Posts Tagged ‘National Science Foundation’

Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Reactions to Obama’s Science Budget

by Science News Staff on 12 April 2013, 12:00 PM


Credit: Francisco Diez

The words are flowing. Reactions are starting to trickle in to the research-related portions of President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request, which was delivered to Congress. ScienceInsider will be tracking what groups are saying as they release statements.

Statement by the Task Force on American Innovation on the president’s FY ’14 budget (12:00 p.m. on 12 April):

Members of the Task Force on American Innovation—a coalition of industry, universities, and scientific societies—believe it is essential that the federal government maintain a robust investment in scientific research. We believe that Congress and the President can and must commit to such spending even as they work to reduce budget deficits.

In that context, the Task Force supports President Obama’s proposed increases in funding for the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, Department of Defense basic research, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The federal investment in scientific research is vital to the nation’s long-term economic growth and national security. Indeed, one of the reasons that deficit reduction is so important is to ensure that the government can afford this and other critical investments. We recognize that there are strong differences over how to reduce budget deficits. But we believe there should be bipartisan support for the research that is the foundation of innovation and economic competitiveness.

With both the House and Senate having approved budgets, and the President now having submitted his own, we continue to urge the nation’s leaders to come together and negotiate a major long-term budget agreement that not only protects coming generations from unsustainable debt but also ensures our ability to invest in their future.

The American Chemical Society responds (4:00 p.m. on 11 April):

WASHINGTON, April 11, 2013 — The American Chemical Society (ACS) applauds the release of the President’s FY14 budget and his continued recognition of the importance of science and technology as the fuel for economic growth and job creation.

The ACS sees the President’s budget, and those prepared by Congress, as excellent starting points toward enactment of a balanced and bipartisan FY14 budget for the country,” said ACS President Marinda Wu, Ph.D. “We fully appreciate that this has been, and will be, a challenging budget season. We encourage our national leaders to make a bipartisan effort to focus on achieving a balanced budget that helps put the U.S. economic house in order, while also putting forth a road map that fosters innovation and leads to economic growth and job creation.”

ACS believes strongly that economic growth in the U.S. is based on three foundations: sustained support for scientific and medical research that leads to technological innovations, a strong science education enterprise that prepares a world-class workforce and a robust business climate that will make American companies competitive with our international competitors. To accomplish this we need our nation’s leadership to prioritize continued and predictable investment in scientific research to identify and enable new opportunities for innovation.”

The three-part ACS public policy agenda is outlined in U.S. Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and specific policy recommendations are contained in positions on enhancing research and technology development,science education and the empowerment of U.S. businesses.

As scientists and engineers, we are confident in recommending that the FY 14 budget should — indeed, must — emphasize innovation. In the last sixty years, more than half of all growth in GDP has directly resulted from scientific research and subsequent commercialization of new products and processes. Our American roots lie in pioneering innovation! This is what we do best.

Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives released the following (5:00 p.m. on 10 April):

Even after a two-month delay, the President’s budget still gets a failing grade. Filled with new spending and over one trillion dollars in tax increases, his proposal once again fails to balance the budget and continues to borrow 25 cents for every dollar the federal government spends. Hardworking taxpayers are tired of watching the government borrow and spend money it doesn’t have.

While getting points for creativity, a proposed NASA mission to ‘lasso’ an asteroid and drag it to the Moon’s orbit will require serious deliberation. Seemingly out of the blue, this mission has never been evaluated or recommended by the scientific community and has not received the scrutiny that a normal program would undergo.

I am also concerned that the Administration continues to favor subsidies associated with its green energy agenda over basic research that helps keep America competitive. The bankruptcies of Solyndra, Abound Solar and Beacon Power have demonstrated a lack of accountability within the President’s green energy initiatives. The President now wants more money to fund more pet projects, when it is clear that his administration has not been responsible with the taxpayer dollars that have already been spent.”

The Science Committee will hold hearings in the coming weeks to receive testimony on the President’s budget priorities.

The following is a statement from the LIVESTRONG Foundation (4:50 p.m. on 10 April):

The LIVESTRONG Foundation applauds President Obama’s budget proposal to increase funding for lifesaving cancer research at the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. We are also encouraged that the Administration, through funding for the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, continues to make strengthening health systems globally a priority. These essential investments will fuel the discovery of new treatments and cures for the leading cause of death worldwide.

The Foundation is pleased the President’s budget aims to significantly reduce smoking’s deadly toll through a 94-cent increase in the federal tax on tobacco products. Tobacco taxes are a proven method of reducing smoking rates, especially among youth, and associated health care costs. With a tobacco tax increase also generating billions of dollars in revenue, it is a win-win for the health and economic vitality of our country.

Additionally, the Foundation is encouraged by the Administration’s proposal to put the necessary funding increases in place to support the advancement of electronic health records technology. The LIVESTRONG Foundation advocates for the rights of cancer patients to have the increased control of their records that electronic technology would bring, including the potential to improve and enhance many areas of medical care.

Our work is focused solely on addressing the needs of those facing cancer today, improving their quality of life and health outcomes through free support services, programs, tools, resources and advocacy efforts. Since our founding 16 years ago, we have mobilized more than $500 million to help 2.5 million individuals facing cancer. On behalf of the millions living with cancer today, the Foundation looks forward to working with the Administration and Congress to make these budget increases and priorities a reality.

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson today released the following statement (4:40 p.m. on 10 April):

President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget proposal reflects a strong commitment to supporting research at our public universities while also providing financial assistance to help students pay for school. While we continue to review the administration’s budget documents in more detail, the overall figures reflect an understanding that continued investments in basic research and higher education will more than pay for themselves through the innovations and subsequent economic growth they generate. Research at our universities has led to the development of everything from the Internet, GPS and treatments for cancer and other devastating diseases. I greatly appreciate the President’s understanding that despite having more limited funding to allocate, we must continue to devote additional resources to the research that will lead to future economic gains.

Investments in student aid and research, the majority of which is conducted at our nation’s universities, did not cause our budget deficits. In fact, those deficits would be even higher had we not made those past investments. Along with other leaders in the research university community, I have repeatedly called for a balanced approach of entitlement reform that yields savings and tax reform that produces new revenue as a path toward reining in budget deficits. While details certainly need to be worked out, the President’s budget proposal provides the framework for such an approach and I hope Congress works with the White House to get a much-needed big deal done this year.

APLU has been working very hard to transform STEM education and teacher training through our Science and Mathematics Teacher Imperative (SMTI). We are very pleased to see the President continue his focus on training 100,000 new STEM teachers and producing 1 million new STEM graduates. This effort is incredibly important for increasing science literacy among all Americans and for producing the next generation of researchers and engineers who will discover and develop new technologies that will improve lives and power our economy for decades.

In recent years we’ve seen states cut funding for public universities at the same time those schools are taking on additional students, which has furthered the need for federal financial assistance to offset this shift in costs. To that end, I’m pleased that the President maintained investments in the Pell, Work Study, and other student aid programs. We also appreciate that the President’s budget seeks to prevent interest rates on federal student loans from doubling on July 1 as scheduled, and look forward to learning more about how the proposed fixed-variable rate would be funded.

Statement from Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley (3:30 p.m. on 10 April):

The president’s FY14 budget proposal offers a lifeline for medical research to replace sequestration’s damaging footprints. The budget includes $31.3 billion for the National Institutes of Health, as well as increases for the Food and Drug Administration and National Science Foundation. These increases would take our nation in the right direction, but we’re concerned that budget proposals from Congress—one from each of the House and Senate—unlike the president, fail to reverse sequestration. Sequestration, 10 years of across-the-board spending cuts, will drag our nation down from its leadership position in research and development as other countries aggressively ramp up investments, attracting American businesses and young scientists concerned that federal funding is on the decline, that the U.S. no longer prioritizes research. Our nation has the most sophisticated medical research ecosystem in the world; yet our elected officials have ignored the short- and long-term consequences of dismantling it via sequestration—more deaths from preventable diseases, increased joblessness and soaring health care costs as more Baby boomers become afflicted with Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and other life-threatening, costly illnesses. Policy makers must start acting in the best interests of this nation and tackle tax and entitlement reform to end sequestration. Without bold action by Congress and the administration, our nation’s research enterprise will sputter as other countries fuel their competitive edge.

Following is a statement by Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) (1:50 p.m. on 10 April):

AAU and its member research universities have frequently expressed our view that the nation can and should reduce budget deficits but maintain strong investments in research and education. Such spending is critical to the nation’s long-term economic growth, health, and national security.

We are pleased to see this approach reflected in the President’s FY14 budget. The President’s budget offers hope that the nation will continue to make science and education investments a top national priority while taking serious steps to reduce budget deficits. We strongly support the President’s proposals to eliminate the ill-considered across-the-board sequester and to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, Department of Defense basic research, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and some key student financial aid programs.

While we have concerns about some of the specifics, we also appreciate that the Administration proposes taking steps to address entitlement programs, which are the most serious driver of spending increases, and to raise additional revenues, which also are essential to serious, balanced deficit reduction.

We do not agree with everything in this budget. But it is a strong start, and we will work with the Administration and with Republicans and Democrats in Congress to support balanced deficit reduction, elimination of the sequester, and strong and sustained investments in the nation’s future.

The following is a statement from United for Medical Research (UMR) in reaction to President Obama’s FY ’14 budget (1:50 p.m. on 10 April):

United for Medical Research applauds President Obama’s proposal to increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in FY 2014. As the centerpiece of the medical innovation ecosystem, NIH not only supports the research that leads to treatments and cures for our most devastating diseases, but drives the life sciences economic engine, annually sustaining over 400,000 jobs and nearly $60 billion in economic activity nationwide. The President’s NIH budget proposal is an important step forward in restoring the crippling $1.6 billion cut the agency received as a result of the sequester.

