Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Building a Nation of Makers

    Last year, on June 18, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” On June 12-18, 2015, the White House will celebrate a Week of Making, including a National Maker Faire in Washington D.C.

    All over America, makers young and old are using 21st-century tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters, and open-source electronics to design and build things that are personally meaningful to them. Today, we are challenging a broad range of stakeholders – including school leaders, K-12 teachers, skilled volunteers, and companies – to ensure that all of our children have access to these opportunities.

    The Obama Administration believes that making can also play an important role in education and life-long learning. Making can motivate and inspire young people to excel in STEM subjects and prepare students for careers in design, advanced manufacturing, and entrepreneurship. Making can help students acquire 21st-century skills such as teamwork and problem-solving, and address the “summer learning loss” faced by disadvantaged students without access to enrichment activities outside of school.

    Making also has the potential to increase student engagement, which is critical for academic success. Survey data reveals that two-thirds of high school students report being bored every day. We can and must do better, and in 2011, a team of 15 teens from a low-income school in West Philly showed us what’s possible when learning becomes fun and inspiring instead of boring. To compete for the $10 million Automotive X Prize, the West Philly team built a 160 mpg hybrid kit car, which has outperformed other fuel-efficient cars built by professional engineers and graduate students from Ivy League universities. In a region with a high school drop-out rate of over 50 percent, every single member of the team graduated.

    The Administration is committed to doing its part. For example, the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers are teaming up to bring making and tinkering activities to 25 communities in California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The Corporation for National and Community Service and companies have partnered with the Maker Education Initiative to bring exciting educational opportunities to over 143,000 youth and families in 24 states.

    But we will need what President Obama calls an “all hands on deck” effort to broaden student participation in making, tinkering and invention. For example:

    • Companies could sponsor one or more makerspaces, encourage their employees to serve as mentors for young makers by participating in programs such as US2020, and provide students with access to challenging, real-world problems.
    • School superintendents and principals could allocate space for making and other innovation activities like Elizabeth Forward Middle School’s “Dream Factory” and makerspaces at the Albermarle Country Public Schools, empower teachers and students to play a leadership role, and develop a strategy for engaging parents, makers, and STEM professionals who are excited about pitching in.
    • Teachers, educational researchers, and makers could collaborate to develop hands-on projects that motivate students to master challenging academic content, electronic portfolios that allow students to share their work, and “badges” that are recognized by employers and college admission officers as an indicator of topic mastery.
    • A philanthropist or foundation could play the same role that Andrew Carnegie played in supporting the construction of over 1,600 libraries in the United States, with a focus on makerspaces in schools and after-school programs in low-income communities.
    • An information technology company could create an online map of all of the public and private schools that would allow school leaders to signal their interest in participating in making. Such a tool would help grassroots communities of parents, engineers, and local employers come together to target resources and support to these schools.
    • Researchers and entrepreneurs could develop affordable and accessible tools and kits that provide on-ramps to making.

    Although the new technology that is fueling the maker movement gets a lot of attention, more important are the values, dispositions and skills that making fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork, and “hard fun.” As Steve Jobs observed, describing the impact that having access to a Heathkit (a do-it-yourself electronics kit) had on him, “Things became much more clear that they were the results of human creation not these magical things that just appeared in one's environment that one had no knowledge of their interiors. It gave a tremendous level of self-confidence that through exploration and learning one could understand seemingly very complex things in one's environment.”

    If you want to get involved, tell a story, or share an idea, please send us a note at maker@ostp.gov. Working together, we can create a nation of makers and a brighter future for our children.

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

    Roberto Rodriguez is the Deputy Assistant for the President for Education Policy. 

  • NOAA’s Data Heads for the Clouds

    OSTP - NOAA Data

    The VIIRS satellite sensor alone currently produces over 2 terabytes of data daily, and the launch of the next-generation GOES-R satellite in 2016 promises to add another 3.5 terabytes each day. (Photo by NASA/NOAA)

    If you ask the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about big data, they will give you some big numbers. Over 20 terabytes per day of observational data are produced by their satellite systems alone, and then there’s the the massive weather and climate models from the bureau’s 1.5 petaflops of computing power, incoming observations from a network of hundreds of buoys, and live streaming video from the research vessel Okeanos Explorer.

    NOAA is America’s environmental intelligence agency, and its mission -- to protect life and property, provide the information communities need to become resilient to severe weather- and climate-related events, and conserve and protect national resources -- requires a great deal of number crunching.

    The sharing of knowledge and information with others is also part of NOAA’s mission, and it has long been a leader and supporter of government open data efforts. As an agency within the Department of Commerce, NOAA appreciates the importance of private industry and economic growth, and is proud that its data already helps to support vital markets such as the commercial weather, aviation, and insurance industries. Expanding data access even further could create new markets, spur economic growth, and create jobs; research by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that open data could add more than $3 trillion in total value annually to the education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare, and consumer finance sectors worldwide.

    However, the effort and cost involved in distributing tens of terabytes of data daily is staggering, and so the agency has been seeking innovative ways to increase its data’s availability without exhausting its own resources in the process. In early 2014, NOAA reached out to the private sector through a Request for Information to enlist help in making data available to the public in a rapid, scalable, and inexpensive manner. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with over 70 responses to the initial RFI and over 200 companies represented at a subsequent Industry Day last October. It was clear that industry saw great untapped economic potential in making NOAA’s environmental data more accessible, and that this economic potential could far outweigh the data distribution costs.

