Published on November 27th, 2013 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire
I have a four-year old grandson named Daniel, and Daniel loves, loves, loves books. Both his parents are mathematicians, and his maternal grandparents are ceramic engineers. Suffice it to say, Daniel is a very smart guy (awfully cute, too) and probably thinks the nerdish elders in his life represent the middle of the bell curve.
In other words, he’s Larry Hench’s kind of kid.
Hench, a Distinguished Life Member of ACerS, is best known for discovering the 45S5 glass composition known worldwide as Bioglass. The glass promotes bone and tooth repair by bringing the chemical raw materials to the surface of the wound or damaged tooth, which allows the body’s internal handyman to bring just the “tools” for “rebuilding” the site from the inside. We’ve written recently about the glass in (or not in) GlaxoKlineSmith’s Repair & Protect toothpaste. He’s made significant contributions in many other areas of ceramic and glass science, too.
Hench, like my Daniel, is a very smart guy. When Hench’s grandchildren were old enough to enjoy story books, he was frustrated by the dearth of books that accurately relayed basic scientific principles and the common caricature portrayal of scientists as nerdy, absentminded goofballs.
So, he decided to do something to correct the situation and show how scientists and engineers contribute solutions to real human problems. A natural storyteller, Hench wrote a book for children about a boy named Daniel (great name) who is allergic to cats and cannot have one as a pet. Daniel has the good fortune to befriend Professor George, “a kindly and wise neighbor and bioengineer from the local university,” according to the Boing-Boing Foundation website. The good professor takes to his lab and builds a bionic cat for Daniel, whom they name Boing-Boing. B-B is remarkably life like—he purrs, is warm, has cat-like moves, and glowing feline eyes—all controlled by his computer guts. The cat even has fiber optic fur for recharging the belly batteries.
How the cat gets his name is part of the story, and I’m not providing any spoilers!
So far there are six books in the series, which is targeted at 6–8 year olds. Hench expanded the product line to include puzzles, workbooks, experiment kits, and other activities. He even has a prototype Boing-Boing that he has taken into classrooms.
Inquiring minds will want to know whether there are reviews. Yes, of course there are, and you can read them on the Foundation website or Amazon. The books can be purchased from both websites and run about $7 each.
Here is a sampling from the Foundation website:
“This one of a kind eccentric and intriguing picture book tells the story of Daniel who cannot have a pet because he is allergic to cats. Enter Professor George who is inspired by the challenge of creating a bionic cat. The right reader/listener will be mesmerized by this glimpse into the world of robot engineering.” —Parent’s Choice Magazine
“I think the book was cool! The cat’s fur was weird. I liked it when the cat said BOING-BOING! It was funny!! I hope you write a lot more books because they are funny to me! We’ll see ya! PS: Boing-Boing!!!!!” —Dianza S. (3rd grade)
“I think the story was awesome. It was so good I am going to give you some good ideas for a good Boing-Boing story…” —Tery L. (3rd grade)
“I liked the book because of how clearly you explained how the cat works. It was quite funny when the cat said “BOING-BOING”. I think that it was a good idea because it made me laugh!” —Janice P. (9 years old)
There are a few reviews on Amazon, too, but all are written by adults, so it’s hard to say how valuable they are!
Published on November 26th, 2013 | Edited By: Jim Destefani
Cross section through HotSmart plate shows core of microwave susceptor material and joint design. (Credit: J.J. Ramirez/HotSmart USA.)
As the US heads toward the Thanksgiving holiday, it seems appropriate to explore ways to keep our food warmer, longer. After all, the traditional Thanksgiving feast of turkey and all the trimmings has become the centerpiece of the day for many. (Along with, in many households, football.)
Enter Juan J. Ramirez. A former industrial engineer, Ramirez invented and patented a unique stay-hot dinnerware technology after losing his long-time job and suffering some health issues. “The idea came after I suffered a stroke and brain tumor surgery,” he explains in an email. “Well, the idea did not come because of the stroke, but because I lost my career of many years in manufacturing and I found myself unemployed and with lots of time available.”
