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

Leading the News

New Research Center Aims To Develop Second Generation Of Surgical Robots.

The New York Times  (10/24, Markoff, Subscription Publication) reports an Intuitive donated system, $3 million National Science Foundation research grant, and $200,000 from two private donors will allow the University of California, Berkeley to create a new center for the development of medical robots for low-level and repetitive surgical tasks, allowing surgeons to focus on the more complex aspects of surgeries. The center hopes to advance the da Vinci robot, the first to successfully operate on soft tissue, by teaching it to learn from human surgeons; the robot has been criticized for failing to surpass human expertise, though UC Davis Health System professor of surgery Dr. W. Douglas Boyd has stated the fault lies with improper training in hospitals acquiring robots only for competitive purposes.

Higher Education

More Coverage Of UNC-Chapel Hill Academic Fraud Scandal.

Former Federal investigator Ken Wainstein’s investigative report into the University of North Carolina’s academic fraud continued to generate media coverage, focusing primarily on reactions from school administrators and outside officials. The AP  (10/23, Beard; Dalesio) reports, that North Carolina’s “alarming lack of institutional oversight” is why academic fraud persisted for so long. North Carolina chancellor Carol Folt explained that “Bad actions of a relatively few number of people were definitely compounded by inaction and the lack of really appropriate checks and balances.” North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said that the school will “obviously” vacate wins if the NCAA finds that ineligible student-athletes were allowed to play, but says he is “very comfortable with our certification process — that our students were eligible to compete when they competed.”

Inside Higher Ed  (10/23, New) adds that College Sports Research Institute at the University of South Carolina director Richard Southall said the scandal may be “as big a one that has ever come to light.” He argues that the problem is not limited to North Carolina because student-athletes are “brought into a system to generate revenue,” and often struggle academically. Advisors do their best to ensure that these student-athletes can survive their coursework, which is where unethical decisions are made. Inside Higher Ed also notes that the university’s school newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, wrote that the school examine changing the pretense that it is necessary for student-athletes to “perform in the classroom at the same pace as students admitted for their academic achievements.”

FoxSports  (10/24, Barnes) notes that North Carolina history professor and former faculty athletics representative David Goldfield claimed the scandal is “not that different” from previous academic scandals at Auburn University and the University of Michigan, because the intention of all three cases was the effort to ensure that student-athletes remained eligible at the expense of their education. Goldfield argues that the no-show classes like those at North Carolina are the result of the NCAA’s 2003 academic reform measures. He says the NCAA lowered admissions requirements while simultaneously making it harder to remain academically eligible to participate in a sport.

Most Students Not Athletes. The Washington Post  (10/23, Anderson) reports that while the media has focused on student-athlete participation in the no-show classes, the majority of students who took such classes were not athletes. The Post writes that this fact “raises questions” about the number of school administrators that “knew about the scandal before it broke — or should have known.”

Other sources providing coverage include: USA Today  (10/24, Donnan), the Chronicle of Higher Education  (10/24, Stripling), the Charlotte (NC) Observer  (10/23), and the New Jersey Local News  (10/24).

California College President: Elite Schools Should Admit More Community College Transfers.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post  (10/23, Nikias), University of Southern California President CL Max Nikias writes that the nation’s leading private research universities should follow his institution’s lead by “widely recruiting and admitting transfer students from two-year community colleges,” arguing that this could help them to refute the perception that they are “perpetrators of high student debt or bastions of privilege.” He cites research indicating that very few students at such schools come from community colleges, and describes ways that colleges can actively recruit such students while maintaining high academic standards.

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Research and Development

Robots Could Be Next Ebola Innovation.

The New York Times  (10/23, Markoff, Subscription Publication) examines the potential to use robots to participate in Ebola treatment, performing or assisting in activities such as waste disposal, burials, and protective equipment removal. The Times notes that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy will organize meetings at various universities, beginning November 7, to brainstorm the potential innovation.

