Noelle Swan

Investing in America’s Scientific Future

In Uncategorized on August 31, 2010 at 9:21 am

Brett Collins of Chicago, Illinois is exploring the possibilities of superconducting magnetic coils at the University of Berkeley. Katherine Gabet of Columbus, Ohio studies turbulent combustion at Ohio State University. Andrew Hilmer of Oshkosh, Wisconsin studies nanotechnology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

And they’re doing it on the national dime.

These students are among the first 150 recipients of the nation’s Office of Science Graduate Fellowship. Office of Science Director Dr. William F. Brinkman is betting they aren’t the last.

In 2009, Congress passed President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Revitalization Act, designed to spur economic development. The Act was sold as a jobs bill, but it’s bolder and broader than that. It is an energy revolution.

Through it, fellowship awardees receive tuition support, a stipend for living expenses, and research funding for three years.

Transforming the nation’s energy infrastructure takes more than manual labor. It takes inventors, engineers, scientists, and all forms of tinkerers. That’s where the Office of Science Fellowship comes in to play. These students aren’t ready to shatter any boundaries yet, but the Office of Science is willing to bet that someday some of them will. “We are trying to train future scientists for our National Laboratories,” Dr. Brinkman explains. Congress isn’t so sure.

Some Republicans feel that President Obama has used the economic crisis to drive his personal agendas. Others are looking to jobs and unemployment rates as the only indicators of success of the original plan. All Dr. Brinkman and his colleagues at the Office of Science can do is wait. Their students aren’t going to make any huge discoveries in time for congressional appropriations committee meetings, but that is where the fate of the program is being decided.

President Obama has requested that funding for the Office of Science increase from $4.904 billion in 2010 to $5.121 billion for 2011. In late July, the Senate approved a median figure of $5.012 billion, that’s $109 million shy of the Presidents request, but still $108 million more than last year’s budget. Either would be good news for the fellowship.

Representative Ed Pastor (D) of Arizona introduced the House appropriation recommendations with an impassioned speech citing the BP gulf spill as a wake up call that we need to be forging ahead with our energy revolution. Yet the bill Rep. Pastor has presented to the House of Representatives does not come close to Obama’s or the Senate’s requests for the Office of Science. Instead, the House appropriation bill offers up $4 million dollars less than was allotted in 2010. That could be devastating for the fellowship.

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