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

Leading the News

Solar Advocates Call For GOP To Keep Solar-Friendly Laws.

The AP  (11/20, Dalesio) reports solar energy advocates urged the soon-to-be Republican majority General Assembly in North Carolina to preserve tax credits and a law requiring utilities to generate 12.5 percent of retail sales from “efficiency efforts or renewable sources.” RTI International released a report stating “$2.7 billion was invested in North Carolina clean energy development,” an amount 20 times greater than the tax credits issued. Opponents, led by Rep. Mike Hager (R), a former Duke Energy engineer, called for the removal of “subsidies for alternative power industries,” though not all Republicans followed suit. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D) said the GOP probably won’t expand the alternative energy tax credits but could continue to allow “sales of electricity generated by rooftop solar arrays.”

NASA’s ACTE Project Develops Aircraft Wings That Change Shape.

CNN  (11/20, Patterson) reports that NASA’s Adaptive Complaint Trailing Edge (ACTE) project “could radically change the way airliners look and, more importantly, save hundreds of millions of dollars a year in fuel costs” by “developing wings that change shape in response to flight conditions and weather.” The material would allow aircraft wings “to change shapes without hinges.” The article also notes that NASA has developed a number of other technologies people who regularly fly on commercial airliners often take for granted. According to the article, ACTE is among “the list of NASA innovations that have made air travel safer and more convenient.”

Higher Education

Corinthian To Sell 68 Schools To Nonprofit ECMC Group.

The AP  (11/20, Press) reports that Corinthian Colleges Inc. has announced that it is selling 68 of its campuses under the Everest and WyoTech brands to the nonprofit ECMC Group, and that the deal will “allow more than 39,000 students to continue attending class.” The AP reports this story within the context of ED’s gainful employment rules and recent increased Federal regulation of the for-profit industry. The article also explains that Corinthian struck a deal with ED in July to sell off its schools.

Identifying ECMC Group as a student loan servicer, Bloomberg News  (11/21, Staiti, Mcdonald) reports that the firm will pay $24 million for the schools. Bloomberg explains that the deal to sell off Corinthian’s campuses came after ED “imposed a 21-day delay on its access to federal aid, creating a cash crisis.” Meanwhile, attorneys general in some 20 states “are investigating the company for its recruiting, lending and marketing practices,” and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has sued the firm. Bloomberg notes parenthetically that ED “has been criticized for its relationship with debt collection companies” like ECMC.

The Los Angeles Times  (11/21, Kirkham) reports that the deal comes “after months of uncertainty about the fate of its schools,” and “would affect nearly 40,000 students across 17 states.” The Times reports that Corinthian has been in Federal and state officials’ “crosshairs” over “allegations that the company falsified student job-placement rates and misled prospective students into taking on too much debt.” This piece also notes ED’s having restricted access to Federal student aid to the school, and reports that student advocates question ECMC’s lack of experience in running schools. However, Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said that ED supports the deal, quoting him saying, “Thousands of students can now rest assured that they will be able to pursue their education and have more stability in the midst of this school year.”

UC Regents Pass Tuition Hike Amid Student Protests.

The New York Times  (11/21, Pérez-Peña, Subscription Publication) reports that the Board of Regents for the University of California gave final approval Thursday “to a contentious plan to raise tuition steadily over five years.” The Times reports that students–deeming the increase unaffordable–have staged protests at UC campuses. The piece notes that Gov. Jerry Brown opposed the plan, and that both sides of the issue “cast blame on each other…insisting that it is defending the quality and affordability of one of the world’s great public universities.”

The Los Angeles Times  (11/21, Gordon) reports that the final impact on real costs for students won’t be determined until after “months of political wrangling and budget negotiations,” noting that “students could pay as much as 28% more over five years, depending on state funding.” The piece notes that UC President Janet Napolitano is facing strong criticism from fellow Democrats over her support for the increase.

Inside Higher Ed  (11/20), the Wall Street Journal  (11/21, Korn, Subscription Publication), and Reuters  (11/21, Bernstein) also cover this story.

ASEE Member Named Professor of the Year
Sheri Sheppard of Stanford University is one of four 2014 U.S. Professors of the Year.

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.

Research and Development

Research Promises Innovations In Secure Mobile Communications.

Phys  (11/21) reports Dr. Zhang Yixin of Nanjing University in China talks about the development of a portable, true number generator for personal encryption applications, utilizing only a smartphone camera. Applications include mobile e-payment, private calling, and cryptographic data transmission for smartphones and laptops. While communication protocols, such as secret keys, still need to be developed, “all necessary processing functions could be fully integrated with Android software in the near future.” Similar technologies have required photon counters, which cost thousands, and have applications limited to academic or professional use.

New Technique Allows Ultrasound To Penetrate Bone, Metal.

HealthCanal  (11/21, Shipman) reports North Carolina State University researchers have developed metamaterials that reduce the acoustic aberration of ultrasound caused by dense materials such as bone or metal. The technology has applications in brain imaging (by permeating the skull to identify tumors or blood flow issues), or industrial settings (by identifying anomalies in metal, such in the wing of an airplane). In simulations, ultrasound penetration improved from 28% to 88%. Physical prototypes are currently in testing.

