FYI: Science Policy News
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WEEK OF MAY 6, 2024
What’s Ahead

A plane flying over control tower

A plane flies above an air traffic control tower.

(Federal Aviation Administration)

S&T Initiatives Seek Ride on Aviation Bill

With key federal aviation authorities set to expire Friday, some lawmakers are hoping to use the extension legislation as a vehicle for enacting unrelated policy goals. Among the amendments vying for inclusion are various energy and environmental policy initiatives, including legislation to speed the development of fission and fusion reactors and expedite environmental reviews for certain semiconductor projects. However, congressional leaders may restrict consideration of amendments unrelated to aviation policy to avoid complicating the process. Not among the amendments offered to date is a proposal by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to use the proceeds from spectrum auctions to fund science initiatives authorized by the CHIPS and Science Act. That proposal was slated to be advanced last week by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee but was removed from the meeting agenda without explanation.

House Probe into Antisemitism on Campus to Use Research Funding as Lever

House Republicans are calling for federal research funds to be withheld from universities that fail to protect Jewish students from antisemitic acts. The House-wide effort, announced last week, comes as many institutions grapple with campus protests against the Israel-Hamas war and calls to divest from Israel, alongside increased reports of antisemitic incidents on campus. “Universities that can’t protect their students are not in compliance with their funding obligations through the National Science Foundation,” said House Science Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK) at a press conference. He added, “As a part of the conditions of receiving taxpayer dollars through the NSF, universities must comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. …It’s time we review whether universities that allow the harassment, assault, or intimidation of their Jewish students are in compliance with their federal obligations. We’ll be looking to conduct oversight of this issue very soon.” Separately last week, the Education Department sent a letter to universities reminding them of their obligations under Title VI and offering resources to aid in compliance.

Particle Physics Panel to Discuss Priority Roadmaps

U.S. priorities for future particle physics projects will be a focus of the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel meeting this Thursday and Friday. Officials from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation will present their agencies’ perspectives on the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (P5) report released last year. HEPAP will also discuss its response to a charge from the DOE Office of Science to assess the importance and construction readiness of several major facilities, which range from the in-progress LBNF/DUNE neutrino facility to prospective projects such as the Future Circular Collider and the International Linear Collider. Among the other agenda items is an update on DOE’s implementation of the White House’s policy on open access publishing, known as the “Nelson Memo.” The panel will also discuss access and security protocols at Fermilab, which the lab has been refining in light of community concerns that the protocols have been overly restrictive.

Board on Physics and Astronomy to Meet

The National Academies Board on Physics and Astronomy’s spring meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday will feature roundtables with top officials from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, including all six of the office’s main research programs. The new director of the office’s Fusion Energy Sciences program, Jean Paul Allain, will also discuss his vision for accelerating the development of fusion energy. The board will also hear from the chairs of a 2021 Academies report on bringing fusion power to the grid, the recent decadal survey on biological and physical sciences in space, and the P5 report. Patrick Mulvey, a statistical research manager at the American Institute of Physics, will also present new data about financial support for physics graduate students.

Fusion Advocates to Hold Hill Briefing

The Fusion Industry Association will host a congressional briefing on Thursday to discuss the importance of fostering a fusion energy “ecosystem” comprised of universities, national labs, companies, and international partners to accelerate the eventual commercialization of fusion power. The briefing will include a panel discussion featuring Scott Hsu, lead fusion coordinator at the Department of Energy; Susana Reyes, a vice president at Xcimer Energy Corporation; Steffi Diem, a nuclear engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a science envoy for the State Department; and Arturo Dominguez, the head of science education at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The event is part of Fusion Energy Week, which runs through Friday.

Also On Our Radar

  • Numerous federal science and security officials are speaking at the AI Expo for National Competitiveness in Washington, D.C. (Tues-Wed)
  • The spate of “anomalous health incidents” affecting U.S. diplomatic personnel will be probed at a hearing by the House Homeland Security Committee. (Wednesday)
  • Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will testify before the House Appropriations Committee on her department’s budget request for fiscal year 2025. (Wednesday)
  • The nominee to lead the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, Kristen Sarri, is testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Thursday)
In Case You Missed It

A gloved hand holding nuclear fuel pellets

Nuclear fuel pellets used in commercial nuclear reactors.

