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

Leading the News

Keystone Pipeline Bill Opposed By Obama, Backed By Landrieu, Falls Short In US Senate.

Proponents of the Keystone pipeline fell one vote short of overcoming a Democratic filibuster against the project. All three network newscasts noted the outcome in the Senate. Many news outlets described the vote as a victory for President Obama – as well as a serious blow to Sen. Mary Landrieu’s already slim chance of retaining her seat. At the opening of MSNBC’s Hardball (11/19), for example, Chris Matthews said, “In the first big battle since the November election, President Obama’s side has prevailed,” while the Washington Times  (11/19, Dinan, Wolfgang) says “environmentalists have emerged triumphant in a divisive internal battle with labor unions.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune  (11/19, Alpert) reports that “some viewed the vote as a last-ditch chance for Landrieu to close a gap with” Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, “the favorite to win the run off,” and, according to the Times-Picayune, Republicans “were quick to say the defeat showed that Landrieu clout falls far short of what she’s been telling voters.”

Meanwhile, other media analyses point out that Republicans were able to take a public stand in favor of a widely popular project and will almost certainly force the President to veto a similar bill next year. For instance, the AP  (11/19) says that ahead of the Senate vote, Republicans “looked like they were in a win-win position, assured of dividing Democrats no matter the outcome, and in a position to force Obama to veto the legislation in the new year if it comes to that.” The vote came one day after the release of a USA Today  poll showing that the public supports the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline by a margin of more than two-to-one.

On the CBS Evening News (11/18, story 9, 2:05, Pelley), Nancy Cordes reported that the Senate vote “drew protests from environmentalists,” while Republicans “universally support the Keystone pipeline.” Sen. Mitch McConnell: “Keystone XL is just common sense. It’s a shovel-ready jobs project that would help thousands of Americans find work.”

On ABC World News (11/18, story 6, 1:00, Muir), David Muir reported that “many argued” that the project “could have created thousands of American jobs.” Correspondent Jonathan Karl went on to report that “proponents say it not only creates jobs, but it could lead to energy independence,” while “environmentalists say this would…contribute to global warming.” In a brief item for NBC Nightly News (11/18, story 5, 0:25, Williams), Brian Williams said, “Had this Senate vote gone the other way, the White House has strongly hinted the President would veto it.”

USA Today  (11/18, Davis) reports that “all 45 Republican senators voted for” the bill, along with 14 Democrats, including Landrieu, and outgoing” Sens. Mark Begich, Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor , and John Walsh.” USA Today says the “additional Democratic votes came from” Sens. Michael Bennet, Tom Carper, Bob Casey, Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester and Mark Warner. USA Today notes that even though it was widely assumed that no more than 59 senators would back the pipeline, Landrieu still said she was “confident she could secure the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill.” But USA Today adds that even “if Landrieu had succeeded, it was likely to be more of a political exercise because White House spokesman Josh Earnest made clear the president does not support the bill, suggesting a likely veto.”

Higher Education

Obama Reportedly Considering Expansion Of DACA, More Visas For STEM Grads.

Bloomberg News  (11/19, Przybyla, Dorning) reported that “according to people familiar with the proposal” the President is mulling to overhaul the immigration system through executive action, some of the illegal immigrants that he may allow to stay in the US indefinitely without threat of deportation are “parents of US citizens and legal permanent residents.” Bloomberg adds that the President “is also likely to include an expansion of” the Deferred Action, “which has given reprieves to 600,000 child immigrants,” as well as “a program that gives work permits…to foreign graduates of US universities with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.” Bloomberg also reported that the President could make his announcement “as soon as Nov. 20.”

According to USA Today  (11/18, Gomez), there is “a nervous, uncomfortable feeling among undocumented immigrants who are happy [Obama] plans to protect some of them but upset that others will be left out.” USA Today adds that some “younger undocumented immigrants who have benefited from the president’s action in 2012 say they feel a sense of guilt over how Obama’s new program could roll out.”

Harkin, Miller Pan ED For Student Loan Default Calculation Changes.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (11/19) reports that Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan Tuesday “criticizing changes the department has made in the way it calculates cohort default rates on student loans,” taking ED “to task for exempting from penalties some colleges with default rates of 30 percent or more.” The piece quotes the letter saying, “With few exceptions, any institution or program where students consistently default over the 30% threshold should not continue to be propped up by taxpayer dollars.”

Report Shows Decline In Graduation Rate For 2008 College Cohort.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (11/19, Mangan) says that, according to a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, only 55 percent of students who entered college in fall 2008 had graduated by May 2014, despite efforts by the White House and colleges to push students to complete their degrees. The graduation rate for full-time, traditional-age students was steady, while the greatest decline was seen for older and part-time students, especially at four-year for-profit colleges. “Those are the very students and sectors that accounted for the largest increases in enrollment during the recession, so it is perhaps not surprising that overall graduation rates slipped,” continues the piece.

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

Tulane Biomedical Engineer Receives Over $3 Million In Federal Grants.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune  (11/18, Soong) “Greater New Orleans” blog reported that Yu-Ping Wang, an associate professor of biomedical engineering and bio statistics and director of bioengineering and bioinformatics at Tulane University in New Orleans, was recently awarded two Federal research grants. The first, awarded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, provides about $1.6 million over five years. The second grant for nearly $2.1 million is from the National Institute of Mental Health. “Wang and his team will use the first grant for multi-scale genomie date data to help them interpret specific genetic risks for osteoporosis, search for potential drug targets, and find new approaches for better prevention and treatment of the disease. With the second grant, they will develop methods of detecting bio makers that can predict mental diseases. This will allow for improved diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Wang said.”

