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WEEK OF MARCH 18, 2024
What’s Ahead

DOE Office of Science Director Asmeret Asefaw Berhe standing at a podium at Jefferson Lab.

DOE Office of Science Director Asmeret Asefaw Berhe speaks at an event held at Jefferson Lab.

(Aileen Devlin / Jefferson Lab)

DOE Science Head Berhe to Step Down

Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, head of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, announced last week that she will depart the position on March 28 after almost two years in the role. Berhe will return to the University of California, Merced, where she holds a professorship in soil biogeochemistry. Among Berhe’s signature initiatives at DOE was to require grant applicants to submit plans describing how they will advance diversity, equity, and inclusion goals through their research projects. She also oversaw the rollout of two new major workforce diversity programs in the office, RENEW and FAIR. Highlighting such work in her departure message to office staff, Berhe wrote, “We worked to expand the STEM tent — tearing down longstanding barriers and forging new paths for people from all walks of life to enter and succeed in scientific careers.” Harriet Kung, one of the office’s two deputy directors, will fill Berhe’s role on an acting basis following her departure. Kung is a long-time civil servant in the office, which she joined in 2002 as a materials science program manager and later led its Basic Energy Sciences program from 2008 to 2020.

Granholm to Defend DOE Budget Request

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will appear before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday to discuss the fiscal year 2025 budget request for the Department of Energy. The Biden administration is seeking to increase the budget for the DOE Office of Science by 4.2% to $8.58 billion, with particularly large boosts proposed for isotope production and advanced computing. Within DOE’s applied energy R&D portfolio, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would increase 11.8% to $3.87 billion, while the Office of Nuclear Energy would drop 5.6% to $1.59 billion and the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy would drop 2.2% to $450 million. Within DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the budget for Stockpile Research, Technology, and Engineering would drop 3.2% to $3.17 billion.

Strains in NASA Science Portfolio to be Explored by Science Committee

NASA’s Science Mission Directorate will be the focus of a House Science Committee hearing on Thursday. The directorate faces hard choices about which missions to prioritize in the wake of Congress’ decision this month to cut its budget by 5.9% to $7.33 billion for fiscal year 2024. The cuts fall almost entirely on the Planetary Science Division, which is shrinking 15% to $2.72 billion as NASA considers ways to rein in the costs of its flagship Mars Sample Return mission. Among those testifying Thursday are directorate head Nicky Fox and NASA’s acting inspector general George Scott, whose office recently published an audit of MSR. Also testifying are Jonathan Lunine, a professor of physical sciences at Cornell University who was a member of an independent review board that concluded MSR will likely cost billions of dollars more than anticipated, and Thomas Young, a former director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a member of earlier independent review boards focused on MSR and the Psyche mission, respectively. Separately this week, Nicky Fox and other top space science officials will participate in the National Academies’ annual Space Science Week, which may shed further light on the implications of this year’s lackluster appropriations.

Fusion Advocates to Gather in DC for Annual Conference

Leaders in fusion energy policy and dozens of fusion executives are participating in the Fusion Industry Association’s annual conference this Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, D.C. House Science Committee Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) will provide remarks on Wednesday, and the event will conclude with a panel featuring the four co-chairs of the House Fusion Energy Caucus, Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Lori Trahan (D-MA), Jay Obernolte (R-CA), and Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), the top House appropriator for the Department of Energy. The caucus recently celebrated the House’s passage of the Fusion Energy Act in February as part of broader legislation focused on accelerating deployment of advanced nuclear reactor technologies. The act would codify the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to develop a regulatory framework for fusion reactors that treats them under the licensing process used for byproduct material facilities such as particle accelerators rather than the more stringent licensing process used for fission reactors. At the conference NRC Chair Christopher Hanson will discuss this regulatory framework. which the agency aims to publish by the end of 2024 and put into effect by summer 2025. Also speaking at the event are DOE Deputy Secretary David Turk and DOE Fusion Energy Sciences head JP Allain, who will participate in a panel discussion on public-private partnerships with representatives from the UK, Japan, and Germany. Notably, the Biden administration has lowered its budget ambitions for the field, requesting $845 million for Fusion Energy Sciences in fiscal year 2025 rather than the more than $1 billion it sought last year.

