Office of Science and Technology Policy Blog

  • Announcing a Week of Making this June 12-18

    President Obama talks with a Maker in the Rose Garden

    President Obama chats with Sandra Richter, while sitting on the solar-powered bench she designed that charges mobile phones. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Last year, on June 18, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire and issued a call to action that “every company, every college, every community, every citizen joins us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” By democratizing the tools and skills necessary to design and make just about anything, Maker-related events and activities can inspire more people to pursue careers in design, advanced manufacturing, and the related fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and possibly take their creations to the next level and become entrepreneurs.

    Today, in preparation of the one-year anniversary of last year’s Faire, we are excited to announce that the White House will celebrate a “Week of Making” this summer from June 12-18. The week will coincide with the National Maker Faire here in D.C., featuring makers from across the country and will include participation by federal agencies including: the Department of Education, National Science Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Small Business Administration, Institute of Museum and Library Services, National Institute of Standards and Technology, NASA, Corporation for National and Community Service, Department of Homeland Security and the Smithsonian.

    At last year’s Faire, President Obama welcomed people of all ages who are funneling their ingenuity into amazing projects, developing creative solutions to important problems and bringing their innovations to market. He met Lindsay Lawlor, who built a 17-foot, talking robotic giraffe named Russell, and he met teenage sisters Camille and Genevieve Betty, whose motto is “Who needs a paper route when you can start your own robotics company?” He talked to entrepreneurs such as Marc Roth, who was homeless in San Francisco before taking classes in design and prototyping at a digital fabrication studio and maker space. After only several months of classes, Marc was able to open his own custom laser-cutting business. As the President put it, “Today’s D.I.Y is tomorrow’s Made in America.”

  • We the Geeks: Journey to Pluto

    In the farthest reaches of our solar system, nearly 3 billion miles away, lies the small, icy body that has inspired wonder for generations of astronomers since its discovery 85 years ago. Pluto, a dwarf planet, is so far away that it takes nearly 250 years to orbit the Sun. This summer, we will come to know Pluto in infinitely more detail than ever before. 

    NASA’s New Horizons mission launched into space in 2006 and has been en route to Pluto for nine years. In July 2015, it will reach its destination, billions of miles away, for the first-ever close view of the dwarf planet and its moons. New Horizons will use an array of instruments to take pictures and answer basic questions about the temperature and composition of Pluto’s atmosphere, its surface and geology, and how it interacts with the constant stream of charged particles emanating from the Sun. 

    Looking ahead to this exciting close encounter, the White House will host “We the Geeks: Journey to Pluto” tomorrow, April 9 at 1:00 p.m. EDT. We’ll talk to experts from NASA’s New Horizons team to learn about the mission and the exciting discoveries scientists hope to make about Pluto.

  • An Egg-straordinary Day of Science and Technology

    In addition to racing their eggs down the South Lawn and gathering around to hear a story read by the First Family, the young participants of the 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll had the opportunity to participate in some fun and interactive science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities.

    At the 5th White House Science Fair a couple of weeks ago, the President announced $240 million in new contributions from businesses, schools, non-profits, and other institutions across the country to help kids learn in STEM fields. During his remarks, the President stated that “the United States has always been a place that loves science.  We’ve always been obsessed with tinkering and discovering and inventing and pushing the very boundaries of what’s possible.”

  • Advancing Understanding of Particle Beam Therapies for Cancer Treatment

    The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Department of Energy (DOE) recently issued awards to plan for future research capabilities and to advance instrumentation and methods for particle beam therapies that could potentially complement or provide alternatives to certain cancer therapies. 

    In another step to stay on the cutting edge of this promising field, the NCI this week announced an upcoming solicitation for proposals to conduct clinical trials on “Carbon Ion versus Conventional Radiation Therapy for Locally Advanced, Unresectable Pancreatic Cancer.” 

    This type of cancer is particularly difficult to treat; only about 10% of patients diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer survive for more than two years, and their prognosis has not improved much since the 1970s. 

    Carbon ion beam therapy is not yet widely available but researchers have reported that, in studies, nearly half of pancreatic cancer patients who were treated with carbon ion therapy survived to the two-year mark or beyond. 

    Appropriately controlled trials such as those sought by NCI are needed to validate the benefits of such therapies. 

    In preparation for the solicitation, NCI issued a Sources Sought Notice late last year with information about protocols and processes that were being considered. The announcement of the solicitation appeared this week in Federal Business Opportunities and the full solicitation will be published via the same vehicle in the near future.

    The initiation of clinical trials is a critical next step in quantifying the efficacy of carbon ion therapy, and in building a solid foundation of evidence upon which to move forward in this promising area.

    Altaf H. (Tof) Carim is Assistant Director for Research Infrastructure, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Citizen Science is Everywhere, including the White House

    Millions of volunteers across our Nation actively contribute valuable time and expertise to help advance our understanding of the world around us.  Through citizen science, members of the public can participate in the scientific process, including identifying research questions, making new discoveries, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems.  Equipped with interactive web tools and readily-available tools like cell phone cameras and water-quality test kits, citizen scientists collect data and act on the results to accomplish fascinating and important work: from determining the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme to support development of new medications, to mapping the 3D structure of neurons in the brain. Through citizen science, the public also has discovered a new class of galaxy (the rare “green pea” galaxies), and helped to map the surface of Mars.

    This week, the White House hosted the 5th annual White House Science Fair. One of the student exhibitors demonstrated the impact citizen science can have on both learning and research outcomes. High school senior Tiye Garrett-Mills Tiye investigated more economically viable and efficient ways to create images of the vein systems in leaves. 

  • Empowering the Next Generation of Engineers to Address the Grand Challenges of the 21st Century

    At the 2015 White House Science Fair yesterday, President Obama hosted outstanding young scholars from across the country to celebrate their achievements in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). One of the scholars he met was Michaela Rikard, a biomedical engineering student at North Carolina State University.

    Michaela is one of a growing number of undergraduates participating in Grand Challenge Scholars Programs at colleges and universities nationwide. These programs empower students to tackle some of the most important challenges of the 21st century, such as making solar energy cost-competitive with coal and providing clean water for the nearly 1 billion people who lack access. As a Grand Challenge Scfholar, Michaela wants to develop new medical therapies that are personalized, affordable, and readily available worldwide. She’s conducted research to improve the use of nanotechnology to detect and treat cancer, and has worked with the military to help soldiers with amputations that are suffering from complications.

    Thanks to a new initiative launched by over 120 Deans of Engineering at campuses nationwide, over the next decade at least 20,000 undergraduate students will have the opportunity to tackle Grand Challenges: ambitious but achievable goals that will require advances in science and technology to achieve. Students will combine interdisciplinary coursework, research, hands-on design projects, service learning, a semester abroad, and an entrepreneurial experience to ensure that they have the skills and the mindset needed to meet Grand Challenges.