Studying Extraterrestrial Systems May Benefit Human Sustainability.

In a post for io9  (11/18), George Dvorsky considered how the search for extraterrestrial life “could save us from environmental collapse,” drawing heavily on research  published in the journal Anthropocene. Dvorsky wrote that scientists’ efforts to map exactly how humans have contributed to environmental changes is difficult because they have no other planets inhabited by life to compare to. “By studying past extinction events, by using tools to model the future evolutionary trajectory of our own species, and by positing the fate of still unknown alien civilizations, we might be able to inform decisions that might lead to a sustainable future,” he wrote.

Clemson Researchers Developing Self-Healing Materials.

The Greenville (SC) News  (11/17) reports that materials science engineers at Clemson University are developing technology that “promises to endow inanimate objects with life-mimicking healing abilities.” Research led by Marek Urban, who holds the J.E. Sirrine Endowed Chair in materials science and engineering at Clemson, could bring self-healing abilities to “self-healing cloth, military vehicles that patch their own bullet holes and hip replacements that could repair themselves.” The piece notes that the technology is glucose-based.

GSA Business  (11/19) reports that Urban’s breakthrough came “after five years of work with polymers that heal or mend themselves,” adding that Urban “said that while others have worked on self-healing polymers, he has focused on making the technology user friendly for industry.” WSPA-TV  Greenville, SC (11/19) also covers this story.

Industry News

ISAAC Robotic Arm Installed At Langley.

Reinforced Plastics  (11/18) reports that at the Langley Research Center, NASA has installed the Integrated Structural Assembly of Advanced Composites (ISAAC), a “huge robotic arm” with the capability to place carbon fibers and epoxy “in pre-programmed patterns.” Structural mechanics engineer Chauncey Wu said, “We have worked for two years to obtain this precise robotic technology. But we proposed the idea more than six years ago. … It will really make a difference in our ability to understand composite materials and processes for use in aviation and space vehicles.” The article notes that once ISAAC is operational next year, it will be first used by the Advanced Composites Project, which aims to reduce “the amount of time and money it takes to bring new, advanced composites from test tube to vehicles.”

Automakers Debut Several Hydrogen-Powered Vehicles In 2014.

The New York Times  (11/19, Chang, Subscription Publication) reports that hydrogen cars are on the threshold of showroom doors “after many years and billions of dollars of research and development,” with automakers like Ford, Hyundai, and Toyota starting to release hydrogen fuel cell models. The article notes California’s intense efforts to increase the number of hydrogen fueling stations in the state, with the goal of building “the network from nine today to 50 by the end of next year, mostly around Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.” Furthermore, the piece presents former Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s comments on the challenges facing hydrogen fuel vehicles, which center around the need for cheap, “clean hydrogen production.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Feds, Tech Companies Deadlocked Over Phone Encryption.

In a front-page article, the Wall Street Journal  (11/19, A1, Barrett, Yadron, Wakabayashi, Subscription Publication) reports on tensions between Federal law enforcement officials and smartphone manufacturers over the use of encryption technology on mobile devices. While Apple, Google, and others say they are responding to consumer demands for greater data protection, law enforcement officials say the encryption could make it harder to conduct investigations and even put lives at risk. The Journal details the increasingly cool relations between tech companies and Federal law enforcement, highlighting as examples meetings between Apple executives, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, and FBI Director James Comey which led to the current stalemate.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Mother Seeks To Encourage STEM Interest In 9-Month-Old Daughter.

AP  (11/19, Frederick) reports software engineer Kelly Matthews is exposing her 9-month old daughter to STEM themed children’s books to better the chance that she one day pursues a STEM career. The piece is framed within the under-representation of women in STEM fields and the growing belief that early exposure is crucial to encouraging interests in STEM.

New Robotics Station Unveiled At South Carolina Elementary School.

The Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal  (11/17, Fox) reports on the new STEM Star Station at Mary H. Wright Elementary School in Spartangburg County, South Carolina. The pilot center features robotics and computers funded by a $10,500 donation from community partners. The station will serve mostly fourth and fifth graders, as a bridge between elementary and middle school. The piece frames the new center as part of the district’s one-to-one technology initiative, designed to meet the growing demand for STEM jobs. District 7 Superintendent Russell Booker “can’t wait to talk about this makerspace” when he goes to the White House with over 100 school superintendents this Wednesday for President Obama’s “ConnectED to the Future” event.

Also in the News

Retiring Congressman Holt To Head AAAS.

The Hill  (11/19, Wilson) reports that Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), who has a background as a physicist, will lead “a science nonprofit upon retiring from Congress next year.” On Tuesday, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced “that Holt would become its chief executive during the group’s annual meeting in February.” Holt “will be replacing current leader, Alan I. Leshner, who has been at the helm since 2001.”

The Washington Post  (11/18, Achenbach) reports Holt “who served as assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory before becoming a lawmaker, announced this year that he would not seek re-election.”

Other media outlets covering this story include the National Journal  (11/19, Plautz, Foran, Geman, Subscription Publication), Science Magazine  (11/19, Mervis), Scripps Howard News Service  (11/18), the AP  (11/19), Roll Call  (11/19), and Scientific American  (11/19).

Tuesday’s Lead Stories


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