We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress in making this increase in NIH funding a reality. Following a decade of decline in purchasing power, even as scientific opportunities have grown exponentially, increasing the NIH budget should be a critical national priority. In these perilous economic times, we cannot afford to underinvest in our nation’s most talented scientists. Their work, undertaken in all 50 states, has enabled the U.S. to lead the world in life science innovation.

Every year, NIH research on cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes alone averts up to 1.35 million deaths annually while providing hope to millions of patients and their families. Funding roughly one-third of all U.S. medical research, NIH supports more than 300,000 research positions at over 2,500 research universities and institutions in all 50 states.



Obama’s 2014 Science Budget: At CDC, Budget Drops and Priorities Shift

by Science News Staff on 11 April 2013, 4:00 PM 

si-2014Budget.jpg on

Talking money. White House science adviser John Holdren (left) discusses the research-related parts of President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget request to Congress at briefing at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of AAAS (publisher ofScienceInsider).
Credit: David Malakoff

On 10 April, President Barack Obama submitted to Congress his spending plan for the 2014 fiscal year that begins on 1 October. The document can be found at www.fdsys.govScienceInsider is following the story closely, with regular updates on the requests of particular agencies and what those requests say about the president’s vision for science. Plus, reactions from the research community and around the web.

Laser Fusion Facility Faces Dimmer Spending

David Malakoff, 4:00 p.m. on 11 April 


A controversial and perpetually troubled laser fusion project would get a hefty funding reduction under the president’s 2014 budget request for the Department of Energy (DOE). The cuts to the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California appear to be a direct consequence of the project’s failure to create a burning fusion plasma by its 2012 goal.

NIF has long had critics, who contended even before the multibillion-dollar machine was built that it would never work. After numerous delays and cost overruns, NIF finally began operations in 2009, and managers set a 30 September 2012 goal of achieving “ignition” by using its 192 lasers to crush a tiny capsule of hydrogen fuel. But the device fell substantially short of that goal, and late last year officials told Congress that they weren’t sure NIF would ever be able create a burning plasma.

NIF advocates have argued that the project, even if it didn’t achieve ignition, is useful for conducting experiments that would help engineers understand and maintain the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. That is now NIF’s focus, although some outside experts and members of Congress are skeptical of that use. They also question the wisdom of giving NIF any more time or money to achieve ignition.

The budget request appears to reflect some of that skepticism. To help pay for maintaining the nuclear stockpile during a time of austerity, “the Budget proposes to achieve savings by reducing investments in the National Ignition Facility, which failed to achieve ignition in 2012 as scheduled, and by implementing several management efficiencies,” it states. In particular, the budget calls for ending NIF accounting practices that allowed Livermore officials to charge some of the project’s costs to other programs—a practice that critics said effectively obscured NIF’s true cost.

It’s not clear exactly how big the proposed NIF cuts are, because the project receives funding from several programs within DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the nation’s nuclear weapons program. A Livermore spokesperson tells ScienceInsider that NIF’s operating budget request is $329 million for 2014, down 20% from 2012.

Other NIF-affiliated budget lines also appear to take a hit, but it’s hard to calculate exact numbers, says Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, a watchdog group in Livermore that has been critical of the laser project. But NIF “is taking a smaller hit that I had anticipated; these are very modest cuts considering NIF’s abject failure to achieve ignition,” she says. Her group wants NIF to be managed by DOE’s Office of Science for civilian research. “We should run it as an unclassified user facility for 5 years, and then do an analysis of what kind of science the nation is getting for its money, and then decide whether to pull the plug,” she says.

At CDC, Budget Drops and Priorities Shift

Jennifer Couzin-Frankel, 3:25 p.m. on 11 April 

For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2014 budget request offers a mixed picture. CDC’s budget continues to trend downward, as it has over the last several years. President Barack Obama is requesting $6.6 billion for CDC, a drop of $270 million from 2012. But not every program will suffer: In particular, the administration touted extra money for emerging and zoonotic infectious disease initiatives, with a respectable increase of $70 million to $432 million. Forty million dollars would go to an “Advanced Molecular Detection Initiative,” which aims to do a better and quicker job of detecting and responding to threatening pathogens.

An increase of $35 million for injury prevention and control includes money for gun violence prevention research, which was touted by Obama in January.

None of these dollars are new, however. “If you’re putting additional money into one category, you’re taking it from the other,” says Richard Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that focuses on public health. Losers in CDC’s budget include chronic disease prevention efforts and public health preparedness and response. The preparedness cuts would reduce funding to local and state health departments.

In a sense, the mix of increases and cuts suggests tension in how best to allocate resources when it comes to new infectious diseases, such as a novel coronavirus or worrying avian influenza cases in China. On the one hand, says Laura Kahn, an internist at Princeton University who works in public health, we need to quickly be able to identify new viruses and develop vaccines against them. She welcomes CDC’s proposed additional funding for emerging infectious diseases, although wonders how exactly the funds will be allocated.

“Now on the other hand, of course,” Kahn writes to Science in an e-mail, “is how to disseminate a new vaccine to a public without a well-funded public health infrastructure. That’s the downside to the budget cuts.”

NSF Basks in Double-Digit Increase

Jeffrey Mervis, 11:15 a.m. on 11 April 

With enough money, many things are possible.

That’s the happy position in which the National Science Foundation (NSF) finds itself after the president proposed giving the agency an increase of $741 million in 2014, to $7.62 billion. That amount is 10.8% more than NSF’s current budget of $6.88 billion, although the administration describes it as an 8.4% boost over NSF’s 2012 budget. No matter how it’s painted, the request sets NSF apart from most federal agencies that are being asked to make do with level or reduced funding.

The double-digit increase, if endorsed by Congress, would allow NSF to expand activities across the foundation. The request would provide a 9.2% boost over 2012 levels for NSF’s core disciplinary research activities, to $6.21 billion. That includes a doubling of its investment in cyberinfrastructure, to $155 million, reflecting NSF’s lead role in a joint program on Big Data with the National Institutes of Health.

The 2014 request would also increase funding for several initiatives begun by Subra Suresh, who stepped down last month as NSF director to become president of Carnegie Mellon University. In particular, the Innovation Corps program to train would-be entrepreneurs would grow in size and geographic scope, and the INSPIRE program would be able to fund more unorthodox approaches to multidisciplinary research questions. A bigger budget would also let NSF start construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, a $665 million facility in Cerro Pachon, Chile, to which the Department of Energy has committed $160 million. And it would allow NSF to grow its prestigious graduate research fellowship program by one-third, boosting the next class to 2700.

In addition to having friends in the White House, NSF received strong support this year from Capitol Hill to lessen the blow of the mandatory, across-the-board 5% sequester that took effect in March at every civilian agency. (National security funding was cut by 7.2%.) Last-minute increases from a Senate funding panel left NSF’s 2013 budget only 2.1%, or $150 million, below its 2012 funding levels.

NSF’s operating plan for 2013, which spells out how much money each activity will receive, isn’t due to the White House until 22 April. So NSF officials aren’t able to predict how the sequester would affect the number of grants to be awarded in 2013 and the overall success rate of proposals. But, given the additional funding it has received, the agency’s original projection of 1000 fewer grants and a 3% dip in success rates is almost certainly too pessimistic.

NIST Manufactures Some Big Spending Dreams

David Malakoff, 6:20 p.m. on 10 April 


The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was one of the big research winners in today’s 2014 budget request rollout, with the White House requesting a 23%, $177.5 million increase over its 2012 spending, to $928.3 million.

Within that total, NIST’s intramural laboratories would get a 21% hike to $754 million.

The increases are in line with a 2010 law that endorsed a doubling of NIST’s budget over a decade, but Congress hasn’t always come up with the money to stay on track with that goal.

“The FY 2014 budget increases will allow NIST to address high-priority scientific and technical issues that are critical to U.S. economic competitiveness and innovative capacity,” said NIST Director Patrick Gallagher in a statement. In all, he said, the proposal includes some $127 million in new research funding.

The administration is also proposing that NIST help coordinate a one-time $1 billion initiative to create a network of up to 15 manufacturing innovation institutes around the country. The National Network of Manufacturing Innovation would join companies, academic institutions, and government agencies in efforts to develop cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. The Obama administration has already set up one pilot center in an effort to demonstrate the value of the idea .

Smithsonian Outreach Gets a Boost

Elizabeth Pennisi, 6:15 p.m. on 10 April 


President Barak Obama wants to tap the Smithsonian Institution’s expertise in informal science education as part of his plan to streamline STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. As part of his 2014 budget request, Obama is proposing a $25 million boost to the institution’s education efforts. “From Day 1, I knew that we could play a much bigger role in science education,” says Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian. “We have attributes and resources that other agencies don’t have.”

The Smithsonian, which is home to 19 museums, a zoo, and six science research centers, would receive $869 million from the federal government under the 2014 request, a $93 million, 12% increase over $776 million in 2013.

For 2013, the continuing resolution that Congress approved in March added $5 million dollars to staff the African American museum that is under construction and $2 million for roof repairs from Hurricane Sandy to its 2012 allocation of $810 million. But as part of the sequester, the Smithsonian had to come up with $41 million in cuts to that amount.

Those belt-tightening measures included taking all new major science instrumentation projects off the table. But the proposed 2014 budget includes $500,000 to begin to modify a 12-meter radio antenna telescope and move it from Arizona to Greenland. The telescope, which is expected to be operational in 2017, will be used in conjunction with Smithsonian telescopes in Chile and Hawaii to study black holes.