(Areva)

Congress Restricts Russian Uranium Imports, Unlocks $2.7 Billion for Domestic Fuel

Legislation that restricts imports of unirradiated low-enriched uranium (LEU) from Russia is now headed to the president’s desk after the Senate passed it by unanimous consent last week. The restriction will take effect 90 days after the president signs the legislation, which is expected to occur. The act allows the secretary of energy to issue waivers for imports up to certain limits if there is no other viable source of LEU available. As of 2022, U.S. civilian nuclear power plants collectively sourced about 12% of their uranium from Russia.

Once the restriction is in place, the Department of Energy is permitted to spend up to $2.72 billion to support domestic production of LEU and high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), a more concentrated fuel intended for use in prospective advanced reactors. Congress allocated these funds through the final appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2024 but made them contingent on the U.S. restricting imports of Russian uranium. The funds will specifically go toward implementing the Nuclear Fuel Security Act, which aims to expand U.S. capacity to make HALEU fuel and ensure there is a reserve of uranium that can sustain U.S. reactors in the event of supply chain disruption.

NSF Seeks Advice on Extremely Large Telescope Dilemma

The National Science Foundation is convening an external panel to inform the agency’s decision on whether to support either of the two Extremely Large Telescope projects currently in contention for funding: the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan announced the decision during a meeting of NSF’s governing board last week. “I want to be very clear that this is not a decision to construct any telescopes,” Panchanathan said. “This is simply part of a process of gathering critical information to inform my decision-making on advancing either project to the final design stage.” The announcement comes after NSF’s board signaled earlier this year that the agency is unlikely to support both projects due to funding constraints and high demand for large research infrastructure across scientific disciplines.

Major Weather Research Bill Heads to Senate

Legislation to broadly update policy for weather research and forecasting programs was passed by the House last week by a vote of 394-19. Called the Weather Act Reauthorization, the bill would set budget targets for weather research programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and calls for the creation of new R&D programs focused on next-generation radar, atmospheric rivers, flooding, and aviation weather. It also aims to expand NOAA’s use of commercial weather data. The bill is a priority of Science Committee Chair Frank Lucas (R-OK), who is also interested in separating NOAA from the Commerce Department and turning it into an independent agency. The Weather Act reauthorization is now with the Senate, which has not introduced analogous legislation. The House passed the legislation along with five other bills that also emerged from the Science Committee: the Fire Weather Development Act, the Abandoned Well Remediation R&D Act, the Carbon Sequestration Collaboration Act, the Clean Energy Demonstration Transparency Act, and the Privacy Enhancing Technology Research Act.

White House Promotes National STEMM Equity Strategy

The White House held a summit last week to highlight a slate of actions by members of the STEMM Opportunity Alliance, which aims to increase workforce diversity in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Doris Duke Foundation formed the alliance last year, and it now consists of more than 200 nonprofits, companies, universities, and other non-federal institutions that the White House says have since committed more than $2 billion to “expanding opportunities in STEMM.” The announcement coincided with the release of “STEMM Equity and Excellence 2050,” the alliance’s strategy for expanding the U.S. STEMM workforce by 20 million professionals by 2050, largely by increasing opportunities among underserved populations, reducing historical barriers to entry, and promoting science in schools and universities. (AIP is a member of the alliance.)

Presidential Medals of Freedom Awarded to Astronomer and Astronaut

President Joe Biden awarded Presidential Medals of Freedom to astronomer Jane Rigby and engineer-turned-astronaut Ellen Ochoa last week. In his remarks, Biden noted Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to go to space and credited her with “ushering a whole new age of space exploration and proving what it means for every generation to dream, to reach for the stars, and to get there.” Biden highlighted how Rigby, as chief scientist of the James Webb Space Telescope, has helped tell “the grand story of the universe” and also said she is a “long-time advocate of inclusivity in the sciences.” Rigby is the first physical scientist to receive the Medal of Freedom since physicist and science advisor Richard Garwin was awarded one in 2016. Civil rights activists, politicians, journalists, and athletes were among the 17 other medal recipients last week. Al Gore and John Kerry were recognized in part for their efforts to address climate change.

