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

Leading the News

Obama: Keystone Would Have Only “Nominal Impact” For US.

Reuters  (12/20) reports that President Obama said Friday that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will have “very little impact – nominal impact – on U.S. gas prices,” and that while it would create a “couple thousand” jobs, investing in infrastructure would be a better way to create more long-term jobs.

The Hill  (12/19, Barron-Lopez) reports that Obama stressed that the issue is primarily that Keystone is “not American oil, it is Canadian oil…It’s very good for Canadian oil companies, and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.”

Despite Obama’s comments, Politico  (12/20, Restuccia) reported that the President “declined to say Friday” if he would veto legislation aimed at forcing the project through, which incoming Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has identified as “the GOP’s first order of business come January.”

Higher Education

CSUSB, Crafton Hills College Receive Grants From SCE.

The San Bernardino (CA) Sun  (12/19) reports that Southern California Edison has given Cal State San Bernardino a grant of $80,000 and Crafton Hills College a grant of $15,000 in support of their education programs, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Said SCE’s director of Philanthropy and Community Investment, Tammy Tumbling, “Since 2009, Edison International has given almost $45 million to education programs that help students excel in STEM. Our philosophy of giving is that all people should have opportunities to do well. Together, Edison International and CSUSB hope to promote the inclusion of underrepresented students in the STEM fields.” The article notes that since 2000, SCE “has awarded $334,050 in grants to the Cal State San Bernardino campus” and $59,920 to the university’s Palm Desert Campus since 2005.

Michigan County Tests Five Year High School Dual Enrollment Program.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer  (12/21, Mack) reports that Michigan’s Kalamazoo County is testing a program called Early/Middle Colege that allows students to take college classes for a degree or certificate in a specific program from the area’s community college during a fifth year. Funding for the program will be paid by school districts, and graduates can either begin work as a tradesman or enter a four-year college with enough credits to qualify as a junior. The seven programs currently include several types of associate’s degrees and trade skills based on the area’s demand. President and CEO of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation Carrie Pickett-Erway, whose Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo provided $150,000 in planning funding, said “This is a big moment for the community.”

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The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

Research and Development

Army Contract Awarded To Automated Data Linking Project.

The Augusta (VA) Free Press  (12/20) reports that the US Army Research Office and US Army Engineer Research and Development Center have awarded a $300,000 subcontract to Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering associate professor Chang-Tien Lu to work on an automated mechanism for understanding the information, including “location, identity, organization, and relationship,” captured in news sources. Lu, who will work with two other professors on the project, said that “The goal of this project is to become the gold standard by which the intelligence community measures its analytical decisions and quantitative predictions.” The article notes that the intended data sets are large enough to render linking the information pieces difficult and computing-intensive.

NASA Plans To Launch 13 Earth Science Missions Over Next Seven Years.

Space News  (12/19, Werner, Subscription Publication) reported that Michael Freilich, NASA Earth Science Division director, told the Earth Science Division Town Hall at the recent American Geophysical Union conference that NASA is “reinvigorating” its Earth-observing instrument suite with 13 new missions planned in the coming seven years, two of which launch in January. Freilich said, “We fared reasonably well in the budget. … Things remain relatively stable as they have been over the last several years.” According to the article, NASA cannot exceed this “frenetic pace.” Freilich noted, “We are basically at a point where we can’t support any more solicitations for orbital-type missions at a cadence higher than what we have now without substantially changing the staff of the agency in order to do more review.”

NASA Prioritizing Technology With Near-Term Applications.

The Christian Science Monitor  (12/20, Spotts) listed some of the technology NASA is developing in order to make a mission to Mars possible. These technologies include ion thrusters, laser communication, landing systems. According to the article, James Reuther, deputy associate administrator of programs in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, explained that many those technologies with better “near-term applications” are receiving higher priority. The article noted that the “wider” a technology’s reach, the “sooner” it will be fully developed.

Industry News

US Coal Mine Deaths Nearing An All-Time Low This Year.