Ramirez used that time to develop a line of dinnerware that, after only a minute in the microwave oven, will keep food in the center of the plate hot for more than 30 minutes. The rim of the plate, meanwhile, remains cool to the touch to minimize the chance of accidental burns.
Ramirez says HotSmart plates can be made using practically any ceramic material, from whiteware to bone china, and that “anybody making plates” would know the details of firing time and temperature. The trick is in the plates’ core of susceptor material, which absorbs microwave radiation and then releases the heat in a controlled manner. “It was about time the ceramic plate learned a few new tricks,” he jokes in the email, while the product’s website calls the patented technology “the only functional change to the ceramic plate in centuries.”
According to Ramirez, the microwave susceptor material is red earthenware with an addition of iron filings. “Red earthenware already contains iron oxide, which is a polar molecule,” he explains. The material absorbs microwave radiation, then releases it as heat in a controlled manner according to the Stefan-Boltzmann law, the product website says. (The photo above, credit J.J. Ramirez/HotSmart USA, shows the susceptor material and the top and bottom halves of a plate.)
Plate tops and bottoms are produced separately, then joined using an unspecified adhesive with the susceptor material sandwiched inside. According to Ramirez, any shrinkage or warpage that might result from firing is addressed by the plates’ design, which uses a conical joint. The product website says the design has proved durable in months of cycling between microwave and dishwasher.
Although they are not yet being mass produced, the plates and mugs are being marketed on Amazon. Ramirez says the products have “been received very well.” The plates have also been featured as a “Reader Invention of the Month” in Popular Science magazine.
According to the website, the dinnerware’s ability to keep food hot for extended periods of time may even offer health benefits for diabetics, bariatric surgery patients who must eat slowly, people trying to lose weight, and others who simply want to practice “mindful eating,” a way to reduce overeating that makes a practice of slow, deliberate dining. The website also calls HotSmart plates “the most hygienic plate in history,” because they lack the unglazed dry foot found in most dinnerware that “can absorb moisture and become a breeding ground for bacteria.”
Published on November 26th, 2013 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire
Ancient ceramic wine storage jars from Israel date back to 1,500 BC. A modern-era California winery has adopted ceramic bottles for its signature look. (Credit: Brandeis; Futurity CC license.)
As we approach the Thanksgiving weekend in the United States, we often pause to reflect that the nation’s first celebration of Thanksgiving dates back to the early 17th century when pilgrim immigrants and Native Americans came together to share a meal of gratitude.
By the time that historic meal took place, a banquet hall in the Canaanite region of northern Israel had already sat in ruins for more than 3,000 years. According to Brandeis assistant professor of classics, Andrew Koh, the hall site is remarkably pristine. More often than not thieves have ransacked a site, or a later civilization built has over it and destroyed some of it in the process. Thus, Koh and an international group of collaborators are getting an unprecedented glimpse into the banquet celebration practices of ancient Canaanites as they excavate the wine cellar of a palace that dates back to about 1,500 BC.
The wine cellar contains 40 ceramic jars about one meter tall. Each jar can hold a volume of about 50 liters. Initially, the team is focusing on chemical analysis of the organic residues (Koh’s specialization) to understand the winemaking craft of the era because, as Koh said in a phone interview, “Residue analysis is the [priority] because of the delicate nature of the evidence.” As a result, he says, “Ceramic research is lagging behind,” but the group intends to study the jars themselves eventually.
According to Koh, the jars are utilitarian and purely functional. “They are well-constructed but nothing special,” he says. However, they appear to be made from the same clay and fired in the same way, suggesting they were made for the palace by a single workshop, he adds.
