Manhattan Project National Historic Park Is On Its Way

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

In late December Congress authorized the development of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park (NHP).  The Park, which would be managed by the National Park Service (NPS) in conjunction with the Department of Energy, will be in three separate locations that were critical to the development of U.S. nuclear weapons capability:

  • Oak Ridge, Tennessee
  • Hanford, Washington
  • Los Alamos, New Mexico

While some units in the NPS are non-connected locations with a common theme (such as the various parks and monuments in Washington, D.C.), the Manhattan Project NHP will be the only one so spread out that you would really need to fly to see each location.

The Manhattan Project NHP is also unique due to the collaboration between the NPS and the Department of Energy, which still has active facilities in each of the three locations.  Having grown up near one of them, I can state that there are historical sites already open to the public, but a coordinated effort between the three locations and the two agencies should augment the opportunities to engage with that history.  The Atomic Heritage Foundation has done a lot of work in this area, and will be an important partner to this final push to make the Manhattan Project NHP a reality.

This NHP would be one of the few sites administered by the NPS engaged with technology of the 20th century.  While technology of the day factors into many NPS displays and presentations, it is not often the driving force behind a particular park, monument or historic site (the Thomas Edison NHP being an exception that comes to mind).  Perhaps in the coming decades we will see NASA collaborating with the NPS on a space-focused NHP spanning sites in Florida, Texas and California.

Per the enabling legislation, the NPS and the Energy Department are hard at work in developing a Memorandum of Understanding that would outline their respective responsibilities in managing the NHP.  This must be done by December 19th of this year, at which time the NHP becomes official.  This would end a process started back in 2001 and shepherded by countless numbers of people.  Thanks.

White House Launches Effort To Revise Biotechnology Regulation

While I find the timing suspect, on Thursday John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), announced (along with other senior White House staff) the Administration will be reviewing the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, the policy that designates agency responsibilities for overseeing the introduction of biotechnology products into the environment (H/T Grist).  First developed in 1986, the last revision was in 1992.  So, clearly overdue.

Holdren’s announcement accompanied a memorandum to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.  It (along with Holdren’s blog post) outlines the elements of the review process:

  • Updating the Common Framework (with public input) to clarify the biotechnology product areas (not processes) for which each agency will be responsible.  This will include how to handle situations where more than one agency may be responsible.
  • Developing a long-term strategy (with public input) to ensure that the Federal regulatory process will be better prepared for emerging biotechnologies.  This would include horizon scanning exercises and additional support of so-called ‘regulatory science.’
  • An independent examination of the future landscape of biotechnology.  The National Academies have already been engaged to start this analysis.

This all sounds great, but there are some aspects of this that give me pause.  First, the announcement comes the afternoon before the July Fourth holiday weekend.  It screams news dump – an effort to ensure that very few people become aware of the effort.

Additionally, while the revisions and the strategy will involve public input, Holdren asks for people interested in additional information to register.  If this wasn’t already part of an announcement that seems timed to minimize public reception, I might not think much of it.  But I can see the Administration limiting its subsequent publicity on this project to the people who register.  If they are going to try and hold listening sessions around the country (the first one will take place this fall), I think they should spread their message far and wide.

Finally, I guess I’m still a bit chagrined from other efforts to revise (or develop) regulations related to science and technology research.  The effort to revise the Common Rule related to human subjects research stalled out after a big public comment push in 2011.  And it still seems as though the push on scientific integrity policies has failed mainly from a lack of coordinated follow-through from the OSTP.

I’d love to see this not happen with the revisions to the Coordinated Framework, but I’m not optimistic – especially with roughly 18 months to go with this Administration.

Just Because The Outbreaks Aren’t In The News…

Recent developments should reinforce the notion that media coverage is not a correlation to the incidence of disease.

While the measles outbreak in California hadn’t been in the news since April, when state officials declared it over, measles wasn’t eliminated from the country.  As of June 26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted 178 cases of measles reported in 2015.  Just 117 of them were connected to the California outbreak (which started in late 2014).  And today Washington state health officials reported a death from measles, the first reported death from the disease in the United States since 2003.  As the disease was once eliminated from the U.S., its reemergence reflects its persistence – and the continued resistance to vaccination.

Unfortunately, the 2014 Ebola outbreak has yet to produce a viable vaccine, and while it has dimmed from American attention, it continues to affect western Africa.  Cases continue in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and re-emerged in Liberia – more than three months after the last reported case.  Meanwhile the person appointed by the Obama Administration to coordinate the nation’s response to Ebola left that position four months ago.

