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

Leading the News

NASA Contract Award Could Spur More Commercial Spaceflight Developments.

The Orlando (FL) Business Journal  (9/17, Bilbao, Subscription Publication) “The Buzz” blog continued coverage of NASA recent selection of Boeing and SpaceX to develop the spacecraft that will deliver astronauts to the ISS as early as 2017. Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello said that the selection also brings space tourism closer to reality because as more companies fly into space, the price of launches will come down until it is more affordable. DiBello reportedly also thought that Central Florida was the “best place for space tourism to start and grow” because it already has an established tourism market.

Reuters  (9/17, Klotz), meanwhile, reported that Boeing Commercial Crew Program Manager John Mulholland said that his company’s spacecraft will include a seat reserved for Space Adventures space tourists who want to travel to the ISS, which the article notes is a first for a U.S. company. Meanwhile, the article noted that because Boeing is not pushing its technology as much as SpaceX, analysts believe it should be able to meet its development cost and schedule targets.

In a similar vein, CBS News  (9/17, Kennedy) “MoneyWatch” website reported that by contracting with Boeing and SpaceX, NASA will encourage more companies to consider spaceflight projects. Financial economist Lewis Mandell said that NASA’s support of SpaceX especially was a “very positive indication” that NASA was open to non-standard companies. Mandell also predicted that the competition between the two companies will result in “new research and development,” and an “exciting new era” that could benefit the U.S. economy.

ESA Official Says Contract Will Not Cool Down International Partnerships. Russia’s ITAR-TASS News Agency  (9/17) reported that Thomas Reiter, director of the ESA’s Directorate of Human Spaceflight and Operations, said that the U.S.’ decision to contract with Boeing and SpaceX does not mean that there will be “a chill in international cooperation on space exploration.” He reportedly added that the ESA will not favor either Russia or the U.S. in deciding which spacecraft to use when launching its astronauts.

Higher Education

Young University Of North Texas Student Develops Computer Model To Track Mosquito-Borne Illness.

The Plano (TX) Star Local  (9/18) reports on “advanced engineering research at the University of North Texas that could help cities better manage mosquito-borne illness outbreaks,” noting that the research is being conducted by 16-year-old Aditya Vaidya, a first-year student in UNT’s Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. Vaidya will present his research at the annual Association for Computing Machinery Conference on Bioinformatics, Computational Biology and Health Informatics in Newport Beach, California in September. The piece explains that Vaidya “created a computer model that uses weather and climate change data to predict mosquito populations.”

Author, Professor Says ED College Rating System Must Respect Diversity Of Higher Education.

Laura W. Perna, author and executive director of the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy and the James S. Riepe Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, writes at The Hill  (9/18) “Pundits Blog” about ED’s plans to establish a college rating system “to assess the accessibility, affordability and outcomes of individual colleges and universities,” noting that the announcement of the plan generated a number of concerns about “potential negative implications of a rating system, particularly for students from groups that are historically underrepresented in higher education and the institutions that serve these students.” Perna writes that the system “must recognize the tremendous diversity of U.S. higher education institutions and the students that they serve.”

Warren Vows To Keep Pushing Student Loan Refinancing Bill.

Politico  (9/18, Grasgreen) reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has vowed to continue to fight to pass legislation allowing borrowers to refinance student loans, “but again left it to Republicans to come up with a compromise that can satisfy both parties in the Senate.” The article explains that on Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked the bill, but notes that Warren “has secured 58 yes votes, two short of the 60 needed to break the Republican filibuster.” Republicans object to the provision of the bill that would pay for the refinancing by taxing millionaires.

Warren, Suze Orman Call For Student Loan Reform. TIME  (9/18) reports that Warren and “personal finance expert” Suze Orman held an “hour-long discussion about student loans, for-profit colleges and the staggering debt crisis facing tens of millions of Americans” on Wednesday. The piece notes that Warren used the event to “draw attention to her student loan reform bill,” which “would require the federal government and private banks to allow the roughly 25 million Americans, each of whom carry an average of $30,000 in student debt, to refinance their student loans at today’s lower interest rates.”