Otherwise, any increases for science programs are primarily for covering salary, rent, and other expenses, such as providing parity in salaries for Panamanians working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, says Smithsonian senior budget analyst George Thomas.

Thus, the big win for Smithsonian science is for STEM education. President Obama’s plan would shift $180 million from 90 STEM programs at 11 agencies to the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian. The first two agencies would work to improve K-12 and undergraduate and graduate education. With its $25 million, the Smithsonian would improve informal education as it relates to the classroom. “The boundary between informal and formal education is breaking down,” Clough says.

The newly named Center for Learning and Digital Access will be expanding its efforts to provide teachers easy access to Smithsonian materials that are geared toward meeting education standards requirements. Already it has a database of 2000 documents, photos, podcasts, videos, and other material, says Michelle Smith, editorial director of the center.

Eventually that database will be expanded to include material from all over the federal government. “We would serve as the agent for other agencies,” Clough says. When Clough first came to the Smithsonian in 2008, the Smithsonian was just starting to reach out to students and teachers online and there was not much coordination among its 250 educators. Now the education effort is much more coordinated, Clough says, and he expects that a similar transformation can happen across the federal government. “We can deliver education to anybody in any place at any time,” he says.

Rock On! Asteroid Spending Hot Item for NASA

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, 5:50 p.m. on 10 April 


Asteroids are hot in the president’s 2014 budget for NASA. He wants the space agency to find them, move them, excavate them, and eventually dispatch astronauts to walk on them.

If NASA’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year contains one shiny new initiative, it is the science fiction-y plan to capture an approximately 454-tonne asteroid with a giant bag and drag it close to the moon where it can be studied in detail. After it has accomplished that feat, the agency will send astronauts to visit the rock, traveling in an Orion space capsule that is now under development. If the plan succeeds by an anticipated date of 2021, President Barack Obama may be able to tweet out a humble brag that might read thus: #Woohoo! Realized promise made at #KennedySpaceCenter.

The promise—made in a speech in April 2010, in which Obama laid out his vision for space—was to land humans on an asteroid by 2025. For 2 years, lawmakers questioned NASA officials on the specifics of how it would be done. Lawmakers have slammed the agency for not having a clear sense of direction. Finally, the agency seems to have come up with an answer that kills both birds with one stone.

“This mission raises the bar for human exploration and discovery,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said this afternoon in a media telecon about the budget. The idea, which will be kicked off in 2014 with a total funding of $105 million divided between NASA’s exploration, aeronautics, and science directorates, appears to have gained traction after the crash-landing of a meteorite over Russia in February. That event set off frenzied calls from lawmakers that asteroid detection and deflection should be a high priority for NASA.

The first step in the proposed capture and maneuver mission would be to find the right-sized asteroid. That’s why the administration wants to double the current level of funding for asteroid detection to $40 million. This piece of the new initiative will likely please lawmakers who have already conducted hearings on what NASA and private companies should be doing to tackle the asteroid threat.

The second step of the mission would involve developing new technologies to achieve the task, which dovetails with NASA’s stated goal of inspiring technological breakthroughs. And the final step would involve sending astronauts to the asteroid aboard the Orion space capsule, the development of which is another high priority. In other words, the mission helps tie together several disparate items on NASA’s agenda.

The agency has a number of other programs that have to do with asteroids. One is a mission to return a sample from a known carbonaceous asteroid by 2023. That mission, called OSIRIS-REx, is planned for a 2016 launch.

More Love for USDA’s Competitive Research

Erik Stokstad, 5:30 p.m. on 10 April 


It’s no secret that the White House likes competitively awarded, peer-reviewed funding for research. For 2013, the administration asked for a 23% boost to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) while keeping its requests for other research funding levels at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) relatively flat. But Congress didn’t deliver, instead keeping AFRI’s budget nearly constant at $266 million.

This year, the White House has doubled down and asked for a 44% boost to AFRI over 2013 levels, to $383 million.

“Great news!” extolled Karl Glasener, who directs science policy for the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America. Whether Congress will go along remains to be seen.

AFRI is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA’s extramural funding division. Existing programs at AFRI focus on food security, water and nutrient management, nutrition, food safety, biofuels, and climate change. They plan to add programs on agricultural education and outreach. While AFRI would see a big boost relative to its estimated FY 2013 budget, so-called formula funds, which are given to land-grant universities, would decline by 1% to $657 million.

As with previous years, the administration is asking for a small increase to R&D at the intramural Agricultural Research Service. As part of its request for a 1.6% increase over 2013 to $1.08 billion, USDA would boost efforts on food safety, human nutrition, and environmental stewardship while decreasing funding for agronomic research. In addition, USDA is asking for $155 million to fully renovate its Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Georgia. The aging facility has a biosafety level 2 lab and three agricultural labs and was identified as the top priority for modernization in a 2012 review of ARS labs.

*Correction, 11:30 a.m. on 11 April: The administration is asking for a small increase to R&D at the intramural Agricultural Research Service for a 1.6% increase over 2013, not a 15% increase as originally reported.

NIH Gets Slight Relief From Sequester Pain

Jocelyn Kaiser, 5:10 p.m. on 10 April 


The president’s fiscal year 2014 budget offers the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only a modest 1.5% increase, to $31.3 billion, over 2012 levels. But that small boost would provide welcome relief from the staggering 5% cut that the agency received this year because of the mandatory across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.

“Everything’s relative,” said NIH Director Francis Collins after a press briefing today. “Considering what we’ve been going through in FY ’13, what’s being proposed here is really gratifying.” (Compared with NIH’s final 2013 budget of $29.3 billion, the increase would be 6.8%.) NIH would fund 10,269 new and competing grants, an increase of 351 compared with 2012.

The $471 million in new funding includes $40 million for the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, a brain mapping project that the administration rolled out last week. (Other agencies are contributing about $70 million.) NIH also wants to spend $41 million on a “Big Data” initiative to improve ways to use and share large datasets, Collins said. Another $32 million would go toward anew program that would to attempt to bring more diversity to the biomedical workforce by encouraging minorities to pursue biomedical research careers.

Another favored area is Alzheimer’s research, which would receive $80 million in new grants for drug development at the National Institute on Aging—accounting for the entire increase that the institute is slated to receive.

The Cures Acceleration Network, a program aimed at supporting drug development within NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, would receive $50 million, a $40 million increase.

Biomedical research groups cautiously praised the increase for NIH. “We don’t want to sound unappreciative, but this continues the pattern of failing to keep pace with inflation” for a decade at NIH, said Dave Moore of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The budget also assumes that Congress finds a way out of the sequestration cuts mandated for the next 10 years, he adds. “It’s a little bit of good news, but I think it’s still very worrisome as to where this is all headed,” Moore said.

USGS Sees Budget Boost as Vote for Expanding Mission

Erik Stokstad, 5:05 p.m. on 10 April 


The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) patted itself on the back today for a proposed 8% increase in the president’s budget request, compared with its FY 2012-enacted budget. The $98.8 million boost would lift theagency’s budget to about $1.2 billion.

“This is a really significant increase,” said acting Director Suzette Kimball in a teleconference. “It’s largely due to USGS being recognized among the large science agencies as part of the larger R&D effort” and not just a mission agency to the Department of the Interior, in which it exists.

A request of an 8% increase is exceptional for USGS, which last year was slated for an overall 3% increase in the president’s request. Typically, the agency has seen increases on the order of 1% to 2%. The proposed budget would include a $13 million boost for research on hydraulic fracking, to $18.6 million. It would also raise the funding for stream gages, which monitor water levels and collect other data, by $7.2 million. That would buy about 400 new gages to supplement the existing network of some 3130. USGS has said that the budget cuts known as the sequester threaten the operation of about 350 existing gages. Other proposed increases include a 22% increase for climate change science, to $72 million. A3D-elevation mapping program would get started as well. Research into mineral deposits and the Water Resource Research Institutes would be cut, but details were not immediately available.


A Fundamental Shift at the Pentagon

Eliot Marshall, 4:35 p.m. on 10 April 


To sustain an edge in military technology, the White House aims to spend more on key military research programs—particularly fundamental basic research—even as it trims the overall Pentagon budget next year.

The plan calls for a total of $526.6 billion in discretionary funding for the U.S. military in 2014, about 0.7% less than in 2012 and 2013. The administration foresees a sharp decline in the account that pays for weapons testing and evaluation, from $72 billion in 2012 to $68 billion next year. At the same time, it gives a boost to the blue-sky innovation agency known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency); its budget would increase by 1.8%, to $2.9 billion. Funding for basic science and technology accounts would remain steady at around $11.9 billion, with a shift of about $200 million inside this category to emphasize fundamental work—including the kind of research carried out at universities.

This is a good sign, says Matthew Owens, an analyst at the Association of American Universities, the lobby for major research institutions based in Washington, D.C. He believes the administration is sticking with a theme articulated by the previous two secretaries of defense—investing in research not just to acquire advanced technology but also to draw talented people into the field of national security.

EPA Loses Out in R&D Budget

Erik Stokstad, 4:25 p.m. on 10 April 

If you don’t have much nice to say, don’t say much. That pretty much sums up the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) discussion of research when it rolled out its proposed budget for FY 2014, which includes a cut to the agency’s science program.

The request “reflects the Obama Administration’s commitment to drive strong economic growth by supporting innovative research” on pollution, climate change, and clean energy, the agency said in a statement. The agency’s more detailed “EPA Budget in Brief,” released today, stated that the R&D program “leverages expertise” to meet its challenges.

