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Amid the Rancor, a Bipartisan Showcase for Science
by Mark Vieth, Senior Vice President
Last night, I attended an event in the Rayburn House Office Building entitled “The Arc of Science: Research to Results,” sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF). This event showcased NSF-funded projects that are making significant impacts on many of the challenges our nation faces, including the economy, national security, health and crime.
It was a welcome break from the daily controversies surrounding the new administration and partisan rancor on Capitol Hill. What was most notable – apart from the amazing science on display – was the spirit of bipartisan support for federal investment in the advancement of science in the U.S. The event included speeches from House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson, who in previous years have been at odds over U.S. science policy. Rep. Johnson spoke first about the importance of continued investment in the scientific enterprise, specifically through funding for the NSF. Chairman Smith followed by congratulating the researchers in the room for their work, and even agreeing with the Ranking Member that Congress needs to increase the budget for NSF!Back to the science… some of the best exhibits I saw are summarized below:
Predictive Policing: Bringing anthropology and mathematics together, the NSF funded the work of Dr. Jeff Brantingham, an anthropology professor at UCLA, who developed an algorithm that is now being used by police departments to help predict crime. The concept started out as an algorithm that described seismic activity—just as earthquakes happen along fault lines, research has shown crime is often generated by structures in the environment, like a high school, mall parking lot or bar. Additional crimes tend to follow the initial event near in time and space, much like an aftershock. Using this technology, the LA Police Department’s Foothill Division saw a 20% drop in predicted crimes year over year from January 2013 to January 2014, and experienced a day without crime on February 13, 2014.
Go Baby Go: Developed by researchers from the University of Delaware and the Cleveland Clinic, this technology adapts toy ride-on cars allowing children to experience the freedom of mobility and get much needed social interaction. This research found that infants can steer the mobility devises earlier than they can walk or crawl! Further collaboration with mechanical engineers and physical therapy students are helping to create a network that can provide solutions for families across the county. The research on mobility and its effect on perception, action and cognition have resulted in over 40 “Go Baby Go” sites across the country. Also, online resources are available to help parents and therapists choose and modify their own ride-on toys to fit individual needs with the help of the vast social media network of volunteers.
Privacy and Security People Can Use: Through an exhibit that allows participants to play the “passwords” game and see whether they can identify the more secure passwords, Carnegie Mellon University is demonstrating how to make security and privacy tools more user-friendly. This NSF-funded research and subsequent work demonstrates not only NSF’s influence on U.S. cybersecurity research, but also cybersecurity infrastructure and its impact on the economy. Carnegie Mellon’s research also shows how computer science and behavioral science can intersect to meet an important public policy objective.