Nelson Pressed on JPL Layoffs, ‘Begs’ for ISS Deorbit Vehicle

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson again lamented the tough choices facing the space agency due to its constrained budget for fiscal year 2024 and looming spending caps for fiscal year 2025 during a House Science Committee hearing on April 30, echoing comments he made the week before to the House Appropriations Committee. The fate of the Mars Sample Return mission was a major topic of discussion in the hearing, with multiple representatives expressing concern over mass layoffs and a loss of talent at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Nelson said JPL staff are currently working on ideas to return samples more quickly and at a lower cost.

Nelson also said he is “begging” Congress to fully fund a deorbit vehicle for the International Space Station through an emergency spending bill, citing concerns that Russia may pull out of the ISS early and choose not to participate in its deorbit scheduled for 2031. “Why is it an emergency? Because we don’t know what Vladimir Putin is going to do,” Nelson said. He estimated the deorbit vehicle will cost $1.5 billion.

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, May 6

US Fusion Energy: Fusion Energy Week
(continues through Friday)

AGU: Astrobiology Science Conference (AbSciCon)
(continues through Friday)

National Academies: Addressing challenges of forced displacement through STEM education: Follow-up workshop
(continues Thursday)

Wilson Center: EU-US Arctic cooperation
10:00 am - 11:30 am

AEI: Beyond the SCIF: A conversation with Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) on AI and biosecurity
11:00 am - 12:15 pm

Hoover Institution: Strengthening trust with India: Implications of the 2008 US-India civil nuclear agreement
6:30 - 8:00 pm PT

Tuesday, May 7

National Academies: Board on Physics and Astronomy spring meeting
(continues Wednesday)

SCSP: AI Expo for National Competitiveness
(continues Wednesday)

House: Intellectual property: Enforcement activities by the executive branch
10:00 am, Judiciary Committee

NTI: A conversation with Ambassador Laura Holgate on the future of nuclear security
11:00 am

Cato Institute: Sea‐launched nuclear cruise missile: Necessary or excessive?
12:00 - 1:00 pm

Brookings Institution: Shifting geopolitics in the age of AI: A conversation with Sam Altman
1:00 - 2:00 pm

ITIF: Where does the U.S. robotics industry stand globally?
1:00 - 2:00 pm

Wednesday, May 8

NASA: Advisory Council meeting
(continues Thursday)

NSF: Advisory Committee for Biological Sciences meeting
(continues Thursday)

National Academies: Feasibility of assessing veteran health effects of Manhattan Project (1942-1947) related waste, meeting three
(continues Thursday)

National Academies: 2024 International Conference of Young Scientists
(continues Thursday)

NSF: Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education meeting
(continues Thursday)

House: Commerce Department budget request hearing
10:00 am, Appropriations Committee

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

House: Silent weapons: Examining foreign anomalous health incidents targeting Americans in the homeland
2:00 - 5:00 pm, Homeland Security Committee

House: Mission critical: Restoring national security as the focus of Defense Production Act Reauthorization, Part II
2:00 pm, Financial Services Committee

House: Member day, Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies
3:00 pm, Appropriations Committee

Senate: DOD missile defense activities in review of the defense authorization request for FY2025
4:45 pm, Armed Services Committee

Thursday, May 9

DOE/NSF: High Energy Physics Advisory Panel Meeting
(continues Friday)

Carnegie Endowment: AI governance for the global majority: Understanding opportunities and challenges
8:00 - 9:30 am

Senate: Nomination hearing for Kristen Sarri to be assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs
10:00 am, Foreign Relations Committee

Wilson Center: No more lost decades: Opportunities from nearshoring, the energy transition, and other drivers of sustainable growth
12:30 - 1:30 pm

ANS: Our nuclear family: Empowering parents and caregivers in the nuclear industry
1:00 - 2:00 pm

BIS: Sensors and Instrumentation Technical Advisory Committee meeting
1:00 - 2:30 pm

Friday, May 10

CSPO: Adapting federal programs to evolving public values: Insights from the Department of Energy
9:00 - 10:00 am

Monday, May 13

LPI: ExMag Spring 2024 Meeting
(continues through Wednesday)

New America: Space Intersections Symposium
(continues Tuesday)

National Academies: AI for scientific discovery: Proceedings release
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

National Academies: Enabling US leadership in artificial intelligence for weather
10:30 am - 4:30 pm

CSIS: The strategic value of modern grid technologies
1:00 - 1:30 pm

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

Opportunities

Deadlines indicated in parentheses. Newly added opportunities are marked with a diamond.

