EDUCATION

United States and India partner on vaccine research

The United States and India have engaged in “unprecedented levels of cooperation to combat the coronavirus pandemic,” U.S. Under Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said October 12.

Biegun’s comment came during a trip to India, where he praised the deepening U.S.-India relationship and the shared values and goals of the world’s largest democracies.

Biegun pointed to this strengthening relationship as leading directly to “cooperation on developing and producing therapeutics and vaccines” to fight COVID-19.

30 years of partnership

The collaboration to develop countermeasures against COVID-19 builds on more than three decades of U.S.-India cooperation in science and technology.

One such partnership includes the 33-year-old Indo-U.S. Vaccine Action Program (VAP), a bilateral program between the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and India’s Department of Biotechnology and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

Since its inception in 1987, VAP has supported the development, testing and distribution of vaccines by building research capacity, training scientists and facilitating partnerships across the public and private sectors in India and the United States. Ongoing VAP activities include vaccine research focused on tuberculosis, dengue, chikungunya, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, as well as research on other emerging pathogens.

Indian institutions and drug manufacturers and producers have partnered with U.S. universities, charities and pharmaceutical companies to test and study potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Providing low-cost vaccines and treatments

The successful U.S.-India collaboration on vaccines and therapeutics has global implications since India is one of the largest suppliers of affordable drugs in the world.

Many of India’s largest vaccine manufacturers, including the Serum Institute of India (SII) in Pune and Biological-E and Bharat Biotech in Hyderabad, are playing a vital role in the global fight against COVID-19.

For example, SII is working to develop a COVID-19 vaccine with U.S. biotech firm Codagenix and is working with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to produce 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.

SII is also manufacturing vaccines developed by U.S.-based Novavax and U.K.-based AstraZeneca, both part of Operation Warp Speed and recipients of funding and support from the U.S. government.

Operation Warp Speed, initiated by the White House Task Force, coordinated a public-private partnership to develop, manufacture and distribute safe and effective vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics in historically record times.

Additionally, the U.S. government announced in September 2020 that Gilead, the U.S. inventor of remdesivir, which is used to treat COVID-19, had granted licenses to several Indian companies to produce a generic version of the drug for “127 low- and middle-income countries.”

“We know that our continued close cooperation with India will be an important part of the global recovery from the pandemic,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Fighting the virus

While working with the Indian government and private sector to develop vaccines, the United States is also helping India respond to its own COVID-19 outbreak.

Since the beginning of 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has provided $13.1 million and 200 state-of-the-art ventilators to India as part of the United States’ more than $900 million in global humanitarian assistance to fight the coronavirus worldwide.

USAID and agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, are working with the government of India “to train health workers, support local communities [and] strengthen clinical capabilities for better testing, surveillance and treatment,” according to USAID.

In addition to fighting COVID-19, the United States and India remain long-term partners on efforts to prevent, detect and respond to a wide array of infectious disease threats, including working through major initiatives such as the Global Health Security Agenda.

“I have never been more optimistic regarding the future possibilities of the U.S.–India relationship,” Biegun said in India.

EDUCATION

Time honors Kid of the Year for tackling global challenges

One American innovator is using technology to tackle global environmental and social challenges while still in high school.

At 15, Gitanjali Rao, from Lone Tree, Colorado, has already invented technologies to detect lead in drinking water, combat opioid addiction and deter cyberbullying, according to news reports.

By mentoring others Rao is forming a global community of innovators to address challenges worldwide, says Time magazine, which named her its first Kid of the Year in December.

“My goal has really shifted not only from creating my own devices to solve the world’s problems, but inspiring others to do the same as well,” said Rao. “I really hope the work that all of these kids are doing identifies innovation as a necessity and not something that’s a choice anymore.”

Working through innovation workshops in rural schools, girls clubs and museums, Rao has mentored 30,000 students, Time reports.

U.S. innovators develop technologies that improve people’s lives. In partnership with Japan and the Republic of Korea, the U.S. government is promoting women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, which advances economic prosperity and growth.

Rao told Time magazine she always wanted to “put a smile on someone’s face,” to make someone happy every day. That ambition led her to use science and technology to solve problems. By age 11, she developed a device for detecting lead in drinking water that displays results on a smartphone app. Lead is harmful to health and can enter drinking water when pipes corrode, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rao also created an app to prevent cyberbullying that uses artificial intelligence to identify troublesome words and gives the user an option to edit their message before sending.

She is currently working on a new device to help people in developing countries easily detect biocontaminants, such as parasites, in drinking water.

Rao advises other students to choose a problem they find intriguing and devote their energy to solving it, rather than tackling multiple challenges at once.