Occupy Movement Buys, Forgives Corinthian Student Loan Debt.

The Huffington Post  (9/18, Nasiripour) reports that on Wednesday, Strike Debt, “a small group of volunteers” associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, “announced they helped reduce unpaid student bills by a smidgen” by using $107,000 in public donations to purchase “$3.9 million in delinquent private student debt,” whereupon the group “immediately canceled it.” The Post notes that the debt “came in the form of unpaid tuition receivables from Everest College, a for-profit school operated by the Corinthian Colleges chain.” The piece notes that the action impacts over 2,700 students, who had “an average of nearly $1,400 in debt” canceled. The Post takes note of the CFPB and ED’s actions against Corinthian, and quotes Strike Debt saying in a statement, “The Department of Education is not doing its job to protect the students. In the short term, we intend to help Corinthian College students pursue a complete cancellation of all their debts.”

The Washington Times  (9/18, Chasmar) reports that the group “bought the debts from collectors for a little more than $100,000, and then forgave what was owed,” noting that the funds “came from a pool of about $700,000 that Strike Debt has received through fundraising events.” This piece quotes Strike Debt saying, “Despite Corinthian’s dire financial straits, checkered past, and history of lying to and misleading vulnerable students, tens of thousands of people may still be liable for the loans they have incurred while playing by the rules and trying to get an education.”

Other media outlets covering this story include TIME  (9/18, Frizell), CNN’s Money  (9/18), and the NPR  (9/17, Kamenetz) “NprEd” blog.

Kentucky Considering New University Funding Formula.

The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal  (9/17) reports that the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education will meet with university heads to develop “a more modern, equitable formula” for distributing state funds. According to the article, council president Robert King said the formula could be completed by the end of the year and put before state legislators in 2016. He added that the new formula could factor in enrollment, tuition levels, costs, and mission as well as to graduation rates and closing achievement gaps, providing “financial incentives for universities to improve.” The Courier-Journal also highlights that the plan depends upon a budget increase, and cites concerns from college heads who “do not want to redistribute an already inadequate pot of state money.”

WKYU-FM  Bowling Green, KY (9/18) also provides brief online coverage.

Video Interviews – Leaders at NSF and the Navy Discuss the Future of Engineering
Watch interviews with NSF Assistant Director for Engineering Pramod Khargonekar, who talks about exciting NSF projects and opportunities for ASEE members, and Rear Admiral David Johnson, who discusses the importance of technology to the U.S. Navy and where naval research is headed.

ASEE Perks
ASEE launches “ASEE Perks” a new collection of discounted products and services, only for members.

Advances in Engineering Education – New Issue; Call for Papers
AEE released its Fall 2014 issue. In addition, AEE has put out a call for papers on flipped classrooms in STEM. Read more.

Research and Development

Engineers Develop Nanoparticle Sensor.

Photonics Online  (9/18) reports that a “team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, led by Lan Yang, PhD, the Das Family Career Development Associate Professor in Electrical & Systems Engineering, and their collaborators at Tsinghua University in China have developed a new sensor that can detect and count” individual nanoparticles. The article describes the new device in some detail, and notes that the team’s research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

University Of Wisconsin “DIY Science” Program Aims To Promote Value Of Research.

The La Crosse (WI) Tribune  (9/18) runs an article on the DIY Science program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, noting that the program is funded by the National Science Foundation, and “is just one of an array of programs at UW-Madison designed to inform the public about scientific research on campus.” The program allows members of the community to take part in the school’s scientific research activities.

Parabolic Flight Research May Improve Spacesuit Design.

The Science Magazine  (9/17, You) “Science Shot” website reported that research conducted on parabolic flights aboard “NASA’s adapted DC-9 aircraft” showed that at the reduced gravity levels of the moon, people transition from walking to running at an average speed of 1.42 meters per second. According to the article, the transition speed in lunar gravity was higher than previously theorized, which could result in the development of “more agile space suits.”


New Shipbuilding Education Program Provides Girls With Female Mentors.