Most likely, the wine would have been made in the vineyard regions of northern Israel where wine grapes are still grown today. The vineyards are far enough away that wine would have been transported to the palace in the jars. Koh said the 40 jars were mostly indistinguishable from one another, however, the rims varied slightly in groups. The archeologists speculate that the rims correspond to different batches or lots of wine. According to a press release, nothing is known about the purpose of the banquets, who hosted them, or why the palace was abandoned.
As the picture shows, the jars are tapered and do not have flat bottoms but are torpedo-shaped with thick points and were not intended to be moved often. Koh says they would have been pushed into a dirt floor for storage or supported by metal or wooden stands (none of which survive at this site). The team has collected sherds from the pointed ends for evaluation and petrography later on.
Over the millennia, the fundamentals of winemaking have remained unchanged—grapes, yeast, and time combined according to the vintner’s magic touch. Oenophiles relish the tasting experience and the sleuthing out of the grape’s experience on its way to becoming a wine. However, imbibers of Mer Soleil Vineryard’s Silver Chardonnay will not detect any “oakiness” in the wine because it is fermented in concrete tanks. Instead, it picks up a “minerally” flavor, according to a video on MSV’s website.
The wine is not only fermented in concrete tanks, it is distributed in ceramic bottles. MSV winemaker Charlie Wagner II, a third generation winemaker, got to thinking about ceramic bottles for wine after drinking a beer from a ceramic bottle. In an interview with Wines & Vines, he says, “After looking at this [beer bottle] for a over a year, it hit me that this bottle sort of resembled the concrete tanks that we use for our unoaked Silver Chardonnay.”
The ceramic bottle of Silver Chardonnay from Mer Soleil Vineyard that will grace my Thanksgiving table on Thursday. (Credit: ACerS.)
The winemaker worked with MKM, the German manufacturer of the inspirational beer bottle, to get the right color, right labeling process, and good enough strength. The color is customized to match the concrete color of the fermentors. Applying a label proved tricky. Pressure-sensitive labels did not adhere well to the bottle. Ultimately, they were unable to find an adhesive that would hold a label on a bottle in an ice bucket. Wagner says, “We scrapped the idea of paper labels and pursued silk screening, which had its own set of issues.” The largest issue was cracking of the bottles during secondary firing of the silk-screened design. Eventually, a low firing temperature paint was found, and MSV started bottling in ceramic.
The marketplace has responded well to the unique bottles, and MSV has grown from producing 1,000 cases in 2008 to 50,000 cases in 2011. There is a bit of a cost premium—35 to 40 cents per bottle—for the ceramic compared to glass, but, Wagner says, “ … we see it as a great investment due to the visual attention it receives as compared to its glass cousins. To me it feels like a more expensive bottle than it actually is.”
Ultimately, MSV’s ceramic bottles serve exactly the same purpose as the ancient Canaanite jars—they transport wine from the winery to the feast. There will be a bottle of Silver Chardonnay on my family’s Thanksgiving Day table as we celebrate our many blessings. I count you among them.
Published on November 25th, 2013 | Edited By: Jim Destefani
The December issue of the ACerS Bulletin should be arriving in subscribers’ mailboxes soon. It’s a keeper—it features the annual ceramicSOURCE directory, our comprehensive guide to suppliers of ceramic materials, production equipment, services, and more.
In addition to the ceramicSOURCE, the issue contains an in-depth article on how combining efforts among materials scientists, earth scientists, and other disciplines with information technology can lead to accelerated discovery of functional materials. Readers will also find a recap of last summer’s Unitecr meeting, information about upcoming meetings, and the latest ACerS news.
The ACerSBulletin is the most widely read publication in the ceramics field, and our December ceramicSOURCE issue is one you’ll want to keep handy. ACerS members get free print and online access to every issue. For more information on ACerS membership and all its benefits, click here.