“Even if it’s something as small as, I want to find an easy way to pick up litter,” Rao told Time, “everything makes a difference. Don’t feel pressured to come up with something big.”

EDUCATION

Pompeo urges U.S. colleges to defend academic freedom

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo is urging American universities to defend against the Chinese Communist Party’s research theft and other threats to academic freedom.

Speaking at Georgia Tech in Atlanta on December 9, Pompeo warned that the CCP’s theft of research to boost its military poses risks for both universities and U.S. national security. He asked administrators, faculty and students to take steps to block the regime’s malign activities on campus.

“Americans must know how the Chinese Communist Party is poisoning the well of our higher education institutions for its own ends,” Pompeo said. “We cannot let the CCP crush the academic freedom that has blessed our country and blessed us with great institutions.”

He asked university administrators nationwide to review their receipt of foreign funding to prevent undue financial influence and to review the activities of Confucius Institutes on campus. The institutes pose as cultural centers but have pushed Beijing’s propaganda and censorship in the United States.

Pompeo also called on students to defend freedom of speech, noting that thousands of Chinese students who study in the United States lack that right when they return home.

Roughly 400,000 students come from China to study in the United States each year, Pompeo said. They seek to enjoy the academic freedom that has made U.S. universities hotbeds of innovation.

“[CCP] scientists aren’t pioneering cancer cures. We are. And it’s not North Korean biochemists that are producing safe COVID vaccines. We are. And Iranians aren’t ahead in supercomputing. No. In fact, we are. It is the free world and free peoples that produce these superior results.”

While enlisting the help of U.S. universities, Pompeo said the U.S. government is also blocking the CCP’s research theft and other malign behavior.

The U.S. Department of State in August designated the Washington-based headquarters of the Confucius Institutes network a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China, imposing reporting requirements to help colleges better evaluate institutes’ activities on their campuses.

U.S. officials have arrested People’s Liberation Army agents who posed as researchers at U.S. universities. They have also notified college administrators of risks, through their endowments, of CCP influence and exposure from the regime’s human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang province.

EDUCATION

NASA launches U.S.-European satellite mission to monitor global sea levels

A joint U.S.-European satellite mission will collect valuable information about rising sea levels.

The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite — named for the former director of NASA’s Earth Science Division — launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on November 21.

“The Earth is changing, and this satellite will help deepen our understanding of how,” said Karen St. Germain, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division. “The changing Earth processes are affecting sea level globally, but the impact on local communities varies widely.”

Alain Ratier, director-general of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, which is supporting the mission, said, “The data from this satellite, which is so critical for climate monitoring and weather forecasting, will be of unprecedented accuracy.”

Ratier noted that such precise data can only be collected from space.

Improved data can help meteorologists make more accurate weather forecasts and help oceanographers better understand currents.

Additionally, the satellite data will allow for more accurate prediction of hurricane paths. This can help first responders work more effectively, through programs such as the NASA Earth Science Disasters Program.

The satellite mission will measure sea levels across the world and track how global climate change is affecting rising seas. Scientists can use the data to complement climate modeling. Coastal cities and towns will be able to use the data to monitor potential flooding areas.

The latest satellite mission continues a sea-level monitoring project that began in 1992 with a joint U.S.-French mission.

“International collaboration is critical to both understanding these changes and informing coastal communities around the world,” said St. Germain.

The successful launch of the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite is the latest chapter in trans-Atlantic cooperation on Earth observations going back to 1992. This relationship is enabled by the bilateral U.S.-EU Space Dialogue. These dialogues facilitate U.S. access to European Sentinel satellite data for natural-resources monitoring, climate change research, disaster management and more.

EDUCATION

New U.S. air-quality app helps users avoid pollution

The United States is helping people protect themselves from dangerous pollution with a new mobile phone app that provides accurate, up-to-date information on air quality in dozens of cities worldwide.

The U.S. Department of State recently launched ZephAir, a mobile app that brings users a mix of air-quality data and health advisories. Users may adjust settings to receive alerts of air-quality changes and to view daily or weekly data.

The app, which is available for download at the Apple and Google Play stores, connects users with air monitoring sites at more than 70 U.S. embassies, consulates or partner organizations in dozens of countries that track and disseminate air-quality data.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing began monitoring and reporting on the city’s air quality in 2008, eventually prompting China’s government to strengthen air-quality monitoring standards.

Air pollution is a leading cause of death worldwide and increases the risk of asthma and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. A recent study suggests that air pollution caused 6.7 million deaths worldwide in 2019.

Many countries have improved air quality in recent decades. In the United States, air quality management policies and technology improvements led to a 39% drop in fine particulate matter, the pollutant with the largest health impact, from 2000 to 2018, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Now the ZephAir app allows citizens of other countries to share in that success. Through ZephAir, users can connect to the EPA’s Air Quality Index, which has color-coded grades that rate air quality, and see recommendations for reducing exposure to air pollution at their location.

