White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Inspiring the Next Generation of Innovators: President Obama Honors the Nation’s Cutting-Edge Scientists and Engineers

A group of leading researchers—including EPA’s own Dr. Tom Purucker—we were honored today at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

The following is reposted from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

A group of leading researchers were honored today at the White House as recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), which is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

After receiving their awards in a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Agriculture with agency officials, friends, and relatives—a ceremony keynoted by OSTP Director John Holdren—the group of 102 ambitious scientists and engineers were greeted at the White House by President Obama who thanked them for their outstanding achievements.

President Barack Obama talks with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo)

President Barack Obama talks with the PECASE recipients in the East Room of the White House, April 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

The PECASE recipients are employed or funded by the following departments and agencies: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Intelligence Community, which join together annually to nominate the most meritorious scientists and engineers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for assuring America’s preeminence in science and engineering and contributing to the awarding agencies’ missions.

PECASE awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach. The winners represent outstanding examples of American creativity across a diverse span of issues—from adding to our understanding of the most potent contributors to climate change to unlocking secrets to some of the most pressing medical challenges of our time to mentoring students and conducting academic outreach to increase minority representation in science fields.

For example, Derek Paley, Willis H. Young Jr. Associate Professor of Aerospace Engineering Education at the University of Maryland, is studying how fish use sensory organs to perceive their environment in order to build an artificial sensing and control system that will allow underwater vehicles to navigate autonomously.

Or consider PECASE winner Dr. Young Shin Kim, an associate professor at Yale University School of Medicine, who is being awarded for studying the role of environmental risks and gene-environmental interaction in increasing Autism Spectrum Disorder prevalence.

Other winners include Dr. Lucy E. Cohan with the Central Intelligence Agency, who is advancing the design and modeling of the next generation of space telescopes by employing lightweight, active mirror technologies, or Dr. Gavin Peter Hayes with the U.S. Geological Survey, whose research is helping to transform our understanding of earthquake processes and advance real-time response activities when major earthquakes occur.

This is just a snapshot of this group’s incredible accomplishments. Other PECASE recipients are studying black holes in space, using robots to advance student engagement in science, and examining the brain processes behind language and literacy acquisition. Regardless of their area of research, all have demonstrated remarkable success in the lab. Their achievements are paving the way for exciting and important advances and inspiring the next generation of researchers, makers, and innovators. The full list of PECASE awardees can be found here.

With this much progress at this early stage of their careers, we can expect even greater things from these leading lights in the years to come.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Advice from Student Entrepreneurs: “Embrace your Chutzpah”

Reposted from The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy blog.

Engineers checking a reactor.

John Bissell (left) and Ryan Smith (right) inspect a pilot reactor. Bissell, Smith, and Casey McGrath (not pictured) co-founded the biotechnology company Micromidas soon after graduating from the University of California, Davis.

By Douglas Herrin

When they founded their biotechnology company, Micromidas, Ryan Smith was 30, Casey McGrath was 24, and John Bissell was 23—and all were recently graduated students at University of California, Davis (UC Davis). Together, they have developed innovative processes for converting sewage into biodegradable plastics—which won them the 2008 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3)competition for sustainability—and cellulosic wastes into para-xylene.

I spoke with John Bissell to find out how he turned his lab research into a growing company. To date, Micromidas has built a pilot plant and raised more than $20 million in venture capital.

What was your journey to becoming an entrepreneur?

We were encouraged by UC Davis Professor Frank Loge to submit an interesting research project for evaluation. We started out as a team of engineers (I am a chemical engineer), and expanded the team to include a microbiologist. We ended up at the EPA P3 event in Washington, DC, as college seniors. At the time, we were converting sewer water into biodegradable plastics through microbial fermentation. After we won the competition, we sat at the Metro Center subway stop thinking the same thing: “Are we going to do more?”

After returning home to UC Davis, Professor Andrew Hargadon welcomed us to an entrepreneurship boot camp called the Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy. Its aim was to help scientists and engineers become entrepreneurs. We were some of the only undergraduates at the camp. We wanted to know what it looks like to start a company. By the end of 2008, we had formed Micromidas and an angel investor had provided $200,000 in seed funding.

Read more…

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Challenging Nutrients: EPA and Partners Launch New Ideation Prize

Effects from excess nutrients in American waterways cost the country more than $2 billion each year.

Activities of daily modern life add small amounts of the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus to our lakes, rivers and estuaries, either directly or indirectly.

We all contribute to the widespread problem. Runoff from our suburban lawns, city streets and rural fields is just one of many ways we introduce more nutrients into the environment.

The partnership for this challenge currently includes: - White House Office of Science and Technology Policy - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  - U.S. Geological Survey - Tulane University - Everglades Foundation

The partnership for this challenge currently includes:
– White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
– U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
– U.S. Department of Agriculture
– National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
– U.S. Geological Survey
– Tulane University
– Everglades Foundation

These excess nutrients end up in our waterways and fuel algae growth that exceeds healthy ecosystem limits. In turn, algal blooms can contaminate drinking water, kill aquatic species and negatively affect water-based recreation and tourism.

A partnership of federal agencies and stakeholders has announced a new prize competition to collect innovative ideas for addressing nutrient overloads.

The challenge aims to identify next-generation solutions from across the world that can help with excess nutrient reduction, mediation and elimination. The total payout will be $15,000, with no award smaller than $5,000. Proposals can range from completely developed ideas to exploratory research projects.

Ideas will be judged on a range of criteria, including technical feasibility and strategic plans for user adoption. Additionally, the challenge entries will inform the partnership members’ broader commitment and vision to find new ways to approach this decades-long problem.

Submit your idea today!

About the Author: Dustin Renwick works as part of the innovation team in the EPA Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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