The agency overall would see a 4% whack from its funding under the 2013 continuing resolution to $8.2 billion, continuing its slide in recent years. The research program, which was funded at $568 million in FY 2012, would drop by 1.9% from that level in 2014. About $16 million would be taken from the popular STAR fellowships as part of an administration proposal to reorganize STEM programs across the government.

Research on drinking water would decline by $2.3 million, endocrine disruptors by $1.2 million, and four other programs by $1 million each. EPA would expand its cooperative research with the U.S. Geological Survey and DOE on the environmental impact of hydraulic fracking, and increase its funding on minimizing chemical hazards by $4.1 million and climate change by $3.2 million. Baseline funding for these programs was not immediately available.

Outside the science division, EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program would get a $2.4 million boost. And the Air, Climate, and Energy Research program would see a 7.9% increase to $105 million over FY 2012 levels for research on environmental and health impacts from air pollution, climate change, and biofuels.

Nanotechnology Initiative Would Get Smaller

David Malakoff, 4:05 p.m. on 10 April 

A 13-year-old nanotechnology research initiative would take a cut of $159 million, or 8.5%, to $1.7 billion under the president’s budget request to Congress.

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), launched in 2001, coordinates an array of nanoscale science projects across about 15 federal departments and agencies. In 2013, the Obama administration requested a 4.1% increase for NNI, to $1.77 billion. This year’s budget documents offer no explanation for the turnabout.

Historically, about two-thirds of NNI funding has gone to academic research, with the remainder supporting science at government and industry laboratories.

Climate Change Research Gets a Warm Reception

David Malakoff, 2:35 p.m. on 10 April 

Spending on climate change research at 13 federal agencies would rise by a total of 6%, to $2.65 billion, over 2012 levels under the president’s 2014 budget request to Congress.

The biggest winner would be NASA, which would get a $71 million, 5% increase to $1.49 billion. In contrast, the National Science Foundation would see a decrease of $7 million, or 2.1%, to $326 million.

The 13 agencies are part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), an initiative that cuts across the U.S. government.

More details on the USGCRP request can be found on this White House fact sheet.

Big Bump-Up for Department of Energy Research

Adrian Cho, 2:10 p.m. on 10 April 

The details have not yet been released, but the proposed 2014 budget for the Department of Energy (DOE) appears to be a researcher’s dream. DOE’s basic research arm, the Office of Science would get a 5.7% increase from the level enacted for fiscal 2012—the last budget that Congress passed—to $5.15 billion. (Last month, Congress essentially extended the 2012 budget through the rest of fiscal year 2013, which ends on 30 September.)

Even more impressive, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) would see its budget climb 38% from the 2012 level to $379 million. ARPA-E aims to cherry-pick the most promising ideas from energy-related basic research and quickly develop them into commercially viable technologies.

Within the Office of Science, the biggest winner by far is the fusion energy science program, which would see its budget soar 14% to $458 million. Such a boost is desperately needed, researchers say, as the U.S. contributions to the international fusion experiment ITER, under construction in Cadarache, France, threaten to consume much of the United States’ domestic fusion research.

Otherwise, the trend toward research that is more applicable to clean energy continues. Funding would increase by 10.3% from the 2012 level to $1.862 billion for the basic energy science program—which funds materials science, condensed matter physics, chemistry, and related fields and runs many of DOE’s x-ray sources and other “user facilities.” Advanced scientific computing research would jump 5.7% to $466 million. Biological and environmental research would edge up 2.6% to $625 million. And nuclear physics would climb 4.2%, to $570 million.

In contrast, DOE’s high-energy physics program, which funds work in elementary particle physics, would see its budget fall 1.7% from the 2012 level to $777 million.

All of this ignores the effects of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, which are required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Unless it is reversed, sequestration would knock DOE budget levels for 2014 down 7.2%, leaving the Office of Science a net loser instead of a winner.

Homeland Security Would Move Ahead With Controversial Agrosecurity Laboratory

David Malakoff, 1:45 p.m. on 10 April 

The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) science and technology directorate would see its current budget roughly double, to $1.4 billion, if the president’s request is enacted. Essentially all of the increase, $714 million, would go to building the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a controversial high-security laboratory slated for Manhattan, Kansas, that would study diseases that threaten humans and livestock. NBAF is supposed to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, which the budget request says “will soon reach the end of its useful life.”

Last year, the White House surprised many by omitting funding for NBAF in its 2013 request. Officials said that they needed to take a fresh look at the project in light of safety and budget concerns, as well as opposition from some well-placed members of Congress. Several generally positive outside reviews conducted by the U.S. National Academies, however, appear to have helped persuade the White House to fully back the effort.

There is certain to be congressional opposition to building NBAF. Representatives Tim Bishop (D-NY) and Joe Courtney (D-CT) have vowed to block NBAF funding, saying the money would be better spent upgrading Plum Island in New York. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) has also expressed concern about NBAF, reflecting fears among the livestock industry that disease could escape from the facility and threaten U.S. livestock herds.

The new budget requests $467 million for the directorate’s primary research account, extending the program’s recent rebound. In 2012, Congress slashed that account by 52%, to $265 million, as a result of an unrelated battle over disaster assistance spending and concerns about the program’s effectiveness. If Congress approves the 2014 request, the account would return to 2011 levels. But that number would be more than $130 million below where spending stood in 2010.

NASA Budget Includes Money to Send New Rover to Mars, Capture Asteroid

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, 12:55 p.m. on 10 April 

The administration wants to hold NASA’s overall budget line for 2014 at nearly the same level as what the agency is getting this year. But it wants to make some key changes in how some of that $17.7 billion would be spent.

It wants the agency to launch a robotic mission to capture a small asteroid in space and drag it close to the moon. “Astronauts would later visit the asteroid and return samples to Earth,” according to NASA budget highlights posted on the White House’s Web site this morning. The budget provides $78 million to develop technologies for the mission.

The budget also provides money for “multiple missions focused on Mars exploration, including a new large rover to be launched in 2020.” NASA has been considering various ideas for exploring Mars after last year’s pullout from the European-led ExoMars program, and sending another rover to the Red Planet seems to be what the administration has settled on.

Another key change that the administration wants to make is to shrink the agency’s budget for education and outreach by $47.5 million, which would be redirected to other agencies. “NASA’s assets will be used more effectively through coordination with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education and the Smithsonian Institution to achieve the Administration’s wider STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education goals,” according to the White House’s summary of highlights.

Most Civilian Agencies Get a Boost

Jeffrey Mervis, 12:40 p.m. on 10 April 

President Obama today proposed a significant increase in federal spending on civilian research for 2014. His support for science comes as part of an otherwise flat budget that aims to shrink the federal deficit through clamping down on entitlement programs and raising money by altering the tax code.

The president has requested a total of $143 billion in 2014 for research and development. That’s level with current spending and up 1% from 2012. But within that total, civilian research spending would jump by 9% over 2012.

The increases for research, if approved by Congress, would allow most research agencies to recover from the cuts to their current budgets under the across-the-board sequester that went into effect last month. But that’s a huge if. And there are also some caveats in what the president has proposed.

As in past years, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive hefty boosts in line with a 2010 law that endorses a doubling of their budgets over a decade. NSF’s budget would jump by 8.4%, for example, to $7.6 billion, and the Office of Science would rise by 5.7%, to $5.1 billion. In contrast, the budget for the National Institutes of Health would inch up by 1.6%, to $31.3 billion.

All of those numbers are based on a comparison with 2012 spending levels. That’s because Congress didn’t complete work on the 2013 spending bill until 21 March, too late to be included in the president’s request. The proposed increases would be considerably larger if compared with 2013, because sequestration sliced 5% off every civilian agency’s budget.

The president’s budget also fails to take into account how much agencies would lose in 2014 under sequestration, the 2011 budget law that requires across-the-board cuts to lower the federal deficit over the next decade. For 2014, civilian agencies would suffer a cut of 7.9%. But the White House maintains that sequestration is bad policy and has urged Congress to repeal the law. Hence, it is not a factor in the president’s request.

As the day goes on, we’ll bring you more details on the president’s science budget.



#FY2014: Scientific Community Responds to President’s Spending Plan


As White House Embraces BRAIN Initiative, Questions Linger

by Emily Underwood on 3 April 2013, 5:00 PM 


A lot of nerves. President Barack Obama is introduced by Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, at the BRAIN Initiative event in the East Room of the White House on 2 April.
Credit: Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

For neuroscientist Rafael Yuste, sitting in an ornate White House chamber yesterday listening to President Barack Obama heap praise—and some $100 million—on a brain-mapping initiative that he helped hatch was a “luminous” experience. “It felt like history,” says the researcher, who works at Columbia University.

“There is this enormous mystery waiting to be unlocked,” Obama told the East Room crowd packed with leaders of American neuroscience during a 12-minute paean to brain research (likely the most expansive yet delivered by an American president). By “giving scientists the tools they need to get a dynamic picture of the brain in action,” he said, the new initiative will help scientists find a cure for complex brain processes such as traumatic brain injury and Parkinson’s, and create jobs that “we haven’t even dreamt up yet.”

For all the lofty rhetoric, however, the White House didn’t provide many details about how the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative will accomplish its mission. And the lack of detail is worrying not only BRAIN skeptics—who argue that it targets the wrong goal and could detract from other research efforts—but also even some staunch advocates such as Yuste. The way that the White House has packaged and plans to fund and coordinate the initiative, they say, is creating some unease.

