APS News

April 2024 (Volume 33, Number 3)

Science Policy Highlights

By the FYI team | March 15, 2024

National Medal of Science image
Credit: The White House

A National Medal of Science.

Nominees sought for top federal science and technology awards

The National Science Foundation is seeking nominees for the National Medal of Science, the nation’s top scientific honor. The award was established by Congress in 1959 and is presented by the president. Just over 500 scientists and engineers have received the award to date. Nominations for the next round of awards are open until May 5.

Other big awards currently open for nominations include the Department of Energy’s Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award, which recognizes the contributions of mid-career scientists and engineers supported by DOE, and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s National Medal of Technology and Innovation. These nominations are also due in early May.

Competition open for Jefferson Lab management contract

In February, the Department of Energy opened a competition to select a contractor to manage Jefferson Lab in Virginia, citing a desire to improve contractor performance and realize “cost efficiencies.” DOE also noted the lab is amid a transition from focusing on nuclear physics to becoming a multi-purpose lab, in part by constructing a major facility that will provide infrastructure for data-intensive science.

The lab employs around 850 people and has an annual budget of about $236 million. The current contractor is a subsidiary of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, which has indicated it will submit a proposal to continue operating the lab. The winner is expected to assume lab operations in June 2025.

DOE anticipates issuing a formal request for proposals this summer. The process DOE is using for the competition mirrors that used for the Fermilab contract competition, which is also underway.

NIST physics labs face urgent infrastructure and safety issues, panel finds

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML) in Boulder, Colorado, needs hundreds of millions of dollars to repair its ailing physical infrastructure, according to a new assessment by a National Academies panel.

The panel’s January report notes, for instance, that one of the lab’s main research centers, called JILA, is “seriously endangered by a combination of aging and lacking facilities” and that NIST officials have estimated that a $200 million repair effort “would barely bring the facilities up to the standards of international peer institutions.”

The panel does not cite repair budget estimates for other divisions of PML, though it does highlight the findings of a related report released by a National Academies panel in 2023 that assessed infrastructure needs across all of NIST. That report concluded NIST would need around $500 million annually for at least 12 years to comprehensively repair and modernize its infrastructure.

Infrastructure aside, the latest Academies panel found that PML “does not adequately ensure the safety of PML staff and visitors,” especially concerning laser-safety protocols and the frequency of safety inspections. The panel recommends PML increase the pace of inspections and seek industry advice on safety standards, among other actions.

FYI is a trusted source of science policy news, published by the American Institute of Physics since 1989.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Taryn MacKinney

April 2024 (Volume 33, Number 3)

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Articles in this Issue
An Inexpensive, DIY Setup Recycles Precious Liquid Helium in the Lab
This Spring, the Cicadas Are Gathering Like It’s 1803
This Month in Physics History
Mess Around With Liquid Nitrogen. Go Viral. Repeat.
Building a Quantum Workforce Doesn’t Just Mean Graduating More Ph.D.s
Opinion: The Steep Price of Free Science Access
Grad Students and Postdocs Don’t Earn Fair Wages, so 91 Scientists Brought It Up With the Folks in Charge
Science Policy Highlights