Featuring a non-crystalline amorphous structure, bulk metallic glasses can be as strong or even stronger than steel, as malleable as plastics, conduct electricity, and resist corrosion. But they are often brittle, with poor and uneven fatigue resistance. Researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Caltech found that a bulk metallic glass based on palladium displayed fatigue strength as good as the best composite bulk metallic glasses and comparable to regular polycrystalline structural alloys. Palladium has high “bulk-to-shear” stiffness ratio that counteracts the intrinsic brittleness of glassy materials because the energy needed to form shear bands is significantly lower than the energy required to turn these shear bands into cracks, the researchers say.
An international team of European and Japanese scientists led by the University of York has launched a €4.6million project to replace iridium metal commonly used in magnetic storage devices. All spin electronic devices, including hard disk drives and next-generation magnetic memories, use an increasingly costly iridium alloy. The researchers intend to develop Heusler alloy films—intermetallic ferromagnetic materials based on elements such as manganese, copper, and tin—to replace iridium-based materials for memory applications. According to the scientists, the price of iridium has quadrupled in the past five years and has increased by more than a factor of 10 in the last decade.
Unexpected behavior in ferroelectric materials explored by researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory supports a new approach to information storage and processing. Ferroelectric materials are known for their ability to spontaneously switch polarization when an electric field is applied. An ORNL-led research team discovered that, written in dense arrays, surface domains on ferroelectric materials began forming complex and unpredictable patterns on the material’s surface. After studying domain formation patterns under varying conditions, the scientists realized the complex behavior could be explained through chaos theory, and that the system possesses key characteristics needed for miscomputing, an emerging computing paradigm in which information storage and processing occur on the same physical platform, and a system analogous to how the human brain operates.
A single layer of tin atoms could be the world’s first material to conduct electricity with 100% efficiency at temperatures at which computer chips operate, according to a research team led by scientists from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. Called ”stanene,” the material possesses novel electrical properties that could increase speed and reduce power requirements for future electronic devices, if predicted properties are experimentally confirmed. Work to do that is already underway at several laboratories, a researcher says. Earlier this year, the scientists calculated that a single layer of tin would be a topological insulator at and above room temperature, and that adding fluorine atoms to the tin would extend its operating range to at least 100°C.
Converting solar energy into storable fuel remains one of the great challenges of modern chemistry. Chemists have tried to capture solar energy using catalyzed water splitting to produce hydrogen, and indium tin oxide is one material they’ve commonly tried to use. Now researchers at Duke University say copper nanowires fused in a see-through film could replace ITO as water-splitting catalysts. The copper nanowire catalysts are relatively inexpensive because they can be “printed” on glass or plastic and they provide a large surface area for catalysis, the researchers say. Even with a coating of cobalt or nickel, the nanowire films are said to allow nearly seven times more sunlight to pass through than ITO.
Published on November 22nd, 2013 | Edited By: Eileen De Guire
Val Cushing reflects on “A Life of Clay” in this 2012 interview produced by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. Cushing died on Nov. 17, 2013. (Credit: NCECA; YouTube.)
“I see materials and processes and activities in ceramics to be so unendlessly interesting that there is always going to be something out there in front of me that I’m never going to be able to catch up,” says Val Cushing, Alfred University professor emeritus of ceramics in a video interview produced by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts. Although an artist, Cushing’s words also apply to the engineering process and the way materials, processing, inquiry, and imagination braid together.
Cushing passed away on Sunday, Nov. 17. He had a long relationship with The American Ceramic Society and was named Ceramic Artist of the Year in 1977 by the Society’s former Arts Division. When the Society acquired the Ceramics Publishing Company to serve the information and networking needs of the art ceramics community, Cushing was an important contributor as an author and member of the Editorial Advisory Board.
Cushing’s entire professional life took place at Alfred University, according to a press release from university president Charles Edmonson. He earned BFA and MFA degrees from AU (separated by a few years by service in the US Army) and joined the faculty in 1957. Forty years later, he retired and continued to explore “a life of clay” in his studio, through Ceramic Arts Daily (ACerS CPC), and teaching. Edmonson notes that as recently as September Cushing was on campus to give a lecture on the history of AU’s College of Ceramics.
