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

Leading the News

Study: Synthetic Microbes Could Help Reduce Payload On Interplanetary Missions.

Noting the high ratio of fuel to cargo mass involved in space travel, Popular Mechanics  (11/9) reports that according to a new study, synthetic microorganisms could be used “to recycle waste and harvest useful materials at the destination.” The piece explains that the study investigated the effects that “space synthetic biology” could have “on a hypothetical six-person, 916-day round trip to Mars.” Lead researcher Amor Menezes, a UC-Berkeley systems engineer, described how certain microbes could be used to produce fuel or “nutritionally rich food.”

The Tech Times  (11/7) also covers this study, quoting Menezes saying, “Our analysis indicates that (synthetic biology) has a good chance of being a disruptive space technology by providing substantial savings over current techniques. One goal of our paper is to advocate for an expanded role for synthetic biology in space science, with a view toward future mission deployment.”

Higher Education

ED-Backed Program Aims To Develop Networks To Support Black Male College Students.

The New York Times  (11/10, Gose, Subscription Publication) runs a Chronicle of Higher Education article describing the Network for Student Success, a program at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock, Arkansas supported by ED. The program is intended “to improve retention and graduation rates among black male students.” Students are assigned to “success coaches” who advise them and teach them best practices for thriving at college.

Schools Set Aside Instructional Time To Help Students Apply To College.

The Washington Post  (11/9, Anderson) reports that some two dozen public schools in Washington, DC are part of “a growing national movement to help students who face disadvantages” apply to college. Under the American Council on Education’s American College Application Campaign, students work under teachers’ guidance to improve application essays and to compare different colleges. Some 4,000 schools nationwide are taking part in the initiative.

ED Gives California College Grant To Improve Hispanic, Low Income Grad Student Access.

The Fresno (CA) Bee  (11/7) reports that ED has given California’s Fresno State a $2.87 million grant “to create an online graduate campus that will expand access to graduate education for Hispanic, low-income and first-generation students.” The article reports that Hispanic grad student enrollment has not kept pace with increases in Hispanic undergrad enrollment, and that the “goal of this new program will be to increase enrollment of Hispanic graduate students by 25% over five years.”

Cal State System Hires Title IX Compliance Officer.

The AP  (11/8) reports that the California State University system has hired Pamela Thompson, an administrator at UCLA, as its first system-wide Title IX compliance Coordinator. Thompson will “oversee efforts to prevent and better respond to sexual assaults on the system’s 23 campuses.” A Cal State official said that Thompson “will be responsible for training campus-based Title IX officers, ensuring the system’s procedures for investigating complaints are up to date, and making employees aware of the best ways to work with traumatized victims.”

Brown University Warns Students About Sexual Assaults.

The CBS Evening News (11/9, story 7, 1:50, Glor) reported that Brown University “is warning students to be alert after a student tested positive for the date rape drug, tests on other students are pending and there is a criminal investigation.” The university’s “swift response comes just days after new federal rules for handling sexual assault cases went to schools nationwide.” CBS (Albert) noted that President Obama this fall “launched a campaign to stop campus assaults called ‘It Is On Us,’” and added that the White House “says one in five women will be the victim of a sexual assault on campus but only 13 percent of them will report it.” Brown University “is one of 85 schools under investigation this year by the Department Of Education, for its handling of sexual assault cases.”

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Research and Development

University Of North Texas Engineering School Joins Cold-Formed Steel Research Consortium.

Phys  (11/10) reports that the College of Engineering at the University of North Texas “has joined the Cold-Formed Steel Research Consortium (CFSRC), which brings together leading research teams across North America to provide the world’s most comprehensive research on cold-formed steel structures.” The article explains the uses for the material, and notes that the consortium is tasked with providing “world-leading research and training capabilities to realize the full potential of cold-formed steel in construction.”

Hand: Water Is At The Center Of Search For Life In The Solar System.

The Newport News (VA) Daily Press  (11/9, Dietrich) reports on the talk Kevin Hand, deputy chief scientist for solar system exploration at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave about at the Langley Research Center and the Virginia Air & Space Center as part of the Sigma Series Lectures. Hand, discussing those bodies in the solar system that are thought to have liquid water, said, “Just about everywhere we’ve gone on Earth and found water, we have found life. … So water has long been at the center of NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. It’s our mantra: Follow the water.” However, Hand noted that if NASA wants to determine if a moon like Europa does have water and life, there would need to be a series of dedicated missions, “but there’s no mission definitively on the books.”

NASA’s Search For Exoplanets, Study Of Humans In Space Similar To “Interstellar.”

The International Business Times  (11/8, Poladian) continued coverage of how NASA’s work is similar to what is in the movie, “Interstellar.” For instance, with the Kepler telescope and the upcoming Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), NASA continues to search for a exoplanet similar to Earth. It also is examining the “short- and long-term effects of space travel on the human body” at the ISS. Michael Barratt, program manager for NASA’s Human Research Program, said, “We have progressed considerably in our understanding of the human physiology in space and in countermeasures to preserve bone, muscle and fitness since then. The space-station program provides us a robust framework for international collaboration that enables us to realize tremendous returns from such an experience.”

Chris Jones at the Esquire Magazine  (11/9) “Culture” blog writes that Hollywood is possibly making more movies about going into space to “fill the void” left by the end of the shuttle program. He thinks there has been a “broken” contract with Americans, who no longer know who is at the ISS.

In an op-ed for SPACE  (11/7), former ISS commander Leroy Chiao wrote about the movie “Interstellar,” and how it is the same and different from actual spaceflight. Chiao calls it an “enjoyable” film that made him remember his own time in space.


