Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • 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.

  • “Entrepreneurship is in the DNA of this Generation”: The President’s Innovation Town Hall

    President Obama Speaks at Cross Campus

    President Barack Obama answers a question during a town hall at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, Calif. October 9, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Earlier this month, the President held a town hall meeting at Cross Campus, a collaborative work space in the Los Angeles Area that brings together entrepreneurs, freelancers, creative professionals, and other innovators, many from the millennial generation. A new White House report on millennials highlights the entrepreneurial ambition of this generation, with the majority interested in starting a new business.

    In conversation with the Cross Campus community, the President spoke about a wide range of issues of core importance to entrepreneurs (and considered a post-White House job offer from one of them, noting that “being able to dabble a little bit in the issues of the day while being in sweat pants and a baseball cap sounds pretty attractive”). Here are some highlights:

    Ensuring an Open Internet

    “I made a commitment very early on that I am unequivocally committed to net neutrality. I think that it is what has … unleashed the power of the Internet, and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes.”

    Fixing our Broken Immigration System

    “We know that when it comes to tech, a huge percentage of some of our biggest startups, like Intel and Google, were started by first-generation Americans, immigrants. We know that about 25 percent of our Nobel Prize winners in the sciences are naturalized Americans. And so the idea that we would make it harder for talent to come here -- especially when so often that talent is coming to study here, going to school here, wants to stay here, wants to work here, wants to invest here -- makes no sense… And what I’ve committed to is, is that assuming Congress does not act, I will use all the executive authority that I legally have in order to make fixes in some of the system.”

    Growing Startup Communities Across the Country

    “[A] lot of folks I think are working hard to make L.A. a model for innovation here in California, but also a model for what we need to see all across the country… Obviously, California is an epicenter of it, and Silicon Valley is the crown jewel of our innovation economy, but it’s happening in Kansas City. It’s happening in places in Colorado.  It’s happening in towns in Ohio. And everywhere you go, you see people turning great ideas into great companies.”

    Developing More Engineers

    “[T]here’s nothing wrong with folks obviously going into finance, but if our best talent for numbers are all ending up on Wall Street instead of ending up as engineers, then over time our economy is going to be out of balance… And we’ve actually got a public-private initiative to get 100,000 more engineers. A lot of that then is trying to tap new talent, people who probably would make great engineers but right [now] are ending up being diverted someplace else.”

    Tapping All of America’ Tech Talent

    “How do we encourage more women but also minorities into STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering, math. On average, wages are about 33 percent higher than non-STEM occupations, and yet, women are not at all represented the way they should be in these fields -- neither are African Americans or Latinos… We have an entire effort, through the Department of Education, giving grants and incentives to school districts to encourage traditionally underrepresented groups to get into STEM.”

    Reducing Student Loan Burdens

    “We’ve acted to give nearly 5 million Americans the chance to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income, which means that they can afford to go out and take a risk.”

    Unlocking Entrepreneurship Through Affordable Healthcare

    “The Affordable Care Act means that if you’re a young entrepreneur, you don’t have to be locked into a job worrying that otherwise you won’t have health insurance because now you’re able to get an affordable plan through the marketplace exchanges that have been set up.”

    The Promise of Millennials

    “[Y]ou have the opportunity in ways that previous generations did not have to create something yourself, to be your own boss, to have flexibility with respect to your hours, to pursue your dreams, to raise capital in creative ways, to bust down some of the barriers … and gatekeepers that traditionally existed in every industry. And that’s hugely exciting.”

    You can read or watch the full town hall conversation, and the full White House report on millennials is available here. You can also learn more about the White House Startup America initiative to accelerate the success of entrepreneurs across the country.

    As the President said in LA last week, “when I come to places like this, it inspires me and reminds me of why I am chronically optimistic about the future of America.” Contact us and let us know how you’re building a strong foundation for entrepreneurs in your community.

    Doug Rand is Assistant Director for Entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.