Job Openings

AIP: Science policy reporter (ongoing)
National Academies: Director, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and Polar Research Board (ongoing)
NSF: Science advisor for public access (ongoing)
Bipartisan Policy Center: Associate director, energy program (ongoing)
◆National Academies: Senior program officer - Board on Mathematical Sciences and Analytics (ongoing)
◆NSF: Deputy general counsel, office of the director (May 13)
◆AAS: Deputy director of public policy (May 24)
Office of Naval Research: Division director, directed energy (May 28)
◆DOE: Associate director, Office of Basic Energy Sciences (May 30)
COGR: Director for costing and financial compliance (May 31)
NSF: Division director, Division of Astronomical Sciences (June 24)
◆AAS: John N. Bahcall public policy fellowship (July 1)

Solicitations

NSF: NSF advisory panels call for new members (ongoing)
BIS: Export control advisory committees call for new members (ongoing)
DOE: Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award call for nominations (May 9)
NOAA: Science Advisory Board call for nominations (May 9)
NASA: RFI on NASA-identified space technology shortfalls (May 13)
USPTO: RFI on translating more innovation to the marketplace (May 14)
DOE: RFI on critical materials market dynamics (May 20)
NOAA: Advisory Committee on Excellence in Space call for nominations (May 29)
PCAST: RFI on groundwater challenges (July 1)
Commerce Department: RFI on AI and open government data assets (July 16)
◆NOAA: Public comment on the draft prospectus of the Sixth National Climate Assessment (June 7)

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

Wired: Meet Arati Prabhakar, the woman who showed President Biden ChatGPT — and helped set the course for AI
OSTP: Report on the state of US federal R&D infrastructure
OSTP: Biden Cancer Moonshot announces commitments to make cancer screenings more accessible for American workers
DOE: Biden issues national security memorandum to strengthen DOE’s role in ensuring security and resilience across America’s energy sector

Congress

House Science Committee: Lucas presses OSTP on delayed federal STEM strategy
Inside Higher Ed: Researchers ‘shocked and disappointed’ after NSF budget cuts
House Energy and Commerce Committee: Republicans press NIH to confirm agency isn’t funding Russian research
House Oversight Committee: Subcommittee report recommends EcoHealth Alliance president debarred and criminally investigated, exposes failures in NIH grant procedures
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee: EPW committee advances NRC nomination

Science, Society, and the Economy

Physics Today: In the 1960s CERN initiated a series of popular-science talks for nonacademic staff in the belief that getting them interested in science was key to its becoming a world-leading lab
USPTO: USPTO announces national strategy for inclusive innovation
City Journal: Unscientific American: Science journalism surrenders to progressive ideology (perspective by James Meigs)
Physics World: The battle over San Diego’s streetlights
DARPA: Introducing ELSI: Ethical, legal, and societal implications (audio)
Issues in Science and Technology: For space exploration to benefit all of humanity, it needs a philosophy (perspective by G. Ryan Faith)
SpaceNews: A religious test for space exploration? (perspective by Charles Chafer)
Journal of Science Policy and Governance: Evolving attitudes of science graduate students toward science policy and communication

Education and Workforce

AIP: The state of the academic workforce in physics and astronomy departments, 2000-2022 (report)
Nature: Hunger on campus: why US PhD students are fighting over food
Journal of Science Policy and Governance: Empowering early-career scientists to navigate the science-policy interface — conclusions from a summer school
Nature: National Academies report outlines barriers and solutions for scientist carers
CSET: A contrarian view on the impact of returning Chinese scientists (report)

Research Management

Physics Today: Asmeret Asefaw Berhe reflects on her tenure as DOE Office of Science director (interview)
DOE: DOE releases final interpretive guidance on the definition of foreign entity of concern
Bloomberg: Huawei secretly backs US research, awarding millions in prizes
Scientific American: Chatbots have thoroughly infiltrated scientific publishing
National Academies: Accelerating and deepening approaches to FAIR data sharing (report)
Nature: Plagiarism in peer-review reports could be the ‘tip of the iceberg’
Science|Business: Welcome to our research funding newsletter
Renaissance Philanthropy: Former Clinton and Obama science staffer launches new philanthropic organization

