Four years ago, as the world reeled from its most severe economic crisis in almost a century, the U.S. federal government poured roughly $800 billion into the economy, including $15 billion for scientific research and tens of billions more for green energy and environmental protection. The money must be spent by this month or returned to the government. Here are some highlights of what it bought us.
BETTER MILESTONES FOR FETAL GROWTH
To determine if a baby is properly developing in the womb, obstetricians use measurement standards devised decades ago. A five-year national study followed more than 3,350 healthy women of various ethnicities over the course of their pregnancies, carefully measuring fetal growth and health through ultrasound scans, blood tests and nutritional data. The study's findings will help establish new standards for prenatal care for every clinician in the country.
Stimulus funding: $20 million
A ROAD MAP TO THE GROWING BRAIN
To create an atlas for the developing human brain, six institutions collaborated to map genetic expression in over 40 brains of weeks-old fetuses up to middle-aged adults. The open-access BrainSpan provides an accessible database of the shifting activation of genes in the brain over a lifetime, allowing researchers to scrutinize how this variability contributes to diseases such as schizophrenia and depression.
Stimulus funding: $35 million
AN OCEANIC ALL-SEEING EYE
The Ocean Observatories Initiative is deploying a vast network of sensors across the world's oceans. The data gathered from sonar instruments, water-column and seafloor sensors, and open-ocean gliders will be freely available online. Researchers hope it will transform our understanding of how global warming, nutrient cycling, ocean acidification and other complex processes are shaping the planet's largest ecosystem.
Stimulus funding: $106 million
FASTER, BETTER, CHEAPER DATING OF ANCIENT ARTIFACTS
Researchers at California State University, Long Beach, used stimulus funds to test a dating technique for old ceramics, called rehydroxylation. Because clay loses hydroxyl molecules when fired and regains them at a set rate over time, simply reheating and then weighing ceramic can yield its age. The method could provide pinpoint dates for archaeological sites worldwide.
Stimulus funding: $310,000
A CUSTOM-BUILT ARCTIC RESEARCH VESSEL
American scientists bound for the Arctic Ocean have had to borrow a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker. Now the National Science Foundation is building its own ship that can cut through thick sea ice like so much white frosting. It will carry researchers north to investigate marine life and climate change.
Stimulus funding: $148 million
A TELESCOPE TO GLIMPSE THE UNIVERSE'S FIRST MOMENTS
The Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor telescope is being designed and built in Maryland but will soon perch on a high plateau in the Chilean Atacama Desert. From there it will search the skies for indirect evidence of gravitational waves, delicate ripples in spacetime that could help substantiate inflation—the idea that the universe drastically ballooned its expansion rate in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the big bang.
Stimulus funding: $5 million