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

Leading the News

Environmentalists, Some Experts Disagree On Value Of Natural Gas To Reducing Emissions.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23, Schwartz, Subscription Publication) reports that while environmentalists say natural gas “is accelerating climate change and sapping the urgency to promote energy efficiency and developing renewable energy sources like wind and solar power,” energy experts “suggest that natural gas has an important role to play in reducing carbon emissions.” The Times notes that “recent studies suggest the effects of relying on natural gas and expanding its use will provide no lasting benefit to the environment compared with burning coal unless policies are enacted to hasten the adoption of renewable technologies — to make the bridge a short one.”

LATimes: Reduction Of Methane From Cattle Should Be Required. In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22) writes that one of the “many giveaways” in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill is that it “specifically barred the federal government from requiring cattle operations to report greenhouse gas emissions from manure or to obtain permits for methane produced by bovine belching and flatulence.” The Times points out that “both sources of methane are controllable; there is machinery that can convert manure into biofuel, and changes in the diet of cattle can make a major difference in flatulence levels.” Citing the benefits of reductions in methane and other highly potent short-term greenhouse gases, the Times concludes that “uncertainty about the precise effects of climate change is not an excuse for inaction when the scientific consensus is clear. Congress shouldn’t be handing short-term gifts to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. at the risk of great environmental harm.”

Miami Beach Continues To Grow Despite Climate Change Warnings. The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23, Paquette) reports on the penthouses being built in Miami Beach “on what environmentalists warn is global-warming quicksand.” The “high-stakes bet” is, however, that “Miami Beach essentially can out-build climate change and protect its $27 billion worth of real estate.” However, “critics question the wisdom of turning high-end properties into climate armor.” Miami Beach plans to have 80 new storm pumps by 2020 that “will collect and banish up to 14,000 gallons of seawater per minute back into Biscayne Bay.” Construction on the project began in February, “before planners worked out all the funding,” and “It’s unclear how the city will raise the rest.” And even though researchers and studies point to the effects that the climate will have on the area, “Miami Beach keeps growing,” one-third of which is fueled by foreign investors.

Higher Education

GAO Criticizes ED, Higher Education Accreditors.

The Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23) reports that the Government Accountability Office has “released a report criticizing accrediting agencies’ efforts to oversee academic quality at colleges” and criticizing ED “for not increasing its own scrutiny of colleges that are under accreditors’ sanctions.” The GAO report found “that student outcomes have little to do with whether or not a college has been penalized.” The piece notes that most accreditors penalized schools for financial issues, and rarely for issues of academic quality.

NLRB Ruling Could Allow More Faculty To Unionize.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23, Lewin, Subscription Publication) reports that “the National Labor Relations Board has issued a broad ruling that could open the way for more faculty members to join unions at private colleges and universities.” This decision, which expands the group covered by labor laws and eligible to join unions, might “bolster organized labor on campuses at a time when unions are pushing to represent the growing number of adjunct professors.” The Post notes that public colleges and universities, however, would not be affected by this ruling, because they fall under state collective-bargaining laws.

Coding Companies Fill Gap Between Higher Education And Employers.

US News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Bidwell) reports on coding boot camps and development accelerator programs, which seek to meet growing STEM job demand. The piece discusses the programs’ low costs, innovative structures, promising outcomes, practical focuses, and the various backgrounds of their students. The piece focuses primarily on Code Fellows and the Flatiron School, mentioning the initial reluctance of some hiring companies due to a lack of familiarity with the coding schools.

#ASEEYoADiversity Three-minute video– Karan Watsoni: Minority programs are necessary until our colleges change

Support ASEE with Your Amazon Holiday Purchases
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November Prism Online – Now Open to Public
The cover story, “Corporate Blinders,” presents an engineering ethics case study.

Research and Development

JPL Competing In DARPA Robotics Challenge With Non Human-Like Robot.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Rosen) reports on the efforts to develop robots that can take on the “difficult” task of working in areas too hazardous for people, such as disaster sites like that at Japan’s Fukushim nuclear plant site. UCLA roboticist Dennis Hong, who glimpsed the devastation of the plant up close, is “one of several engineers working to make robots that can come to the rescue in disasters.” Hong and “others from academia, industry, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and the Defense Department’s research agency DARPA traveled to Fukushima last spring to see what they were up against.” Hong said the “take-home message was ‘Wow, it’s damn difficult.’” DARPA launched its DARPA Robotics Challenge to help promote this development. JPL’s Brett Kennedy said, “Someday, it would be really cool to have a robot that does everything a fireman can do….burst through the door, save the baby, the whole nine yards.”

DHS Official Warns That Temporary CR Slows Cyber Research.

The Defense Daily Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Abott) reports that the temporary continuing resolution (CR) that the Department of Homeland Security is currently operating under is slowing contracting actions in cyber security research, according to Douglas Maughan, DHS’ director of the Cyber Security Division.