US News & World Report  (9/17, Bidwell) introduces the complex multidisciplinary engineering of nuclear powered ships, a steady industry with substantial military and commercial contracts expecting a significant retirement wave. Jennifer Boykin, vice president of engineering and design for Newport News Shipbuilding, has developed the six-month-old Girls With Engineering Minds in Shipbuilding (GEMS) program to promote STEM education for both women and shipbuilding, modeled after the success of the Career Pathways program. The program brings female engineering mentors from Newport News Shipbuilding to local schools to create monthly engineering projects and competitions, servicing both the industry and students.

Industry News

Wristband Allows Heartbeat To Be Used As Password.

TIME  (9/18) reports that a team of Toronto scientists has developed a wristband that uses a person’s heartbeat to authenticate access to personal technologies like smartphones and laptops. Biometric security engineer Foreini Agrafioti said, “Because our hearts are so unique—from their size to their orientation in the chest to how they pump our blood—they may be the perfect security ‘password.’” Agrafioti adds that she “believes the future of security lies in the parts of our bodies that are difficult to steal and biologically exclusive.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Holdren: Proposed EPA Power Plant Rules Are A “Start.”

Bloomberg News  (9/17, Drajem) reports officials in the Obama Administration “said their signature effort to combat climate change will make only a modest dent in global greenhouse-gas emissions even as they called it an important first step.” With congressional Republicans “blasting a proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to curb emissions from existing power plants, White House science adviser John Holdren defended it as an important step.” According to Holdren “India, China and Germany already are taking measures to curtail their emissions, too.” Before the House Science Committee, Holdren stated, “The point is, that this is a start. … The carbon-action plan is a start, and if we do not make a start, we will never get there.”

NYTimes Praises French Effort To Boost Geothermal Energy.

The New York Times  (9/18, Subscription Publication) in an editorial says that France is moving to strengthen development of geothermal energy, having banned hydraulic fracture, and pledged to reduce nuclear power. It notes that due to a previous effort, Paris is second only to Iceland in its use of geothermal energy, and says that with a renewed effort, France may be “seen as a credible leader” on reducing carbon emissions. The Times urges the French national Assembly to set aside “feuds” and approve the plan.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Some Texas Textbooks Offer False Equivalency On Climate Change Debate.

The Austin (TX) American Statesman  (9/16, Price) reports several textbooks pending Texas State Board of Education approval contain false scientific information, downplaying human climate impact, according to Texas Freedom Network. The article contains excerpts showing a skepticism of greenhouse gas influence as well as excerpts from the energy-corporation-funded Heartland Institute. Minda Berbeco of the National Center for Science Education criticized the text for offering a false equivalency of juxtaposing sources.

San Jose Union School District Offers Rigorous Middle School STEM Classes.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News  (9/18, Rosen) reports expansions in middle school STEM education in the Union School District through nationally recognized Project Lead the Way classes, which offer hands-on activities with state-of-the-art technologies, such as 3D rendering and printing as well as robotics programming. Teachers require two weeks of training at San Jose State University to prepare for the 18 week courses. Union also offers a Project Lead the Way Club, allowing students to compete in extra-curricular competitions.

Texas Moves To Require AP, IB Curricula Meet State Standards.

The Houston Chronicle  (9/18, McGaughy) reports the State Board of Education has approved a preliminary proposal 12-3 requiring Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate teachers to conform to non-Common-Core state curriculum standards, following backlash over changes to the AP US History curriculum, which were viewed as being Common Core aligned with anti-American bias. While dissenters argued the curricula were already in line with Texas standards, the measure remains an assurance to others. A final vote will be taken in November.

Parents, Teachers Push STEAM Curriculum For Struggling Pittsburgh School.

The Pittsburgh City Paper  (9/18, Nuttall) reports on growing support to turn Woolslair elementary school into a science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) magnet school to entice enrollment, following the success of South Fayette School District’s curricular implementations, which the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials has titled the fastest growing state district. While Superintendent Linda Lane is seeking funding from the Grable and Pittsburgh foundations before a school board vote at September 23’s legislative meeting, the Woolslair proposal is not on the docket. Atop a $150,000 price tag for curricula implementations, critics cite the expected redistribution of students as only moving enrollment issues elsewhere.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories


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