Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Celebrating Sustainable Aquaculture during National Seafood Month

    The end of October – and of National Seafood Month –  is an opportune time to reflect on the importance of America’s seafood industry and the fish, shrimp, and other aquatic-based food sources it provides to our Nation.

    Seafood consumption is on the rise, in America and around the globe. In 2012, the United States imported $16.7 billion worth of seafood products for citizens across the country. Here at home, the USDA recommends that people consume a minimum of two servings of seafood per week to increase intake of Omega-3 acids, help decrease the risk of heart disease, and improve physical and cognitive health.

    Today, America relies on foreign producers for the large majority of the seafood our citizens consume. And approximately half of the seafood we import is produced through aquaculture, the cultivation of fish in controlled and selected environments. To help satisfy our Nation’s appetite for seafood and our growing population, people and business across the country are finding new ways to secure safe and sustainable sources of seafood right here at home.

    The United States aquaculture industry is emerging and both within and outside government – including in the scientific and business communities – experts are looking at ways to support and encourage aquaculture that is safe and sustainable for people, species, and ecosystems. A working group of the interagency National Science & Technology Council, for instance, is exploring ways to make aquaculture more accessible to those seeking to expand or start new businesses.

    And just this week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy welcomed more than 150 local middle- and high-school students to the White House for a conversation with renowned oceanographer and marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle. Throughout the discussion with students, Dr. Earle emphasized the potential benefits of smart, well-managed, aquaculture, noting that sustainably-constructed aquaculture systems can support ecologically-friendly sources of seafood while minimizing harmful impacts on our oceans. She was sure to note that while the oceans are also an important source of fish for consumption, cultivating fish on land is a key, complementary way to help ensure both seafood security and the safety of our marine ecosystems.

  • Keeping Peace Corps Volunteers Healthy, One Text at a Time

    Today, refilling your medicine cabinet with bandages and over the counter medicine from your local drugstore may seem like a trivial task, but for Peace Corps volunteers working in remote villages around the world, this task can be much more challenging. As we take steps to forge a 21st century Peace Corps, such as dramatically reducing the time it takes to complete a volunteer application from eight hours to less than one hour, we are also looking into ways to tap the ingenuity of volunteer developers to support our Peace Corps volunteers abroad.

    One recent example of this was the development of Medlink, an SMS-based platform, allowing volunteers to text in requests for their medical kit refills to get supplies in a timely manner. An internal study showed that the overseas medical staff members spent up to eight hours a week responding to requests from Volunteers to resupply their medical kits that were being transmitted to medical units via emails, phone calls, and text messages. Peace Corps realized that a more efficient way to collect these requests and communicate with volunteers was needed. The health and safety of volunteers is our top priority, and we are always looking for new ways to improve internal processes.

    At a recent convention in Atlanta, the Peace Corps’ Director of Innovation met with several inspired developers to describe this global challenge. Excited, developers volunteered their time and skills to help improve the medical resupply process. The result is PC Medlink. As seen in the video, the application allows Volunteers to easily text in a request to refill supplies, allowing medical staff to focus on outreach, prevention, and treatment of volunteers, rather than administrative tasks.

    This application followed many of the same steps outlined in the recently released U.S. Digital Services Playbook. We will continue to leverage open source, crowd-based solutions to better serve volunteers in the field.

    We are excited that the developer community has shown support for and developed  PC Medlink and we invite you make a difference by plugging into Peace Corps’ mission on GitHub:

    Carrie Hessler-Radelet is the Director of the Peace Corps and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Western Samoa 1981-1983.

    Brian Forde is the Senior Advisor for Mobile and Data Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Nicaragua 2003-2005.

  • Calling All Makers: Announcing the First-Ever White House 3D-Printed Ornament Challenge

    Here at the White House, planning for the 2014 holiday season is already in full swing! The house is buzzing with activity as preparations for the most festive time of the year are underway.

    Once again, President Obama and the First Lady will welcome tens of thousands of visitors from around the country to tour the holiday decorations – and those that can’t make it in person will have the chance to explore the décor online. From Christmas trees and garlands to lights and ornaments, the holidays will be filled with wonder, delight, and excitement.

    And this year, for the first time ever, we’re inviting makers and innovators around the country to participate in the White House 3D-Printed Ornament Challenge!

    The Challenge, in partnership with the Smithsonian, invites makers, artists, designers, engineers, and anyone interested in 3D modeling and 3D printing to design a winter holiday-inspired ornament. Starting today and running until November 10, 2014, people can head over to Instructables to submit their design and for more details about the Challenge.

    A selection of the winning ornament designs will be 3D printed and displayed in the White House during the holiday season; featured on the Smithsonian’s state-of-the-art 3D data platform,; and will join a small collection of White House ornaments in the political history division of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

  • Innovating to Fight Ebola

    The United States is mobilizing an “all hands on deck” approach to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, reduce the global health risk of this devastating disease and ensure that the US health care system is prepared. One key opportunity is to make the personal protective equipment (PPE) health care workers wear more comfortable and easier to put on and take off. New solutions will let nurses and doctor’s work longer shifts in the hot and humid environment in West Africa, and will make it easier to take off the equipment, reducing the risk of infection for health care workers both here and abroad.