In Case You Missed It

Number of S&E Master's and Doctorate Students by Country

Chart illustrating the large number of science and engineering graduate students in the U.S. from China and India. The chart also displays enrollment figures from other countries that the National Science Board identifies as potential “emerging science partner countries.”

(National Science Board)

US Still Leads World in R&D Spending but Faces ‘Crisis’ in STEM Workforce, NSF Board Argues

The National Science Foundation’s biennial report on the state of U.S. science and engineering, published last week, found that the U.S. continues to spend more on R&D than any other country. The U.S. spent $806 billion, or 3.5% of its GDP, on R&D in 2021, the latest year for which data is available. By comparison, R&D spending was $668 billion for China, $177 billion for Japan, and $154 billion for Germany, the next three highest spenders. However, the report highlights that the U.S. is particularly dependent on STEM workers born outside the U.S. at a time when math test scores for U.S.-born elementary and secondary students are low, having dropped sharply during the pandemic. The U.S. STEM workforce consisted of 36.8 million people in 2021, and of these, 19% were born abroad, the report found. Foreign-born workers also accounted for 43% of all doctoral-level scientists and engineers in the U.S.

In a policy brief accompanying the report, NSF’s governing board argues that the U.S. now faces an “accelerating STEM talent crisis,” in part due to the longstanding underperformance of the U.S. pre-K-12 education system in comparison with many peer countries. Another vulnerability identified by the board is the U.S.’s outsized reliance on acquiring STEM workers from just two countries, China and India. Accordingly, the board recommends the U.S. rapidly ramp up efforts to increase the domestic STEM workforce as well as enact policies to attract and retain STEM talent from around the world. The board also suggests a new focus on recruiting from “emerging science partner countries,” defined as “low-and middle-income countries building their R&D enterprises that are poised to become the collaborators of tomorrow.”

Threat of Novel Tech Featured in Annual US Intelligence Report

Several science and technology developments pose growing and unpredictable national security threats to the U.S., according to the annual threat assessment report released last week by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “New technologies – particularly in the fields of AI and biotechnology – are being developed and are proliferating at a rate that makes it challenging for companies and governments to shape norms regarding civil liberties, privacy, and ethics,” the report states. The report conveys concern that these technologies could expand access to weapons of mass destruction and rapidly produce “asymmetric threats.” The report also warns of the potential that China could establish a technological lead over the U.S. that translates into economic and eventually military superiority. “Countries, such as China and the United States, that lead biotechnological breakthroughs in fields such as precision medicine, synthetic biology, big data, and biomimetic materials, will not only drive industry growth, but also international competition and will exert substantial influence over the global economy for generations,” the authors write. They also state that China “now rivals the United States in DNA-sequencing equipment and some foundational research,” and that by 2030 the country “probably will achieve world-class status in all but a few space technology areas.”

Priorities Proposed for Scientific Ocean Drilling Amid Uncertainty over US Commitment

The National Academies published a report last week identifying priority research areas for ocean drilling in light of the fact the National Science Foundation plans to end support for the aging drilling vessel JOIDES Resolution later this year due to its high operating costs. “With the absence of a dedicated drilling vessel supported by the United States, the capacity for future scientific ocean drilling for the United States and its present international partners will likely be reduced to approximately 10% of its current capacity,” the report warns. Scientific ocean drilling has historically increased understanding of climate change, plate tectonics, and led to the discovery of many microbes in ocean sediment, rocks, and fluids. Priority areas for future research identified in the report include “ground truthing climate change,” “evaluating past marine ecosystem responses to climate and ocean change,” “monitoring and assessing geohazards,” “exploring the subsea biosphere,” and “characterizing the tectonic evolution of the ocean basins.”