“As the proposal stands, it’s still awfully vague, so it’s hard not to have some reservations,” says biophysicist Jeremy Berg of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, who is a former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Several years ago, Yuste and other scientists originally pitched BRAIN to U.S. government officials as the Brain Activity Map, a 10-year, $3 billion effort to develop tools in nanotechnology, optogenetics, and synthetic biology that could measure “every spike from every neuron” in a neural circuit. In a 2012 paper in Neuron, based on meetings organized by the Oxnard, California-based Kavli Foundation, Yuste and colleagues laid out a plan to progress gradually from mapping the brain activity of simple model organisms such as the fruit fly to charting the brains of creatures that contain roughly 1 million neurons, such as the Etruscan shrew. Human applications were couched as the ultimate aim, but not an immediate goal.

Since the idea was adopted by the White House, however, it has evolved substantially. The plan that Obama unveiled yesterday calls for BRAIN to be funded by three federal agencies as well as private foundations. Officials say the president’s fiscal year 2014 budget request, to be released on 10 April, will request approximately:

  • $40 million for NIH’s Blueprint for Neuroscience Research, a project which spans 15 institutes and centers
  • $50 million for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for research that could improve treatment and diagnosis of combat-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress, brain injury, and memory loss
  • $20 million for the National Science Foundation (NSF), to support research into the development of nanoscale probes that can record the activity of neural networks; information processing technology that can handle the flood of data generated by BRAIN research; and better understanding of the neural representation of thoughts, emotions, actions, and memories

Four private groups—the Allen Institute for Brain Science, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Kavli Foundation, and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies—say they will support the project by funding BRAIN related research at their institutions. (See this infographic for more details.)

The initiative will be steered by an NIH-backed working group of 15 neuroscientists, co-chaired by Cornelia Bargmann of Rockefeller University in New York City and William Newsome of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Although that group will not release a detailed research spending plan until later this year, BRAIN is expected to put a greater emphasis on human applications than its original planners envisioned, says neuroscientist John Donoghue of Brown University, one of two researchers from the Kavli-led effort that has been named to the BRAIN steering committee (neuroscientist Terrence Sejnowski of the Salk Institute is the other).Human applications and animal research are now being thought of as “a parallel rather than a serial effort,” he says. And NIH Director Francis Collins confirms that human applications will be of great interest: “We don’t want to waste any time moving to science that has direct human applications,” he said during a press teleconference yesterday.

That shift has created some worries. Yuste, for example, says that keeping human benefits in mind is important, but he wonders whether the project’s original sharp focus on tool development may be diluted if the NIH advisory panel is dominated by traditional neuroscientists, rather than a more interdisciplinary mix of scientists including nanoscientists, optogeneticists, and synthetic biologists. “Neither Bargmann or Newsome are tool builders, so it’s a worry that they are packing the committee with users, rather than tool builders,” Yuste says, adding that he and some allies are asking NIH to add members to the panel. “We are asking for more technologists.”

Just 2 months ago, Bargmann herself expressed skepticism about the project. “Based on my conversations, there is great concern in the neuroscience community that this sounds like a big central planning project that will take resources away from creative work,” she wrote in a February e-mail to Science. “The project needs to make sense to those who care deeply about neurological disease and neuroscience, and we haven’t seen the leaders in those areas involved yet.” (ScienceInsider has not been able to reach Bargmann for comment since she was named co-chair to the working group.)

Although Pittsburgh’s Berg was skeptical of the 10-year, $3 billion Brain Activity Map proposal, “now that it’s been downsized somewhat and focused on technology development I feel much more comfortable with the project,” he says. Based on his experience at NIH, Berg says that the emphasis on technology development is “a very good thing,” because groups within the agency tend to struggle with developing new technologies” because they are “focused on what problem they’re trying to solve rather than the technology development per se.”

Allowing the system to be flexible and adapt over time is crucial, he says. The fact that Bargmann and Newsome are on the advisory group “adds a lot of comfort for me.” While both are “spectacular contributors” to neuroscience, Berg says, they also have a broad view of how to administer both small and large science projects.

Like any big project, the success of BRAIN will ultimately depend on its leadership, Donoghue agrees: “There are a lot of people involved in this who have built independent careers running labs on their own. … The question is whether they will all pull together in the same direction.”

Still unclear is whether BRAIN’s funding will siphon money from other research efforts and if the $100 million will be followed by further investments in coming years. “My understanding is that it’s coming from new money” not previously allocated to neuroscience research, Donoghue says. Yuste’s initial reaction to the figure was that it was “much too low” to accomplish the project’s original goals.

But “that money has to be seen as something that can be built around, from which you can build forward,” says Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS (publisher of ScienceInsider). “At a time when funding is so tight across the government,” White House support for neuroscience research is a “major opportunity,” says Leshner, a former director of NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse and acting director of the National Institute of Mental Health. “If the scientific community doesn’t rise to the moment, shame on us.”

Although there’s no predicting whether Congress will approve the president’s request, “there has historically been and there seems to be today bipartisan interest in this kind of innovative research,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney yesterday during his daily briefing.

One top Republican leader in Congress has already expressed his support. “Mapping the human brain is exactly the type of research we should be funding,” said Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA), the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, in a statement. “It’s great science.”

(Obama, meanwhile, joked during his remarks that “presumably my life would be simpler” if scientists could map the brain. “It could explain all kinds of things that go on in Washington. We could prescribe something.”)

Despite their concerns, many of the researchers who laid the foundation for BRAIN are simply happy to see at least part of their idea being realized. On the evening before the president’s announcement, Yuste and more than a dozen other colleagues involved in the effort met for dinner in downtown Washington, D.C., for what they jokingly described as their “Last Supper.” The feeling of accomplishment was “bittersweet,” Yuste says. They were pleased that the Obama administration has embraced the project, he says, but now “it’s out of our hands.”



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Mobilizing Scientific Societies: Editorial by Science Editor-in-Chief Dr. Bruce Alberts

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D

In a weekly editorial, Dr. Bruce Alberts, Editor-in –Chief of the journal Science discussed issues pertaining to science education in the United States[1].  He suggests the US science education system may need to be more flexible in its approach to science education in grade and high school.  He considers the one major problem is the “broad coverage of each subject, which kills student interest and makes genuine comprehension impossible.  Dr. Alberts suggest that state-based textbooks and the inability of the scientific community to understand teacher’s needs is driving this inadvertent problem.  The current textbooks used for scientific education focus more on memorization of a multitude of scientific terms than on concept development, experimentation and inquisition, and conclusion.  Materials are desperately needed for teachers to guide students to confront the overall concept, and working in teams, design potential methods to further explore these concepts.  He suggest this style of teaching would require close partnerships between top-notch teachers , educational  experts and scientific societies in order to research the effect of current curriculum materials but also develop  new Web-based  curriculum.

In a recent interview in the March 2013 issue of Wired magazine with Clayton Christensen, Ph.D. the author of the famed book The innovator’s Dilemma,  Dr. Christensen forwqarns the impending changes in higher education due to increased availability of online learning.  As he states, universities are on the precipice of a collapse in the future and those which survive will evolve hybrid models of education, part online and part classroom but will provide more specialized offerings to fit current needs.  Indeed, as listed below these changes and suggestions in science education may well be underway.  Below is a brief listing of scientific societies who have undertaken these challenges and formed extensive programs in STEM education.

FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) programs such as:

Resources for Faculty and K-12 Teachers

APS Frontiers in Physiology Program – Provides professional development for middle and high school teachers by providing them with tools and resources and connecting them with researchers on-line and through workshops.

APS Physiology Understanding Week – Fosters relationships among teachers, students, and physiologists. PhUn Week encourages member physiologists across the nation to volunteer and work with teachers in their local community to visit a classroom during the first week in November.

Leap to the Top in Science Classes  from AAAS found at:


A progress report from the 2013 AAAS meeting follows:

Often, in the daily grind of slogging through a difficult science class, students see fully formed scientists and their discoveries as a distant blur. Remote men and women somehow make advanced science happen.

New efforts aim to bring students face to face with creative, imaginative scientists right in their classroom.

With a lifetime of scientific contributions at their back, many retired scientists, engineers, and physicians are returning to school, not as pupils or as instructors, but as classroom volunteers in public elementary, middle, and high schools.

This week over 400 teachers and scientists gathered in Boston for the first International Teacher-Scientist Partnership Conference, organized by AAAS Education and Human Resources and the University of California, San Francisco Science & Health Education Partnership, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Presenters are scheduled to share a range of partnership models over three days, from scientists generating digital education tools, to teachers participating in research.

Throughout the first day of the conference, the conversation turned to the idea of bringing scientists into the classroom to work directly with the students.

Virginia Shepherd from Vanderbilt University shared a comprehensive analysis of the university’s nearly 20-year-old Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education program. Presentation attendees duly applauded the success of the program but said that they had trouble establishing similar programs in their state for lack of funding.

A handful of organizations represented at the conference have found that an affordable way to bring scientists into the classroom is to recruit retired scientists.

Volunteers at Northeastern University’s Retirees Enhancing Science Education through Experiments and Demonstrations program, or RE-SEED, spend at least one day a week in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom in Massachusetts helping students conduct experiments as part of the existing curriculum.

“Retired scientists and engineers have a lot of experience from a lifetime of working in laboratories. They can make what the students are learning relevant,” said Christos Zahopoulos, a professor of education and engineering at Northeastern University.

Since founding RE-SEED in 1991, Zahopoulos has helped to start similar programs in 15 states, conducting on-site trainings for volunteers. While such programs start out strong, many of them have since faded, with only a handful remaining, he said.

