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

Leading the News

IBM To Help Build DOE’s NextGen Supercomputers.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/15, Clark, Subscription Publication) reported that on Friday, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced plans to spend $425 million on supercomputer projects for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory.

Reuters  (11/14, Randewich) reported that under the plan, the Department will spend $325 million on “Summit,” a 150 petaflop supercomputer for Oak Ridge, and “Sierra,” a 100 petaflop supercomputer for Lawrence Livermore. The Department is also allocating $100 million to the FastForward2 program, that will research “extreme scale supercomputing.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle  (11/15, Perlman), the two supercomputers are being developed by IBM, Nvidia, and Mellanox. CNET News  (11/14, Shankland) noted that IBM “will build the overall system using a design that marries main processors from its own Power family with Volta accelerators from Nvidia.”

Science Magazine  (11/15, Service) reported that the “specifications for the new machines are still in flux,” but they are “expected to run at top speeds of between 100 and 300 petaflops,” which is “considered a key milestone toward the goal of creating the first exascale (1018 flops) supercomputer, the next major landmark in high-performance computing.” The article also explained that the Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge “will be open to the scientific community and is expected to run at up to 300 petaflops,” while Sierra, “the Livermore machine, is expected to top out somewhere around 200 petaflops and will be used by the National Nuclear Security Administration to test the safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons.”

Additional coverage of the announcement included Forbes  (11/14, Upbin), the Inquirer (UK)  (11/16, Page), the EETimes  (11/14, Johnson), the Venture Beat  (11/14, Takahashi), and the ZDNet  (11/14, Gagliordi) “Between the Lines” blog, among others.

Lucrative DOE Award Shows Why IBM Paid To Shed Chipmaking Unit. The Albany (NY) Times Union  (11/14, Rulison) continued coverage on IBM’s $1.5 billion deal with GlobalFoundries to take over its chip manufacturing business in Dutchess County and Vermont next year. The article suggested that the DOE’s “$425 million” award to IBM on Friday helps to better understand why the company chose to pay GlobalFoundries to get rid of the unit that was costing it nearly $700 million a year. The Times Union explained that IBM has been able “to redirect those resources toward lucrative, next-generation microelectronics research and development,” which “appears to have helped IBM win the massive government grants.”

Higher Education

WSJournal Criticizes ED’s For-Profit College Rules.

An editorial in the Wall Street Journal  (11/17, Subscription Publication) criticizes ED’s latest rule regarding for-profit colleges, saying it would cut access to Federal student aid for institutions which serve lower-income and minority students. The Journal argues that the rule unfairly targets for-profit institutions while ignoring the high debt and low average earnings of graduates from state and non-profit colleges, and says that despite bipartisan opposition from Congress, the Obama Administration will continue attacking for-profit schools for ideological reasons.

Number Of International Undergrads In US Schools Reaches Record High.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/17, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports that a surge in the number of Chinese undergraduates pushed the total number of international students studying at US schools to a record high of nearly 900,000, an eight percent increase over last year. The piece notes however that this number could fall in coming years because of increased investment in Chinese universities and other factors.

Candidates for ASEE’s Board of Directors
Positions include President; Vice President for Finance; and Vice President for External Relation.

November Prism Online (ASEE members only)
The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

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

Research and Development

Researchers Find New Way To Move Atom-Thin Semiconductors For Use In Flexible Devices.

The Stanly (NC) News Press  (11/17, Drye) reports researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a new technique for transferring single-atom-thick semiconductor films (made of molybdenum sulfide) onto arbitrary surfaces. The new practicality of ultra-thin membranes is crucial to the future of flexible devices. The material challenge is framed such that an atom-thick film with a five centimeter diameter is “equivalent to a piece of paper that is as wide as a large city,” in the words of lead scientist Dr. Linyou Cao. The new technique uses the water repellent properties of the thin films to physically separate and reapply them in only minutes, rather than utilizing a chemical process taking hours.

Amazon Posts Several Jobs For Its Prime Air Drone Delivery Research.