Berkeley Lab Team Aims To Build A Better Battery.

In an article about some of the “ambitious goals of the $120 million, Department of Energy-funded Joint Center for Energy Storage Research” partnership, which is led by “Argonne National Laboratory and including Lawrence Berkeley Lab, Sandia National Laboratories and a host of universities and private companies,” the San Jose (CA) Mercury News  (11/21, Thomas) reports that “in January, the center’s Berkeley hub is moving into the lab’s new $54 million General Purpose Laboratory, bringing its battery scientists, chemists and engineers together under one roof for the first time.” The team, led by the deputy director of JCESR Venkat Srinivasan, “aims to achieve revolutionary advances in battery performance – creating devices with up to five times the energy capacity of today’s batteries at one-fifth the cost by 2017.”

Industry News

What The Pentagon’s Latest Call For Innovation Could Mean For Contractors.

In the wake of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s call on contractors to innovate, known as the Defense Innovation Initiative, the Washington Post  (11/20, Jayakumar) considers what this could mean for industry. Though Hagel did not say how much money the Pentagon plans to spend on the program, the Post says the initiative seeks “to set up a research and development arm to explore cutting-edge technologies and systems that the military should invest in, such as 3-D printing, robotics, and big data.” The Post goes on to say that analysts believe “contractors may be slow to embrace the initiative” due to the lack of details. Roman Schweizer, a defense policy analyst at Guggenheim Securities, is cited explaining that defense firms will not likely invest in the technologies “until there is a better understanding of the payoff.” Meanwhile, Schweizer said he believes smaller companies will likely benefit more from the program in the short term, adding that “The push for innovative technology could also spur more big defense companies to acquire small ones.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Obama Immigration Plan Protects Recent Foreign-Born US Graduates For Tech Industry.

Bloomberg News  (11/21, Miller, Hu) reports on President Obama’s expansion of the Optional Practical Training program, which allows foreign citizens with US STEM degrees to remain in the US for up to 29 months. The piece includes comments calling the measure a temporary solution; though H1-B visa expansions are a more permanent legislative fix, they are unlikely without Congressional support. While companies like Intel and Twitter capitalize on the program, the piece includes several criticisms of the “Band-Aid” program for driving down the wages of recent graduates and expelling them after they’ve gained professional experience.

Nebraska Landowners’ Suit May Settle Keystone’s Fate.

The Wall Street Journal  (11/21, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that while the center of gravity of the Keystone XL debate has been in Washington, its fate may actually be settled in Nebraska, where angry landowners are suing to challenge the state law that the government used to approve the pipeline’s course through their land. The Nebraska Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the next few weeks.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Batavia, Kaneland Could Join AU STEM School.

The Chicago Tribune  (11/20) reports that “two school districts have expressed interest in joining Aurora University’s partnership school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.” Batavia School District 101 and Kaneland School District 302 “sent letters of interest recently to Sherry Eagle, the executive director of Aurora University’s Institute for Collaboration and a member of the John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School’s governing board.” The school opened this year “with the goal of teaching students about STEM and how it’s used in the real world so they may go on to study those fields at higher levels and bring their expertise to the area’s labs and industries in need of skilled workers.” Batavia’s Superintendent Lisa Hichens “said Batavia’s ‘deep connection to the scientific community’ would benefit the school’s students and staff, citing the district’s long-standing partnership with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and businesses such as Flinn Scientific.”

South Carolina High School Students Experience Federal Mobile Science Lab.

The Spartanburg (SC) Herald-Journal  (11/21, Fox) reports that the Greenwood Genetic Center’s Gene Machine, a 41-foot mobile science lab funded by a grant from the National Human Genome Research Institute, was visited by South Carolina’s Landrum High School’s honors science classes on Thursday. “The mobile science lab helps students learn about genetic traits and disorders, understand lab techniques used in making a diagnosis and consider the ethical implications of scientific testing.”

Texas Board Of Education Hears About Frustrations Over State’s New Math Standards.

The Dallas Morning News  (11/20) reports a Texas State Board of Education committee heard from teachers, parents, and school administrators who “expressed frustration with the difficulties” of the state’s new math standards. The committee members looked for ways to reduce the use of math standardized tests to evaluate districts, but Federal state laws require the tests.

President Obama Makes Plug For Science And Math Education During Ceremony.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer  (11/20, Superville) reports President Obama awarded the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to 19 scientists, researchers, and innovators at a ceremony on Thursday. During the event, Obama took the opportunity “to plug math and science education, particularly for minority students” and noted efforts by groups to increase the number of STEM teachers in schools.

West Virginia Team Finds Success With Robotic League.

The Fayette (WV) Tribune  (11/21) reports on the success of a FIRST LEGO League robotics team from an after-school program in Fayette, West Virginia. The team learned how to program a robot and build working relationships in order to win a local competition and successfully qualify for the state competition. The students and instructors commented that they enjoyed the STEM focused curriculum of the program.

Thursday’s Lead Stories


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