In addition to party favors, helium is an irreplaceable and non-renewable element in the global high-tech economy. It is used in medical imaging (MRI), industrial welding, and semiconductor manufacture, as well as in advanced research applications like particle physics and rocket propulsion. Currently, the US Government owns and operates the world’s only helium reserve as well as a pipeline connecting it to a private network of industrial suppliers and refineries. This public-private partnership supplies nearly one third of total global demand.
Under current law, the US Helium Reserve will sell in a straight-line manner (a prescribed amount each year) at prices set by 1996 legislation (which is currently approximately half of market value) until the remaining debt is paid to the US Treasury. At that time, the facility’s operating fund will be dissolved into the US Treasury with no method to administer the remaining Federal or private helium held in the reserve. In response to this issue, HR 527 was proposed on February 6th of this year. Some subtleties (e.g. auction special case caveats) are omitted in favor of relaying the essence of the legislation.
Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act
In all three phases, this legislation authorizes federal users (defined as agencies and holders at least one federal grant related to the use of helium) to purchase refined helium from private industry that is contracted to purchase equal quantities of crude helium from the reserve. This purchase method is referred to as “in-kind” helium distribution. Additionally, the Secretary of the Interior will be referred to as “The Secretary” for brevity.
Phase 1: Finalizing Debt Payoff
For one year after the date of enactment, no real change is made while the debt is paid off. The Secretary may sell crude helium from the reserve to any buyer in amounts at least that offered in FY 2012 and at a price that is at least that of FY 2012.
Phase 2: Maximizing Total Recovery of He and Increasing Returns to the American Taxpayer
At the conclusion of Phase 1, and until the federal stockpile is 3 billion cubic feet of crude helium, The Secretary will sell crude helium to refineries at auction in quantities set by The Secretary with price minima determined by a confidential survey of transactions, current market prices and cost analyses.
Phase 3: Access for Federal Users
Once Phase 2 ends, the sole role of the reserve will be catering to federal users as mentioned above.
Avenue for Revenue
All income received under this act will be collected into the Helium Production Fund which will (in order of priority) finance the administration of the above outlined activities, pay off the Treasury debt, make capital investments to reserve and pipeline infrastructure, and supply revenue to the US Treasury. Provided the debt is indeed paid off early in the first year of enactment, the Federal Helium Reserve stands to provide tangible income to the US Government in addition to retaining a strategic supply of helium, and a force for market stability.
In August 2012, the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS) pre-released a report describing the technological and economic impacts of photonics technology in the US and abroad. I summarized the report in August 2012. Shortly after the report circulated amongst the scientific community, an ad hoc committee was formed by the associated professional societies (OSA, SPIE, IEEE, APS, and LIA) and charged with disseminating the NAS report.
This committee has since taken on the role of launching a National Photonics Initiative (NPI), as recommended by the report. In order to define the initiative, subcommittees representative of US industry and academia in the five major photonics dependent markets were formed.
The subcommittee mission is to address the following.
These subcommittees will meet in person at the official NAS report launch event in Washington, D.C. next Thursday (Feb 28th) to finalize their recommendations to the launch committee. At that point, the recommendations will become an action plan to launch the NPI. Additionally, our report will be released to the community in hopes of aligning the US regions tied to photonics industries to national concerns.
In Europe, in preparation to the Horizons 2020 research funding program, Photonics 21 emerged out of interested industry to make recommendations that are tied to economic indicators. In a similar vein, the NPI subcommittees are largely industry driven so that a market “pull” perspective can be heard along with the research community’s technology “push” point of view.
Key members of the Obama Administration, US Congress, US funding agencies, as well as major industry players all want to be at the table already. Even in a tumultuous legislative environment, there is confidence this project will continue to gain traction.
Today a friend sent me the following video from the makers of PhD Comics. I think the video is quite good and worth spreading but I will preface with the fact that the message is a bit biased against the publishers, in my opinion. For more of my thoughts on the subject, check out my previous post on the topic.