    Amongst all of the support and enthusiasm, though, there were still a great many open questions about the specifics of the implementation and the business model, which questions could not be answered without further input and innovation from industry. Reaching out to the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers mentioned most frequently by RFI respondents, NOAA suggested a joint experiment: If the IaaS providers could help to position NOAA’s data next to their own high performance computing, analytic, and storage services, would the rest of the private sector take advantage of that positioning to run algorithms, perform research, and create inventions? Might the revenue gained from new products, infrastructure services, and analytics be so great that it could help cover the cost of the original data dissemination, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem?

  • Statement by OSTP Director John P. Holdren on House-Proposed Funding Cuts to NASA's Critical Earth Science and Space Technology Programs

    On May 1, 2015, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Dr. John P. Holdren issued the following statement on proposed funding cuts to NASA's critical Earth science and space technology programs:

    "If enacted, the NASA authorization bill headed to the House floor later this month would do serious damage to the Nation’s space program, as well as to Earth-observation and Earth-science programs essential for predicting, preparing for, and minimizing the damage from disasters both natural and human-induced.

    The bill’s cuts to space-technology development would not only risk continued U.S leadership in the space industry, but would also impede progress on precisely those technologies—on-orbit refueling, advanced space propulsion, radiation protection in deep space, and more—needed to make crewed missions to deep space a reality. In the absence of robust investments to bring these technologies into being, the goal of sending U.S. astronauts to Mars in the 2030s could be in jeopardy.

    The House bill would also gut the NASA “mission to planet Earth”—the satellite observations and related research that provide key measurements and insights relevant to forecasting and tracking hurricanes, fighting wildfires, observing the state of the world’s farms and forests, mapping the extent of droughts, measuring the stocks of groundwater, and monitoring the likelihood of landslides. The draconian cuts in the House bill would also delay advances in our ability to research and prepare for volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis and blind us to changes in the Earth’s oceans and ice sheets that can be discerned only from space.

    NASA’s mission to observe, understand, and explore the solar system and the cosmos beyond has long been matched in importance by its mission to use the unrivaled vantage point of Earth orbit for looking downward, to better understand the only home that humanity currently has. It is difficult to understand why, at this time of U.S. leadership in both the outward-facing and inward-facing facets of NASA’s operations in space, the Congress would want to undermine that leadership and sacrifice the panoply of benefits it brings to the Nation." 

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  • Unleashing Tech and Innovation for Disaster Preparedness

    In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the Administration established The White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Initiative to find effective ways to use technology to empower disaster survivors, first responders, communities, and all levels of government with critical information and collaboration resources. From last year’s SafetyDatapaloozas to  Civic Hardware Hackathons to new apps and tools being made available on data.gov, the Initiative continues to expand, strengthening our Nation’s capacity for innovative disaster response and recovery along the way.

    After more than 1,500 people participated in the White House Innovation for Disaster Response and Recovery Demo Day last July, the #DisasterTech community has continued to grow and answer the Administration’s call to Unleash Innovation. Building upon the  tools, services, and efforts showcased at Demo Day and the launch of the Initiative’s first major online presence, disasters.data.gov, we are excited to see technology and innovation teams from the public and private sectors continuing to step up by supporting America’s PrepareAthon! and today’s National Day of Action for disaster preparedness.

    A host of new technology and innovation commitments being shared today include efforts on new interactive mapping tools, free and open source hardware designs, improved smartphone alerts, and a series of disaster resilience technology exhibits at the upcoming National Maker Faire, during a dedicated Week of Making this June 12 - 18. From free platforms that connect more than 59,000 neighborhoods and 750 local agencies across the country, to a network of 3,000 volunteers that has made over 14 million changes and additions to OpenStreetMap data in Ebola-affected regions, the numbers show this community’s dedication and collaborative spirit.   

    Throughout the day today you can follow the stories of innovators, entrepreneurs, agencies, companies, neighborhoods, and volunteers taking action with #PrepareAthon and #DisasterTech, and read more about technology and innovation commitments in support of the National Day of Action HERE

    To see what's happening in your community, or to register your own PrepareAthon activity, visit ready.gov/prepare – on this Day of Action and any day of the year.   

    Tamara Dickinson is Principal Assistant Director for Environment and Energy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

    David Applegate is Associate Director for Natural Hazards at the US Geological Survey

  • Taking Action for America’s PrepareAthon!

    When a disaster hits, Americans often have to act fast to keep their families safe and protect their homes and businesses from harm. But responding to an emergency takes more than fast action. To ensure an effective response, Americans must prepare in advance to identify the risks they face, know which steps to take to prepare, and understand their community’s plan.

    That’s the idea behind America’s PrepareAthon! National Day of Action. As a nation, we’ve made great progress building and sustaining national preparedness, but we still face diverse threats that challenge our collective security and resilience. And today, individuals, families, and communities across the country are coming together to take action to prepare for some of those threats, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, and winter storms.

  • Improving the Lives of Older Americans Through Science and Technology

    As the Obama Administration prepares to host the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, we have been engaging with older Americans, caregivers, families, researchers, leaders in the field of aging, and other stakeholders across the country to hear about their most important issues. These individual conversations have helped us identify some common themes, including:

    • Ensuring that older Americans are financially prepared for retirement
    • Maintaining individuals’ health as they age
    • Identifying services and supports that can help older adults live independently in their communities as they age and finding ways to support the caregivers who help them
    • Protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect

    Advances in science and technology hold much promise for helping older Americans remain healthy and prepare for their future across all of these themes. For example, technology may help older Americans to exercise, take medication on time, eat healthy meals, and connect with family and friends. It can also make it easier for them to travel, find volunteer/employment opportunities, prevent financial exploitation, and live independently in their homes. Advances in the neurosciences of memory and cognition may lead to engaging games and smartphone apps that could prevent or slow cognitive decline. Recognizing the promise and potential of advances in this domain, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is studying how technology can help people live at home while they age.