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National Science Foundation

Agencies Making Progress to Connect America

Over the last eight years, our agencies have worked to expand the availability and adoption of broadband in recognition of the increasingly important role that the Internet is playing in every facet of society.

Recognizing the opportunity to marshal resources across the entire federal government, President Obama in March 2015 created the Broadband Opportunity Council, co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce, which in August 2015 identified a series of executive actions that could be taken through existing agency programs, missions, and budgets to increase broadband deployment, competition, and adoption.

A Giant Crop-Scanner Is Turning Heads in Arizona

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

With its 30-ton frame and 50-foot-high catwalk, the newest scanner for measuring crop plants in Maricopa, Arizona, can be seen for miles. It looms over a tract the length of two football fields and moves along steel rails.

“When people saw this big apparatus being built here, they started asking if we were going to be looking for space aliens,” says Jeffrey W. White, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant physiologist with the Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa. Rather than studying the heavens, the scanner is measuring the individual characteristics of thousands of energy sorghum plants growing underneath it. The effort could play an outsized role in meeting the Nation’s future energy needs.

Growing and Building the Billion Ton Bioeconomy

5/4/2016 UPDATE:

Bioeconomy Webinar Information:
Thursday, May 5, 2 p.m.–4 p.m. Eastern Time
Session Link: https://thinktank.inl.gov/login.html?sessionID=59
Session Passkey: 123
Call in: +1 (562) 247-8422
Access Code: 287-084-886

The USDA and other federal agencies recently released the Federal Activities Report on the Bioeconomy (FARB) documenting federal agency activities aimed at helping to develop and support the "bioeconomy" - an emerging part of the overall U.S. economy.  Emphasis is specifically placed on the production and use of biofuels, bioproducts, and biopower.  USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), Dr. Catherine Woteki, stresses these fuels, power, and products are produced using biomass--agricultural residues, grasses, energy crops, forestry trimmings, algae, and other sources--instead of fossil fuels.

The report also delves into the Billion Ton Bioeconomy Vision, an effort coordinated through the Biomass Research and Development (R&D) Board.  Comprised of industry experts from the Departments of Energy (DOE), Agriculture (USDA), Interior (DOI), Transportation (DOT), Defense (DoD), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the Board is committed to collaboration among federal agencies on bioeconomy conceptions working to triple the size of today’s bioeconomy by 2030—to more than a billion tons of biomass.

Evening Primrose by any Other Name is a Moth Plant

Plants provide us with many things that we use on a daily basis – from the buildings in which we live and work, to our clothing and food. For flowering plants to thrive and reproduce, they often rely on pollinators to transport pollen between flowers.

Pollination ultimately results in fruits and seeds, ranging from the strawberries and almonds in your breakfast to the tomatoes in your pasta sauce. While scientists know a lot about honeybees, very little is known about many other pollinators – bats, birds, bees, butterflies, moths, flies, etc. – that are essential to pollinating wildflowers and native plants.

Workshop Discusses Delving Deeper into the Animal Genome

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The idea that around 80 percent of human DNA is “junk” DNA with no real purpose never sat well with scientists.  So in 2003, researchers funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health started working on a project called ENCODE, which was designed to study the role of non-coding “junk” DNA in genetic expression and to define basic functional units in the human genome.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists are spearheading a parallel project called AgENCODE, which takes a similar approach to exploring the mechanics of DNA regulation in key livestock species. “We can identify 70 to 90 percent (or more) of the DNA coding elements in animal genomes, but we don’t know much at all about the non-coding elements,” says ARS National Program Leader Jeffrey Silverstein, who is helping to organize the AgENCODE effort. “We think many of these non-coding segments regulate gene activity, and we need to understand how these segments affect the expression of an animal’s physical traits, which is very important in breeding.”

NIFA Small Business Grant Could Help Quench Thirst Around the World

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Clean drinking water for the world is a pretty tall order, considering that the United Nations says nearly a billion people currently go without it.  But, that’s exactly the vision that Karen Sorber had when she co-founded Micronic Technologies in 2008 as a family business.

Now a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is bringing the company one step closer to making that dream a reality.  Micronic Technologies has introduced “MicroDesal,” a technology that takes well water with unsafe nitrate levels and treats it to the point where the water meets U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clean drinking water safety standards.  Nitrates are unsafe for humans – especially children and pregnant women – and livestock.

A South Dakotan’s Commitment Advances Women’s History

In recognition of National Women’s History Month, the South Dakota USDA Rural Development staff salutes all of the inspiring, influential women who are making a difference in society at the local, state and national level.  In line with this year’s theme of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (SMART) we draw strength and inspiration through the tenacity of one woman’s journey, Dawn Emily Ottman.

After a career in the military followed by a decade of success as an engineer, Dawn sustained a head injury.  After years of relearning to walk and adjusting to her disability, she made the decision to work when she could, and not give up.  So what’s a woman to do when she spends her life contributing and now finds herself requiring too many “accommodations” in the workplace?  She creates her own job where she can accommodate her disability challenges.   And so it was in 2005, when CanDew Scientific, a small business of one employee and a renewable energy “green engineering” company was formed with assistance received through the Small Business Development Center (SDBC). Centers of this type are funded across the nation in part with assistance from USDA Rural Development.