As member of The Optical Society’s Public Policy Committee, I am working on the following statement on behalf of the society’s membership:
OSA promotes the dissemination of knowledge in the field of optics and photonics through its publishing, meetings, and educational outreach initiatives. This broad portfolio of activities provides an effective means for the latest research in optical science and engineering to reach the broadest audience. As a non-profit scientific publisher with over 95 years of experience, OSA adds value to the processes of research and development through:
Yesterday, a Republican-sponsored bill on the floor of the US House of Representatives was voted down. This is nothing new, especially in the current, highly partisan political landscape. However, the reason this bill is of note is that both sides of the isle have spoken out about their support of the effort and the essential nature of its theme: enabling international students with advanced degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to more readily earn their green card and remain in the US as members of the high-technology workforce.
I have chosen to write about this specific case for two reasons, first it is an effort I see as important, and second because it is a prime example of politics getting in the way of governance. Yesterday, two bills existed in the House regarding this piece of policy, one written by a Democrat and another written by a Republican. Today, one bill is defeated, and the other not likely to see the light of day until next year. The feature that distinguishes the two bills is how a new group of green cards for these STEM graduates would fit in with the annual immigration allowance. Republicans believe we must continue to cap this annual number and so the diversity visa lottery allotment was set to be eliminated by their bill and reallocate 55,000 green card opportunities per year to those earning advanced degrees in STEM fields. The lottery, enacted in 1990, enables those from nations without strong ties to, and therefore underrepresented populations in the US (commonly refugees) to gain admittance by luck of the draw. Democrats, particularly those representing the interests of ethnic minorities are strong proponents of the lottery program and therefore seek through their bill to simply enlarge the immigration pie and add the 55,000 STEM degree green card spots on top of existing law.
There are many arguments for and against the two points of view:
I will not get into my opinions because, to be honest, I am not educated enough on the topic to make declarative statements. The real problem here is that this effort is a shining example of how our leaders have simply become unable to cooperate. Garnering a 257-158 majority of votes (62%), the Republican bill was shot down because it was pushed through to a vote by the majority party under suspension of the rules just two days after it was introduced. As exciting as this swift legislative action is, it was very likely politically motivated due to the election season, eliminated the ability to amend and compromise, and mandated a 2/3 vote to pass.
The Senate is pushing for the House to present them a bill on this topic, so there is hope something will emerge Congress. We as a constituency will, however, need to help keep the issue alive through the coming election so that those who our nation has trained may more readily stay and contribute to our continued technological leadership.
Today, the US National Academy of Sciences released a report (Optics & Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation) that addresses technological developments that have taken place in recent years, economic opportunities that exist in these technologies, and recommendations for achieving US leadership in a field as ubiquitous as any other in the modern industrial landscape. The committee’s previous report from 1998 spurred unification of more than 1,700 firms across Europe but fell on deaf ears within the US. It is hoped that with 14 years of progress in the field to stand as evidence to the necessity of these technologies and a concerted effort by the associated professional societies (OSA, SPIE, IEEE, and APS), steps to capitalize on the opportunities available will be made.
The economic importance of this field cannot be overstated. Breakthroughs in O&P have enabled modern electronics, precision manufacturing, and the high-capacity data networks that run the internet. Representing trillion dollar industries, avenues toward energy independence, breakthroughs in medical care, and the safety of modern warfighters, light has led the way and will only continue. What follows is a brief summary of the findings and recommendations of the NAS report intended to incite action from scientists, existing industry, investors, and government.
Optics-related Technological Foci:
Communications, Information Processing, and Data Storage
Building from existing market dominance, the US should position itself as a leader in data center and network technologies by achieving an integrated electronic and photonic platform to push toward a factor-of-100 data capacity increase.
Defense and National Security
To insure our national security, photonic technologies represent big opportunities in defining the future of military engagement. The US must prioritize the development of platforms capable of wide-area surveillance, object identification, improved resolution, high-bandwidth free-space communications, and missile defense tactics.
