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

Leading the News

Chemical Safety Board Recommends Schools Stop Using Methanol Ignition In Science Demonstrations.

The AP  (9/15, Rindels) reports that the US Chemical Safety Board on Monday released a statement recommending that schools and museums “stop using methanol and other flammable chemicals in their fire-based science demonstrations in light of a flash fire that injured 13 people, most of them children, at a Reno museum earlier this month.” The article notes that the recommendation coincidentally was released on the same day that “an experiment involving methanol burned four students in a Denver high school chemistry lab.” The article notes that such mishaps can occur when teachers and museum staff “mix methanol with other chemicals to create colorful flames.”

The AP  (9/15, Elliott) runs another article focused on the Denver accident, noting that one student “suffered serious injuries Monday after a fire erupted in a Denver high school chemistry laboratory while the teacher was conducting a demonstration with methanol.” The piece notes that the teacher suffered a mild injury from the incident, and was placed on paid administrative leave.

Higher Education

ED, Other Federal Agencies Working To Make Colleges Comply With ADA.

Diverse Education  (9/16) reports on a settlement last year between DOJ and Louisiana Tech University and the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System “to rectify concerns about alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),” noting that DOJ “maintained that the institution violated the law by using a version of an online learning product that was inaccessible to a blind student.” The article reports that this case “was just one of many instances in the last three or four years in which the federal government has gone after higher education institutions in an attempt to force them to be more compliant with ADA requirements.” The piece notes that ED’s Office for Civil Rights in 2013 “entered into an agreement with the South Carolina Technical College System, the state’s largest higher education system, to ensure that the websites of the system’s 16 colleges are accessible to people with disabilities.”

University Of California System Setting Up Venture Capital Fund For Research-Fuelled Startups.

The Wall Street Journal  (9/16, Phillips, Subscription Publication) reports that the University of California system is leveraging endowment funds to start up a $250 million venture capital pool to help finance startups based on research conducted by faculty and students. The Journal presents this story within the context of a broader trend of academic research being driven by venture capital and incubator systems.

Professor: ED Should Mind Warnings Of Healthcare Market While Crafting College Rating Plan.

In a New York Times  (9/16, Subscription Publication) op-ed, Susan M. Dynarski, professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, writes about ED’s plans to release a new college rating system in the coming months, noting that under the plan, colleges would be rewarded with more Federal aid for ranking high. She notes, however, that “creating any system of incentives is tricky,” and advises the Administration to “look to another sector where it has tried mightily to curb rising costs: health care.” Dynarski writes that both the healthcare and education markets “tend to make consumers inattentive to price and uninformed about quality,” and concludes that “the effort to curb costs in health care has a long and painful history, and it would make sense to learn from this history rather than repeat it.”

Indiana Builds Database To Help Adults Complete Unfinished Degrees.

The AP  (9/15, AP) reports the Indiana Commission for Higher Education is compiling a database of 737,000 adults who did not finish college in an effort to encourage their returns to school, exploring their credit requirements and financial aid eligibility. The initiative hopes to reach out by January 2016 and aid 200,000 in earning degrees. The piece closes with a similar initiative on the smaller scale, in which one school used financial incentives to attract students with incomplete educations.

Physics Education Researcher Calls For Increased STEM Access, Funding.

Rachel E. Scherr, senior physics education research scientist at Seattle Pacific University, argues in the Seattle Times  (9/16, Scherr) calls for increased educational access and active learning strategies to attract women and underrepresented minorities into STEM fields, where they represent 20% and fewer than 10% of undergraduate physics degrees, respectively. Further, Scherr calls for Sen. Patty Murray to fund the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which are currently underfunded by $3 billion below Congressional recommendations.

From ASEE
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Diversity at ASEE
Learn about ASEE’s Year of Action on Diversity

Research and Development

NASA Inspector General Criticizes Management Of Near Earth Objects Program.

The AP  (9/15, Dunn) reported that NASA Inspector General Paul Martin issued a “blasting” report on Monday, finding that NASA’s Near Earth Objects program needs better oversight and organization because it is not on track to meet its 2020 deadline of cataloging 90 percent of near-Earth objects bigger than 460 feet across, nor does it have any “established milestones to track progress.” John Grunsfeld, NASA Associate Administrator for Science, agreed with the report, saying, “NASA places a high priority on finding and characterizing hazardous asteroids to protect our home planet from them.”

