Leading the News
High Labor Costs Stifle US Petrochemical Boom.
Bloomberg News (12/10, Martin, Kaskey) reported “the growing surplus of cheap natural gas from shale drilling is driving a boom in the US chemical industry, which uses gas as a raw material for plastics, fertilizer and paints. Plans by chemical companies to build or expand 215 plants worth $133 billion in the US, however, are overwhelming the construction work force in the primarily rural areas where they would be located, boosting costs and causing delays.” The article also reported that $100 an hour labor costs caused a Methanex Corp. petrochemical plant in Louisiana to run $300 million over budget. The article included interviews with petrochemical executives over the higher than expected labor costs across the US.
Opinion: Benefits Of Fossil Fuels Outweigh Negatives. The Orange County (CA) Register (12/9) published an op-ed by engineering-IT professional Ron Stein that argued “the availability of cheap, plentiful, reliable, scalable and dependable supplies of fossil fuels has industrialized the world and improved every aspect of the lives of billions of people worldwide.” Stein expounded upon the virtues of energy and concluded, “rather than continuing to attack the energy industry with over regulations, over taxation, and uncontrollable fees…it’s appropriate to express loudly and proudly our gratitude for the tremendous benefits of our energy driven civilization toward those fossil fuel companies for what they have done for us as the benefits far, far outweigh the negatives.”
Student Loan Guarantee Agencies Adjusting To End Of Government-Backed Loans.
Inside Higher Ed (12/9) reports that in the wake of the Federal government’s 2010 decision to eliminate government-backed private student lending, student loan guarantee agencies “faced an uncertain future” and have “been trying to diversify in recent years.” The article quotes National Council of Higher Education Resources President James P. Bergeron saying, “A lot of guarantors are going through a strategic plan process. They have no choice but to look at their business models.” The piece notes that experts say that while state-run agencies can “fall back on operating grant aid programs, tuition repayment plans or other state-based functions,” nonprofit guarantors “will eventually need to reinvent themselves.” One example given is ECMC’s decision “to spend $24 million to buy 56 campuses from Corinthian Colleges, a failing for-profit chain.”
Texas Officials Address Rising Tuition, Student Loan Debt.
The Dallas Morning News (12/9) reports that outgoing Texas Comptroller Susan Combs “released an interactive, online report about the growing burden of rising tuition and debt for public college students in Texas” this week. Hours later, the Morning News reports, state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R) “filed legislation to freeze tuition and fees at state universities and create a sales tax holiday for purchases of college textbooks.” The piece explains that Combs’ report “examines the results of the Legislature’s 2003 decision to deregulate tuition and that decision’s convergence with national trends, which also were very unfriendly to prospective college students.”
Research and Development
NIH Supports Co-Robotics Research.
Roll Call (12/9, Zanona) reports in its “Healthopolis” blog that the National Institutes of Health are supporting efforts to “help make ‘co-robotics’ – robots that work cooperatively with people in movement and rehabilitation – a reality.” It is supporting the Interagency National Robotics Initiative to fund research in the area, which is also supported by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Agriculture Department.
Drexel Researchers Develop Clay-Like Supercapacitor Material.
Noting that in recent years, engineers have been developing devices that combine the large capacity of batteries with the rapid-charging attributes of capacitors, the Philadelphia Inquirer (12/10, Avril) reports that “Drexel University engineers report they have developed a flexible material that could be used in next-generation” supercapacitors. In research published in the journal Nature, Drexel researchers describe the conductive titanium carbide material as being “moldable, like clay.”
NIH Funds Robot Research To Help Disabled Patients.
Roll Call (12/9, Zanona) reports in its “Healthopolis” blog that the National Institutes of Health are supporting efforts to “help make ‘co-robotics’ – robots that work cooperatively with people in movement and rehabilitation – a reality.” It is supporting the Interagency National Robotics Initiative to fund research in the area, which is also supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the Agriculture Department.
Super Guppy Bringing Fuselage To Langley For Testing.
The Newport News (VA) Daily Press (12/9, Dietrich) reported that on Wednesday, “NASA’s unique B377SGT Super Guppy Transport cargo plane” will be bringing a fuselage for “futuristic hybrid wing body aircraft” from California to the Langley Research Center for testing. The tests will examine whether a “revolutionary carbon-fiber material” can survive typical flight loads. The composite, called the Pultruded Rod Stitched Efficient Unitized Structure (PRSEUS), could help future aircraft “reduce fuel consumption, noise levels and emissions” by being lighter than materials used on aircraft today.
Some Concerned About Spaceport America’s Financial Future.