Advances in photonic materials and technology research yield a multi-faceted boon to energy savings through solar energy conversion, solid state lighting, and energy efficient telecommunications. The DOE should commit to achieving oil-solar grid parity by 2020, and launch a 21st century light bulb challenge.
Health and Medicine
We observe and measure our world with light from birth, and now technological advances in medical diagnostics as well as chemical production monitoring offers the potential for revolutionary medical treatments and streamlined pharmaceutical development processes. Technologies for comprehensive immune system diagnostic tools and streamlined pharmaceutical development processes are the next step.
New industries are blossoming in the arena of advanced – optics enabled – manufacturing with regard to high precision machining, lithography, high purity deposition, and additive manufacturing (3D printing). Having lost much of the high-volume manufacturing industry overseas, the US should focus on low-volume, high-value production by developing extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and soft x-ray sources and optics.
Advanced Photonic Measurement and Applications
In recent years, tremendous growth has occurred in our ability to measure the world around us and define standards in time and space. It is imperative that the US continue to support research into techniques for advanced measurement, timing standards, and quantum-information potentials.
Strategic Materials for Optics
In order to achieve optical technologies that depend on rare materials or that are physically impossible with physical elements, a focus on the development of nanostructured materials that can be tailored from abundant materials will be crucial in coming years as global resources become scarce and market demand for shrinking device size continues.
While the US dominates display technology innovation, the production industry has all but vanished from our shores. We are presented with the opportunity of having a competency in solid state lighting and existing display technology and should take advantage of this toward future display needs.
As the technologies used in the workplace advance, the need to train the new generation of skilled laborers has become paramount. From an economic point of view, despite national employment woes there is a quickly growing need for technicians in O&P companies, and from a national security point of view, the US military needs personnel educated in high-tech O&P technologies.
Research and Capital Investments
The technologies that have emerged from O&P research, especially in the area of advanced measurement, represent many high-value, low-demand opportunities that are best addressed by small and medium business ventures. Additionally, these businesses have represented an increasingly dominant portion of non-Federally funded R&D. Therefore, encouraging gap-funding opportunities to propel advanced tech out of the laboratory will be essential to the success of the modern economy.
As vast and geographically diverse a nation we may be, there remain international handcuffs in the form of elemental natural resources. The US must remain mindful of these dependencies and foster sustainable trade practices.
The National Photonics Initiative
The grandest recommendation from the NAS report calls for the creation of a federal crosscutting initiative intended to maintain priorities toward the development of near and long term technological research challenges and education across the application space of optics and photonics. This initiative, like the National Nanotechnology Initiative, would be charged with allocating research dollars from the multitude of existing federal research budgets for O&P, monitoring the associated industrial landscapes, and ensuring sustainable progress through the education of future technicians and scientists. Without this buy-in, it is feared that our many growing national competitors will overtake us in this key field leaving our future in the hands of other nations.
A bipartisan effort in the US capitol seeks to open public access to federally funded research results. Legislation was pursued and enacted in the biomedical sciences due to the strong connections between medical treatment and cutting edge research. The NIH therefore established PubMed as a free access portal for all NIH funded research results. Now, as the whole federal research portfolio is under scrutiny, all the players have valid concerns. Citizens’ tax-investment entitles them to scholarly returns. Publisher subscription prices overburden libraries. Publishers, alternatively, incur real costs, especially high end and widely distributed issues. Additionally, many publishers operate as not-for-profit professional societies and add significant value to their fields by facilitating peer review, disseminating research results, and promoting the field.
In sum, three stake holders exist: consumers (citizens), librarians (universities), and publishers (professional societies). The consumers feel entitled to the content; libraries feel they pay too much for the content; and publishers demand compensation from someone. Open access is, therefore, a tricky proposition and which will likely demand compromise between publishers and government.
I am a member of the National Photonics Initiative and have an interest in how government plays a part in the progress of our world. Here are my thoughts on science and social public policy issues of the day.