So, just remember that because we’ve stopped paying attention doesn’t mean a problem has been solved.  It just no longer bothers us enough to do something.

So, There Was This Week Of Making…

Happy Canada Day, everybody!

The U.S. held its first National Maker Faire on June 12 and 13 in Washington, D.C.  It was part of a week-long celebration of Making, which included a few other events of interest.

The Faire was well attended by federal agencies and senior leadership from the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  There was also a showcase of Makers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and the White House announced commitments from several educational institutions to expand efforts to support makers at their institutions.  Companies, state and local governments have also announced commitments to support Makers.  A long list of the commitments announced is available online.

I was struck in particular by the commitments from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to help Makers in commercializing their products.  As you might have guessed, the USPTO will assist Makers in protecting their intellectual property (though some Makers may be more interested in Creative Commons-type limited rights).  NIST will help Makers through the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  The MEP has Centers set up to assist small and mid-sized manufacturers with business and technical assistance, and will make those same services available to Makers.  (There was likely nothing preventing Makers from doing this already, but the commitment should demonstrate an understanding of Making that may not have previously existed at the MEP.)

 

Gilbert’s Signature To Get PBS Treatment

Elizabeth Gilbert, best known for her book Eat, Pray, Love, will see another of her works adapted for the screen.  In this case, the screen is small, and the book is The Signature of All Things.  The novel follows taxonomist Alma Whitaker through her life as a female scientist in America, before the word became a part of the language.

PBS has optioned the book for adaptation, and Origin Pictures will develop the film for television.  No date has been announced, but with a script to write before shooting can begin, I wouldn’t expect it before 2017.

Science and Technology Guests on Late Night, Week of June 29

FWIW, last Monday marked six years of posts here at Pasco Phronesis.  Apparently the proper anniversary gift is candy.

This week, with the Fourth of July holiday on Saturday, many programs are in repeats.  Those that aren’t running repeats this week will likely run them next week (the Comedy Central shows will likely not, with Jon Stewart departing The Daily Show on August 6).  Of this week’s repeats, you can check out bug chef David George Gordon’s recent appearance on The Late Late Show tonight (Monday).  Even later tonight you can see Zach Woods last appearance with Carson Daly.  Woods is one of the cast members of Silicon Valley.  On Tuesday Alicia Vikander’s recent appearance with Seth Meyers will run again.  For Thursday you can catch Bryce Dallas Howard on The Talk promoting Jurassic World.  Her co-start Chris Pratt’s last appearance with Jimmy Fallon will be rerun on Friday.

Two science and technology flavored shows, and one film are featured early in this week’s new guests.  Emilia Clarke is carrying promotional water for the new Terminator film, out on Wednesday.  She’s with Jimmy Kimmel tonight (Monday).    Extant‘s new season premieres this week, and star Halle Berry joins Jimmy Kimmel Tuesday night.  Earlier that day she joins her co-star Jeffrey Dean Morgan on The Talk.

Kumail Nanjiani, from Silicon Valley, is on to promote the second season of his Comedy Central show The Meltdown.  Nanjiani will be on Conan Tuesday, and on @midnight with his Meltdown co-host and producer later that same night.  Time was when guests weren’t double-booked on the same night, but I’m old.

In content you may have missed, there were two segments on last Tuesday’s edition of The Nightly Show where Larry updated folks on the drought in California.

Adventures In Wildlife Infrastructure

While developing artificial means to help wildlife do what they need to do has been a thing for a while (see fish ladders in dams), there are two current projects that strike me as something new.

In Oslo work is underway for a ‘bee highway.’  It’s not an actual road in the sky for the exclusive use of bees.  It’s a series of rooftops with flowers and the bee equivalent of rest stops.  The project is a collaboration between state bodies, local homeowners and companies, and you can track its progress online (you’ll need a translator or a working knowledge of Norwegian).

In the State of Washington work has been proceeding on helping wildlife cross a section of Interstate-90 in the Snoqualmie Pass region.  Earlier this month the state’s Department of Transportation started work on a wildlife overpass along a natural migration route to Keechelus Lake (The Interstate follows the northeast side of the lake).  Large fences along the highway near the overpass should help nudge bear, deer, elk and other fauna over the highway and on to the lake.  The overpass should complement the wildlife underpasses already being used in the vicinity and make it easier for migration and a broader genetic exchange.  Think of it as analogous to the parks being developed along unused elevated train tracks, if those parks were over major highways or surface streets.

The projects are not solely for the benefit of wildlife.  The crossings will cut down on more traditional surface crossings of Interstate-90 and the associated destruction.  This also facilitates a widening of the Interstate.  The overpass should be ready for nature traffic in 2019.