The Wall Street Journal (12/9, Frosch, Subscription Publication) reports on Spaceport America’s financial setback following Virgin Galactic’s fatal accident back in October. With the company not starting space tourists flights next year as expected, some are concerned by how the spaceport will function with out Virgin Galactic’s fees. According to the article, there is rising levels of frustration from local residents for broken promises and local officials, who believe that Spaceport America is not prepared for any negative happenstance.
Al Jazeera America (12/9, Martin) similarly reports on the concerns over Spaceport America’s future in an article largely focusing on optimistic comments from Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. Whitesides, who said that the company has signed on a “substantial amount of people” for trips since the accident, added that he believes New Mexico’s investment in Spaceport America should turn out to be “productive.”
Boeing 747-8 Production To Decrease Due To Low Demand.
The Wall Street Journal (12/9, Ostrower, Subscription Publication) reported that because of low demand, Boeing announced Tuesday that it will cut 747-8 production to 1.3 plane per month starting in September 2015. According to the article, customers have decided to go with smaller planes.
Some 777X Work Heading To Philadelphia. The Everett (WA) Herald (12/9, Catchpole) “Aerospace” blog reported that in January, Boeing will shift “a small, but important set of 777X engineering work,” the 777X Environmental Control Systems — Thermal Analysis Engineering Work, from Puget Sound to Philadelphia, “where similar work is done on the 787.” The article noted that this adjustment will not include a transfer of personnel as well.
Engineering and Public Policy
WSJournal Analysis: Keystone Opposition Serves As Template To Challenge Other Pipeline Projects.
In a front-page story, the Wall Street Journal (12/10, A1, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that the successful opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline has emboldened opponents of at least 10 other pipeline projects in North America. Using the opposition to Keystone as a model, national green groups are allying with local activists in an effort to prolong government reviews of proposed pipelines and their environmental impact. This has resulted in delays for six oil and natural gas pipeline projects, while another four have faced significant opposition but have not been delayed.
Senate Democrats Push For Stronger Power Plant Regulations.
The Hill (12/10, Barron-Lopez) reports that “a group of Senate Democrats are pressuring the administration to make its controversial climate regulation on carbon pollution from existing power plants stronger.” In a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, “the senators called on the administration to strengthen the requirements in its proposed rule and finalize a much stronger one that would result in steeper reductions to greenhouse gas emissions.” The letter, which was signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley, said, “While the emission reduction goals of the Clean Power Plan are laudable, we believe that with modest changes to reflect real-world market and technological conditions, the plan can, and should, achieve even greater emissions reductions.”
EPA Regional Admin Responds To Comments On EPA Clean Power Plan. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (12/10, Content) reports that Susan Hedman, the EPA’s Midwest regional administrator met in Milwaukee to discuss EPA’s plan to reduce power plant carbon dioxide emissions and stated that she was “perplexed” by the fact that Wisconsin doesn’t “see economic opportunity” to increase in-state renewable energies instead of relying on out-of-state coal imports. Wisconsin Utilities and staff of Gov. Scott Walker asked that the state “receive credit for steps already taken” and claimed the rule would “hurt the state.” Walker also questioned the “legality of rule” and its” effect on customers’ energy bills.” Hedman countered a statement that the plan “was tantamount to a national energy policy constructed by a regulatory agency” by stating it was only “a small component of an energy policy.”
Revesz: Tribe Wrong On Constitutionality Of Clean Power Plan. Writing an op-ed for The Hill (12/10, Revesz) “Pundits Blog,” NYU School of Law Dean Emeritus Richard Revesz, who also directs the Institute for Policy Integrity at NYU “which filed comments last week in support of the Clean Power Plan,” criticized Laurence Tribe for having “joined the world’s largest private-sector coal company, Peabody Energy, in an attack on the Obama administration’s most significant effort to combat climate change,” the Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions at the nation’s power plants. Revesz observed that Peabody retained Tribe for “his independent analysis as a scholar of constitutional law” rather than for traditional counseling, “implying that he is acting as an independent expert and not as the company’s lawyer.”
DOE Considering New Standards For Fans, Blowers.
The Hill (12/10, Devaney) reports the Energy Department “is considering new energy conservation standards for commercial and industrial fans and blowers.” The DOE “in advance of a proposed rule” has “released an analysis estimating the energy savings and economic impact of such a rule.” The agency “is still considering whether or not to propose the rules.”
Hopes For Renewable Ocean Power Dims As Companies Withdraw.