Cold Atom Lab To Become The Coldest Known Location In The Universe.

Newser Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Colgrass) reports that the Boomerang Nebula currently holds the “coldest known place in the universe.” The article notes that in 2016, this designation could be supplanted when NASA installs the Cold Atom Lab, which will reach a temperature of “1/10 billionth of a degree” above absolute zero.

Gecko-Inspired Adhesive Could Be Used To Capture Space Debris.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Newman) reported that a team from Stanford University, using “the same scientific principles employed by the sticky feet of geckos,” have designed “paws that look like paddles” which allow people to scale glass walls. The article notes that the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is utilizing a version of these “gecko gloves” to develop a way to capture space debris. Mark Cutkowsky said that these “gecko-inspired adhesives” can even work in the “vacuum and very low temperatures” in space.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22) also covers the story, citing the San Jose Mercury News.

Kentucky Solar Project Gains Approval.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22) reports that the Public Service Commission of Kentucky “has approved solar power project planned by Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric in Mercer County.” According to a statement from the PSC, “it authorized the utilities on Friday to build a 10-megawatt solar array at the E.W. Brown Generating Station, which would produce enough power to supply about 8,000 homes.” The project “will consist of about 260 solar panels.”

Rice Researchers Demonstrate 2-D Image Capture Technology.

Photonics Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23) reports that according to Rice University researchers, “ultrathin chalcogenide films could form the basis of tiny, adaptable bioimagers.” The piece explains that they have crafted a prototype three-pixel CCD out of copper indium selenide, which has “demonstrated the ability to capture and store image information.” The piece reports that “flexible CIS films could be curved to match the focal surface of an imaging lens system, which could allow for the real-time correction of optical aberrations, the researchers said.”

Industry News

Corning’s Pambianchi Addresses “STEM Gap” In Industry Today.

Industry Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23) focuses on Corning in its latest issue, with a cover image of fiber optics and the headline “Filling The ‘STEM Gap’: America’s Campaign For A Skilled Workforce.” Corning Senior Vice President of Human Resources Christine M. Pambianchi writes that the US is “not equipping enough young people with sufficient skills in science, technology, engineering and math,” and companies like Corning have a role to play. She writes, “If manufacturing and other industries engage quickly and comprehensively, the American workforce can stage a ‘STEM comeback.’” Corning initiatives to “narrow much of the ‘STEM gap’” include working in local classrooms, developing STEM curricula, providing mentorship for girls from female engineers, and inviting local community college students “to get real world experience through operating their equipment and interpreting data” through the Technology Pipeline Program.

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Issues Nation’s First Coal Ash Rule.

The Daily Caller Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Bastasch) reports that in “an early Christmas gift for the coal industry,” the EPA on Friday issued “a new regulation on coal ash from power plants.” The “nation’s first federal coal ash rule” has “coal-fired power plant operators fuming,” arguing that it “creates lots of uncertainty for plant operators.”

Tribe: EPA’s Clean Power Plan Is Unconstitutional. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/23, Tribe, Subscription Publication), Laurence H. Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and a University Professor at Harvard University, argues that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan is unconstitutional because with the proposed rule, the agency is exercising power beyond its legal authority.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Grant Funds Elementary School Robotics Clubs.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/21, Gibula) reports two Indian Prairie District 204 elementary schools received $10,000 in funding to start the state’s only elementary robotics clubs. Indian Prairie Educational Foundation chairman Kent Duncan said that “It’s an initiative that goes hand in hand with STEM learning in so many ways.” The article then explains how 30 Cowlishaw Elementary third-graders are building claw robots for a robotics tournament, and quotes students and teachers about the program.

Arts In STEM Attract Non-Techie Students.

The Arizona Republic Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/21, Creno) reports that the increasing use of arts instruction in science, math, and technology programs “is to help students become better thinkers and problem solvers,” according to Kerr Elementary School principal Thea Hansen. Arizona State engineering assistant professor Shawn Jordan notes, “If you look at most STEM clubs, members are… boys who have a predisposition to engineering.” The use of what some educators call STEAM, with the addition of Arts, is to better include students not as inclined towards robotics or computers. Michigan State University researchers found higher arts exposure among STEM honors graduates as children than the average. The article then quotes elementary educators and students about STEAM programs.

Also in the News

Ball Aerospace Engineer Credited For Fixing Kepler.

TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/22, Lemonick) reports that the Kepler space telescope, which in 2013 experienced the second breakdown of one of the wheels responsible for targeting its viewing window, is still functioning as a result of a Ball Aerospace engineer named Doug Wiemer. According to the article, Weimer believed that “if radiation pressure from the sun impinged equally on the telescope’s solar panels, that would stabilize it on its roll axis, so the remaining wheels could handle pitch and yaw.” The idea worked, though it has changed the telescopes abilities, and Kepler is back to discovering planets.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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