In the nearly 4-minute video above, Cushing explains that his exploration of art is driven by his interests in diversity of ideas, and he cites jazz and improvisation as an example. Looking at a tray of unfired mugs, he explained that they were a study in improvisation. Using the same weight of clay for each mug, he says, “Some will be carved, some will be decorated, some will be not decorated. That’s what I call improvisation—all around the idea that it’s going to end up in somebody’s kitchen. But, my real fulfillment as a potter comes in my improvisation of the pieces.”
“A life of clay for me has been an opportunity to be as creative and imaginative as I’m capable of being, therefore fulfilling that need [as an artist to communicate] in myself,” he says in the interview. A selection of Cushing’s pieces can be viewed on his website. Several museums added his pieces to their collections, including the American Craft Museum in New York City, the Everson Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., the Rochester (N.Y.) Memorial Art Gallery, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and others.
Let us take one last lesson from a beloved teacher and live lives with open minds, embrace creativity, generously serve our fellow travelers in life, and be ardent stewards of our talents.
To his family, colleagues, and those who knew him personally, the Society extends its sincere condolences.
Building off the success of MCARE 2013—the first international edition of the event, held last July in Dunhang, China—MCARE 2014 is tightly focused on emerging materials technologies aimed at the challenges of renewable and alternative energy technologies ranging from solar to energy storage, hydrogen, photonic and photovoltaic nanowires and nanocomposites, biomass, and natural gas. Conference tracks will also cover materials for nuclear and natural gas energy applications.
Designed to give attendees a multi-disciplinary approach to materials design and development for alternative and renewable energy applications, MCARE 2014 features plenary and invited talks, focused conference sessions, poster presentations, and multiple networking opportunities. Scheduled conference tracks include:
Hydrogen, with talks on separation; interactions and effects on materials; new storage methods and materials; and other aspects of how materials will help bring about the “hydrogen economy.”
Solar Fuels, focusing on energy-harvesting modules based on photonic stimulation of semiconductor materials; new structures for solar thermal, solar hydrogen, and artificial photosynthesis; and new ideas and materials for generating chemical fuels using solar energy.
Solar Power and Concentrators, covering the challenges and opportunities for materials and systems development for solar collectors, thermal receivers, heat transfer fluids, thermal energy storage, and power cycle components.
Batteries and Energy Storage, emphasizing new energy storage materials and technologies to extend battery life and storage capability.
Nanocomposites and Nanowires Materials for Photovoltaic and Photonic Technologies, focusing on innovative photonic concepts for light harvesting and management; plasmonic structures; graphene-based energy conversion and storage devices; and computational materials design of novel multifunctional materials.
Nuclear, which acknowledges that current nuclear technology is limited by the performance of current qualified materials and focuses on improved materials for fission and fusion energy.
Solarogenix, reporting on the European Solarogenix project that is investigating novel nanostructured photocatalysts using theoretical and experimental methods.
Critical Resources, which examines how material technology ties together all the alternative energy technologies under discussion and focuses on materials availability challenges and solutions for sustainable energy infrastructure.
Other Energy Areas, covering such energy technologies as biomass, wind, and natural gas.
As it has from its inception, the event will also include programming for students and young materials science and engineering professionals. Featured activities include a “meet the speakers” event, student networking opportunities, and poster sessions.
Blastcrete Equipment Co. has acquired Neal Mfg., a manufacturer of asphalt sealcoating equipment. Neal has moved its operations to Blastcrete’s 70,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in Anniston, Ala., and will operate as a division of Blastcrete. Neal’s products include both self-propelled and trailer-mounted machines in several sizes, as well as skid-mounted machines. Established in 1950, Blastcrete manufactures mixing, pumping, and spraying equipment for refractory, shotcrete, concrete construction and repair, underground mining and tunneling, and power generation applications.