The Bloomberg BusinessWeek (12/9, Matlack) reports the marine power companies around the world are “going out of business” because ocean generated power “is tougher and more expensive than people thought.” Cost are driven up “as much as four times” that of coal generation because of special vessels and equipment needed to withstand the “incredibly harsh environment,” according to Angus McCrone, Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. Although not all companies are giving ups, McCrone states the withdrawal of Siemens “will affect confidence” in marine-power.
ASEE Website Listed Among Those To Get Kids Interested In Technology.
Information Week (12/10) reports runs a list of eight “fun” STEM websites, “many of them available free of charge to students, parents, and teachers alike.” Among the entries, Information Week lists Engineering, Go For It. Noting that it was created by the American Society for Engineering Education, the article notes that the website’s “aim is to foster educational and pre-professional interest in engineering and other STEM subjects from kindergarten through high school.”
Math For Drones, Self-Driving Cars Wins Top Student Science Award.
LiveScience (12/10, Lewis) reports that “twenty of the nation’s brightest high school students” visited Washington, DC for the 15th annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology at The George Washington University. “The finalists of six regional Siemens Competitions took part in the national science competition. The keynote speakers at this year’s event included Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and NASA aeronautical engineer Aprille Ericsson, among other science and tech leaders.”
Obama Supports Computer Science Through “Hour Of Code” Program.
The Wilmington (NC) Star News (12/9, Roberts) reports on Forest Hills Global Elementary School’s participation in the Hour of Code program, providing students iPad access to play interactive coding games. The piece includes comments from the North Carolina school’s media specialist, expressing initial skepticism followed by surprise at how well students took to the educational coding apps. The piece also includes comments from a third grade student competing with her brother in kindergarten, as well as an endorsement of the early exposure from their mother.
Concerns Raised Over Tech Industry’s Increasing Influence In Education. Politico (12/9, Grasgreen) reports on concerns raised over the motives underlying tech-companies’ growing involvement in public education, following the announcement of the Obama Administrations’ $30 million, tech-funded PR campaign. In particular, the lack of testing on Code.org courses entering tens of thousands of classrooms are also cause for alarm as states push for computer science graduation mandates.
Bosch Community Fund Gives Nearly $500,000 To Support South Carolina STEM Education.
The Anderson (SC) Independent-Mail (12/10) reports the Bosch Community Fund donated $115,000 all five Anderson County school districts in support of STEM education by funding engineering competitions, iPad purchases, professional development, and educational programs. The fund also gave $250,000 in awards for the Tri-County Technical College Foundation First Robotics team and the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics Foundation. Another $10,000 went to Sadler’s Creek State Park to create educational signage.
Pacific University Receives $580,000 Grant To Grow Elementary School STEM Programs.
The Oregonian (12/10, O’Halloran) reports the Oregon Department of Education Title IIB Math and Science Partnerships has given $580,198 to support a STEM elementary education partnership between Pacific University’s College of Education and the University of Oregon’s Department of Physics. The three-year grant will offer over 300 hours of professional development to 32 teachers and administrators, strengthening STEM education for more than 3,000 fourth and fifth grade students in the Salem-Keizer, Tigard-Tualatin, Woodburn, Molalla River, Silver Falls and Central School Districts. The program will especially benefit English language learners.
North Carolina County Schools Awarded Verizon Foundation Grants Toward STEM Instruction.
The Fayetteville (NC) Observer (12/10, Pritchard) reports three “under-served” Harnett County, North Carolina schools have been awarded $20,000 Verizon Foundation grants to boost STEM instruction. Nationally, 80 schools received such grants. Funds will be used toward professional development or new technologies, such as 3D printing, robotics, or coding. Schools were defined as “under-served” if at least 70% of students qualified for lunch subsidies.
High School Scholars Offered STEM College Credit Through Grand Canyon University.
The Arizona Republic (12/9, Rivers) reports on the participation of Grand Canyon University President Brian Mueller at the second White House College Opportunity Summit, held to encourage colleges and universities to create programs targeting low-income students and STEM majors. The school’s STEM Scholars program allows high-school juniors and seniors with 3.25 GPAs to receive up to 32 credits for free while in high school, essentially allowing for students to pursue three-year STEM degrees. Mueller hopes to reach 650 students in 10 school districts by the end of next year.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Hour Of Code Events Teach Computer Science.
• Presence Of E-Sports On College Campuses Rising Rapidly.
• Sandia Lab Project Studying How Aging Electronics In Nuclear Weapons Affect Performance.
• New York Startup Working With Army To Generate 3D Images To Fit Women With Body Armor.
• Report Shows Los Angeles Unprepared For Massive Earthquake.
• Advocate Calls For Increased Computer Education In California Schools.