President Obama delivered his eighth and final State of the Union address on Tuesday night. In it, he lauded some of the accomplishments of his term in office, and laid out plans for the future. Some of the science-themed highlights of his speech:
“Tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.”
In 2013, to kick off Computer Science Education Week, President Obama issued a call to action for students, teachers, and others to support computer science education in K-12 schools. The Administration made commitments in 2014 to more than 60 school districts to offer computer science courses to their students; pledged over $20 million in philanthropic contributions to train 10,000 teachers by fall 2015 and 25,000 teachers to teach computer science to in time for the school year beginning in fall 2016; and announced new partnerships by the National Science Foundation, including a new Advanced Placement Computer Science course by the College Board that emphasizes the creative aspects of computing and a focus on real-world applications. Also announced were new steps to increase the participation of women and under-represented minorities in computer science, including a new computer-science classroom design prize and innovative outreach efforts.
The Obama Administration also launched the Precision Medicine Initiative, “to enable a new era of medicine through research, technology, and policies that empower patients, researchers, and providers to work together toward development of individualized treatments.”
“Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”
The President attended the COP21 conference in Paris this past December — the conference was dedicated to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) between now and the year 2100.
Read more: What’s Happening at COP21?
Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States will double its climate finance for adaptation to $800 million by 2020, and will use the money to help the world’s most vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change.
However, many say that the U.S. chickened out on this initiative. The final COP21 deal requires every participating nation to somehow take part in combatting climate change — prior to the start of the talks, close to 200 nations submitted public plans on how they will cut carbon emissions through 2025 or 2030. However, the resulting deal encompasses legal requirement dictating how, or how much, countries should cut emissions. Nations are required to meet again every five years from 2020 onward, and update their emissions cutting plans. Public reports must be made starting in 2023, and the countries will be legally required to monitor and report on their emissions levels and reductions, using a universal accounting system. This compromise was due to U.S. influence, because a deal that would have created legal requirements for countries to cut emissions at specific levels would have to be ratified by the Senate, and such language would have met certain failure in the Republican-controlled legislative body.
“His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I’m standing on tonight that ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.’ When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. It betrays who we are as a country.”
The Pope addressed Congress in September, calling for “a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play.”
A week prior to the Pope’s address, a young Muslim teenager in Texas made national headlines when he was placed under arrest after he was suspected of bringing a hoax bomb (which he said was a clock) to school. The STEM community rallied around Ahmed Mohamed, and the President later Tweeted to the student, inviting him to bring his invention to the White House.
“[The] spirit of discovery is in our DNA. America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. That’s who we are. And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit. We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.”
In July, The White House announced ConnectHome, a new initiative for communities, the private sector, and federal government. The project is intended to expand high speed broadband to families across the country. The pilot program is launching in 27 cities and one tribal nation. The first stage of the initiative will reach over 275,000 low-income households, including about 200,000 children, so that they can access the Internet at home. The families will be offered broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices to help them get started.
“We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day. But we can do so much more.”
The Pentagon announced in September that it is teaming up with major technological organizations and universities to develop high-tech sensory gear for soldiers in order to improve their weapons and monitor their health. Additionally, the Obama administration announced that it would award a Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics to a consortium of 162 companies, universities, and non-profits, led by the FlexTech Alliance. Based in San Jose, the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub is the seventh of nine such manufacturing institutes launched by this administration, and the fifth of six manufacturing institutes led by the Department of Defense.
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Also, back in June, the White House announced that it was seeking “game-changing ideas for Grand Challenges that harness nanoscience and nanotechnology to solve important national or global problems.” It is advised that the Grand Challenges accelerate additional public and private investment, and that it spur the commercialization of Federally-funded nanotechnology research.
The President also commented on Vice President Joe Biden’s efforts to get more resources for the National Institutes of Health, in the hopes of one day curing cancer; further investments in clean fossil fuels; and halting the spread of Ebola in West Africa.
The full text of the 2016 State of the Union can be found here.