Even though retirees are offering a free service to the schools, getting them trained and placed takes a certain amount of funding, Zahopoulos says. He has been fortunate to fund RE-SEED with private donations. Many programs were not so lucky.

AAAS’ Senior Scientists and Engineers (SSE), a service-oriented organization for retired scientists and engineers, has managed to sustain a similar program for seven years. In 2005, Zahopoulos helped SSE establish its own volunteer program.

Donald Rea, a former research chemist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and SSE volunteer coordinator for Virginia, hopes that helping to reinforce science education will enhance the public understanding of science in years to come.

“If you want to have an influence on science literacy, you want to get [kids] while they are young. So we work in classrooms as young as second grade,” Rea said.

This kind of investment takes many years to fully mature. So, how do Rea and Zahopoulos measure success? They look to their teachers, volunteers, and students.

Rea said he measures success by the eagerness of schools and teachers to participate year after year.

For Zahopoulos, hints of success sometimes come in the mail. He says one student wrote in to RE-SEED upon graduating from high school, several years after any contact with a RE-SEED volunteer, to say that she had decided to major in biology and had enrolled in a pre-medicine program.

Both Rea and Zahopoulos said they have been amazed at the dedication and eagerness of volunteers.

“When we first started, we asked volunteers to commit to one day a week for one year. Now we have volunteers who have been with us for 18 years and some volunteer as many as 4 times per week,” Zahopoulos said.

Ron McKnight, a former Department of Energy physicists and SSE volunteer has recently taken on the task of coordinating volunteers living in Montgomery County, Md. He still volunteers in middle school science classrooms and is considering taking on another assignment.

When asked what he loves about volunteering, he replied, “Whenever a kid I’m working with asks a really good question, that’s when I have a really good day.”

National Science Foundation (NSF) Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)

Information can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/div/index.jsp?div=DRL

DRL invests in projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM learning for people of all ages. Its mission includes promoting innovative research, development, and evaluation of learning and teaching across all STEM disciplines by advancing cutting-edge knowledge and practices in both formal and informal learning settings. DRL also promotes the broadening and deepening of capacity and impact in the educational sciences by encouraging the participation of scientists, engineers, and educators from the range of disciplines represented at NSF. Therefore, DRL’s role in the larger context of Federal support for education research and evaluation is to be a catalyst for change—advancing theory, method, measurement, development, and application in STEM education. The Division seeks to advance both early, promising innovations as well as larger-scale adoptions of proven educational innovations. In doing so, it challenges the field to create the ideas, resources, and human capacity to bring about the needed transformation of STEM education for the 21st century.

Society of Toxicology K-12 Educational Outreach for Scientists


This sites contains multiple .pdf  files on volunteering and mentoring topics including

  • Scientist Mentor Ideas
  • Links to Other Mentoring Sites
  • Resources for toxicologists to use in K-12 Outreach
  • Regional Chapter K-12 Outreach


1.         Alberts B: Mobilizing scientific societies. Science 2012, 338(6113):1396.

for high school teachers please see https://www.teachercertificationdegrees.com/top-blogs/science-teacher/


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Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Engineers work to help biologists cope with big data

Tue, 01/08/2013 – 10:15am

Liang Dong is developing an instrument that will allow plant scientists to simultaneously study thousands of plants grown in precisely controlled condition. Photo: Bob ElbertLiang Dong is developing an instrument that will allow plant scientists to simultaneously study thousands of plants grown in precisely controlled condition. Photo: Bob ElbertLiang Dong held up a clear plastic cube, an inch or so across, just big enough to hold 10 to 20 tiny seeds.

Using sophisticated sensors and software, researchers can precisely control the light, temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide inside that cube.

Dong—an Iowa State University assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and of chemical and biological engineering—calls it a “microsystem instrument.” Put hundreds of those cubes together and researchers can simultaneously grow thousands of seeds and seedlings in different conditions and see what happens. How, for example, do the plants react when it is hot and dry? Or carbon dioxide levels change? Or light intensity is adjusted very slightly?

The instrument designed and built by Dong’s research group will keep track of all that by using a robotic arm to run a camera over the cubes and take thousands of images of the growing seeds and seedlings.

Plant scientists will use the images to analyze the plants’ observable characteristics—the leaf color, the root development, the shoot size. All those observations are considered a plant’s phenotype. And while plant scientists understand plant genetics very well, Dong says they don’t have a lot of data about how genetics and environment combine to influence phenotype.

Dong’s instrument will provide researchers with lots of data—too much for scientists to easily sort and analyze. That’s a problem known as big data. And it’s increasingly common in the biological sciences.

“We’re seeing a proliferation of new instruments in the biological sciences,” says Srinivas Aluru, the Ross Martin Mehl and Marylyne Munas Mehl Professor of Computer Engineering at Iowa State. “And the rate of data collection is increasing. So we have to have a solution to analyze all this data.”

Aluru is leading a College of Engineering initiative to build research teams capable of solving big data problems in next-generation DNA sequencing, systems biology, and phenomics. The researchers are developing computing solutions that take advantage of emerging technologies such as cloud computing and high-performance computers. They’re also building partnerships with technology companies such as IBM, Micron, NVIDIA, Illumina Inc., Life Technologies Corp., Monsanto Co., and Roche.

The project is one of the three Dean’s Research Initiatives launched by Jonathan Wickert, former dean of the College of Engineering and currently Iowa State’s senior vice president and provost. The initiatives in high-throughput computational biology, wind energy, and a carbon-negative economy were launched in March 2011 with $500,000 each over three years. That money is to build interdisciplinary, public-private research teams ready to compete for multi-million dollar grants and projects.

Patrick Schnable, Iowa State’s Baker Professor of Agronomy and director of the centers for Plant Genomics and Carbon Capturing Crops, remembers when biologists had no interest in working with computer specialists. That was before they tried to work with billions of data points to, say, accurately predict harvests based on plant genotype, soil type and weather conditions.

“Now we’re getting huge, absolutely huge, data sets,” Schnable says. “There is no way to analyze these data sets without extraordinary computer resources. There’s no way we could do this without the collaboration of engineers.”

To date, the computational biology initiative has attracted $5.5 million for four major research projects. One of the latest grants is a three-year, $2 million award from the BIGDATA program of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The grant will allow Aluru and researchers from Iowa State, Stanford University, Virginia Tech, and the University of Michigan to work together to develop a computing toolbox that helps scientists manage all the data from today’s DNA sequencing instruments.

Aluru says the research initiative helped prepare Iowa State researchers to go after that grant.

“When the BIGDATA call came in, we had the credibility to compete,” he says. “We were already working on leading edge problems and had established relationships with companies.”

The initiative, the grants and the industry partnerships are helping Iowa State faculty and students move to the front of the developing field.

“One computing company wanted to set up a life science research group and it came here for advice,” Aluru says. “Iowa State is known as a big data leader in the biosciences.”

Source: Iowa State University




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Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Gordon H. Sun, M.D., Jeffrey D. Steinberg, Ph.D., and Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil.

N Engl J Med 2012; 367:687-690   August 23, 2012

Since the founding of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) more than six decades ago, the United States has maintained a preeminent position as a government sponsor of medical research. That primacy is being tested, however, by potent economic challenges. The NIH’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013 would freeze baseline funding at 2012 levels, continuing a decade-long failure to keep pace with the rising costs of conducting medical research. Across-the-board cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 will also affect medical research, with the NIH, NSF, and other federal research sponsors sustaining budgetary reductions of about 8% next year.

Cuts to government-funded research will have adverse long-term effects on the health care system and the economy and may irreversibly compromise the work of laboratories long accustomed to receiving stable federal support. Moreover, many medical researchers could transfer their knowledge and resources abroad. In fact, five emerging Asian economic or technological powers — China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore — already have medical research policies in place that are filling the void being created by ever more restrictive U.S. funding.

Several U.S.-based economists have justified increasing research budgets on the premise that medical discoveries have intrinsically high economic value. For example, Murphy and Topel have suggested that eliminating deaths related to heart disease had an estimated worth of $48 trillion, and a 1% reduction in cancer-related mortality could save $500 billion.1 Beyond these ambitious goals, however, are more practical arguments favoring support for medical research.

Local and regional economic benefits are one example. A June 2008 analysis by Families USA showed that during the NIH’s fiscal year 2007, nearly $23 billion in grants and contracts supported more than 350,000 jobs, with each dollar generating more than twice as much in direct state economic output in the form of goods and services. The NIH reported that almost 1 million Americans worked in for-profit medical businesses in 2008, earning $84 billion and generating $90 billion in goods and services, reinforcing the importance of preserving the U.S. position as a “knowledge hub” for medical research.2 Nevertheless, BCA cuts next year could result in at least 2500 fewer NIH grants, 33,000 fewer jobs, and a $4.5 billion loss in economic activity.3 Since the NIH’s budget represents less than 1% of overall federal spending, policymakers must reconsider whether shaving 8% from NIH outlays will have a noticeable positive effect on the national deficit or economy.

Fallout from funding cuts could include shifts in the U.S. medical research workforce. In 2000, the National Research Council noted both an overall shortage of medical researchers and inadequate funding for scientists working in the United States, which coincided with a decline in the number of funded NIH grant applications from 31% in fiscal year 2002 to 19% in 2010. This change is particularly critical for postdoctoral researchers, who represent the majority of the U.S. biomedical science workforce. According to the NSF, nearly half the 14,601 new postdoctoral-level researchers who were trained in the United States in 2009 were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. If U.S. institutions are willing to devote money, training, and infrastructure to support talented, committed researchers, it would be an illogical waste of resources and poor long-term strategy to reduce federal grant mechanisms and wipe out potential job opportunities. Indeed, declining financial support may well encourage medical researchers to seek employment elsewhere.