UP Aerospace Rocket launches With Flight Opportunities Program Experiments.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (10/23, Robinson-Avila) reports that UP Aerospace successfully launched its SpaceLoft suborbital rocket from Spaceport America on Thursday, carrying “four experiments paid for by NASA….yeast that an Oregon brewery will use to make a new space beer, plus the ashes of nearly three dozen individuals” through Celestis, which provides “Memorial spaceflights.” When it comes to the NASA experiments, the article focused on a device developed by Control Dynamics “that can isolate experiments from vibrations and other interference on rocket flights.” According to the article, now that it has been tested twice on UP Aerospace launches, it could be headed for the ISS in the future.

The Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News  (10/23, Soular) reports that New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson said in a statement that it was “great” that the spaceport could conduct another launch for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. While the first half of the article focused on the NASA payloads the rocket was carrying, the second half focused on the ashes of late serviceman CJ Twomey that was part of Celestis’ payload. This was part of “a unique social media campaign to have his ashes spread across the globe” designed by his mother to help deal with his loss.

The KECI-TV  Missoula, MT (10/23, Leggett) website reports on the “radiation-proof computer” Montana State University (MSU) designed that was launched on the rocket for NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. According to the article, those involved with the project “celebrated” the launch. MSU engineering technology and computers professor Brock LaMeres said that this was the first time anything from his group was sent into space.

The KRWG-FM  Las Cruces, NM (10/23) website and RT (RUS)  (10/23) also cover the story.

MSU Researches Radioactive Waste Filtration Systems.

The Mississippi Business Journal  (10/23) reports that Mississippi State University’s Institute for Clean Energy Technology is “leading the nation” in radioactive waste containment research with its development of testing technology to asses high-efficiency particulate air filtration systems with the goal of creating improved filters for the nuclear industry. The articles mentions that Savannah River National Laboratory project engineer Scott MacMurray said that “the testing at MSU will impact which design of filters his company will purchase in the future.”

Virtual Reality Research May Help Astronauts Cope During Missions.

The Washington Post  (10/23, Basulto) “Innovations” blog reports that researchers at Dartmouth’s Digital Arts Leadership and Innovation lab are building virtual reality experiences for the Oculus Rift, a 3D gaming headset, to help NASA’s National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) in there quest to “counteract the negative psychological effects of long-duration missions.” Jay Buckey, researcher at Dartmouth, explains that using virtual reality to simulate nature can trick the brain into relaxing. Developments in such technology may also be useful in other areas, such as helping people cope with PTSD or phobias.

Material “Darker Than Black” To Be Tested At ISS.

The Nature World News  (10/23, Stallard) reports that plans to use “the world’s blackest material” first unveiled at the Farnborough International Air Show in July at the ISS. The goal is to find applications for the carbon-nanotube coating that some call “darker than black.” Specifically, NASA will see how well it performs on a “complex, cylindrically-shaped baffle” that prevents too much light from interfering with space telescopes and reducing their performance. John Hagopian of the Goddard Space Flight Center, who is leading the work, said, “The fact the coatings have survived the trip to the space station already has raised the maturity of the technology to a level that qualifies them for flight use. … In many ways the external exposure of the samples on the space station subjects them to a much harsher environment than components will ever see inside of an instrument.”

Scientists Determine Smell Of Comet’s Coma.

The AP  (10/23) reports that scientists led by Kathrin Altwegg of the University of Bern used data from the Rosetta spacecraft to determine that the chemicals in come 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s coma would smell like “rotten eggs, horse urine, formaldehyde, bitter almonds, alcohol, vinegar and a hint of sweet ether.” This smell is expected to become stronger as the comet moves closer to the sun and releases more gas.

Science News  (10/23, Yeager) “Science Ticker” blog, NBC News  (10/23, Coldewey) website, RIA Novosti (RUS)  (10/23), and Universe Today  (10/23, Howell) also cover the story.