In continuing coverage of Amazon’s job postings for drone-expert positions, TIME  (11/14, Luckerson) reported online that Amazon “posted a job for a flight operations engineer on its Amazon Prime Air drone delivery team” as well as a position for “a flight safety manager.” Although Amazon has become more and more serious about its plans for eventually using UAS to deliver packages, the company has run aground “because the commercial use of drones is heavily regulated by” FAA. Still, the agency’s recent easing of drone operation restrictions for certain companies in the film industry indicates “the way for wider use of the vehicle at businesses such as Amazon.”

The Triangle (NC) Business Journal  (11/14, Lerman, Subscription Publication) reports that FAA is “Amazon’s biggest hurdle to using flying delivery drones,” but “now, the company is hiring people familiar with those government regulations to work on the Prime Air Team.”

Hagel: US Must Look Outside Defense Industry For New Weapons Technologies.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/17, Cameron, Barnes, Subscription Publication) reports that in a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Saturday, Defense Secretary Hagel laid out a set of reforms aimed at overcoming the US military’s waning superiority as China, Russia and other nations develop new weapons technologies, arguing that the US must look outside the defense industry and seek out emerging technologies that can be developed within current budget parameters.

The AP  (11/16, Burns) reports that in announcing the “defense innovation initiative,” Hagel “described a ‘game-changing’ strategy to sharpen American’s military edge in the face of budget impasses on Capitol Hill.” Hagel likened the effort to “historic and successful campaigns during the Cold War to offset the military advantages of US adversaries.”


Chevron’s Efforts To Train Appalachian Workers Noted.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (11/16, Conti) profiled the efforts of Pennsylvania drillers to train young engineering talent in the Marcellus shale as the industry struggles with “a gap between the dwindling number of boomers and a big batch of twentysomethings with high-tech knowledge.” Chevron Appalachia president Nigel Hearne said, “We’ve been working pretty hard over the past … five years, to get past the baby boomer experience level and to fill that gap before it arrives.” The article noted that last month Chevron announced it will contribute $20 million to STEM-related programs for Appalachian high school and college students in order to fill industry jobs.

Industry News

Blog Post Looks At Women Designing Tech Products.

The New York Times  (11/14, DeBaise) “You’re the Boss” blog reports on women who design tech products for women, often inspired by what they would like to see as consumers. Women are better able to consider the female perspective, but they do face barriers, as “Most of the venture capitalists who finance start-ups in the STEM fields are men who don’t always understand or feel comfortable with women-centric technologies.” The blog post highlights cellphone apps and devices that can help diagnose ear infections, detect ovarian cancer, and monitor pregnancies.

Some Northrop Grumman-Built Parts Are Not Fit To Fly On JWST.

The Space News  (11/14, Leone, Subscription Publication) reported that “major elements of the James Webb Space Telescope” (JWST) were declared “unfit for flight” this past year, causing Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems “to rebuild key structural elements.” Still, at a meeting of the National Research Council’s Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics, Eric Smith, JWST’s deputy program manager, said that the telescope is still on track for an October 2018 launch. Detailing what Smith told the committee, the article noted that Congress is now paying “close attention” to the status of the project, with NASA then monitoring Northrop Grumman to make sure all is going to plan. Smith said, “NASA is unhappy with performance and expects everyone on the team to do better,” although the company has been “very proactive.”

Diversity In Wearable Tech Design Translates To Broader Demand.

In its “All Tech Conisdered” blog, NPR  (11/16) reports on calls for greater diversity in the tech industry from Isabelle Olsson, lead designer of Google Glass. The piece focuses on the need for diversity in the design of wearable tech in particular due to its greater aesthetic demands than non-wearable technology. The piece features similar commentary from Maddy Maxey, a Thiel Fellow and co-founder of tech design consultancy The Crated. The piece closes on the increasing popularity of modular designs to allow aesthetic customization.

Engineering and Public Policy

Durbin, Whitehouse Say Obama Likely To Veto Keystone XL Pipeline Bill.

Reuters  (11/17) reports that a pair of Democratic Senators, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, said Sunday that the President is likely to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill if it passes the Senate.

Durbin told CNN’s State Of The Union (11/16) that according to his count, the Keystone XL pipeline proposal “may succeed or prevail on a procedural vote with one or two Senators making a difference.” Durbin also noted that the President is likely to “veto an attempt to preempt the regular process of reviewing the permit for this pipeline.”