As compared with the United States, China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore have taken a sharply different view of medical research and have developed policies that foster medical research as an engine for economic growth and intellectual innovation (see tableMajor Government Agencies in Asia and Their Budgets for Medical Research.). Their national budgets are heavily based on scientific research and development, and funding is increasing, with budgetary targets ranging from 2 to 5% of their gross domestic products (GDPs). India’s funding goal for medical research alone is 2% of its GDP.

Increased funding for research infrastructure attracts scientists and organizations interested in high-quality research, including clinical trials. During the past two decades, increasing numbers of clinical trials have moved overseas, where benefits can include decreased costs of doing business, fewer administrative regulations, and greater enrichment of international relationships among researchers. The average annual rate of growth in clinical trials has been highest in China — 47% — while the number conducted in the United States has decreased by an average of 6.5% annually.4 In addition, the increased attention paid to Asia by private firms and other nongovernmental organizations has spurred rapid policy-level responses to concerns about the lack of informed consent, transparency, and other ethical issues, thus further strengthening the appeal of conducting research in the region.

Asian policies reflect a recognition of the extrinsic economic benefits of medical research. China and India have advocated for more government-funded medical research to improve health-related outcomes. China has espoused increased spending as part of achieving xiaokang, a Confucian term meaning a moderately prosperous society. In 2007, India inaugurated its Department of Health Research, which coordinates biomedical science and health-services research programs and translates their findings to address public health concerns. Since the signing of the Korean War Armistice Agreement in 1953, South Korea has leaned heavily on government-funded research to reduce poverty, allowing the country to gradually acquire advanced technologies and expertise. Medical research is part of at least two core technology areas in South Korea’s “577 Initiative”: medical technologies, such as neuroimaging, to address the needs of an aging population and research on issues pertaining to national safety and public health, such as infectious-disease preparedness and food safety.

National research and development programs have been a fundamental component of Taiwan’s economic policy for at least five decades. In 2005, the country began developing “intelligent medical care” — similar to earlier U.S. initiatives — which integrates medical information technology with quality-improvement measures. In Singapore, medical research and economic oversight are administratively linked. For example, the Biomedical Sciences Group of the Economic Development Board supports researchers financially and designs strategies that enhance Singapore’s status as a knowledge center, and the private firm Bio*One Capital invests directly in promising medical technologies.

The diverse strategies outlined above allow Asian countries to systematically recruit medical researchers from both home and abroad. China is particularly proactive in enticing Chinese-born, U.S.-educated researchers to return to their native country by offering generous financial and material incentives under its Knowledge Innovation Program. As the vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences stated more than a decade ago, modern “research and development is actually a war for more talented people.”5 In 2000, Singapore jump-started its Biomedical Sciences Initiative to attract medical researchers worldwide with a direct $2 billion investment, as well as with tax incentives for internal biotechnology start-ups and global pharmaceutical firms. In Singapore and India, English is the primary language for scientific communications, which alleviates concerns about language barriers.

For two decades, emerging Asian countries have been designing long-term strategies to reap the benefits of medical research. Meanwhile, the United States is relying on short-term solutions to support its medical research infrastructure, such as those offered by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Decreased investment in U.S. medical research could lead to long-term economic damage for the United States and the loss of its stature as a global leader in the field. Powerful incentives that can retain an elite biomedical-research workforce are necessary to strengthen the U.S. health care system and economy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Agency for Science, Technology, and Research.

Disclosure forms provided by the authors are available with the full text of this article at NEJM.org.


From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program (G.H.S., R.J.), the Department of Otolaryngology (G.H.S.), and the Department of Radiation Oncology (R.J.), University of Michigan, and the Health Services Research and Development Service, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (G.H.S.) — both in Ann Arbor, MI; and the Singapore Bioimaging Consortium, Agency for Science, Technology, and Research, Singapore (J.D.S.).




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Reporter: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

This post addresses related issues On the Career of the Life Sciences Scientist and compliments the following two posts on this Scientific Web Site:

August 1, 2012 — Introducing Career Streams into Academic Research


June 27, 2012 — Picturing US-Trained PhDs’ Paths and Pharmaceutical Industry’s Crisis of Productivity: Partnerships between Industry and Academia




Hélice www.triplehelixassociation.org  Triple Helix X, 2012, Bandung, Indonesia . . . www.th2012.org

by Professor Henry Etzkowitz, President of the Triple Helix Association,  Senior Researcher, H-STAR Institute, Stanford University, Visiting Professor, Birkbeck, London University and Edinburgh University Business School


Professor Henry Etzkowitz paper is based on his Keynote Address to the FemTalent Conference, Barcelona, Spain 2011

I am often asked: why is a man studying women in science? The answer to that question is: my mother. She graduated with high honors in Geology from Hunter College, a public women’s college in New York City during the 1930’s depression. I had long thought that the reason why she didn’t pursue a career in geology was

because of the depression, that there were simply no jobs. However, on a research trip to the University of Texas at Austin, I visited the Engineering School which had a “wall of recognition” at the main entrance, including the names of many distinguished professors and practitioners, all of them men, who had graduated during the 1930’s depression and pursued careers in Geology. Perhaps the reason why a woman did not pursue a career in geological science at the time, might be found in the gender dynamics of science and technology. The broader question is how the best results may be attained from societal investment in human capital formation.

Firstly, we will consider the implications of findings from a study done in the 1990s, in the United States, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, of women’s experience in academic science (Etzkowitz, Kemelgor and Uzzi, 2000) including over 400 in-depth qualitative interviews conducted in a dozen leading research universities in five disciplines: biology, physics, chemistry and computer science:

1. One of the lessons from this study is that in Europe and other countries, there is a move to introduce the American system of higher education, including tenure procedures, which put a very strong emphasis on early achievement which, as we shall see, has deleterious consequences for women. Higher education policy makers in Europe and other parts of the world may want to look more closely at its effects before introducing this system, which is now taken as the gold standard in higher education. The introduction of the tenure system is driven by

international ranking procedures which drive movement from a system of relatively equal universities. Before abandoning values of equality, it should be seriously asked if introducing extreme inequalities will overall advance or inhibit quality academic research, teaching, and innovation.

2. Secondly, I discuss the Vanish Box model, derived from a four country study, sponsored by the European Union, DG Research, on Women and Technology Transfer (Ranga, et. al. 2008). During interviews with women in US academic science on Athena Unbound study, some of them would talk about colleagues who were no longer in the department, they were now in jobs elsewhere. I interviewed some of these women leaving academic science, and found that they were taking up careers in science-related professions such as science journalism, technology transfer, museology. etc. They were using their scientific training in translating science into use and spreading the results of science to a broader public. Rather than being “lost to science” as presumed by the “Leaky pipeline” thesis of science career loss; they were pursuing work-life balance in their new careers. This finding inspired the study sponsored by the European Union on Women and Technology Transfer.

3. Third, I outline a four phase model of women’s experience in science, technology, and innovation, “the Vanish Box”: after the magic trick of the “disappearance of re-appearance of a woman”. “The vanish box” model shows the dynamics of the historical experience of women in science, and questions the taken for granted “male model” of science that does not work for women or men who seek work-life balance.

4. Finally, we address the question of whether the Gender Revolution in science and technology is stalled or moving forward.

Gender Inequalities in Academic Careers

The historical relationship between status and gender provides a clue to understanding the underlying dynamics of women and men’s careers in science. Typically, there is strong participation of women in the early stages of development of a new discipline, but as the new area becomes prestigious and rewards increase, women disappear. As fields attain recognition and fruition, and the Nobel and other prizes are awarded, it is men who are there to receive them. There were a significant number of women working in “the fly room,” the drosophila genetics lab headed by Thomas Hunt Morgan at Colombia University, but as the field became prestigious, women virtually disappeared from classical genetics (Kohler, 1994).

Does this historical relationship between gender and science still hold today or has it changed? The most important finding from all the specific instances that we came across was that the most important thing holding back women’s advance in academic science was “inflexibility” of rules and procedures. It didn’t matter what the specific procedure was. For example, in the US it’s expected that that you should pursue your PhD at a different University than your undergraduate degree. This is the highest route to achievement. If a woman has a relationship, and the man moves will she leave the relationship to seek her competitive advantage?

On the other hand, if the man in the relationship moves, and the woman goes along, she may then have to move to a school that is not as good as the one which she otherwise might have gotten into with a broader range of selection. Thus, this informal rule of exogamy, mandating leaving the previous school or worksite at each point of progression, from undergraduate degree to PhD to entry level position, works against women’s advancement.

On the other hand, in Sweden the rule is the opposite. Instead of saying that you should move from one university to another, the rule is that you should stay at your own University; that if you are a highly successful junior scholar you will be kept within that University. A Swedish professor said, “why would I send my best

graduate student away? He is going to replace me when I retire.” So the rule in Sweden is endogamy that you stay within one university. Again, if a woman’s partner moves, and she moves with him, it will hurt her career, because she has left her university of origin. So which ever way the rule is, it is an inflexible rule, it has more negative consequences for women than for men. The gender policy implication is to increase flexibility in the system.

