Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Harnessing S&T for Global Development


    Indonesia Laboratory technical at Hasan Sadikin Hospital in Bandung (West Java) performs multi-drug resistant TB tests using GeneXpert as part of a pilot project supported by USAID. (Photo by Roni Chandra)

    Recently, I interviewed Dr. Andrew Sisson, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Mission Director in Indonesia, who is leveraging science and technology (S&T) and innovation to help tackle development challenges in Indonesia.

    Why is USAID focusing on S&T and innovation in Indonesia? What are some of the economic and societal challenges that S&T can help address?

    Science, technology, and innovation have the potential to solve important global development problems. S&T can help communities and governments control the impact and spread of infectious diseases; protect marine environments; strengthen resilience to natural disasters and climate change; and much more. In just one example, we are working with the Indonesia National Tuberculosis Program (NTP) to test a new, simple and rapid tuberculosis (TB) diagnostic called GeneXpert. The goal of this technology is to increase the rapid detection and treatment of TB in HIV patients. The results of pilot testing in 17 locations across Indonesia will be published soon and, with support from the Global Fund and TB REACH, the Indonesia NTP has already expanded  use of the new diagnostic to private-sector hospitals.

    What is the mission's strategy around S&T over the next few years?

    USAID is partnering with the Government of Indonesia to use new and innovative approaches to achieve Indonesia-specific development goals. We’ve also decided together to focus part of our investment on developing components of Indonesia’s “scientific ecosystem,” including by developing merit-based research systems and strengthening the scientific evidence-to-policymaking cycle. Our joint work also includes scholarship opportunities, joint research between Indonesian and American scientists, and private-sector partnerships to adopt advanced technologies for development goals.

  • Innovating for Life-Sustaining Solutions During a Disaster

    October 29th marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s landfall. Thousands of residents living along the eastern seaboard were displaced and lost access to power. For most Americans, losing power during a storm is an inconvenience, but for those who rely on oxygen concentrators or portable ventilators or other electrically powered durable medical equipment (DME), electricity is a matter of life or death. Thousands of people in the United States rely on electrically powered DME to meet their medical needs at home. In prolonged power outages, they often must seek help in shelters or emergency rooms to power the equipment or recharge batteries.

    To help these patients, the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Dr. Nicole Lurie, issued an innovative challenge last month. The Department is offering a prize purse of up to $10,000 to competitors who submit winning ideas for a technology that, in emergencies, could determine the location and status of life-sustaining DME and get help to users. With access to real-time information about the locations and remaining battery life during emergencies, communities could better meet the needs and possibly save lives of people who rely on DME. The deadline for entries is October 31st.

  • Growing the Next Generation of Agricultural Innovators and Entrepreneurs

    Agriculture Prize 2013

    Break-out groups at the Agriculture Innovation Prize launch event on October 2, 2013, in Washington, DC, reviewed agricultural challenges and brainstormed options for engaging with student communities. (Photo by Tom Boyden)

    On October 2nd, the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation announced the launch of a new prize that aims to inspire the next generation of agricultural innovators and entrepreneurs.  

    The “Agricultural Innovation Prize: Powered by 40 Chances,” is a student-led, student-focused competition established by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in collaboration with USDA and funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. Open to any student at a US institution of higher education, it will award more than $200,000 in cash prizes annually to the best proposals and business ideas that address challenges in 21st century agriculture, such as food scarcity and availability, transportation, and sustainability.

    This is an especially timely prize for several reasons. First, with fewer and fewer Americans living or working on farms, agriculture’s visibility has diminished even as the importance of America’s agricultural economy is stronger than ever. This declining involvement with agriculture is undermining the Nation’s ability to attract and train the next generation of skilled, US agricultural practitioners. By connecting students with industry veterans, professional societies, non-profits, and government and policy experts, the Agricultural Innovation Prize will help teach today’s students how to be tomorrow’s agriculture innovators and entrepreneurs.

  • President Obama Celebrates Middle-School STEM Innovators

    POTUS Broadcomm MASTERS STEM Event

    President Barack Obama greets the 2013 Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) finalists in the Rose Garden, Sept. 30, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) September 30, 2013.

    Last month in the Rose Garden, President Obama met with 30 of the Nation’s top scientists, engineers, and inventors—amazing middle schoolers who have paved the way for major breakthroughs in medicine, chemistry, computing, and more…but aren’t yet old enough to drive.

    These remarkable students have sequenced DNA to determine the genetic cause of a fatal lung condition; invented a cheaper, more efficient diagnostics test to detect dengue virus; and built a computer that emits smells—such as the scent of cinnamon—on cue.

