ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News


Florida Polytechnic Set To Open Monday.

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times  (8/25) reports that Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland, Florida is scheduled to begin classes for its inaugural year on Monday, describing it as “a state university focused entirely on science, technology, engineering and math, the curriculum known as STEM.” The piece reports that 550 students will be plankowners at the school, and notes that the school “defied its doubters by managing to open for business two years after its controversial creation by the state Legislature.” The paper notes that the school still must win accreditation.

Higher Education


WPost Criticizes ED’s Targeting Of For-Profit Sector.

The Washington Post  (8/24) editorializes that the Obama Administration’s “animus toward the for-profit colleges that provide the only realistic educational opportunity for millions of underserved Americans” is at odds with President Obama’s call for “every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.” The piece says the sector is “already reeling” from ED’s “aggressive treatment” of Corinthian Colleges Inc., and is “girding itself” for the release of ED’s final version of its gainful employment rules. The Post concedes that ED should not tolerate bad actors in the industry, but argues that the “administration’s proposed approach essentially singles out the for-profit sector and applies arbitrary debt-to-earning metrics that many public and private nonprofit institutions would be hard-pressed to meet.”


ACCJC Evaluation Team Recommended Less Drastic Action For CCSF.

The Los Angeles Times  (8/22, Romney) reports that according to a court filing from the Accrediting Commissioner for Community and Junior Colleges, “all 15 members of its evaluation team recommended a less punitive sanction” than the plan to revoke accreditation for City College of San Francisco. The article reports that the document indicates that the panel’s members recommended probation for the school, and explains that ACCJC “has come under increasing scrutiny from educators, teachers unions and state and federal lawmakers who contend that it lacks transparency, operates with little oversight and relies too little on students’ academic progress when meting out sanctions.”


Value Of College Education Questioned.

The Washington Post  (8/23, Weiner) reports in its “She The People” blog questions whether students would be more satisfied if college education didn’t cost so much. The article tries to evaluate what the true cost of a college education is, but says that it’s a “hard question to answer because there are wide difference between the sticker price of a year in college…and what a student pays out of pocket after taking into account” cost-cutters like financial aid and scholarships. Answering the question of financial worth, thus depends on how much financial aid a student receives. The article also notes that some students with a college degree end up in jobs that do not require a degree, further muddying the question of higher education’s values. The article closes noting that the real value of education may actually be in the form of social benefits like better health and stable marriages.

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Former ASEE President Ernest Smerdon Dies
Smerdon was dean of engineering at the University of Arizona, vice-chancellor for the University of Texas System in Austin, and senior education associate in the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation, among other roles. Read his obituary.

I-Corps for Learning
NSF will provide up to $1.2 million to support research into how the I-Corps program’s focus on the “ditch of death” between research and development can help address the gap associated with bringing a promising education practice to a common, widespread utilization. Learn more about participating in I-Corps for Learning. Proposals must be submitted by September 30, 2014 to be considered for participation in the January 2015 cohort.

Research and Development


University Of Michigan Researchers Develop Transparent Solar Concentrator.

The Huffington Post  (8/24, Boehrer) reports that researchers at the University of Michigan have announced the development of “a ‘transparent luminescent solar concentrator’ that could turn windows and even cellphone screens into solar-power generators.” The Post speculates that the technology could allow skyscrapers to “generate solar power without blocking out light or ruining tenants’ views.” The article reports that assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science Richard Lunt led the team that developed the technology.


Boston Globe Blasts Congress For Cutting Research Funding.

An editorial in the Boston Globe  (8/22) reports that Federal scientific research funding should be an electoral issue in the fall congressional races, because “Republican-led cuts, followed by flat funding of programs that used to be points of bipartisan pride, have jeopardized the country’s dominant position in global science.” The article reports that should this happen, US firms would lose their technological advantage, hurting “cutting-edge industries that employ millions of people.” The paper pans the House Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology Act of 2014, saying it “opens a new front in the attack on government funding for research.”

Industry News


Louisiana Technology Innovation Center Names New CEO.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate  (8/25) reports that Paul Carson, the chairwoman of the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise Center commission, is assuming control of the center as its new CEO. The article explains that the center is “a partnership of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and local and state economic development agencies to stimulate economic development through innovative technologies.” The AP  (8/24) also covers this story, following on the Advocate’s report.


SpaceX Rocket Explodes During Test Flight.

The AP  (8/24) reported that because of an anomaly during a test flight, a “reusable Falcon 9 rocket,” exploded on Friday. SpaceX spokesman John Taylor said that the flight was “automatically terminated” as soon as the issue was detected. No one was injured. The company, which does send “cargo to the International Space Station,” will learn more about the issue before another test launch is made.

The Washington Post  (8/22, Davenport) noted that it is currently not known if this will have any affect on the company’s missions to win commercial crew flights to the ISS. In response to the issue, CEO Elon Musk said that spaceflight is “tricky.” The Los Angeles Daily Breeze  (8/22) reported that the Falcon 9R used in the test is the “latest prototype for a reusable Falcon 9 rocket.”

The KWTX-TV  Waco, TX (8/23, Carroll) website noted that as of now, SpaceX was scheduled to launch its next mission to the ISS on Sept. 19.

SPACE  (8/23) reported that SpaceX said that an FAA representative was at that test “at all times.”

The NBC News  (8/23, Helsel) website noted that aerospace engineer Rand Simberg said that SpaceX engineers were “fully aware” that the test could fail because they were “pushing the limits of the vehicle.”

According to NewSpace Journal  (8/22, Foust), this is a “setback” for SpaceX and its plans to develop a reusable rocket. However, it still is not certain if this will delay the next launch of a Falcon 9 rocket this week from Cape Canaveral.

Spaceflight Now  (8/24, Clark) reports that to ensure that the issue that occurred during the test flight does not happen again, SpaceX has delayed the launch of the AsiaSat 6 communications satellite until Wednesday. Florida Today  (8/22, Dean) similarly reports on the launch delay due to the test failure.

Also covering the story are the Waco (TX) Tribune-Herald  (8/22), Florida Today  (8/22, Dean), KXXV-TV  Waco, TX (8/22, Gross) website, CNN  (8/23, Brumfield), Reuters  (8/23), Defense News  (8/23, Mehta), Business Insider  (8/23, Johnston), Business Insider  (8/22, Szoldra), AmericaSpace  (8/24, Killian), Spaceflight Now  (8/22), Xinhua (CHN)  (8/23), CNET News  (8/24, Matyszczyk) website, Re/code  (8/22, Temple), Universe Today  (8/22, Howell), NASA Space Flight  (8/22, Bergin), Examiner  (8/23, Whittington) “Houston Space News Examiner” blog, KCEN-TV  Waco, TX (8/22) website, TIME  (8/23, Frizell), io9  (8/22, McKinnon), PC Magazine  (8/24, Poeter), SlashGear  (8/22, Hillen), RIA Novosti (RUS)  (8/23), NBC News  (8/22) website, and Forbes  (8/23, Knapp).

Blog Coverage. John Hare at Selenian Boondocks  (8/24) speculated on why the spacecraft Falcon 9R that was lost only had three engines, as opposed to the more typical nine engines.


New Mexico Researchers Test High-Performance Concrete Bridge Girders.

The Silver City (NM) Sun-News  (8/25, Sullivan) reports that civil engineering graduate student Andrew Giesler and “his team at New Mexico State University are testing ultra-high performance concrete bridge girders on a large scale to aid the development of bridge design procedures for the state of New Mexico that could lead to a variety of improvements to the state’s infrastructure.” The Sun-News says that “alongside Ph.D. candidate Jorge Marquez, Giesler designed and erected a structural testing frame that was needed in order to perform the large-scale testing.” The report explains that “parts of the frame were made from recycled bridge girders donated by the U.S. Department of Transportation.”


Brewer Packages Beer In Recycled Cans.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (8/22) reports Red Hare Brewing Company has begun packaging its beer in an almost entirely recycled-content aluminum can from Novelix, Inc. The “evercan” contains no less than 90 percent recycled content, and the company hopes to get the can to 100 percent recycled materials. Novelix also hopes to expand its market beyond the Georgia craft brewer in the upcoming years.

Engineering and Public Policy


Panoche Valley Solar Project Signs Contract With SCE, Still Faces Challenges.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News  (8/25, Rogers) reports the $600 million, 247-megawatt Panoche Valley solar project, which earlier this month signed a 20-year power purchase agreement with Southern California Edison, “still faces several significant challenges.” Duke Energy “has withdrawn as a major investor” and is now a minor investor and will not be financing construction. The Panoche Valley project must also “secure endangered species permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Department of Fish and Wildlife” despite opposition from environmentalists.

Elementary/Secondary Education


Texas High School Students Discover Variable Stars During Southern Methodist Summer Program.

The Dallas Morning News  (8/22, Espinosa) profiles Dominik Fitz, a Texas high school student who took part in the Southern Methodist QuarkNet program over the summer, during which he “hoped to discover a star by searching through months of information collected from a telescope in the New Mexico desert 14 years ago.” The piece notes that Fitz did indeed discover a variable star, which was validated by the American Association of Variable Star Observers. Noting that classmate Jason Barton also discovered a star during the program, the paper explains that the program “is a physics teacher development program funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy,” and says it “provides research opportunities to high school students.”


Local, National Initiatives In Washington Look To Introduce Girls To STEM Fields.

The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review  (8/24, Lawrence) reports on various local and national efforts in place to get girls interested in STEM professions. The article notes Spokane Public Schools hosted a summer STEM camp for girls and boys taught by high school and college women. Other efforts include initiatives by local universities and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington and North Idaho.


President Bill Clinton Recognizes Native American STEM Program During Speech.

The Indian Country Today Media Network  (8/22) reports President Bill Clinton recognized the work of the PAST Foundation during statements at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiative America Meeting. The South Dakota program aims to introduce Native Americans to STEM professions through teacher training. The article explains what the PAST program is and how it trains teachers to be STEM educators in the classroom as well as the partnerships that help provide students with varied STEM experiences.


NASA Grants $15 Million To Train Texas State Teachers.

The San Antonio Express-News  (8/25, Beltran) reports NASA has awarded $15 million over five years to Texas State University for the “experiential” training of science, technology, engineering, and math teachers, with an emphasis on digital access of NASA content. This announcement follows the approval of a multi-million dollar collaborative contract between Texas State and Jacobs Engineering for advanced engineering and science work for NASA.

Also in the News


Magnitude-6.0 Earthquake Hits Napa Valley, 70,000 Lose Power.

The New York Times  (8/25, Hardy, Lovett, Subscription Publication) reports “a magnitude-6.0 earthquake hit the Napa Valley at 3:20 a.m. Sunday,” the strongest in the San Francisco Bay Area in 25 years, “rupturing dozens of water and gas mains.” By Sunday evening, “more than 10,000 people remained without power, and parts of the city still smelled of natural gas” while “about 600 homes were without water.”

The Los Angeles Times  (8/25, Romney, Parker, Mai-Duc, Raab) reports “the main quake damaged buildings, cut off power to tens of thousands, sparked fires, broke water mains, caused gas leaks, sent more than 120 people to a hospital and led Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency.” There have been “more than 50 aftershocks, but a large follow-up earthquake is now unlikely,” according to state officials. Pacific Gas & Electric “said that as of 5:30 p.m., it was working to restore power to about 7,300 customers in Napa County.” According to PG&E “outages reached a peak of about 70,000…across the northern Bay Area,” including locations in American Canyon, Napa, St. Helena, Santa Rosa and Sonoma.

Bloomberg News  (8/25, Marois, Vekshin, Hart) reports PG&E “said it restored power to about 53,000 of 70,000 customers whose service failed.”

The San Francisco Chronicle  (8/25, Lee, Kane, Ho, Lagos) reports “sixty water mains and at least 50 gas lines also broke in the quake.” According to PG&E, “439 people called to report gas leaks Sunday, and by early evening, the vast majority had been investigated.” Beginning Monday, “the utility plans to fan out across the impacted areas to conduct courtesy gas safety checks.”

The AP  (8/24) reports that at 5 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time Sunday, PG&E had “lowered the pressure on its Sonoma-to-Napa gas line and is monitoring all gas outlets for leaks,” according to a company spokesman. The company had “cut off gas to about 20 customers because of damaged equipment.”

The Chicago Sun-Times  (8/25, Knickmeyer, Leff) reports the earthquake “ruptured water mains and gas lines, hampering firefighters’ efforts to extinguish the blazes that broke out after the temblor struck.”

PG&E Reports “No Major Damage” To Gas Transmission Lines. In a second article, the San Francisco Chronicle  (8/24, Baker) says that although the utility received hundreds of reports of the smell of natural gas, crews “found no major damage to PG&E’s vast network of natural gas transmission and distribution lines.” PG&E spokesperson Greg Snapper said, “Overall, the health of the gas system is good… The problems have mostly been above ground, with electricity.”

Friday’s Lead Stories


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