Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Innovating to Protect our Waterways

    The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is today announcing that a coalition of Federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and United States Geological Survey (USGS), is launching the Nutrient Sensor Challenge—an open-innovation competition to accelerate the development and deployment of affordable sensors that can measure nutrients in aquatic environments. 

    Nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – are essential for plant growth and for the production of food and livestock feed.  Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways, however, can be harmful to ecosystems and human health, and costly to the economy.

    The Challenge launching today, which has been shepherded by agencies working closely with states, universities, and private-sector organizations, seeks to address a critical environmental problem by tapping into the expertise and creativity of our Nation’s innovators. This approach is consistent with the Administration’s broad use of public incentive prizes and open innovation to help address some of society’s toughest problems.

    Because nutrients originate from a number of sources, including legacy contributions from years past, understanding where nutrients come from and how they move in waterways is a complex task requiring the sustained collection of high-quality data over many years. 

  • Enhancing Biosafety and Biosecurity in the United States

    On August 18, 2014, we issued a memorandum titled “Enhancing Biosafety and Biosecurity in the United States,” urging all U.S. government departments and agencies that work with infectious agents to take immediate and long-term steps to enhance safety and security in research facilities to minimize the potential for biosafety and biosecurity incidents.

    All federal departments and agencies that possess, use, or transfer human, animal, or plant infectious agents or toxins were urged to perform a Safety Stand-Down, to include an immediate sweep of their facilities to identify Biological Select Agents and Toxins (BSAT) and ensure proper registration, safe stewardship, and secure storage or disposal. During the Safety Stand-Down period, senior leaders were also urged to devote significant, dedicated time to review laboratory biosafety and biosecurity best practices and protocols, as well as to develop and implement plans for sustained inventory monitoring.

    Federal departments and agencies embraced this effort. As part of their Safety Stand-Down activities, they conducted facility sweeps; carried out comprehensive safety, security, and inventory activities; and captured best practices and plans for strengthening national biosafety and biosecurity systems in the future. 

    During the Safety Stand-Down period, 11 U.S. government departments and agencies conducted sweeps at more than 4,000 facilities across the nation and in U.S. facilities abroad, including more than 40 million samples. As a result of this comprehensive review, departments and agencies reported 27 instances in which identified BSAT were stored in areas not registered with the Federal Select Agent Program, adjudication for each instance, and final disposition for the material. In reviewing the findings, there was no indication of human exposure, including staff or the general public, to any of these agents or toxins. 

  • Launching Disasters.Data.Gov to Empower First Responders and Survivors with Innovative Tools and Data

    Strengthening our Nation’s resilience to disasters is a shared responsibility, with all community members contributing their unique skills and perspectives. Whether you’re a data steward who can unlock information and foster a culture of open data, an innovator who can help address disaster preparedness challenges, or a volunteer ready to join the “Innovation for Disasters” movement, we are excited for you to visit the new disasters.data.gov site, launching today.

    First previewed at the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative Demo Day, disasters.data.gov is designed to be a public resource to foster collaboration and the continual improvement of disaster-related open data, free tools, and new ways to empower first responders, survivors, and government officials with the information needed in the wake of a disaster.

    A screenshot from the new disasters.data.gov web portal.

    Today, the Administration is unveiling the first in a series of Innovator Challenges that highlight pressing needs from the disaster preparedness community. The inaugural Innovator Challenge focuses on a need identified from firsthand experience of local emergency management, responders, survivors, and Federal departments and agencies. The challenge asks innovators across the nation: “How might we leverage real-time sensors, open data, social media, and other tools to help reduce the number of fatalities from flooding?”

  • Making at the White House: Creating Bo-Bot and Sunny-Bot

    For the past several years, Bo and Sunny, the First Family’s dogs, have been creatively included in the White House holiday décor. Last year’s decorations even included a 3D model of Bo with a wagging tail powered by a motor from a reindeer lawn decoration!

    This year the White House enlisted Stephanie Santoso, Mark DeLoura, and Laura Gerhardt from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and David Naffis and Bosco So from the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program to feature Bo and Sunny in the holiday decorations as life-size, animated “dog-bots."