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, March 18

National Academies: Space Science Week 2024
(continues through Friday)

European Commission: Research and Innovation Week
(continues through Thursday)

National Academies: “Workshop on Climate Change and Human Migration: An Earth Systems Science Perspective”
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: “Caring Institutions, Successful Students: A Focus on Indigenous Students with the Roundtable on Systemic Change in Undergraduate STEM Education”
(continues Tuesday)

House: “Victims of Regulatory Overreach: How the SEC’s Climate Disclosure Rule Will Harm Americans”
10:00 am, Financial Services Committee

NOAA: U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System committee meeting
1:00 - 3:30 pm

Tuesday, March 19

NOAA: Science Advisory Board meeting
(continues Wednesday)

National Academies: “Rebuilding and Strengthening Ukrainian Science and Innovation in Support of Economic Recovery”
(continues Wednesday)

InterAcademy Partnership: “Removing Barriers that Hinder Global Scientific Exchange and Collaboration”
8:00 am

FCC: Technological Advisory Council meeting
10:00 am

Small Business Administration: Invention, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship Advisory Committee meeting
10:30 am - 4:30 pm

ITIF: “An Era of Economic Warfare: Examining the EU’s Economic Security Strategy”
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

CSIS: “Understanding imec: The Global Center for Cooperative Research in Semiconductors”
4:30 - 5:30 pm

Wednesday, March 20

AAS: Goddard Space Science Symposium
(continues through Friday)

NASA: Astrophysics Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Thursday)

Fusion Industry Association: Annual Policy Conference
(continues Thursday)

Ronald Reagan Institute: National Security Innovation Base Summit
8:00 am - 4:30 am

Senate: “Final Report of the DOD Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution Reform Commission”
9:30 am, Armed Services Committee

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

House: DOE budget request hearing
10:00 am, Appropriations Committee

House: Meeting to advance eight science and space policy bills
10:00 am, Science Committee

Senate: “Recreation at Risk: The Nature of Climate Costs”
10:00 am, Budget Committee

Senate: “Examining PFAS as Hazardous Substances”
10:00 am, Environment and Public Works Committee

National Academies: Transformative Science and Technology for the Department of Defense: Seminar 2
10:30 am - 12:30 pm

ITIF: “The Way Forward for U.S. Spectrum Policy”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

House: “Securing our Nation from WMDs: A Review of the Department of Homeland Security’s Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office”
2:00 pm, Homeland Security Committee

CSIS: “Mapping America’s Tech Future”
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Thursday, March 21

DOE: Industrial Technology Innovation Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Friday)

ASU CSPO: “New Tools for Science Policy: Inspirations from European Technology Assessments: Institutions, Practices and Key Debates”
9:00 - 10:00 am

House: “Advancing Scientific Discovery: Assessing the Status of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate”
10:00 am, Science Committee

House: “White House Overreach on AI”
10:00 am, Oversight and Accountability Committee

House: “Countering China on the World Stage: Empowering American Businesses and Denying Chinese Military Our Technology”
10:00 am, Foreign Affairs Committee

Senate: “Spectrum and National Security”
10:00 am, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee

AAAS: “Human Rights, Ethics, and the Importance of Evidence-Based Research”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

ITIF: “The Crucial Role of Early-Stage University Research in Clean Energy Innovation”
12:00 - 1:00 pm

ASU CSPO: “Technology Policy and Regional Innovation Engines: Baltimore Equitech”
12:00 - 1:30 pm

House: “Assessing America’s Vaccine Safety Systems, Part 2”
2:00 pm, Oversight and Accountability

House: “President Biden’s Fiscal Year 2025 Budget Request and Economic Outlook”
2:30 pm, Appropriations Committee

House: “FY25 Strategic Forces Posture”
3:30 pm, Armed Services Committee

CSIS: “Surveying the Future of U.S. Open Foundation Model Policy”
4:00 pm

Friday, March 22

National Academies: “Climate Conversations: Women in Climate Science”
12:30 - 1:45 pm