Foreign STEM Workers Increase Native Wages But Raise Housing Costs.

Making Sen$e from PBS  (10/24, Pathe) has begun sharing the non-peer-reviewed papers of the private nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research, beginning with an analysis finding extending visas to 1% more STEM workers increases the wages of native college-educated workers by 7-8% and non-college educated by 3-4%, with no affect on the employment of other groups, although housing costs rose for college-educated workers. The study compared foreign STEM worker concentrations in 219 metropolitan areas beginning in 1980, tracking changes after the introduction of the H-1B program in 1990; because inflow concentrated in certain cities, their impact could be compared to control cities. The study concludes the workers could account for 30-50% of aggregate productivity growth and 4-8% of skill bias growth in the US between 1990 and 2010.

Industry News

Local Engineer Helped Test Orion Before Upcoming First Launch.

The Murfreesboro (TN) Daily News Journal  (10/23, Willard) profiles Nelson Payne of Murfreesboro and the work he did with a team of engineers at Arnold Engineering Development Complex (AEDC) preparing the Orion Multi-Purpose Vehicle for its upcoming first launch in December. In association with a team from the United Launch Alliance led by Mike Schoonmaker, the engineers conducted wind tunnel tests on “a prototype spacecraft to help continue NASA’s mission to go where few have gone before.” The article also notes that AEDC also helped NASA gather data on “possible materials for materials Orion’s heat shield” back in 2007.

Engineering and Public Policy

Wyden Asks DOE To Study SPR.

In continuing coverage the FuelFix  (10/23) reports Sen. Ron Wyden wants the US “to rethink the size and scope of its emergency oil stockpile.” In a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Wyden wrote “because a surge of domestic oil production has pared the United States’ reliance on foreign crude, the country may not need to stash as much away in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.” He said, “‘The recent shale boom is having a profound effect on United States energy policy’ and making even relatively recent rules ‘at best irrelevant. … In the case of the SPR, estimates on size are no longer in line with current net imports.’”

NY Officials Reach Deal With Banks On Clean Energy Projects.

The AP  (10/24) reports that officials in New York “say they have reached agreements in principle to finance seven clean energy projects with a dozen banks and investment firms and the state’s new NY Green Bank. They hope to close deals this year that would lead to more than $800 million invested in solar energy, cogeneration and energy-efficiency.” The aim of the effort “is a 575,000-ton annual reduction in carbon dioxide by generating and using energy in ways that reduce pollution and burning fossil fuels.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Marin County, California Code Club Encourages Girls’ Computer Programming.

The Marin (CA) Independent Journal  (10/24, Aghalagha) reports on Marin County, California’s independent, after-school, weekly Code Club programs, with classes offered exclusively to grade-school-aged girls. The piece also highlights the girls-only Intel Computer Clubhouse in San Rafael. Code Club began last year in software developer Douglas Tarr’s living room for 12 boys including his son; its popularity continues to grow across the county by word of mouth, now including 125 children (20 girls) in Mill Valley and prompting a second club to open in Greenbane, servicing 30. Tarr has eight employees and two high school students providing additional tutelage, which he believes is the key to the program’s success.

Industry Expert Evidences Nationally Expanding Utilization Of Education Technology.

In the Huffington Post  (10/24, Vander Ark), author and Getting Smart CEO Tom Vander Ark writes on the Highlander Institute’s Fuse RI initiative, supported by the Learning Accelerator, to integrate blended learning into all 57 districts and Local Education Agencies in Rhode Island. That example of education technology’s statewide expansion segues into a list of three other initiatives (Education Innovation Fellowship in DC, Vanguard Teachers in Georgia’s Fulton County, and the social learning platform Edmondo) before highlighting Next Generation Learning initiatives to promote student autonomy. The piece closes with the pillars of Vander Ark’s book, which are general principles cities should consider when designing or enlisting in such programs.

Thursday’s Lead Stories


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