    Sewing on Bo's fur

    A volunteer applies ribbon “fur” onto Bo’s wire mesh frame.

  • STEM for Students on the Silver Screen

    On Wednesday evening, the White House welcomed dozens of eager middle-school, high-school and college students to a special Computer Science Heroes Film Festival that recognized outstanding women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

    U.S. CTO Megan Smith (second row, fourth from left) and other accomplished women in STEM joined students at a special Computer Science Heroes Film Festival at the White House.

    The film festival was part of this week’s White House celebration of Computer Science Education Week, which is always held during the birthdays of computer science pioneers Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper and Lady Ada Lovelace. Through interviews and movie clips, the short film program and storytelling showcased the incredible stories of elite technical women, including the personal contributions of Rear Admiral Hopper and other extraordinary women in computer science. 

    The students learned about Katherine Johnson, an African-American NASA scientist who calculated flight trajectories for Alan Sheppard, John Glenn and the 1969 Apollo moon missions; renowned mathematician, computer scientist, and scholar Maria Klawe; and the story of the ENIAC Programmers. The students also watched the trailer for The Imitation Game -- a new film which chronicles the story of WWII Bletchley Park code breakers Alan Turning and Joan Clarke -- and saw a clip from David Letterman’s interview of Grace Hopper. Finally, the students had the chance to ask questions to astronaut Cady Coleman, computer programmer, Internet lawyer and founder of the ENIAC Programmers Project Kathy Kleiman, and U.S. CTO Megan Smith.

    Astronaut Cady Coleman speaks at the film festival.

    Too often, the success stories of women in STEM fields go untold, leaving young girls interested in these fields searching for role models. The Computer Science Heroes Film Festival was just one of the Administration’s many efforts and events intended to help draw attention to the important contributions women have made to STEM and inspire the next generation of female scientists, programmers, and engineers.

    Learn more about the White House’s Women in STEM efforts here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/women

    Lauren Smith is a Policy Advisor for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    Neekta Hamidi is an Intern at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

  • Talk With Me Baby! Increasing Early Learning Opportunities for Every Child in Georgia

    And some states are proving that it’s possible to give every child that chance.  For 16 years, every child in Oklahoma has been guaranteed a preschool education.  Georgia’s building on their successful pre-K program by launching something called “Talk With Me Baby” – which sounds like an Al Green song, but is actually a program to make sure language learning begins in the very first weeks of a child’s life.  Oklahoma and Georgia are not places where I did particularly well politically – but that just goes to show you that this issue is bigger than politics.  It’s not a red issue or a blue issue.  It’s about doing what’s best for our kids, and for our country, and that’s an American issue. 

    -President Obama, White House Early Learning Summit, December 10, 2014

    This week, President Obama hosted the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education, where he highlighted new efforts to ensure that every child in America has access to high-quality preschool and rich early learning opportunities. The Summit brought together state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents, corporate and community leaders, and advocates, who together committed to $1 billion of support for the President’s Early Learning Agenda.

    Back in September, the White House hosted a workshop in which we heard about exciting Federal, State, and Local efforts to “bridge the word gap” that develops between poor children and their more affluent peers during the first few years of life. For example, Too Small to Fail, in partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation, has launched a community-wide Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing campaign in Tulsa, Oklahoma with the help of their local faith-based, medical, and childcare communities. Working through trusted messengers such as pastors, home visitors, pediatricians, nurses, obstetricians and gynecologists, information and resources are being distributed to help Tulsa parents talk, read and sing to their young children to boost early brain and vocabulary development. Moreover, the State of Georgia has launched the Talk With Me Baby Initiative, which aims to provide language nutrition to every child in Georgia through the public health care system and has continued to grow in response to the President’s call-to-action to bridge the word gap.

    I recently sat down with Arianne Weldon, Director of the Get Georgia Reading Campaign and member of the team guiding Talk With Me Baby, to hear more about her team’s work, new developments and future plans.