The United States developed the ZephAir app, in part, because reliable, real-time air-quality data is hard to find in many places. Future versions of the app will add data from additional cities, as well as satellite data and forecasting tools.

EDUCATION

U.S. remains the top choice for students to study abroad

The United States is the Number 1 destination in the world for international students to study, thanks to its diverse education sector.

For the fifth year in a row, the United States hosted over 1 million international students during the 2019–2020 academic year, says the latest Open Doors report produced by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Open Doors report kicks off the 21st annual International Education Week (IEW), a joint initiative of the U.S. departments of State and Education to highlight the mutual benefits of international education and exchange among countries around the world.

“We are encouraged to see a fifth year of more than 1 million international students in the United States before the pandemic,” said Marie Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

“International student mobility is as important today as ever, and we believe the United States is the best destination for students to study and earn their degrees. Education is a pathway to a greater future and international educational exchange has the power to transform students’ trajectories.” — Assistant Secretary of State Marie Royce

During the 2019–2020 academic year, the most international students came to the United States from China, India and South Korea. Students from Bangladesh increased by 7%, and students from Nigeria increased by 2.5% from the previous year.

The most popular study destinations for international students were California and New York, according to the report. Texas and Massachusetts were the third and fourth top choices for international students because of the number of top universities in those states.

More than half of international students majored in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) field, with business and management and social sciences the next leading fields of study.

The United States isn’t only a destination for students to study STEM, though. This year also saw a 2.2% increase in international students studying fine and applied arts.

Meanwhile, students from the United States continue to pursue undergraduate study abroad programs at high rates. Over 347,000 American students studied abroad during the 2018–2019 academic year, a 1.6% increase from the year before.

The United Kingdom and Italy were the top choices for American students, followed by Spain and France.

But the number of American students who studied in South Korea increased by 16% from the previous year, suggesting that American students are increasingly interested in studying abroad in countries beyond Europe.

The Open Doors 2019–2020 report was compiled before the COVID-19 pandemic affected education around the world.

But there is reason to believe the pandemic won’t negatively affect global education in the long run, said Allan Goodman, president and chief executive of IIE.

COVID-19 is the 12th pandemic in IIE’s 101-year history. During the others, IIE was able to track trends in international education and found that, after a pandemic, international exchange quickly bounced back.

“While pandemics cause tremendous hardship and disruption, there are also strong reasons for optimism,” he said. “After each, international education exchange rapidly resumes and the number of student involved also grows substantially.”

EDUCATION

International Space Station marks 20 years of continuous human presence

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and her crew mates will celebrate the 20th anniversary of continuous human habitation of the International Space Station (ISS) on November 2.

The ISS has been continuously occupied since November 2, 2000, when NASA astronaut and Expedition 1 commander William “Shep” Shepherd and flight engineers Sergei Krikalev and Yuri Gidzenko became the first residents.

At the time, the space station was only three modules, not the research complex that today is as large as a five-bedroom home with a gym, two bathrooms and a 360-degree bay window looking at Earth below.

An international crew of six people lives and works on the station while traveling at a speed of 8 kilometers per second, orbiting Earth about every 90 minutes.

More than 2,700 experiments have been conducted on the space station from 108 different countries. These experiments have examined innovative technologies like waste plastic recycling and carbon dioxide filtration, both critical steps for long-duration missions on the lunar surface.

The ISS is visible to the naked eye in the night sky.

EDUCATION

In historic contact, NASA spacecraft touches asteroid

A NASA spacecraft touched an asteroid with a robotic arm, a first-ever achievement for the agency that may offer a glimpse into the early solar system.

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft extended its robotic arm and touched Bennu on October 20, taking samples from the ancient asteroid currently located 321 million kilometers from Earth.

NASA says elements that originated from Bennu could have helped seed life on Earth. If samples collected from the asteroid are deemed adequate, OSIRIS-REx will stow the pebbles and dust before starting for home in March 2021 with an expected arrival in 2023. Otherwise NASA will begin plans for a second collection attempt in January.

EDUCATION

U.S. universities move to protect students from China’s authoritarian reach

An assistant professor at Princeton University lets students use code names to shield their identities when discussing topics deemed controversial by the Chinese Communist Party. He’s not alone, says the Wall Street Journal.

Why is this happening?

Code names are one step U.S. universities are taking to protect foreign students from the authoritarian reach of the CCP on their campuses.