The AP  (12/22, Lovan) reports that US coal mines “are on pace for an all-time low in work-related deaths.” There have been “15 coal mining-related deaths.” The previous low was 18 in 2009. While Federal mine safety officials say the decline is due to “their more aggressive use of team inspections at problem sites and other measures, which they say have fostered more responsible behavior below ground,” the AP notes that “the improved record has coincided with a plummet in coal production in Appalachia, leaving far fewer mines operating in a region where many of the worst violators have historically been found.”

Student Received 3-D Printed Hand.

The Denver Post  (12/22, Simpson) reports that Ana Del Hoyo-Quiñones, a Denver Center of International Studies fourth grade student, has received a 3D-printed prosthetic hand. After describing both the girl and her mother’s joy at the experience, not marred by the temporary setback of being provided a left instead of right hand, the article details how the event began when Anne Jacobs, the school principal, saw a social media post about volunteers who make prosthetic hands, which cost about $50 in materials. Clay Guillory, who works for Diversified Machine Systems and runs Titan Robotics Ltd., said about the hand that “It gives you about 60 percent of what you can do with a normal hand. It’s not as precise — you can’t play the piano. But it all depends on how good they get with it.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Boston Shuts Unsafe Old Northern Avenue Bridge.

The Boston Herald  (12/20, Goodison) reports that the Old Northern Avenue Bridge suffered from “structural conditions and deterioration beyond repair” forcing the city to close the bridge that serves as a vital pedestrian link between the Financial District and South Boston’s Seaport District. The Herald states that TranSystems, a transportation consultant brought in by the city, discovered 13 floor beams with a poor rating of “zero-ton” that does not allow for even pedestrian traffic. TranSystems e-mailed a city engineer that the bridge “needs to be closed….this closure should happen immediately (today).” The bridge has been pedestrian only since 1997. There are currently three alternative routes for peds and cyclists to get to the Seaport District. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in the piece that the city is evaluating its options regarding what to do next with the bridge.

DHS To Continue Funding Private Cyber-Security Development Company.

The Washington Post  (12/22, Ravindranath) reports that DHS plans to continue funding the company Kryptowire, which “sells software that can search for security vulnerabilities in mobile applications and archive the results,” so “it can pursue business in the private sector.” The company’s “target market isn’t the federal government” but “tech-savvy, smartphone-using businesses and everyday consumers.” Kryptowire received $250,000 from DHS in 2013 “to create a system that will let government agencies inventory apps they had vetted.” DHS “plans to renew funding so Kryptowire can process more apps designed for consumer use, including from the Google Play, Amazon and iTunes stores, said Vincent Sritapan, program manager for the cybersecurity division of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.”

Citizen Scientists Study Fracking Impact.

NPR  (12/19, Colaneri) reports that “citizen scientists” in shale areas have begun “doing their own field research” into the effects of fracking. The article quotes Julie Vastine, Director of the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, which ran a successful citizen monitoring program of acid rain as saying, “there are limited resources by state agencies, regional agencies to do monitoring, so it’s obvious that we need more boots on the ground to be able to collect water quality data.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Reed Visits Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center.

The Olean (NY) Times Herald  (12/19, Campbell) reported that Rep. Tom Reed, visited the Dresser-Rand Challenger Learning Center on Thursday, his first time there since the facility opened. Reed said, “You read about things, we had some material that was given to us in hard copy, but when you come here and actually sit through the mission, it’s just fun. … It puts science, it puts mathematics into motion and into real life, and you can see from the kids the reaction — comments of ‘Awesome!’ or ‘We’re going to come back many times.’ That’s what it’s all about. Any time you can get that light bulb moment to go off, that’s why (director) Fred Welch and his team over here are doing an outstanding job.” According to the article, Reed believes that a lack of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education is hurting the US’ manufacturers. Reed added that the Challenger Learning Center is a “solution” to that issue.

Rockford, Illinois Expands Its Robotics Programs.

The Rockford (IL) Register-Star  (12/21, Trowbridge) reports on Rockford, Illinois’ development of robotics teams, eventually to be offered to all grade levels K-12. The piece details student participation in various For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) competitions, focusing on the teamwork and collaborative nature of the competitions. The piece features comments from a high school robotics coach and a student, arguing the larger benefits of the program.

Friday’s Lead Stories

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