    These 6 – 8th graders are finalists in the 2013 Broadcom MASTERS competition, which seeks out the most impressive middle school projects in math, applied science, technology, and engineering. The finalists were in Washington, DC for the last round of competitive judging of their research projects.

    President Obama has emphasized time and again today’s young inventors, creators, builders, and discoverers hold tomorrow’s promise for addressing the grand challenges of the 21st century.

    “When students excel in math and science, they help America compete for the jobs and industries of the future,” he said in an announcement of last year’s White House Science Fair.

    That’s why the President kicked off a national campaign to produce 100,000 exceptional new STEM teachers, and one million more STEM graduates in the next decade. And that’s why he is committed to recognizing and celebrating all-star STEM students at the White House, just as he congratulates championship athletes.

    Please join us in applauding these impressive students and join the conversation about inspiring today’s young STEM innovators by following @whitehouseostp on Twitter; and by visiting the White House Educate to Innovate website.

    Danielle Carnival is a Senior Policy Advisor at OSTP and Randy Paris is a Confidential Assistant at OSTP

  • Basic Research, Game Changing Benefits

    Last week, in Washington, DC, distinguished guests—including Members of Congress, scientists, and business-community leaders—gathered at the second annual Golden Goose Awards to honor six federally-funded researchers whose work has positively transformed technology, medicine, and countless lives. 

    The Golden Goose Award highlights basic scientific research supported by the Federal Government that might have seemed obscure at first, but ultimately benefited society in a significant way—by improving health or national security, leading to a breakthrough innovation, or helping to grow the economy. Awardees are selected by a committee of experts from leading scientific and research organizations across the country—and their incredible accomplishments show just how far Federal funding can go when good scientists put it to good use.

    This year, three of the winners—mathematicians David Gale and Lloyd Shapley and economist Alvin Roth—were honored for research that led to game-changing breakthroughs in now-widely-used “matching” systems. Backed by the U.S. Office of Naval Research and National Science Foundation, these researchers developed the Gale-Shapley Deferred Choice Algorithm, which initially helped streamline the matching process for men and women to maximize marriage stability, but ultimately led to various practical market applications—including the pairing of new doctors with hospitals nationwide through the National Resident Matching Program. In addition, with funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Roth developed a kidney exchange system that today is used across the country to match thousands of kidney recipients with prospective kidney donors. Dr. Shapley and Dr. Roth both received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2012 for their extraordinary work.  

    With funding from the National Science Foundation, fellow Golden Goose honorees Dr. Thomas Brock and Dr. Hudson Freeze’s made discoveries that led to the field of biotechnology. Through their study and replication of DNA, they paved the way for a “genomics revolution”—including incredible developments in medical diagnostics, such as genetic tests. Biotechnologies that would not have been possible without their research have enabled targeted therapies, helping to ensure that patients are getting the right treatments that work for them specifically. 

  • Statement: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Approves Physical Science Report

    Following today's release by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of its Working Group Report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change, OSTP Director John P. Holdren released the following statement:

    Today the United States joined other member nations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in approving the Fifth IPCC Working Group Report on the Physical Science Basis of Climate Change. 

    The IPCC’s report is the result of more than five years of intensive work by hundreds of expert scientists from the United States and partner nations to comprehensively assess the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change. 

    The report reflects a further strengthening of the already robust scientific consensus that the Earth’s climate is changing in ways not explainable by natural variability and that the primary cause is emission of heat-trapping substances by human activities. It also conveys scientists’ strengthened confidence in projections that the kinds of harm already being experienced from climate change will continue to worsen unless and until comprehensive and vigorous action to reduce emissions is undertaken worldwide.

    I applaud the collaborative efforts of the many scientists who contributed to this report, which represents the most comprehensive and authoritative synthesis of scientific knowledge about global climate change ever generated.

    Consistent with the Global Change Research Act of 1990—and across four Administrations—the Federal Government has supported gold-standard research to advance global-change science, including research to understand how humans are contributing to climate change; the impacts of climate change on people, communities, and ecosystems; and ways to address and minimize those impacts. U.S. Government investments enabled many of the peer-reviewed scientific findings that are at the core of the IPCC Working Group Report released today. In addition, scores of American scientists—including dozens of Federal researchers—served as contributing authors of the new report.

    The U.S. Government is committed to continued participation in IPCC activities and to the rigorous use of scientific information about climate change to support sound decision making, as outlined in the Climate Action Plan released by the President in June. The Administration looks forward to collaborating with international partners to finalize the remaining reports making up the IPCC Fifth Assessment, all of which are expected to be released in 2014.