DC Dispatch

T2 Touchpoint — November 14, 2018

Published biweekly as part of the FLC’s DC Perspective news content, T2 Touchpoint gathers updates from inside and around the technology transfer (T2) community. News is collected from agency publications, news sites and DC-central organizations, with original sources, contacts, and links provided in addition to our streamlined synopses. For more information and Touchpoint-related inquiries, please contact dcnews@federallabs.org.

Budget Bulletin

Decadal Survey for Plasma Science Released, Budget Items to Potentially Affect FES Funding Allocations

Late last month, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released its decadal survey of plasma science advancements, as well as research and development (R&D). Titled “Plasma 2020,” the survey outlines how the field, which includes nuclear fusion, can strengthen American security on both the international and national stages, as well as bolster financial prosperity. As it concerns a fourth state of matter useful in astrophysics and space research, plasma science brings with it an array of scientific possibilities and budgetary concerns. A brief explanation of plasma science as it pertains to both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) can be found here.

In his remarks for this survey, NSF Plasma Physics Program Director Slava Lukin described how the NSF’s budgets normally featured cuts to integral plasma priorities. (We previously reported that NSF research dollars have favored quantum computing in recent fiscal years.) As a remedy, Lukin suggested collaborating with universities and ensuring that NSF departments understand the importance of plasma science despite their target discipline.

Plasma science is mainly overseen by the Fusion Energy Science (FES) suboffice. FES appropriations for fiscal year (FY) 2019 were finalized at $564 million, a sizable increase from the previous request. While “Plasma 2020” has already been published, FES Director Jim Van Dam remarked that the survey should elaborate on how the academies link more R&D using plasma within quantum information science (QIS) and machine learning, among other leading-edge technologies.

Lukin’s remarks concluded by comparing “Plasma 2020” to the survey released by NASEM for the current decade. While Lukin claimed “Plasma 2010” had no major impact on the NSF, it strengthened the longstanding NSF-DOE Partnership in Basic Plasma Science and Engineering, which was one of the recommendations published in the first decadal survey for the field. This program has awarded nearly 100 plasma projects pertaining to both agencies.

“Plasma 2020” can be read in full here.

Policy Pulse

2018 Midterm Election Results: Science Policy Watch

This week’s midterm elections have created a return to shared government, with both major parties having representation in Congress. While no major science policy was passed, any immediate consequences will be felt at the start of the 116th Congress in January. This new session will determine each party’s leaders for science policy and appropriations, as several current members were defeated in these elections or are retiring next year. Any potential science policy updates will be divided down party lines.

For Democrats, certain science policy issues of note include the state of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), energy R&D and earth science, but it remains to be seen how much influence party members will have over congressional spending priorities. Neither party has had the majority or leverage to bypass legislative filibusters, so any passage of legislation often requires bipartisan approval. Spending caps on science activities will also have to be reevaluated when the current levels expire in FY 2020.

The largest upheaval after these midterms, however, will be with the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson explained in a statement that she will seek promotion to committee chair in January. Johnson’s chairmanship would ensure increased oversight of STEM education, especially for blue-collar workers; investigate climate change; and finally restore the Committee’s credibility as a trusted source for informed policymaking.

USPTO Introduces Phase 1 of the Access to Relevant Prior Art (RPA) Initiative

We previously reported on the concept of “prior art,” which is continually investigated by U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) patent clerks before a new patent can be approved. We wrote that prior art “prevents new patents that infringe on a previous patent or mention of an invention in printed publications or public knowledge more than 12 months before the new application.” Late last month, the USPTO began implementing the first phase of the Relevant Prior Art (RPA) initiative. The RPA began processing patent clerks for inclusion in this pilot program on November 1.

The first phase concerns developing or leveraging existing electronic resources to analyze a patent applicant’s current and pending application with previously submitted material. In our earlier discussion of prior art, we also reported that the USPTO solicited proposals for machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) developers to streamline the application approval process. While these initiatives aren’t directly connected, both seem to be focused on USPTO’s pivot towards future-proof technologies.

More information on the RPA can be found here.

Agency Activities

President Trump Appoints New Science Board Members

President Trump will appoint seven National Science Board (NSB) members as revealed in an announcement this week. Trump first has renewed the terms of incumbent members Geraldine Richmond and Maria Zuber, who previously served as NSB Chair. The five new appointments are Maureen Condic, Suresh Garimella, Steven Leath, Alan Stern, and Stephen Willard. Board members are normally selected to serve six-year terms. The NSB is the governing body of the NSF.

While all new members have illustrious resumes in scientific research and policy, Suresh Garimella is of particular interest to the T2 community. Garimella has served as Purdue University’s executive vice president for research and partnerships since 2014. In prior research posts, he turned his attention to energy efficiency in electronics systems, which helped him found Purdue’s Cooling Technologies Research Center. At the State Department from 2011 to 2012, Garimella was a Jefferson Science Fellow at the International Energy Office and has spoken on clean energy policy in the interest of energy security.

A full list of the new NSB members, as well as the two incumbents, is available here.

Inside the NSF’s INCLUDES Network

The NSF recently issued six major awards for partnership-based projects under its INCLUDES (Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science) effort. The initiative began in 2013 and was launched in FY 2016 to broaden STEM participation from minorities and underrepresented demographics. That phase of INCLUDES concerned two-year “Design and Development Launch Pilot” grants to investigate diversity disparities in STEM education and workforce development. INCLUDES was championed as one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas.

Diversity programs at the NSF, especially INCLUDES, are concerned with broadening participation (BP). These programs had requested $887 million in funding for FY 2019 to target research fellowship programs and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, which was chartered to establish STEM professional development pathways and ensure that minorities and those with disabilities are BP in STEM programs and workforce sectors. NSF is planning to have INCLUDES catalyze more BP initiatives across the public and private sectors, as well as academia. In September, Boeing gave $1 million to the INCLUDES program to spearhead its continued use and development. A meeting to continue INCLUDES discussion across NSF suboffices and other federal agencies will be held sometime early next year.

DC Dispatch