Philosophical Society of Washington: “The Emerging Directed Energy Weapons: Are They Finally Ready to Provide Real Military Capability?”
8:00 pm

Monday, March 25

National Academies: “K-12 STEM Education and Workforce Development in Rural Areas,” meeting three
(continues through Wednesday)

NSF: Geosciences Advisory Committee meeting
(continues Tuesday)

Optica: Executive Forum 2024
7:30 am - 7:00 pm

NASA: Advisory Council Science Committee meeting
10:00 am - 4:30 pm

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

Opportunities
Around the Web

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

White House

Science: President abides by tight spending cap in his 2025 request to Congress
Nature: Biden seeks to boost science funding — but his budget faces an ominous future
Times Higher Education: Biden puts student aid before research funding
OSTP: President Biden’s 2025 budget invests in science and technology to power American innovation, expand frontiers of what’s possible
White House: President Biden issues executive order and announces new actions to advance women’s health research and innovation
HPCwire: Charles Tahan exits National Quantum Coordination office
Marketplace: The Biden administration hasn’t had a CTO. Why?

Congress

Science: Analysis: How NSF’s budget got hammered
Roll Call: Final spending package back on track after flurry of DHS talks
Senate Commerce Committee: Republicans unveil new spectrum pipeline legislation to spur job growth
Scientific American: A ‘Havana Syndrome’ investigation in Congress rests on politics, not science (perspective by Robert Bartholomew)

Science, Society, and the Economy

Science: Statements by scientific organizations can, and should, shape society (perspective by Agustín Fuentes)
Stat: Why scientists need input from humanists on sensitive research (perspective by Thiago Arzua)
Issues in Science and Technology: Stories and basic science collide (perspective by Avital Percher)
Jefferson Lab: Adapting particle accelerators for industrial work

Education and Workforce

Washington Post: Chinese students, academics say they’re facing extra scrutiny entering US
Chronicle of Higher Education: International educators brace for a potential Trump victory
Inside Higher Ed: Civil rights groups push back against wave of anti-DEI bills
Wall Street Journal: The NIH sacrifices scientific rigor for DEI (perspective by John Sailer)
NIH: How implementing a 2022 law is helping us ensure safe and respectful workplaces
Nature: Documentary reveals how Black US scholars shaped today’s mathematics community and provides hope for the future
Nature Physics: Special issue on the importance of physics education research
Federation of American Scientists: Moving the needle on STEM workforce development through fellowships and mentorship support in the CHIPS and Science Act (perspective by Adriana Bankston)

Research Management

Times Higher Education: US science more reliant on corporate agendas
ITIF: How federal funding for basic research spurs clean energy discoveries the world needs: Eight case studies
Wall Street Journal: How science sleuths track down bad research
Nature: Peer-replication model aims to address science’s ‘reproducibility crisis’
American Physical Society: The steep price of free science access (perspective by Robert Rosner)
Nature: Bring PhD assessment into the twenty-first century (editorial)

Labs and Facilities

Rubin Observatory: Rubin’s 8.4-meter mirror moves into the observatory
INL: Idaho National Lab prepares to operate its first new reactors in 50 years
PPPL: PPPL unveils new laboratory space to advance quantum information science
Nature: China’s giant underground neutrino lab prepares to probe cosmic mysteries
RealClear Defense: Why America must invest in DOE labs to win the AI race against China (perspective by Matt Hourihan and Divyansh Kaushik)

Computing and Communications

White House: OSTP releases National Strategy on Microelectronics Research
Bloomberg: Pentagon scraps plan to spend $2.5 billion on Intel grant
The Wire China: SMEE wants to be ‘China’s ASML.’ But can it finally figure out how to ‘print’ semiconductor chips?
PBS NewsHour: Europe’s world-first AI rules get final approval from lawmakers. Here’s what happens next
Science|Business: As the AI Act becomes law, concern about its impact spreads
Center for New American Security: Future-poofing frontier AI regulation
Financial Times: What the Cold War space race can teach us on AI (perspective by Verity Harding)
IEEE Spectrum: FCC denies Starlink low-orbit bid for lower latency