(The Arizona Star) Research into new ceramic composite materials for energy, aerospace, and other applications is underway at Advanced Ceramics Mfg. Co., Tucson, Ariz., after the company received multiple federal grants. Majority-owned by the tribal San Xavier Development Authority, the company employs about 20 people, many of them tribal members. It has been awarded a total of more than $1 million by the US National Science Foundation, NASA, a Navy agency, and the Naval Sea Systems Command this year. Projects include research for NASA to develop refractory materials that can withstand temperatures to 4,000°F, an NSF project to develop a new manufacturing process for composite parts, and a study of the use of high-power capacitors as alternatives to batteries for energy storage for the Navy.
(Moscow Times) A factory producing nanostructured ceramics for orthopedics and dental implants, armor, and circuit boards recently opened its doors in Novosibirsk as part of the Russian government’s effort to breathe life into domestic manufacturing facilities. NEVZ-Ceramics is a 1.5-billion ruble ($45.9 million) joint venture between Rusnano and a 72-year old Siberian electronics and ceramics factory, NEVZ-Soyuz. Rusnano invested 790 million rubles ($24.2 million) in the project, with the rest coming from private investors and the federal government. German engineering firm BBL Technology Transfer provided production machinery.
Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. said it will suspend “indefinitely” the Ontario chromite project of its affiliate, Cliffs Chromite Ontario Inc., by the end of this year. Last June, the Cleveland, Ohio, producer of iron ore and metallurgical coal announced a temporary halt to environmental assessment activities for the project, citing delays related to the assessment process, land surface rights, and negotiations with the province. Now the company says it will not put more resources into the project considering the “uncertain timeline and risks associated with the development of necessary infrastructure to bring this project online.” There is no restart date for work on the project, which would include a feasibility study and development and exploration activities.
A new report from market research firm IbisWorld covers the latest industry statistics and trends for nondestructive testing services in the US, identifying leading companies and offering analysis of key factors influencing the market. According to the publication, the NDT services industry has experienced strong growth in the past five years despite the significant economic slowdown caused by the recession. NDT service companies provide testing services across a wide range of industries and thus benefit from stable demand. Industrial facilities such as petroleum refineries, power generation plants, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and aerospace and automotive manufacturers test their equipment regularly to prevent equipment failure and lost production.
Published on November 21st, 2013 | Edited By: Jim Destefani
Crude oil refining in the US and around the world is accomplished using a process called fluid catalytic cracking, which breaks the long-chain crude hydrocarbons into more valuable products, including gasoline, diesel oil, and others.
The process uses zeolite ceramic catalysts with pore size of about 1 nm to break down the hydrocarbons. According to an article in MIT Technology Review, the materials’ small pore size means they have difficulty handling the largest hydrocarbon chains. The results include inefficient use of a precious, non-renewable resource and lower profits for the refinery.
Enter Javier García Martínez, who had developed nanotechnology zeolite materials with pores 10 nm in size while working as a post-doctoral researcher at MIT more than 10 years ago. According to the article, García-Martínez “mixed zeolites with an alkaline solution and added a temporary surfactant, which forms small structures that the zeolites reconstruct around. The surfactant then burns off, leaving zeolites with a high number of mesopores.”
Pores in the resulting material were 7–10 nm in size, which “would allow refineries to, for example, process more barrels or run heavier (and less expensive) crude oil feeds, leading to greater yields and profits,” the article explains.
Working with another MIT grad, Andrew Dougherty, and MIT professor emeritus of chemical engineering Larry Evans, García-Martínez founded Rive Technology in 2006 to commercialize the mesoporous zeolite technology. According to the MIT Tech Review article, Rive has partnered with W.R. Grace, a producer of conventional zeolite materials and other refining technology, to manufacture its first commercial product.
Rive’s website says mesoporous zeolites provide “a technology solution to diffusion-limited reactions” such as oil refining. The company says its materials use “Molecular Highway” technology, referring to the relative ease with which large hydrocarbon chains can pass through the mesoporous catalyst material. Rive says the technology is also useful for chemical processing, biofuel, and air and water filtration applications.
