: Scientific, educational, and societal importance of soils with the U.S. National Committee for Soil Sciences
(continues Thursday)

National Academies: USGCRP advisory committee spring meeting
(continues Thursday)

Senate: NNSA budget request hearing
9:30 am, Armed Services Committee

National Academies: Workshop on enabling a resilient US microelectronics ecosystem
9:00 am - 5:00 pm

CSIS: Counterspace trends: An evolving global landscape
9:00 - 10:00 am

Senate: NNSA budget request hearing
9:30 am, Armed Services Committee

Senate: Nomination of Christopher Hanson to be a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
10:00 am, Environment and Public Works Committee

Cato Institute: Artificial intelligence and American innovation
12:00 - 1:00 pm

House: NASA budget request hearing
2:00 pm, Appropriations Committee

Senate: NNSA budget request hearing
4:45 pm, Armed Services Committee

Thursday, April 18

NIST: CHIPS R&D National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program Summit
(continues Friday)

National Academies: Review of the SBIR and STTR programs at DOD
(continues Friday)

National Academies: Forum on Cyber Resilience spring meeting
9:00 - 5:30 pm

Friday, April 19

Hoover Institution: 2024 AI Index Report DC launch
12:00 - 1:30 pm

Monday, April 22

Battelle: Innovations in Climate Resilience Conference
(continues through Wednesday)

LPI: Apophis T-5 years: Knowledge opportunity for the science of planetary defense workshop
(continues Tuesday)

LPI: Workshop on connecting community scientific hypotheses to Mars sample science
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: Technology transfer symposium: Approaches to advance commercial applications
10:00 am - 5:00 pm

AEI: 30 years of environmental progress: Is it time at last to be optimistic?
10:00 - 11:15 am

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.

White House

OSTP: A new tool to help plan for and protect against floods
OSTP: New environmental actions in support of National Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Month
White House: Administration takes critical action to protect communities from PFAS pollution in drinking water
Lawfare: America’s greatest tool of economic statecraft to outcompete China may be an unassuming regulatory review office in OMB (perspective by Adam Chan and David Rader)

Congress

Wall Street Journal: Companies reconsider research spending with tax deal held up in Senate
Sen. James Risch (R-ID): Risch and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) launch Advanced Nuclear Caucus
The Hill: Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) announces run for Financial Services chair

Science, Society, and the Economy

Nature: Peter Higgs: Science mourns giant of particle physics
New York Times: National Sciences Academy asks court to strip Sackler name from endowment
Chronicle of Higher Education: Stanford’s faculty senate condemned Scott Atlas’s COVID views. Now they might take it back
Times Higher Education: Beware the public backlash from ‘science triumphalism’ (perspective by Matthew Reisz)
Science: Teach philosophy of science (perspective by Holden Thorp)
Nature: A call for responsible quantum technology (perspective by Urs Gasser et al.)

Education and Workforce

Science: Hiring ban disrupts research Florida universities
Nature: Citizenship privilege harms science (perspective by Mayank Chugh and Tiffany Joseph)
Wired: These women came to Antarctica for science. Then the predators emerged
AAAS: Report offers guidance for educational institutions on collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data
Science: US statistics agency obstructs LGBTQ+ equity in science (perspective by Jonathan Freeman)
Science: A university cut tenured faculty’s pay. They’re suing
NSF: Enhancing STEM education, research capacity, and workforce development in EPSCoR jurisdictions
Nature: Ready or not, AI is coming to science education — and students have opinions (perspective by Sarah Wells)

Research Management

GAO: Federal research: Key practices for scientific program managers (report)
FBI: Protecting quantum science and technology
Nature: Is ChatGPT corrupting peer review? Telltale words hint at AI use
CHORUS: Developing a US national PID strategy report released (report)
Scholarly Kitchen: Gates open access policy refresh increases compliance burden and eliminates financial support (perspective by Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe)
Times Higher Education: Social science impact demands faster publishing and more reproducibility (perspective by Meron Wondemaghen)

Labs and Facilities

Oak Ridge National Lab: David Sholl selected as University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute executive director
Fermilab: Prep work for DUNE at Fermilab nears completion
Ames Lab: Ames partners with NETL and other DOE labs to launch a new critical materials research facility
Berkeley Lab: Jessica Granderson to lead Berkeley Lab’s building technology and urban systems division
Los Alamos National Lab: Venado installation opens the door for AI applications at Los Alamos

Computing and Communications

Bloomberg: Samsung to get up to $6.4 billion in US grants for chip plants
Bloomberg: US faces pushback on more China chip curbs as election nears
USPTO: Guidance concerning the use of AI tools by parties and practitioners
New York Times: Europe’s AI ‘champion’ sets sights on tech giants in US
NREL: NREL unveils generative machine learning model to simulate future energy-climate impacts
Issues in Science and Technology: Don’t let governments buy AI systems that ignore human rights (perspective by Merve Hickok and Evanna Hu)

Space

SpaceNews: JPL chief Laurie Leshin on science, Mars, and budget infighting (interview)
NASA: New NASA strategy envisions sustainable future for space operations
SpaceNews: US government plans review of space technology export controls
SpaceNews: NASA document outlines selection of lunar rover companies
Reuters: China launch of relay satellite Queqiao-2 for lunar probe mission successful
SpaceNews: Office of Space Commerce selects locations for TraCSS operations centers
SpaceNews: EU to delay space law, constellation contract
New York Times: Biden takes aim at SpaceX’s tax-free ride in american airspace

Weather, Climate, and Environment

E&E News: Trump allies target NOAA climate research
Reuters: US bets on climate friendly farming; experts doubt it is climate friendly enough
NOAA: NOAA invests $2.7 million to improve ocean observations with new robotic floats

Energy

E&E News: The return of Yucca Mountain? GOP floats waste site’s revival
Texas Tribune: Small nuclear reactors may be coming to Texas, boosted by interest from Gov. Abbott

Defense

New York Times: Sickened by US nuclear program, communities turn to Congress for aid
Space News: Pentagon research chief calls for commercial radiation-hardened electronics
SpacePolicyOnline: Space Force commercial space strategy useful, but ‘not a panacea’
Science|Business: AUKUS defense technology pact welcomes Japan, but the EU is excluded for now

Biomedical

Stat: Congress: Protect patients and enact the Nuclear Medicine Clarification Act (Perspective by Pam Kohl and Bill Kiser)
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: How to avoid human-made pandemics (Perspective by Filippa Lentzos and Jens Kuhn)
New York Times: Chinese company under congressional scrutiny makes key US drugs

International Affairs

Reuters: Chinese firms helping military get AI chips added to US export blacklist
Science|Business: Restricting international research is largely a European and North American trend, global survey finds
Times Higher Education: UK urged to signal participation in Horizon Europe successor
Science|Business: Latest UK grant winners must emigrate to take up European Research Council awards, despite Horizon Europe deal
CERN Courier: A global forum for high-energy physics
Nature: How a young physicist’s job move helped Argentina join the ATLAS collaboration
Nature: Brazil budget cuts could leave science labs without power and water
Nature: What the India election means for science

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