Space

SpacePolicyOnline: Fox again urges NASA science community to stick together in tough budget times
SpaceNews: Mars Sample Return science continues amid budget uncertainty
Scientific American: What’s behind NASA’s commercial lunar hits and misses?
SpaceNews: Surprise Chinese lunar mission hit by launch anomaly
Ars Technica: The US government seems serious about developing a lunar economy
Scientific American: NASA communicates with ailing Voyager 1 spacecraft
NPR: Why NASA wants human guinea pigs to test out Martian living
SpacePolicyOnline: SpaceX scores many successes on third Starship test flight

Weather, Climate, and Environment

Wall Street Journal: Climate scientist Michael Mann, author of ‘hockey stick’ graph, wins $1 million court case
MIT Technology Review: Harvard has halted its long-planned atmospheric geoengineering experiment
MIT Technology Review: Methane leaks in the US are worse than we thought
SpaceNews: NASA restructures Earth System Observatory to reduce costs
Science: Big data in Earth science: Emerging practice and promise
PBS NewsHour: Interior Department will give tribal nations $120 million to fight climate-related threats
Vox: Are we breaking the Atlantic Ocean? The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, explained

Energy

DOE: DOE announces $750 million to support America’s growing hydrogen industry
E&E News: Senate bill to expand geothermal gets bipartisan support
E&E News: Republicans announce long-anticipated ‘energy week’
Voltz: Getting ready for IRA 2 (audio interview with Costa Samaras)
DOE: DOE report outlines how America can sustainably produce more than one billion tons of biomass per year
National Renewable Energy Laboratory: New report shows it is time to tap into hydropower investment opportunities
American Nuclear Society: Regulators expand cooperation on reviews of advanced reactors and SMRs
New York Times: A new surge in power use is threatening US climate goals
Science: Reverse EU’s growing greenlash (perspective by Guillaume Chapron)

Defense

DefenseScoop: Craig Martell, the Pentagon’s first-ever Chief Digital and AI Officer, to depart in April
Science|Business: NATO’s DIANA innovation accelerator doubles size of its network
Reuters: SpaceX is building spy satellite network for US intelligence agency, sources say
SpaceNews: Space Development Agency marks five-year milestone
National Defense: US, UK, Australia teaming up to deter China in orbit
Breaking Defense: America’s newest nuclear warhead will cost under $100M to produce, budget docs show
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Russian nuclear weapons, 2024

Biomedical

New York Times: New studies find no evidence of brain injury in Havana Syndrome cases
Nature: Numbers highlight US dominance in clinical research
Science: ‘Damning’ FDA inspection report undermines positive trial results of possible Alzheimer’s drug
Stat: Inside a push to create an NIH office for post-infection chronic illness
New York Times: Dozens of top scientists sign effort to prevent AI bioweapons
Science: ‘Lab-leak’ proponents at Rutgers accused of defaming and intimidating COVID-19 origin researchers
Science: A treaty to prepare the world for the next pandemic hangs in the balance

International Affairs

Wall Street Journal: US and China extend landmark bilateral deal, very quietly
Science|Business: US holds off China challenge in global R&D spending race
Times Higher Education: China increases science budget by 10 percent
National Defense: China’s tech goals force US to rethink its export control regime (perspective by Jennifer Stewart)
Foreign Affairs: Great-power competition comes to Antarctica: China’s scientific push tests the continent’s stability (perspective by Elizabeth Buchanan)
PBS NewsHour: Ukraine needs more than a billion dollars to rebuild its scientific infrastructure, UNESCO says
Science|Business: Germany’s Zeitenwende turning point comes for military research
Times Higher Education: UK funding crisis forces three more universities to cut jobs
Research Professional: UK gives £25m to African physics research

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