Tech Firms Explore Potential Solutions To Workplace Diversity Lag.

USA Today  (11/9, Swartz, Guynn, Cava) reports on the USA Today/Stanford Diversity in Tech summit held in San Francisco last Thursday, noting that the purpose of the meeting was to address the “decades-long mind-set” in which “technology companies did worse than simply shrug off the issue of diversity in their workforce,” actively working to prevent journalists and advocacy groups from getting access to employment numbers. Executives with leading tech firms “acknowledged the diversity gap in the nearly two-hour panel,” and the article explains that “as the composition of their customers becomes more diverse, those companies have no choice but to hire people who reflect their customer base and to build more inclusive workplaces.”

Industry News

NASA May Have To Rely On Other Nations To Lead In Space.

In the fifth installment in his “Adrift” series on the space program for the Houston Chronicle  (11/9), Eric Berger writes how NASA has “little choice” in cooperating with Russia in order to reach the ISS. He notes that it is a “paradox,” that if NASA wants to lead in space and continue to Mars, it may have to cooperate with other nations, even China. Meanwhile, according to Berger, Sean Fuller, who heads NASA’s operations in Russia and Kazakhstan, reportedly said that NASA and Roscosmos have “rarely been closer” despite tensions between the US and Russia today. Fuller said, “There are troubled areas in the world, but the station stretches well above and beyond that. We may can come from very different backgrounds, but we can still come together and develop the greatest engineering achievement of mankind in peacetime.” Berger notes that even though there are critics who say that the ISS may not be the best scientific laboratory for its costs, it still is “an essential gateway to deep space” because of how it is testing systems astronauts will need before going to Mars. At the end of his piece, Berger goes into the possibility of the US working with China one day. ISS program manager Michael Suffredini said that China could be brought into the ISS partnership, but “it is very, very, very difficult to get to the point we are at with the Russians today. … It takes time to agree to build systems that are going to rely on one another.”

FAA Investigating Unauthorized Use Of Drones Over Outdoor Sporting Events.

The Washington Post  (11/10, A1, Whitlock) reports on its front page that the FAA is investigating several incidents this fall in which individuals “with small, camera-toting drones have violated airspace restrictions by swooping over large outdoor sporting events.” There have been “at least a half-dozen drone sightings reported at major college and NFL contests since August.” According to FAA officials and aviation experts, “the small drones pose a serious hazard in crowded areas and are an accident waiting to happen near packed stadiums, especially in the hands of untrained amateurs.”

Engineering and Public Policy

TechNet Pushing President To Address Immigration, Work Visas.

The Hill  (11/9, Trujillo) reports that the “tech industry is dialing up the pressure on President Obama over immigration,” calling on him to “free up more work visas” through executive action. Industry group TechNet “said it respected Obama’s decision to delay the immigration moves until after the election, but said the time for action has come. The piece quotes TechNet CEO Linda Moore saying, “We will be engaging in this, yes, in the next couple of months. They know the kinds of things that we would like to see done. And we will definitely reengage on that.”

DOE Announces Funding For Clean Coal Tech Projects.

Roll Call  (11/8, Leonard) reports the Department of Energy last week “selected four projects to develop gasification systems to turn coal into syngas to produce power, chemicals and transportation fuel in processes that produce lower carbon dioxide emissions.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “By partnering with industry on promising pathways for high-efficiency, low-pollution power generation and syngas production, the department is demonstrating its commitment to innovative solutions for growing the economy and using coal while protecting the environment. … Advances in the gasification process will allow industry to develop technologies that may open pathways to carbon use in beneficial new ways while also advancing an important method for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” DOE “said gasification plants can have greater efficiency and environmental performance than conventional coal-fired plants and up to 90 percent of the carbon dioxide can be captured from integrated gasification combined cycle” plants.

FCC Looking To Challenge State Bans On Municipal Broadband.

The New York Times  (11/10, Wyatt, Subscription Publication) reports state laws in 19 states “limit municipalities from building or expanding high-speed Internet service networks.” However, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler “says providing access to broadband Internet is in the public interest” and can therefore “override” those laws. That’s “setting off a heated debate about the federal commission’s authority over states and about whether local governments or private companies should provide the service.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

FedEx Donating 727 To Serve As Aerospace Classroom For Ohio District.

The AP  (11/9) reports that FedEx has donated a decommissioned Boeing 727 to serve as an aviation and STEM classroom in Ohio’s Beavercreek City Schools. The aircraft will be housed at Wright State University, and will “provide training for middle school, high school and post-secondary students in aviation and aerospace and also be used for elementary students.”

Lockheed Martin Gives DC Schools PLTW Program $6 Million STEM Grant.

The Washington Post  (11/8, Chandler) reports that Lockheed Martin is giving the DC school system a $6 million grant “to dramatically expand its science, technology, engineering and math offerings.” The grant will go to Project Lead the Way to “to train teachers and build programs in urban school districts, starting with D.C. Public Schools.”

Program In California Combines Science And Leadership.

The Modesto (CA) Bee  (11/10) reports students in a local junior high school’s AVID college-bound program are teaching science concepts to elementary students in a nearby school. The program focuses on teaching students science lessons and cultivating leadership among the junior high students.

Also in the News

Lockheed Engineer Who Contributed To NASA Missions Wins LGBT Engineer Of The Year Award.

The Denver Post  (11/9, Keeney) reports that Lockheed Martin’s Christine Bland, who has contributed to NASA’s Juno, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter missions, and Orion missions, was given the 2014 LGBT engineer of the year by the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals.

Friday’s Lead Stories


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