David: NASA, USAF Settle Differences On Bolide Observation Data. In his column for SPACE  (9/15), Leonard David wrote that NASA has worked out the “problems” it had with the Air Force in acquiring “military tracking data on meteor explosions within Earth’s atmosphere” known as bolides. After halting updates for awhile, now NASA will be able to share events on a Jet Propulsion Laboratory website. Lindley Johnson, near-Earth object (NEO) program executive within the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said that this data will help scientists better understand how many objects exist around the Earth. According to David, Clark Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute said that he and others were eagerly awaiting “timely and regular reports of bolide events” through the arrangement between the two agencies.

Workforce

Women Form “Growing Minority” In Video Game Industry.

The Buffalo (NY) News  (9/16) profiles Carmela DeNero, an associate producer with EA Sports, who is “working on the mobile version of the popular “Madden NFL” video game.” DeNero is “one of just a few women in game development” with the firm, and the News reports that she “is part of a growing minority of women in the video-game industry: tech professionals who have turned their love of gaming into a career.” The piece notes that there is a significant and lingering gender gap, especially “with higher-paying engineering jobs,” though “more women have cracked video gaming’s predominantly male work force.”

Opinion Differs On STEM Skills Gap.

In commentary for US News & World Report  (9/15), Hal Salzman, a sociologist and professor of public policy at Rutgers University, writes that “all credible research finds the same evidence about the STEM workforce: ample supply, stagnant wages and, by industry accounts, thousands of applicants for any advertised job.” Salzman adds that the issue of greater concern is “dim employment prospects for our best STEM graduates.” Meanwhile, in another piece for US News & World Report  (9/15), Jonathan Rothwell of the Brookings Institution, writes that the US economy needs “more workers with high levels of knowledge in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” noting that this shortage “eased during the recession, but by any conventional definition, now it appears to have returned.”

Industry News

Classified Satellite Launch Will Be Monitored Using GPS.

Florida Today  (9/15, Dean) reported that when a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket launches with a classified satellite today, it will be monitored by a GPS tracking system to ensure it is flying on its planned path. While not the first time the system has been used, it will be the first launch not utilizing “a beacon on the rocket to communicate with ground radars that until now were required for launches to proceed.” Dillon Rice, a range operations engineer with ULA, said that because the GPS system eliminates the reliance on radar availability, it should increase the range opportunities at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Meanwhile, the weather for the launch is expected to be “iffy,” with only a “40 percent chance of favorable weather.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Study Finds Faulty Well Construction, Not Fracking, Causing Groundwater Pollution.

The AP  (9/15, Borenstein) reports that a study published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that fracking isn’t the cause of “much-publicized cases of tainted groundwater in areas of Pennsylvania and Texas.” Rather, faulty “pipes and seals in natural gas wells” led to the contamination. Researchers examined “dozens of cases of suspected contamination,” then targeted eight fracked wells in the two states. Using “chemical analysis” they determined “when in the process of gas extraction methane leaked into groundwater.” Ohio State geochemist and lead study author Thomas Darrah explained, “We found the evidence suggested that fracking was not to blame, that it was actually a well integrity issue.”

Reuters  (9/15) notes that the research was conducted by scientists at Dartmouth, Stanford, Ohio State, and Duke, who examined more than 130 drinking-water well specimens in the Barnett and Marcellus shales.

The Los Angeles Times  (9/15, Banerjee) reports that study co-author and Stanford University environmental science professor Robert Jackson said the cases examined in the study “caught this contamination in the act.” The researchers found that methane was entering water in the wells “when natural gas from a lower geological depth migrated higher into drinking water sources because of a faulty cement job around the well.”

Bloomberg News  (9/15, Drajem) reports that Jackson also warned, “People’s water has been harmed by drilling. In Texas, we even saw two homes go from clean to contaminated after our sampling began.” That case, in Weatherford, TX, led to EPA intervention and “international media scrutiny.” This latest study “linked contamination to failures of cement or production casing, not the injection of water, chemicals and sand into the ground.” The study, led by Duke University, indicated that “water from five of the 20 wells tested exceeds minimum safety level, including the two wells that were clean and then acquired dangerous levels of methane in later tests.”

The Wall Street Journal  (9/16, Gold, Subscription Publication) reports that many engineers in the industry as well as academics have been arguing that contamination isn’t the fault of the fracking process, but has been due to poor well construction. However, some others in the industry argue that natural gas found in water wells and aquifers has been there for years and there isn’t any evidence that drilling has exacerbated this issue.