Two US oil refineries have successfully tested Molecular Highway materials. In tests with one, Alon USA’s heavy crude refinery in Big Spring, Tex., results showed a value increase (pdf) of more than $2.50 per barrel after using the technology on a residual feed unit at the facility at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers annual meeting last March.
The video (photo above is a screen capture; credit: Rive Technology/YouTube) provides an animated look at how the technology works for oil refining applications. But García-Martínez, now Rive’s chief technology officer and director of the Molecular Nanotechnology Lab at Spain’s University of Alicante, believes mesoporous zeolite technology can not only improve use of hydrocarbon resources but also potentially solve other thorny global problems.
“I am personally convinced that nanotechnology in general, and materials with controlled porosity in particular, hold the promise to solve some of our most pressing challenges, such as cleaner energy production, mitigating climate change, and better water and air quality,” he says in the MIT article.
Published on November 20th, 2013 | Edited By: Jim Destefani
While benighted lawmakers of both parties bicker, research at institutions that depend on federal funding suffers. (Credit: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons.)
Last March’s across-the-board, automatic federal budget cuts, popularly known as sequestration, reduced fiscal year 2013 funding for many federal agencies that bankroll materials-related research. October’s 16-day federal government shutdown further disrupted operations, and uncertainty remains following another uneasy political truce that ended the shutdown but only funded the federal government through mid-January.
Thus another shutdown—and another disruption in research funding and operations—remains a very real possibility. According to a Los Angeles Times report, Congressional negotiators working to avert another shutdown are running into the same ideological logjams regarding overall government funding levels that caused the problem in the first place.
Both sequestration and the shutdown also impacted research efforts at many universities that depend on federal funding, according to a Science magazine article that reports results of a survey (summary; pdf) of more than 170 research universities sponsored by the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and The Science Coalition. The survey asked respondents about the early effects of sequestration, which began in March.
More than 80% of respondents reported that sequestration had a negative impact on university research programs. “We have already experienced significant reductions in expenditures in two categories: temporary staff and equipment purchases,” one respondent from a public university says in the summary. “As our research enterprise adjusts to the decline in federal support we expect to see other categories of employees and expenses affected in a similar way.”
According to survey results, 70% of respondents said the sequester caused research projects to be delayed. A similar number of respondents said their universities were awarded fewer new research grants. “The widespread delays and reductions in research activities reported by the survey respondents have immediate, real costs for researchers and students as well as long-term financial and opportunity costs for the nation’s research enterprise,” the survey summary says. Sequestration also resulted in position reductions or layoffs at 58% of responding institutions.
More difficult to quantify but still significant is the impact of budget cuts on researcher morale and productivity. “These factors [diminished funding] contribute to low morale for our research community, particularly among graduate students and junior faculty who are questioning career choices,” says one respondent from a private university. “Some graduate students have dropped out of programs this year or are considering leaving in favor of consulting, startups, and other non-academic careers.”
According to the survey summary, “Sequestration is also part of larger budget constraints and uncertainties at both the federal and state levels—all of which have cumulative, negative effects on new and current research and innovation as well as on the dissemination and application of the results to benefit society and spur economic development.”
Meanwhile, research at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories, which are run by universities and private contractors, is also impacted not only by sequestration but by the uncertainty caused by the recent government shutdown and the possibility of another closure early in 2014. One scientist at a DOE facility, who wished to remain anonymous, said recently that lab managers had been able to anticipate and plan for reduced funding levels, and even were prepared to weather a relatively brief government shutdown.
“Even if [the shutdown] had continued, we had money carried over from [FY] 2013,” the researcher said in an interview. “And, between now and January we will be receiving funding for 2014. But the situation is very stressful. You cannot make any plans, because you just don’t know what funding levels there will be, or even if there will be any.”