Labs and Facilities

NASA: John Bailey named New Stennis Space Center director
NIST: Kathryn Beers named director of NIST’s Material Measurement Laboratory
Rubin Observatory: Rubin Observatory achieves another major milestone: Reflective coating of the 8.4-meter primary/tertiary mirror
Physics World: World’s highest observatory begins operations in Chile
Research Professional: CERN and US plan long-term collaboration
Nature: France’s research mega-campus faces leadership crisis

Computing and Communications

NIST: $285 million funding opportunity announced for a digital twin and semiconductor CHIPS manufacturing institute
Bloomberg: Intel’s $28 billion comeback bet: Make Ohio a global chips capital
Construction Physics: How to build a $20 billion semiconductor fab
Nature: Who’s making chips for AI? Chinese manufacturers lag behind US tech giants
NSF: National AI Research Resource Pilot awards first-round access to 35 projects in partnership with DOE
National Academies: AI for scientific discovery (report)
Axios: Inside the AI research boom
Ars Technica: Europe’s ambitious satellite Internet project appears to be running into trouble

Space

Space Review: NASA looks for an MSR lifeline
JPL: NASA selects commercial service studies to enable Mars robotic science
SpaceNews: China’s Chang’e-6 is carrying a surprise rover to the moon
Reuters: China’s missions to the Moon - past, present and future
SpaceNews: China selects new space missions including lunar far side astronomy and terrestrial exoplanet survey
GAO: NASA cybersecurity: plan needed to update spacecraft acquisition policies and standards (report)
Universities Space Research Association: USRA elects three universities to the association
SpacePolicyOnline: FAA learning period to get another extension

Weather, Climate, and Environment

New York Times: What happens when NASA loses eyes on Earth? We’re about to find out
NASA: NASA selects BAE Systems to develop air quality instrument for NOAA
NOAA: New NOAA climate action plan emphasizes needs of underserved communities
Commerce Department: Carbon capture, utilization, and storage: A handbook for policymakers
Oak Ridge National Lab: Researchers offer US roadmap to close the carbon cycle
Science: Steel industry emissions are a big contributor to climate change. Can it go green?
Science: Climate modelers grapple with their own carbon emissions

Energy

DOE: US-UK strategic energy dialogue 2024: Joint statement
Nature: Support communities that will lose out in the energy transition (editorial)
American Nuclear Society: Bipartisan Fusion Energy Act pushes for regulatory clarity
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: To find a place to store spent nuclear fuel, Congress needs to stop trying to revive Yucca Mountain (perspective by David Klaus)
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: An Indigenous future for nuclear power in California?

Defense

SpaceNews: Lawmaker presses Pentagon official on Russia’s potential space nuke
New York Times: US seeks to build world pressure on Russia over space nuclear weapon
Physics Today: NNSA struggles with production and costs
Washington Post: US officials wary of Chinese plans for floating nuclear plants
DefenseScoop: US to give Israel $1.2 billion for Iron Beam laser weapon
DOD: R&E detachment leverages reservists’ civilian expertise, military experience for S&T innovation

Biomedical

Physics Today: New center for quantum sensing focuses on medical applications
Science: Major budget cuts to two high-profile NIH efforts leave researchers reeling
Financial Times: Political tensions weaken battle against biggest diseases, warns health charity chief
Nature: Controversial virus-hunting scientist skewered at US COVID-origins hearing
Nature: Chinese virologist who was first to share COVID-19 genome sleeps on street after lab shuts
Politico: ‘They need to back off': Farm states push back on Biden’s bird flu response
Science: A pandemic agreement is within reach (perspective by Anita Cicero and Alexandra Phelan)
Wired: China has a controversial plan for brain-computer interfaces

International Affairs

Roll Call: China committee eyes supply chain, biotech as Moolenaar takes helm
ForeignPolicy: Xi believes China can win a scientific revolution (perspective by Tanner Greer and Nancy Yu)
Bloomberg: Xi Jinping’s climate change envoy says energy transition needs China
Science|Business: Chinese scientific espionage in Germany: What next?
Science|Business: New Zealand science minister assumes country will join next framework program
Research Professional: Despite standing down as science minister, George Freeman still has designs on UK R&D policy
Times of Israel: Israeli researchers see major drop in international cooperation since Oct. 7
Journal of Science Policy and Governance: Enhancing collaboration and support for the French scientific diaspora in the US
Science: A scientist is likely to win Mexico’s presidency. Not all researchers are rejoicing
Nature: Why doing science is difficult in India today (perspective by Yamini Aiyar)

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