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

Leading the News

NASA To Launch Orion Test Flight On Thursday.

Coverage of NASA’s upcoming Orion test flight continued. The AP  (12/4, Dunn) reports that, with the upcoming Thursday 4½-hour test flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, the agency “is on a high not felt since the space shuttle days.” The capsule will “fly farther than any human-rated spacecraft since the Apollo moon program” and test components “including the heat shield, parachutes and all the sections jettisoned during ascent and entry,” as well as the effect of the high-radiation Van Allen belts on the on-board computers. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden Jr. said, “For the first time in more than 40 years, this nation is going to launch a spacecraft intended to carry humans beyond low-Earth orbit. That’s a big deal.” Mike Sarafin, the lead flight director stationed at Mission Control in Houston, said, “We haven’t had this feeling in a while, since the end of the shuttle program.”

SPACE  (12/4, Kramer) reports officials predict a 70 percent chance of good weather for the launch window. Once in flight, there will be live imagery from Orion’s onboard cameras

ABC News  (12/4) reports, “Bolden says there’s a lot riding on tomorrow’s $370 million test flight,” saying, “Tomorrow morning is a very critical mission for us.” He added, “We will have accomplished a major milestone of this program of sending humans, one of these days, to Mars.”

CNN  (12/3, Barnett) reports Orion will reach an altitude of 3,600 miles as it orbits Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. The amphibious transport dock ship USS Anchorage and the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Salvor will recover the capsule. In a throwback to the Apollo-era, Gene Kranz, flight director for Apollo 11 during the first landing on the moon and for the return of the Apollo 13 crew “will be a VIP in Mission Control at Johnson Space Center in Houston when Orion is launched.”

Higher Education

Controversy, Pushback Precede ED College Rating System.

The Los Angeles Times  (12/4, Gordon) reports that even before ED releases its anticipated college rating system, “it has triggered an avalanche of protests and nitpicking” from colleges and lobbyists, and from congressional Republicans. The piece reports that while the Administration says the system would help prospective students make better decisions about how they spend their college money, critics say it would rely on flawed data and could “hurt schools that serve large numbers of low-income and minority students and those that tend to produce more teachers and police officers than investment bankers and doctors.” The Times reports that Deputy Under Secretary Jamienne Studley “acknowledged that the mystery and delays have added to the sensitivity,” quoting her saying, “We invited not just speculation but caused some anxiety. And for that we apologize.”

More Hispanics Earning Engineering, Physical Sciences Degrees.

HealthDay  (12/4) reports that according to a new report from the American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center, “the number of Hispanic students receiving bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences and engineering has increased over the last decade or so, passing 10,000 degrees per year for the first time in 2012.” While the overall number of such degrees also rose, “it increased faster among Hispanics.”

CFPB’s Chopra’s Public Style Causing Friction With Student Loan Firms.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/4, Subscription Publication) reports that the style of Rohit Chopra, CFPB student-loan ombudsman, of publicly applying pressure on lenders is causing friction. The Journal notes that this style is a departure from other regulators, and that the CFPB has been at odds with private student lenders on several issues surrounding student debt.

#ASEEYoADiversity TEDx Talk: “As an African American child, society may not have viewed me as belonging in technology.” Professor Andrew B. Williams

ASEE Members Named Professors of the Year
Sheri Sheppard of Stanford University and John Wadach of Monroe Community College are two of the four 2014 U.S. Professors of the Year.

November Prism Online – Now Open to Public
The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

Research and Development

Stanford Researchers Developing Adhesive, Ultra-Thin Solar Panels.

The National Geographic  (12/4, Daugherty) reports on the work of Stanford University researcher Xiaolin Zheng, who aims to create flexible solar panels adherable to surfaces such as cars or the walls of buildings. The piece describes the inspiration for the project, the development of a technique for producing cost-effective panels only a few microns thick (using a water-separation technique inspired by graphene research), and potential applications.

New Project Will Research Materials Found In Nature For Safe Nuclear Waste Storage.

The Easley Progress (SC)  (12/4) reports that a team led by Clemson University’s Kyle Brinkman hopes to develop materials more stable than glass in isolating nuclear waste, broadening disposal options and lowering storage and costs. The team will focus on “crystalline ceramic that will be based on naturally occurring minerals that endure for millions of years,” and their research “is aimed at giving policymakers the data they need to weigh options as they decide whether to recycle used nuclear fuel from commercial power plants.” The US Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy University Programs recently granted $800,000 towards the three-year project. Collaborators are “Rajendra K. Bordia, chairman of Clemson’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Kenneth L. Reifsnider of the University of South Carolina; Wilson K.S. Chiu of the University of Connecticut; and James C. Marra of Savannah River National Laboratory.” Bordia said it will strengthen ties between Clemson and Savannah River National Laboratory.


Surveys Indicate 46% Of US CEOs Struggle To Find Skilled Workers.

Reuters  (12/4) reports surveys by Business Roundtable and Change the Equation of 126 companies found that 46% of CEOs reported problems with skills shortage, while another 6% described the issue as highly problematic. Two-fifths of the companies’ job openings required advanced STEM knowledge. The piece frames the human capital shortage as an issue relatively unique to the US.

Engineering and Public Policy

Movement Of Oil Trains Generally Not Coordinated With Local Officials, Public.

In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal  (12/4, A1, Gold, Subscription Publication) reports that finding information on the locations of oil-carrying trains that have become increasingly common following the shale boom is extremely challenging. Even when states don’t consider the information top secret, there are no Federal or state rules that require public notice of the trains’ presence despite several disasters in recent years.

Feinstein Calls For Cuts To US Nuclear Arsenal.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post  (12/4, Feinstein), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) argues that today, the US nuclear stockpile is “competing for limited defense spending, money that could be used to address more pressing challenges.” She argues that the US is “holding far more nuclear weapons than are necessary, and the cost is undermining other national security priorities.” She argues that the US should cut its stockpile of 4,804 weapons, particularly the 3,204 backup weapons.

Professor Highlights Poorly Stored Atomic Waste On Pacific Islands. In an op-ed for the New York Times  (12/4, Gerrard, Subscription Publication), Michael B. Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia, writes that waste stemming from Atomic tests in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific is poorly contained, and could be scattered into the environment by rising sea levels or a serious typhoon.

Elementary/Secondary Education

West Virginia University Receives $1.5 Million To Train STEM Educators.

The AP  (12/4, AP) reports the National Math and Science Initiative has provided $1.5 million to West Virginia University toward the training of secondary school teachers in STEM fields. The program is set to launch next spring.

Exxon Mobil CEO Says US STEM Education “Falling Behind.”

The Dallas Morning News  (12/3) reports that Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson said the US is “falling behind” other nations when it comes to math and science education at the determent to the American workforce. “I don’t think the (K-12) schools really realize that we’re their customer. They need to produce students with skills that allow them to get a job. If they don’t, they are essentially producing a defective product. And in this case, the product is a human being. It’s tragic.” Tillerson made his remarks as part of a panel which featured other prominent CEOs.

Exxon CEO Defends Common Core, Calls For Higher Education Standards. The Dallas (TX) Morning News  (12/3) reported that Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson expressed support for the Common Core Standards and criticized politicians who distort it at a quarterly meeting of the Business Roundtable. A major focus of the meeting of CEOs was the lack of technical skills among the labor force, according to the article. “I’m extraordinarily disappointed in my home state,” Tillerson said of Texas lawmakers who oppose the Common Core. “I don’t think the schools realize that we’re their customer. They need to produce students with skills that allow them to get a job. If they don’t, they are essentially producing a defective product. And in this case, the product is a human being. It’s tragic.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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