    To address this urgent need, earlier this month USAID launched Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development, in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), to rally innovators, scientists, and experts to generate pioneering solutions to improve delivery of care and stem the spread of Ebola.  Through this Challenge we will develop, fund and test PPE solutions. Our goal is to have solutions in the field in months, not years.

    To jumpstart this process, on October 10th and 11th OSTP and USAID convened more than 100 engineers, makers, sensors experts, manufacturers and scientists to brainstorm and rapid-prototype PPE solutions.  By the end of the first day, more than 12 teams had generated potential solutions that were made real the next day at a DC design and fabrication space.  The ideas represented the range of skills and expertise of participants.

    One team came up with “Design retrofit”, a one-piece back-entry PPE design inspired by wetsuits, with external grab tags and boot flaps to make the PPE easier to remove.  They rapidly prototyped their product, modifying the solution 5 times with end-user input from Ebola field experts and PPE leaders. The team -- including a low-cost device start-up founder, a leader in the maker movement, and a "senior maverick" at a Fortune 500 company -- illustrated the cross-function and cross-organization collaboration spurred by the event.  Many other ideas emerged from the two-day meeting including:

    • “Viral chromic” suits that will change color when the fabric has contact with contaminants;
    • Shipping containers converted into “cool zones” to allow workers to recover;
    • Technology like Bluetooth stethoscopes and virtual care tools (i.e. tablets) to offload tasks and allow for better communication; and
    • Cooling suits with drainable water and plumbing.

  • Empowering Entrepreneurial Labs: New Lab-Corps Program Accelerates Energy Technologies to Market

    The Department of Energy national laboratories are American science and engineering powerhouses. These national treasures are generating innovative solutions to the world’s toughest energy challenges. However, promising solutions discovered at the laboratory bench can’t effectively address energy challenges unless and until they are successfully transferred to the marketplace as commercial products and services.

    To help increase the rate at which national laboratory discoveries successfully transition into the private sector, the Energy Department today launched Lab-Corps, a new $2.3 million program that will train top lab researchers across the nation how to move high-impact national laboratory-invented technologies into the market. This pilot program supports the Obama Administration’s larger “Lab-to-Market” efforts, which focus on increasing the commercial impact of Federally-funded research and development and generating a greater return on taxpayer investment.

    Lab-Corps, which is modeled on the National Science Foundation’s successful Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, is a specialized technology accelerator and commercialization training curriculum for researchers in our national laboratories who have developed potentially marketable technology breakthroughs. Lab-Corps will initially focus on clean energy technologies. Through Lab-Corps, select labs will support entrepreneurial teams to identify and pursue market applications for new clean energy technologies through direct engagement with industry, entrepreneurs, and investors.

    In addition to accelerating successful technology transfer, Lab-Corps will support a commercialization training model that expands upon the popular Lean LaunchPad entrepreneurship curriculum. The Lab-Corps curriculum will be tailored to the unique features of the national laboratories in order to maximize commercial impact and enable lab technologists to pursue a variety of commercialization pathways that extend beyond startup development to include industry agreements, technology licensing, and other partnerships with the private sector.

    Six national laboratories have been selected to participate in the Lab-Corps pilot program. Over the next year, five labs – Argonne National Laboratory, Idaho National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – will assemble, train, and support entrepreneurial teams to identify private sector opportunities for commercializing promising sustainable transportation, renewable power, and energy efficiency lab technologies.

    A sixth – the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado – will leverage its deep expertise in technology commercialization and clean energy sectors to develop, deliver, and manage the Lab-Corps training program across the laboratory sites, with help from Brookhaven National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratory.

    If successful, the Lab-Corps pilot could be extended to other national laboratories, helping commercialize even more valuable discoveries across different sectors.  Similarly, a recent collaboration between the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation is bringing this entrepreneurship training model to teams of biomedical researchers.

    Programs such as Lab-Corps boost the American public’s return on investment in Federally-funded research by ensuring that more clean energy discoveries funded by taxpayer dollars in the national laboratories successfully make the leap to the marketplace. These commercialized discoveries in turn help cut carbon pollution, protect the environment, and drive our country’s clean energy economy forward.

    Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    David Danielson is Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy

  • A Call to Action to Advance Climate Education and Literacy

    America’s students need access to the latest information, knowledge, and skills in order to be prepared for the jobs of the future. This means continually ensuring that citizens of all ages have a solid grounding in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills that serve as a basis for discovery, invention, and innovation.

    Climate education and literacy are a critical part of this STEM skillset and are particularly important for building a 21st-century workforce, where tomorrow’s community leaders, city planners, and entrepreneurs have the information, knowledge, and training to make sound decisions and grow businesses in the context of a changing climate.

    Much work is already being done inside and outside of government to increase science-based understanding and awareness of current and future climate change – through efforts like the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), climate education projects supported by NOAA, NSF, NASA, and other Federal agencies, and community-based programs to make schools, campuses, and businesses more climate-smart. Leaders are enhancing climate literacy in K-12 classrooms, on college and university campuses, and in parks and museums across the country. But still, there is more to do.

    That’s why, over the past few months, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been exploring opportunities at the intersection of two key priorities of the Obama Administration: lifting America’s game in STEM education, and combating climate change.