“We cannot self-censor,” Rory Truex, who teaches Chinese politics at Princeton, told the Wall Street Journal. “If we, as a Chinese teaching community, out of fear stop teaching things like Tiananmen or Xinjiang or whatever sensitive topic the Chinese government doesn’t want us talking about, if we cave, then we’ve lost.”

America’s long-standing commitment to academic freedom attracts students from around the globe to study at American universities.

The United States welcomed more than 370,000 students from China in 2019 — more than from any other country.

However, an increasing number of institutions find it necessary to take new precautions to protect these valued members of their campus communities as the CCP increasingly threatens academic freedom beyond its borders. In November, a court in the People’s Republic of China sentenced a 20-year-old national to six months in prison for tweets posted while he was studying at the University of Minnesota.

U.S. officials and student groups are urging universities to defend academic freedom against CCP pressure, especially through the Confucius Institutes, which present themselves as cultural centers but also police criticism of the CCP and disseminate state-sponsored propaganda, according to rights groups.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach, in an August 18 letter, asked U.S. college and university administrators to examine the CCP’s authoritarian influence on U.S. campuses, including Confucius Institutes, in order to ensure academic freedom, honor human rights, protect university endowments and safeguard intellectual property.

Recently, the United States designated the U.S. headquarters of the Confucius Institutes in Washington as a foreign mission. That means the group must now report on its funding sources, personnel and activities to increase transparency about its role as a foreign-government-directed entity in the United States.

Once available, this information will help universities better understand the influence of the CCP on their campuses and help schools make informed choices on how to protect their students, Krach says.

“Our goal is to see an improved, open and transparent environment in which U.S. and Chinese scholars can engage with greater trust,” he adds.

Krach also urges universities to defend against the PRC’s theft of research and intellectual property, and to ensure that university funds are not invested in companies that may contribute to the PRC’s internment of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang.

A coalition of groups, including the leaders of the College Republican National Committee and members of the College Democrats of America, also calls for greater protection of academic freedom. The coalition says Confucius Institutes try to censor discussion on American college campuses of topics deemed sensitive by the PRC.

“The Chinese government’s flagrant attempts to coerce and control discourse at universities in the United States and around the world pose an existential threat to academic freedom as we know it,” the coalition said in a May 13 statement.

“It is a civic and moral imperative that we protect that freedom.”

ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

Americans are starting businesses during the pandemic

Launching a business in the midst of a pandemic-fueled recession may seem a risky proposition, but many Americans are seizing the moment to become entrepreneurs.

Aspiring business owners applied for licenses to start more than 1.5 million new businesses in the United States between August and October, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

Some new entrepreneurs opened businesses after losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Others spotted opportunities in a changing business environment.

Joël Le Bon, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School in Baltimore, says the crisis has served as a stress test of the resilience of the U.S. economy. Amid hardship, opportunities have emerged, Le Bon said, especially for businesses that provide digital services — such as in the e-commerce, telecommunications, information technology and telemedicine sectors.

Meanwhile, industries where a physical experience is critical are having to adapt, Le Bon said, citing higher education, transportation and personal fitness.

Dozens of retail stores filed for bankruptcy protection in the first half of 2020, a pace that far exceeds retail bankruptcies for all of 2019, according to the Associated Press.

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, and the relatively easy process of registering a new business — which takes an average of four days — adds incentive to take the leap.

Here are several entrepreneurs who recently started businesses during the pandemic.

Jennifer DeChant took over the Bath Sweet Shoppe in Bath, Maine, in June, soon after her prior employer required she move to keep her job.

Running the candy store allows DeChant to stay closer to home and provide comfort for those seeking a measure of normalcy.

“Chocolate is a coping mechanism,” said DeChant, who offers online ordering and curbside pickup as well as in-store shopping. “Customers want to be supportive of small businesses, and everyone has a good time in a candy store.”

Olivia Hutchison and Brianna Goad, who are sisters, started a web design and marketing firm — called Fetch: Branding & Marketing — in Johnson City, Tennessee, in June, after seeing how the pandemic put pressure on business owners. Coming from a family with small-business experience, “we decided to try and do our part to help the small business owner” succeed, Hutchison said.

The company offers web design and marketing solutions to help clients “establish and maintain the online presence they deserve” without breaking their budgets, Goad added.

Cody Warden and Tammy Nguyen, of San Diego, started their plant nursery, IvyMay & Co., in June to liven up homes as people spend more time indoors.

“We built our business around the idea of lockdown and quarantine,” Warden told a local news outlet.

They sell houseplants grown in a converted chicken coop and use contactless delivery to reduce health risks.

The pandemic “cast a dark shadow over Americans,” compromising people’s physical and mental health, Warden said. But houseplants are therapeutic, Nguyen said: Plants “make homes feel more alive” and boost a sense of well-being.