Lubber: Clean Energy Investments Pay Off.

Ceres president Mindy Lubber writes in a piece about clean energy investments for the Christian Science Monitor  (9/15) that across the country “electric sector investments in energy efficiency have steadily risen over the past five years to $7.2 billion in 2013” and “they are generating returns of $3 to $4 for every dollar invested.” Lubber says that “a comparable expenditure for renewable energy investments is harder to find because the data isn’t reported, but recent research by Ceres shows that renewable energy sales averaged about 5 percent of total sales for the country’s 32 largest power providers” and “in the case of Xcel Energy, NV Energy, PG&E, Sempra Energy, and Edison International, renewable energy accounted for about 17 to 21 percent of their total electricity sales in 2012.”

Administration To “Phase Out” Coolants Used In Cars, Buildings With AC.

In a front-page article titled, “Obama Targets A Popular Coolant In New Effort To Curb Greenhouse Gases,” the Washington Post  (9/16, A1, Warrick) reports that the Administration “is preparing to introduce major steps to phase out production of a popular chemical coolant used in refrigerators and air conditioners” due to “growing evidence that the substance is contributing to the warming of the planet.” According to the Post, the White House “will announce on Tuesday a series of voluntary commitments by some of the country’s largest chemical firms and retailers to move rapidly away from R-134a and similar compounds used in nearly every office, home and automobile.” The Post notes that “the class of chemicals to which R-134a belongs — called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs — became popular as a replacement for Freon, the refrigerant banned…for damaging the Earth’s ozone layer,” and “the steps unveiled this week are intended to accelerate the phaseout of most types of HFCs.”

EPA Accused Of Being Too Close To Environmentalists. The Washington Times  (9/16, Dinan) reports that the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a “conservative watchdog group,” alleges that the EPA and environmentalists “are exceptionally close for a government agency and lobby groups, with a revolving door and pressure from the groups often shaping EPA’s policies.”

NASA Declares This August The Warmest Since 1881. The Huffington Post  (9/15, Visser) reports this past August was the warmest August since 1881 data began, by a few hundredths of a degree according to NASA, while May of this year was also the warmest May in recorded history. Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a climatologist and climate modeler at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies urged for a focus on the “long-term trends…toward warming” rather than individual data points.

New Study Ties Earthquakes To Drilling.

The Wall Street Journal  (9/16, Audi, Subscription Publication) reports that a new study published in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America links an earthquake in Colorado in 2011 to the injection of wastewater from well drilling into the ground. The study reinforces recent research that has sought to tie a series of quakes with drilling activity. However, the American Petroleum Industry says that there have been less than 40 cases of seismic activity over the past 50 years “potentially associated” with the many thousands of injection wells in the US.

Elementary/Secondary Education

US Teens Win European Underwater Robotics Contest.

The Washington Post  (9/15, Barron) reports three teenage girls from Washington state won the Black Sea International Remove-Operated Vehicle Competition and Exhibition, which put underwater robots through a series of eight timed challenges in open water. The remainder of the article features their professional aspirations and the support that led them into STEM, ultimately closing with a list of suggested robotics competitions’ websites.

SIUE Awarded $846,000 Grant To Boost STEM Education.

In its Biznext blog, St. Louis Business Journal  (9/16, Feldt, Subscription Publication) reports Southern Illinois University Edwardsville was awarded a three-year, $846,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help support underserved middle school STEM interest by funding the “Digital East St Louis” program for computing and IT. STEM jobs are expected to grow by 12.4% in St Louis and 10.2% statewide by 2022, with non-STEM growth expected at 9.2% and 8.5%, respectively. Further, SIUE has renewed a US Transportation Command partnership promoting STEM education of thousands of students through volunteerism, collaboration, and donation of STEM equipment.

Detroit Tech Schools Undergo Future-Job-Focused Redesign.

The Detroit Free Press  (9/16, Higgins) reports Detroit Public Schools are creating 21st Century Workforce Development Centers at four technical schools to better prepare students for future employment, where adults will take evening courses while high school students throughout the district will be able to dual-enroll in college courses. The program is currently in a pilot, with Wayne Community College District offering classes at the four centers, to eventually expand and incorporate other higher education institutions. The program was based upon the successful initiatives of Lansing Community College.

Monday’s Lead Stories

 

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