Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Paying for Success to Transform Learning

    Currently, a large gap remains between the relatively modest impact that technology has had on education, particularly in K-12, and the transformative impact that technology has had on many aspects of our economic and social life. Advances in our understanding of how people learn and the explosion in information technologies such as low-cost smartphones and tablets, cloud computing, broadband networks, predictive analytics, and related technologies are poised to transform learning and make it more interactive, personalized, and effective for American students.

    To achieve this potential, President Obama announced ConnectED, a new initiative to connect 99 percent of America's students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and wireless within 5 years that has already reported major progress. As we make the critical investments to upgrade the physical infrastructure and connectivity that students and teachers will have in their classrooms, we must also invest in building the next-generation of learning software that will utilize this connectivity and devices.

    Building a strong ecosystem of “supply” and “demand” for effective learning software will be critical. This will happen both through greater investment in “push” mechanisms, like grants, R&D funding, or government laboratories, pay for research inputs, proposals like the President’s proposal for an ARPA-ED, and through “pull” mechanisms, like prizes, commitments to purchase products, and other “pay for success” mechanisms, reward outputs and the development of specific technologies.

  • Identifying Breakthrough Life Science Research Technologies

    Every so often, a new tool, technique, or instrument completely revolutionizes how we do research. These tools and techniques are quickly ingrained into the research enterprise, catalyzing breakthrough discoveries and making it difficult to imagine life without them. These tools, techniques, and instruments, often called “platform technologies,” have enabled discoveries that even their inventors did not anticipate, created entire new fields of research, and resulted in Nobel Prize-winning breakthroughs.

    The Obama Administration has championed the use of open innovation approaches like prize competitions to spur innovation and engage citizen solvers on a broad range of issues. Recently, six foundations ran a prize competition to identify the most compelling ideas for revolutionary life science platform technologies.

    We had the chance to speak with representatives from these foundations about the life science platform technologies competition. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Domestic Economic Growth Fueled by the Energy, Materials, Manufacturing Nexus

    Manufacturing, energy and advanced materials are a tightly bound set of issues that stand to advance our economy through job growth, entrepreneurship and technology innovation. A year and a half ago, in support of the Administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, the Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI) was created to bring together a wide array of relevant Department of Energy offices, federal agencies, research institutions, and private sector partners to map out and implement a strategy to ensure that U.S. manufacturers are competitive in the global marketplace.

    On Wednesday, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Assistant Secretary David Danielson kicked off the 2014 American Energy and Manufacturing Competitiveness Summit - an annual capstone event to identify key opportunities that the public and private sectors can address to enhance U.S. clean energy manufacturing competitiveness celebrate the progress of CEMI and to provide forward looking objectives for the Department. In this morning’s remarks there was a clear theme that achieving our desired objectives will require a closer examination of how energy, advanced materials and manufacturing all work together and that CEMI is positioned to play a lead role.

  • PCAST Releases New Report on Combating Antibiotic Resistance

    Today, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released a report to the President, Combating Antibiotic Resistance. The report was released simultaneously with a National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria as well as with a Presidential Executive Order, emphasizing to the Nation the importance of addressing this growing challenge.

    The evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is occurring at an alarming rate and is outpacing the development of new countermeasures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual domestic impact of antibiotic-resistant infections to the U.S. economy has been estimated at $20 billion in excess direct health care costs, with additional costs to society for lost productivity as high as $35 billion per year and 8 million additional days in hospitals. The safety of many modern medical procedures – including cancer chemotherapy, complex surgery, dialysis for renal disease, and organ transplantation – relies on effective antibiotics. These interventions become significantly more dangerous as bacterial resistance rises. Indeed, the World Health Organization recently warned that we risk entering a “post-antibiotic” era unless we act now.

    Bacteria and other microbes evolve in response to their environment and inevitably develop mechanisms to resist antibiotics. In his 1945 Nobel Prize address, Alexander Fleming (recipient of the Nobel Prize for his discovery of penicillin) warned that the inappropriate use of antibiotics would cause human infections to become resistant to these drugs. As bacteria evolve resistance to widely used antibiotics, it is crucial to stay one step ahead of the problem. PCAST recommends measures to strengthen antibiotic stewardship, boost surveillance, and facilitate the development of new drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines to combat this growing crisis.

  • We the Geeks: Miss America

    All across the United States, there is living evidence that scientists and engineers are not the nerdy, all-male, lab-coat-wearing, wallflowers pictured in the history books but include the full diversity of the nation. Bringing these images out of the shadows will inspire further diversity in STEM fields, as young people see inspiration in their teachers, communities, and mentors. 

    Some of the talented young women who competed for this year’s Miss America title have dreams not only of a crown but of solving the toughest health, technology, and environmental challenges facing the world. Competing for a coveted few STEM scholarships from the Miss America organization, the finalists have stories like many young women around this country inspired to pursue STEM. Sporting some serious STEM credentials, we will have a conversation about inspiration, goals, and overcoming challenges with these young women who are on career pathways to be scientists, engineers, doctors, and entrepreneurs.

  • Ensuring Biosafety and Biosecurity in U.S. Laboratories

    Nearly every day, the American public is reminded of the critical role that life-sciences researchers and public health workers play in mitigating the threat of infectious diseases. Whether these diseases arise naturally in the United States or in other parts of the world, as is the case with the current unprecedented outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, or are deliberately released to cause harm here at home, as occurred with the anthrax attacks in 2001, U.S. government scientists are charged with confronting threats to the health and well-being of the citizens, economy, and security of the United States. Working with pathogens in the laboratory is vital to ensuring that the United States and the global community possess a robust set of tools—such as drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines—to counter the ever evolving threat of infectious diseases. That’s why, when we learned earlier this summer of several incidents within the Nation’s premier laboratories of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and on the campus of the National Institutes of Health, we immediately sought meaningful measures to address the underlying causes and reduce the risk that such incidents would occur again in the future.

    To this end, on August 19, 2014, the National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy sent a joint memo to all federal departments and agencies involved in life-sciences research urging them to take immediate and longer-term steps aimed at addressing the underlying causes of the recent laboratory incidents and strengthening overall biosafety and biosecurity at federal facilities. We urged all relevant federal facilities—including extramural facilities that receive federal funding—to conduct a “Safety Stand-Down” in the near-term, during which senior leaders would review laboratory biosafety and biosecurity best practices and protocols, and would develop and implement plans for sustained inventory monitoring.  Over the longer-term, we have established parallel processes by which federal and non-federal committees would review and generate specific recommendations to strengthen the government's biosafety and biosecurity practices and oversight system for federally-funded activities. We look forward to assessing and acting upon the recommendations as they are developed.  You can read the full memorandum here.

    The Administration takes seriously any issue that has the potential to place scientists, healthcare workers, or the American public at risk of accidental exposure to infectious pathogens. Therefore, in addition to this guidance, we strongly encourage non-federal scientists who work with infectious diseases to participate voluntarily alongside their federal colleagues in implementing the steps outlined in our memo.  Together, the life sciences community and its stakeholders can and will continue to have a safe and effective infectious-disease research enterprise of which the American people can be proud, and which will continue to provide the best therapies and other preventive capabilities here and around the world.

    Lisa Monaco is Assistant to the President for Homeland Security & Counterterrorism & Deputy National Security Advisor

    Dr. John Holdren is Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy