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

Leading the News

Kaine Introduces Middle School CTE Bill.

The Augusta (VA) Free Press  (9/11) reports that US Senator Tim Kaine, co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus introduced the Middle School Technical Education Program (Middle STEP) Act, that would establish pilot programs to help middle school children with career exploration. Kaine said that “Middle school is an important time for students to explore their own strengths, likes, and dislikes” and the Act will expose students to “wide-range of career choices through hands-on learning” for helping them solidify their future paths. The article notes that the CTE will provide students access to apprenticeships, project-based learning opportunities, career guidance and academic counseling.

The Roanoke (VA) Times  (9/11) reports that Kaine proposed focusing attention on middle school as it “gets overlooked” more often over primary and high school, and also help middle school students “figure out what careers match up” with their interests. Kaine added that the legislation might be “tough” to pass this year but the bill has several co-sponsers and support of national education organizations like, National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Association for Career and Technical Education.

Higher Education

Illinois Schools Receive DOE Funds To Research Clean Energy.

The AP  (9/11) reports the Energy Department “has awarded more than $8.4 million to research centers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois.” Sen. Dick Durbin, Rep. Bill Foster and Rep. Jan Schakowsky announced in a news release that “the money will be used to study, research and develop cutting edge forms of clean energy.” According to Durbin, “the award will not only help to drive the economy and change ‘the way we conserve and use energy resources,’ but will help ensure that there remains a strong federal commitment to universities in Illinois.”

Accreditors Feeling Way Into Era Of Competency-Based Degrees.

Inside Higher Ed  (9/10) reports that college accrediting agencies are facing challenges from the “surge in new competency-based degree programs,” noting that accreditors “must seek to ensure academic quality without quashing promising ideas, while also dealing with sluggish and sometimes confusing guidance from the federal government.” The piece notes that top officials from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and other accrediting agencies addressed the issue at a recent gathering of the Council on Adult and Experiential Learning.

GAO Report: Many Seniors Have Heavy Student Debt.

Noting that “Rosemary Anderson could be 81 by the time she pays off her student loans,” the AP  (9/10, Hefling) reports that according to a Government Accountability Office report, 4% of Americans aged 65-74 have Federal student loan debt, “up from 1 percent six years earlier.” The report indicates that “tens of thousands” of seniors are having their Social Security benefits garnished to pay overdue loans. Noting that the report was released at a Senate Aging Committee hearing on Wednesday, the article quotes Chairman Bill Nelson saying, “Some may think of student loan debt as just a young person’s problem. Well, as it turns out, that’s increasingly not the case.”

McClatchy  (9/10, Ehlinger, Subscription Publication) reports that in testimony before the hearing, Anderson, now 57, told the committee “about her ongoing battle with student debt, and her fear that the Social Security check she will start receiving when she reaches her 60s eventually will be garnished to pay it off.” The piece quotes Anderson saying, “I find it very ironic that I incurred this debt as a way to improve my life, and yet I sit here today because the debt has become my undoing.” The report found that for the age group cited, the “outstanding federal student debt” rose from $2.8 billion in 2005 to $18 billion last year. Reuters  (9/11, Malone) reports and CNN’s Money  (9/11) run similar reports.

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Research and Development

NASA 3-D Printer Bound For ISS Sparks Interest.

Some Hype Exists About 3D Printing’s Capabilities. Nature  (9/10, Witze) continues coverage of the Made in Space 3D printer heading to the ISS as early as September 19. The article notes that there is some “hype” among some proponents about what the technology will bring to the space program. Dwayne Day, a senior program officer at the National Research Council, who worked on a recent report on the technology, said that some consider 3D printing a “magic technology” that can build anything, when in reality it is just part of “a much broader technology base” now under development. Meanwhile, Made in Space will use what it learns with this printer to improve a second version that will also go to the ISS. Parts printed in space will also be tested against those made on Earth to make sure they are equivalent before astronauts rely on them.

Alan Boyle at NBC News  (9/10) writes that Made in Space received “a lot of help from [NASA’s] engineers” to get to this point. NASA project manager Niki Werkheiser said in a video, “NASA has been wanting to grow the area of in-space manufacturing.” Meanwhile, Boyle notes that when it reaches the station, the printer will have to be tested in the ISS’ “microgravity science glovebox” to make sure it works properly before anything is printed, which should take place in 2015.

Another NBC News  (9/10) article notes that Made In Space is now taking suggestions from the public on what it should print as test items once it is installed. Aaron Kemmer, the company’s CEO, stressed that this is not a contest, but an open invitation to the public to get it involved.

Stanford Engineers Developing Hopping Vehicle For Phobos Exploration.

The San Francisco Chronicle  (9/10, Perlman) reports that engineers at Stanford University are developing “a strange little spacecraft that could one day hop its way across the sands of” the Martian moon Phobos. The vehicle, dubbed the Hedgehog, is “the prototype of a hybrid planetary rover conceived by Assistant Professor Marco Pavone for NASA.” The piece quotes JPL’s Julie Castillo-Rogez saying, “It’s a new way for a rover to move across a dusty surface. It could go where no rover on wheels could ever go.”

$400,000 Grant Supports University at Buffalo Cloud Computing Research.

The Buffalo (NY) News  (9/11) reports the University at Buffalo has received a $400,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support a two-year research study into the availability, performance and reliability of cloud computing, set to start this month.

Lasers Could Make Hard Drives Faster, Simpler, And Denser.

The Phys  (9/11, Patringenaru) reports international and interdisciplinary research led by the University of California, San Diego has discovered the magnetization of a wide range of ferromagnetic materials can be controlled entirely by polarized light, allowing for the alteration of magnetic bits without energy intensive magnetic fields; the study focused on current high-density storage materials. The research will not have immediate commercial applications until the scale of the technology is refined from the microscale demonstrated to the nanoscale, as well as its speed.

Industry News

Google Acquires Health-Technology Startup Amid Deepening Biotech Ties.

The Wall Street Journal  (9/11, Barr, Subscription Publication) reports on the changing profile of software giant Google, noting the company Wednesday deepened its ties with the biotech sector with the disclosure that it purchased Lift Labs, a San Francisco company that makes a high-tech gadget designed to help people with neurodegenerative tremors perform normal tasks such as eating.

The New York Times  (9/10) reports in its “Bits” blog that a Google representative declined to say how much Google paid for the company. The paper says, “Most people take eating for granted, but for the 11 million Americans with either essential tremor or Parkinson’s disease, the act of lifting a utensil can be harrowing, embarrassing and messy.” Anupam Pathak, Lift Labs’ founder, “said he could imagine the same technology being used for a whole universe of hand-held devices,” the Times notes.

Bloomberg News  (9/11, Womack) provides details of the device, noting that the technology, “called Liftware, uses sensors to detect tremors and responds quickly to keep the device from shaking too much.” In a statement, Google said, “We’re also going to explore how their technology could be used in other ways to improve the understanding and management of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Prolonged Power Outage Due To Hacking “Virtually Impossible.”

Politico  (9/11, Perera) says, based on interviews with experts, that “it’s virtually impossible for an online-only attack to cause a widespread or prolonged outage of the North American power grid.” Experts did not deny that hackers could breach the networks of power providers, “but there’s a huge gap between that and causing a civilization-ending sustained outage of the grid.” Experts say hacking scenarios “mostly overlook the engineering expertise necessary to intentionally cause harm to the grid,” as well as the grid’s enormity and diversity of equipment. The article discusses the difficulty of penetrating industrial control systems, and says DHS’ Project Aurora test “has been undermined by questions about the test and its real-life applicability.” former DHS Control Systems Security Program director Perry Pederson, who oversaw Project Aurora, is quoted saying, “I tend to think the grid is a little more robust than what we give it credit for. It’s not quite so fragile.”

Tech Firms Protest FCC’s Proposed Net Neutrality Rules.

McClatchy  (9/11, Bergengruen, Subscription Publication) reports that activist groups and popular tech firms, including Netflix, Mozilla, reddit and Kickstarter, on Wednesday held a “day of action” that they called “Internet Slowdown Day” on Wednesday. They were protesting “the controversial proposed changes to net neutrality rules by the Federal Communications Commission.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Alaska Students Present Research Paper At International Conference.

The Mat-Su Valley (AK) Frontiersman  (9/11) reports students from Mat-Su Career and Technical High School in Wasilla, Alaska traveled to India on August 3 to present a research paper titled, “Assessing the Relationship between Local Annual Climate and the Green-Down Period of Indigenous Alaska species Using the GLOBE Green-Down Protocol.” The team was one of four selected from the United States for the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment Learning Expedition. The paper was one of 51 presented at a four day conference in India, and was a part of a project they completed for a science class in the high school.

Over 70% Of Schools Lack Adequate Broadband, Aided By Federal Funding.

The Hechinger Report  (9/11, Dobo) reports on Federal funding to address the less than 30% of K-12 schools nationwide with adequate broadband infrastructure, along with millions provided in technology upgrades. The majority of the piece focuses on a handful of remote, rural Maryland schools who are benefiting from innovations afforded by the influx of funding.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories


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