On Fox News Sunday (11/16, Wallace), Whitehouse also said the President is likely to veto the measure, adding, “I think it’s important to send that signal. I think the new Republican majority has long despised and denigrated this President. If they can roll him, I think they would like to. I think it’s important for him to set the stage early on this, especially when the stakes are so high.”

Also on Fox News Sunday (11/16, Wallace), Sen. John Thune said of the measure, “This is a cynical attempt to save a Senate seat in Louisiana. If the Democrats were serious about this, we would have voted on it years ago. This thing’s been hanging around now for six years,” and “it’s finally coming to the floor of the United States Senate not because they’re worried about American jobs, but because they’re worried about the job of a Senator from Louisiana.”

In an editorial, the New York Times  (11/17, Subscription Publication) blasts Congress over the Keystone pipeline, saying that the votes “are almost entirely acts of political theater, designed in the House to favor the extractive industries, and in the Senate to prop up the troubled runoff election campaign of Mary Landrieu.” The Times notes the White house’s suggestion that the President “will veto any bill that passes,” and argues that he should, because the decision on the pipeline “is his to make, not Congress’s.”

Matthews: Pipeline Passage Is Imminent Regardless Of Veto. The Washington Times  (11/17, Chasmar) reports that MSNBC host Chris Matthews said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that regardless of a veto from the President, “passage of the Keystone XL pipeline is imminent.” Matthews noted, “I think this time around he’ll veto it. But it’s going to come back again and time again.” Asked if it is a mistake for him to veto it, Matthews said, “Well, he may feel he has to do it for his environmental supporters, but it’s not going to stop it. … It’s going to happen. It will happen. It’ll happen either this year or next year or after … because the country wants jobs, and energy is always a primary concern of the American people.”

Pipeline’s Fate Could Be Up To Nebraska Public Service Commission. The AP  (11/17, Schulte) reports that the fate of the pipeline may end up in the hands of the Nebraska Public Service Commission. Nebraska’s Supreme Court is expected rule soon on whether the obscure panel, which “regulates telephones, taxi cabs and grain bins,” must “review the pipeline before it can cross the state, one of six on the pipeline’s route.” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman approved the pipeline in January 2103 without consulting the panel and a district court ruled in February “that a law that gave Heineman the authority to approve the project ran afoul of Nebraska’s constitution.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Teachers Teaching Data Analysis In Elementary School.

The Washington Post  (11/14, Ravindranath) reports on a “growing movement of educators” that are focusing on teaching students how to collect and analyze data to fill the shortage of STEM professionals. The lesson plans focus on gathering real-world data, and teachers are implementing data literacy lessons in grades as early as Pre-K. For example, one fifth grade class is using wage data in their social studies classes to examine policy issues.

New Math Criteria Has Parents And School Districts Worried.

The Dallas Morning News  (11/15) reports that the Texas State Board of Education is adding a discussion on the state’s math standards over a “widespread” but “not universal” outcry over the state’s new math standards. Some people argue that the new standards “demand too much of young students” while an education official noted that for every complaint they receive there are reports that things are OK. This is the first year for the new standards, which introduce some concepts in much earlier grades and have resulted in frustration from teachers, parents, and local officials.

LEGO Club Gets Students Motivated About STEM Careers.

The Tulsa (OK) World  (11/17) reports on a Junior FIRST LEGO League event that was held Saturday at a local high school. The article notes that the club has served to increase students’ interest in STEM education and careers, and has worked to increase the number of females participating in STEM activities.

Arkansas Law Mandating High School Students Take Digital Courses Goes Into Effect.

The AP  (11/17, Bernet) reports a 2013 Arkansas law is going into effect, mandating all high school students take at least one digital course to better prepare them for similar experiences in college and job training programs. The measure is compared to those in Colorado, Alabama, Michigan, Tennessee, and New Mexico. The state Education Department has approved 22 online course providers and over 500 courses, with concurrent offerings from a half-dozen Arkansas universities and colleges. The measure is contextualized within the increasing presence of technology in education and the expansion of the online education industry.

Friday’s Lead Stories


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