Critical Infrastructure: Supply Chain Risk, Semiconductor Shortages

The White House announced a new initiative on securing the supply chain in several critical infrastructure sectors including Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API’s) necessary for medicines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, rare earth minerals, advanced batteries and, semiconductor chips & advanced packaging.

The executive order will order an immediate 100-day review by federal agencies to assess vulnerabilities in these areas as well as a broader one-year review of supply chain risks across several critical infrastructure sectors including the defense industrial base; the public health and biological preparedness industrial base; the information and communications technology (ICT) industrial base; the energy sector industrial base; the transportation industrial base; and supply chains for agricultural commodities and food production.

A growing problem is a world-wide shortage of key semiconductor chips in several industries including automotive manufacturing. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, both Ford and General Motors have had to slow or suspend production lines due to chip shortages.

While the planned Executive Order will not alleviate the immediate crunch in semiconductor supply, the Administration and leaders in Congress have begun work on legislation to spur new investments in domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

Innovation Lagging in U.S. Defense Industrial Base

A recent report from the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) found that innovation is lagging in the U.S. defense industrial base.

According to the NDIA, innovation has declined sharply since 2018 driven by a substantial decline in average annual patent applications. Basic research investments have been stagnant leading to decline of new ideas in the R&D pipeline and an erosion of innovation overall. The report notes;

“The decreasing level of innovation inputs and outputs coming from scientific R&D services industries, typically focused on basic research, is a key driver of the overall decline in the innovation system.”

Vital Signs 2021, The Health and Readiness of the Defense Industrial Base

On the bright side, the U.S. share of global R&D investment ticked up in 2020 but the long term trend remains down. Also DoD innovation funding including research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) and concurrent SBIR funding have continued to increase since 2018.

AFRL Webinar:  Research Opportunities for HBCU and MSI Researchers 

On Tuesday, February 16th, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) will be hosting a webinar on opportunities for researchers at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI’s).  The event is an opportunity for researchers from these institutions to learn about funding, partnership, and career opportunities available through AFRL and AFOSR.

To register, go to:  AFOSR Engage: HBCU/MI and Special Programs

Measuring Tech-to-Market Success at the Department of Energy

How do new energy technologies get from the lab to the market?

That’s a tough question, especially when it comes to federal research at the Department of Energy. Transferring technologies from the DOE to private companies isn’t always easy. Barriers such as the “valley of death”—a gap between the end of public funding and the start of private funding—can stop a transfer.

The DOE has taken steps to address barriers, such as providing training on transferring technologies. But according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), it could better measure the progress of its technology transfer efforts.

GAO recommended developing performance goals and measures for technology transition.

Biden Challenges Incoming Science Advisor: Five Questions on Science in the National Interest

On January 15, 2021, U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden nominated geneticist Dr. Eric Lander to be his Science Advisor and head of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP). Concurrently, the President-Elect also announced he would elevate OSTP to cabinet-level, a first since the position was created in the early-1970’s.

In a letter to Dr. Lander [PDF] released at the time of his announcement, President-Elect Biden asked five specific questions on how science can and should benefit the nation. Citing the questions posed by Franklin Roosevelt to his science advisor, Vannevar Bush in 1944 that resulted in Bush’s landmark report, Science: The Endless Frontier, Biden asked five specific questions on how science can meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Biden asked that Dr. Lander should call on the entire U.S. science enterprise to make recommendations “on the general strategies, specific actions, and new structures that the federal government should adopt to ensure that our nation can continue to harness the full power of science and technology on behalf of the American people“.

The five specific questions put forward by the President-Elect are:

  1. What can we learn from the pandemic about what is possible—or what ought to be possible—to address the widest range of needs related to our public health?
  2. How can breakthroughs in science and technology create powerful new solutions to address climate change—propelling market-driven change, jump-starting economic growth, improving health, and growing jobs, especially in communities that have been left behind?
  3. How can the United States ensure that it is the world leader in the technologies and industries of the future that will be critical to our economic prosperity and national security, especially in competition with China?
  4. How can we guarantee that the fruits of science and technology are fully shared across America and among all Americans?
  5. How can we ensure the long-term health of science and technology in our nation?

Webinar: AI Institute for Next-Generation Food Systems

The Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine will host a webinar on the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS), which aims to meet growing demands in the food supply by increasing efficiencies using AI and bioinformatics across food production and distribution systems. The Institute, launched in October 2020, brings together researchers from six institutions – UC Davis; UC Berkeley; Cornell University; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; UC Agriculture and Natural Resources; and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Through the integration of digital and biological technologies, AIFS research will pursue multidisciplinary science, industry engagement, and workforce development to address challenges across the U.S. food system.

Ilias Tagkopoulos, the director of AIFS and professor in the UC Davis Department of Computer Science and Genome Center, will discuss the collaborative mission of the new institute. 


National Academies Framework for Equitable Allocation of a COVID-19 Vaccine 

A roll-out of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States is possibly less than a month away.  In this light, a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released in October is especially pertinent.  It is a final report of a consensus study recommending a four-phased equitable allocation framework that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) authorities should adopt in the development of national and local guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine allocation.

To read more, see: National Academies Release Framework for Equitable Allocation of a COVID-19 Vaccine

2020 State Science & Technology Index Released

Investments in science and technology are critical for job and wealth creation as well as broader economic growth across all regions of the United States. The biennial State Technology and Science Index (STSI) developed by the Miliken Institute provides a benchmark for evaluating the knowledge economies of all 50 US states. The index compares each state’s capacity for achieving prosperity through scientific discovery and technological innovation.

The index uses 105 metrics in five areas (research and development inputs, risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure, human capital investment, technology and science workforce, and technology concentration and dynamism) to evaluate states.

Massachusetts, Colorado, California, Maryland, Washington and Utah top the list.