A female model of science, balancing work and family life, has been invented but it is a subsidiary and undervalued format that needs to be brought to the forefront and institutionalized. However, this would necessitate re-thinking aspects of the academic system, especially the US model, that unintentionally yet systematically works against women’s inclusion in the higher level of academic science. The US model of academic hierarchy, front loading in the academic career with a strong emphasis on youth and achievement

in the early years, is partly based on a mistaken idea that youth are more productive in science than people who are of an older age. That finding was documented in a study done by Merton and Zuckerman of “Aging and Age Structure” (1973). They found that “productivity was as high or even higher at the later stages of a scientific career”, and that makes sense. When you are more advanced in your career you have more access to resources, more

graduate students, more research associates, more people working with you. Co-authorship arises from having members of your research group being highly productive. Nevertheless, there is a strong belief that youth makes disproportionate scientific advances, and this has been the basis of a system in which there is a strong emphasis on early achievement during the first years of your career. There is a race to accumulate publications and research grants in order to be given a permanent position in a high status American University.

In Europe, the tradition has been once you are hired there is a probationary period and then you continue to be promoted or not. But in the United States there is a very sharp dividing line: an “up or out” system. The implications for women’s advancement in science, includes the contradiction between the “tenure clock”, typically of seven years, and the “biological clock”, the time when is possible to have children, and these coincide. Thus, women have to make the choice to postpone having children to after tenure, which then becomes their middle or late 30s. There were some women who didn’t want to postpone, and some of them rethought

their commitment to academic science and left for that reason. Occasionally, in some universities there has been some reform of these procedures to try to accommodate women by extending the clock. i.e. you can apply for a year extension to reduce your time in the workplace and/or take a break in order to have more time for one’s young children. Even this attempt to ameliorate the male model of science and make it more amenable to women’s

participation contains a contradiction: women are concerned that if they apply for this privilege that it will be held against them in the final review. The academic system requires a demonstration of full commitment to racing the clock, otherwise you will be viewed as insufficiently competitive. Moderating the conditions will be held against you, or at least that is the fear. The attempted reform has its dangers since many women feel that they may be given points off for taking advantage of the attempt to change the rules. The contradiction between the tenure clock and the biological clock encourages some women in academic science to seek an alternative career path.

An American professor talked about a leading female student who stayed in the same city and took a job at a local teaching college. But an exception was made for her because she was such an outstanding scholar that she was then brought back to the leading University in the same city where she had received her PhD and allowed to pursue a career at that university. The rule was counterproductive to the best use of talent, but this case was an

unusual exception. However, it is one that can be more regularly made if we are thinking of how to revise the system that works against women by following an implicit male model of science. Another negative factor is the “two out of three” time bind. In interviews in the US and Mexico, it was found that if you are trying to do three things, most women usually find it was too much, they could do advanced research in a highly productive way, and manage their family relationship, but that didn’t leave time for spending time in local politicking and talking with people, which is the way towards advancing within the academic system. So they could advance in their research career, but not in the career that would lead to becoming a chair person or administrator within academia. So this is the two out of three time bind.

Traditionally there has been a gendered division of labor where men worked with men and women with women, in gendered occupations. Some think that this occurred as a basis of naturally occurring gender divisions. But historically we can see that these gendered occupations change over time. I did my masters thesis on the male nurse, titled “the Precarious Identity of the Male Nurse” (Etzkowitz, 1971). The nursing profession in the

nineteenth century was entirely male, and began to change over to a female profession by the end of the nineteenth century, and by the middle of the twentieth century it was virtually entirely female. Thus, gendered professions can change over time and are subject to revision.

From “Leaky Pipeline” to the “Vanish Box”

The pipeline model has been based upon the movement from schooling into higher education and into careers; the premise that there should be an unimpeded flow. Over a period of twenty years, at maximum, women should be at the highest level of any occupation. Recruitment has taken place: young women now make up equal numbers in bachelor’s degrees, and the numbers are moving up in the PhDs. But they have not moved up at the same rate to the associate and full professor levels. The pipeline has not worked by filling it at one end, and expecting a changed result at the other. We need to make changes in the system to make the pipeline work. A gender neutral occupation would be one with flexibility in the role, and with balance between on-site and off-site work, and the possibility of equal participation of both genders in the occupation. What happens to women who, for one reason or another, don’t continue in an academic career in science? This was the question that we posed in: “Women in Science and Technology”(WIST) sponsored by the European Union. We identified that women who had left academic science, were reappearing in science related professions, using their scientific, networking and social skills in these new professions. In the UK, when opportunities opened up in the mid 1990s, female PhDs entered this career, following the States where women had risen to the top of their profession as heads of offices at major universities. From this study of women disappearing and reappearing from academia to science related professions, we developed a concept that we called the “vanish box” model (Etzkowitz and Ranga, 2011), that takes place in four stages:

1. The first is the disappearance of women: the disappearance that we found in the Athena Unbound study, the exclusionary practices, or the taken for granted male model of science which did not take account of women’s needs, of women’s life chances and lifestyles. They weren’t found at the highest levels of academic science to the extent that would be expected if the pipeline was working as it was supposed to, with women flowing in and being promoted up over a period of time. So disappearance.

2. The disappeared women are in the reserve army: at home or in part time positions unemployed or underemployed. The reserve army is called back when there is an emergency or a shortage. For example, during World War ll women PhD’s who had been unemployed or working as volunteers in their husband’s laboratory were called into full-time positions in the Manhattan Project and other Labs. After the War, some began to get academic positions and rose to the highest level after having been in the reserve army for many years.

3. The third phase of the model is the creation of new opportunities; either by emergency situations, or by the creation of new professions that require people with scientific training. An example of this was the Technology Transfer profession that we studied: a new profession that required people with scientific training and background and business training, and typically people with a scientific background would learn the business skills, take courses or even a master’s degrees in business. This provided opportunities, but there are still limitations: the new profession wasn’t as prestigious as the old one, and it had both advantages and disadvantages: working in a technology transfer office gives more of an opportunity for a work life balance, but the prestige of the profession isn’t that high and the opportunities for advancement are limited.

4. On the other hand, as the knowledge society advances, professions that translate knowledge into use become more prestigious and the profession also rises in status and prestige over time. That is what has been happening with technology transfer. The question that arises is, will it follow the same model of classical genetics, or will it lead to a new model of a gender neutral profession, with men and women working at the highest levels in a situation that allows for work-life balance? There is some evidence that this may be happening in small biotech firms. A recent study found that women recruited into these firms were taken seriously in their work, they were being promoted, and so the start-up biotechnology firm has offered evidence that there may be a changing relationship between gender and career advancement and new possibilities available in this area.

Beyond the “Male Model”: An Alternative Female Model

The American sociologist Cecilia Ridgeway has set forth the thesis of a stalled revolution, in the 1970’s large numbers of women entered professions in law and medicine but more recently advancement of women has halted. Pay differentials continue to exist. Women have not risen to positions in board of directors of firms to the same extent that might be expected. On the other hand, women now make up a majority of bachelor’s degrees recipients – over fifty percent in some places and as high as sixty percent in others. Forty years ago the percentage of women at MIT could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Today half of the undergraduate students at MIT are female. Once you get to the level of twenty percent social relations within organizations start to change; but they really transform at the fifty percent level. Typically in women’s entrepreneurship the service occupations make up the majority; but in Catalonia, there is a major change going on as the majority of the women in a program to support

entrepreneurship were in science and technology related occupations. The woman running this program said that the key issue is working with these entrepreneurs is how to grow their firms and still retain a work life balance. So the revolution is moving here. Academia is still resistant to change, but business has been moving faster, and Academia has to learn from industry. That is the next stage in making the gender revolution in science and technology.

To this end, the relationship between career structure and life cycle needs to be rethought (Etzkowitz and Stein, 1978). The current taken-for-granted career path is based on implicit male assumptions that do not take into account women’s greater responsibilities for family maintenance and societal reproduction that persist, even given good faith efforts on the part of men to play a greater role in child care (Kayyem, 2012). In the male model,

imposed on women as well, significant early achievement, typically involving a high time commitment, is the prerequisite for subsequent high-level positions. It is hypothesized that women’s difficulties in conforming to this model explains at least part of the variance in the paucity of women in high-level positions even as their participation rates increase.

An alternative female model, with a higher time commitment after child-rearing years, may be discerned. A Rockefeller University Professor, who started on her PhD at a later than usual age, and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, exemplify this alternative model that needs to be legitimized as an alternative path to high achievement. The current offering of a relaxed early career path in law firms is stigmatized as a “mommy track”

and reified into a permanent blockage to later high flying. When an alternative “female model” is available for women and men, gender democracy in science, technology and innovation, as well as in the larger society, will be a reality.


Etzkowitz, H (1971), The Male Nurse: Sexual Separation of Labor in Society, Journal of Marriage and the Family.

Etzkowitz, H, and P. Stein. (1978) The Life Spiral: Human Needs and Adult Roles Journal of Economic and Family Issues. 1:4: 434-446

Etzkowitz, H, Kemelgor, C and Uzzi, B (2000), Athena Unbound: The Advancement of Women in Science and Technology Cambridge University Press.

Etzkowitz, H and Ranga, M (2011), Gender Dynamics in Science and Technology: From the “Leaky Pipeline” to the Vanish Box, Brussels Economic Review, 54:2/3.

Kayyem, J. (2012) The working moms debate International Herald Tribune June 27 Wednesday p.8.

Kohler, R. (1994) Lords of the Fly: Drosophila Genetics and the Experimental Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Ranga, M et al (2008), Gender Patterns in Technology Transfer: Social innovation in the making?, Research Global, 4-5.

Ridgeway, C (2011), Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Zuckerman, H and Merton R (1972), Age, Ageing and Age Structure in Science. In Ageing and Society, Riley, M, Johnson, M and Foner, A, eds, Vol 3. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.



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