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

Leading the News

Americans Said To Prefer Solar, Wind Power.

Contributor Jeff McMahon writes at Forbes  (1/1), about a presentation at the University of Chicago by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere on the data he has gathered from surveying Americans on their energy preferences for 12 years. He found that, “Americans want to move away from coal, oil and nuclear power and toward wind and solar.” He said that the preference was so strong that it overwhelms “the partisan divide” as “about 80 percent” support a large increase in solar and wind power, and another 10 percent “want it to increase somewhat.” He concludes that few Americans support an “all of the above” energy policy, though “Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz still routinely uses the phrase” in describing the Administration’s policy. Ansolabehere said that Americans take this approach because they “think of solar and wind as relatively harmless, coal oil and nuclear as harmful and natural gas as somewhere in between.” In addition, they believe that solar and wind power are less expensive.

Higher Education

Number Of Hispanics Earning Bachelor’s Degrees In Physical Sciences And Engineering Increases.

The Virginia Engineer  (1/2) reports that “a new report from the American Institute of Physics (AIP) Statistical Research Center has found that 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.” The report indicated that “from 2002 to 2012, the number of Hispanics earning bachelor’s degrees in the physical sciences rose 78 percent compared to an overall increase of 47 percent in all U.S. bachelor’s degrees earned in those same fields…Hispanics earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering rose 64 percent, compared to just a 34 percent increase in the overall population.”

UNCF Head Says College Rating System Could Harm Disadvantaged Students.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post  (1/1, Lomax), Michael Lomax, head of the United Negro College Fund, argues that the Administration’s “draft metrics” for its college rating system “appears to have major shortcomings — and it threatens to divert attention from the real challenges facing colleges and universities that educate large numbers of disadvantaged students.” The rating system “could create perverse incentives to game the ratings, potentially leading to reduced access to college for some low-income and minority students.”

California Colleges Expected To Perform Well On Federal Ratings System.

The Fresno (CA) Bee  (1/1, Koseff) reports that “as tuition climbs and debate grows over the purpose of a higher education, the federal government is stepping in with its own ratings system to measure the ‘value’ of colleges by holding them accountable for their cost and performance.” The system “will assess schools on their accessibility to low-income families, their affordability, and their student outcomes, providing scorecards to consumers and possibly directing how $150 billion in federal financial aid is distributed.” The article says “the University of California is positioned to do well in the ratings system,” due to its “very impressive enrollment of low-income students…as well as its high graduation rates and good financial aid program.”

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Research and Development

Army Researchers Developing 3D-Printed Ration Systems.

Forbes  (12/31) reports that researchers at the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center are “looking into ways to 3D print food for soldiers” to “produce meals on demand for soldiers in the battlefield.” The piece explains that the researchers are hoping to devise a more versatile system which could improve on the current three-year shelf life of MREs. Moreover, “with 3D technology, food can be tailored to a soldier’s nutritional needs.”

Workforce

Italian History Illustrates Consequences Of Rapid STEM Workforce Expansion.

The Washington Post  (12/31, Guo) discusses a new Stanford study, analyzing a period in Italian history in which an increase in STEM education reduced STEM wages by as much as 68%. The piece goes on to discuss US Federal spending to expand and diversify the STEM work force, questioning why tech companies don’t raise wages or train their own workers instead. In closing, the article highlights the broad range of STEM fields and questions if STEM education programs should be more discerning as to the subject matter and careers they promote.

Industry News

Lawyers Attempt To Prove That Some Engineering Firms Falsified Sandy Damage Reports.

The AP  (1/2, Caruso, Kunzelman) reports that “lawyers representing about 1,500 homeowners are trying to prove…some engineering firms hired to inspect” Superstorm Sandy damage deliberately issued reports containing false information. The situation caught the attention of some US lawmakers, who spoke to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. The AP notes that Fugate’s agency has asked that “its inspector general…investigate” the matter. Fugate, meanwhile, wrote to insurance contractors early last month, telling them “he was ‘deeply concerned’ about allegations of underpayments and ‘disreputable engineering practices.’” Fugate added, “We must do better.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Moniz Announces New Efficiency Standards For Fluorescent Bulbs, Ice Makers.

The Hill  (12/31, Cama) reports the DOE has issued “new efficiency standards for certain light bulbs and commercial ice-makers,” and projected that the new standards “would save consumers and businesses billions of dollars.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “As part of President Obama’s climate action plan, the Energy Department set an ambitious goal of finalizing 10 energy efficiency standards this year, and with the new efficiency standards for general service fluorescent lamps and automatic commercial ice makers, we have reached that goal.”

Op-ed: US Should Switch To Natural Gas.

In an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle  (12/31, Bahorich, Bahorich) Ben Bahorich, a petroleum engineer who holds two patents for improving hydraulic fracturing technology in shales, and Mike Bahorich, chief technology officer for Apache Corp., argue that cars and trucks should move to “cleaner-burning, less-expensive, and wildly abundant” natural gas. They speculate that “fear over what happens if, once such an infrastructure is created, a rise in natural gas prices causes the nation to revert to imported oil” is stalling progress toward this goal, but “science…tells us…recovery costs for oil are much higher than for gas because small gas molecules move more readily through shale’s small pores.” They conclude, “We should continue to switch from imported oil to the cleaner and cheaper fuel – natural gas.”

WPost Sees EPA Coal Ash Regulations As Good First Step.

In an editorial, the Washington Post  (1/2) hails the EPA’s new coal ash regulations, even if they don’t go far enough. The Post says that the Administration “has taken a step in the right direction” as it is “better to have basic federal safety and reporting rules than none at all.” Still, it is likely that the EPA “will need to go further.”

BOEM Extends Comment Period On Virginia Offshore Wind Project.

The AP  (1/1) reports that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is extending the public comment period for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s plan to “build and operate two 6-megawatt wind turbine generators 24 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.” Dominion Virginia Power “successfully bid on the lease on the ocean bottom for the construction of wind turbines.” The comment period has been extended by two weeks, until Jan. 16.

NV Energy Replaces Coal-Powered Units With Natural Gas.

The Las Vegas Sun  (1/1, Roerink) reports that NV Energy has retired three of the four coal-powered units at the Reid Gardner Power Plant as of December 20. The company had been reducing the amount of power the plant produces, using it “to handle peak energy demands during the summer.” It has now added “two natural gas fired plants” at 274 megawatts and 222 megawatts. The company plans to close the last coal-fired power unit at Reid Gardner in 2017. Under recent Nevada legislation, NV Energy is required “to install 350 megawatts of renewable energy by 2021” and to help the state to reach 25 percent of its energy coming from “solar, wind and geothermal by 2025.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Missouri Career Center Wins Robotics Championships.

The Fredericktown (MO) Democrat-News  (1/2, Black) reports on the successful robotics program of the UniTec Career Center in Bonne Terre, Missouri. The piece describes the center as a resource to high school students across the southeast region, highlighting the robotics team’s participation in FIRST, VEX, and SkillsUSA competitions.

Critics Of Kansas Science Standards Appeal Lawsuit’s Dismissal.

The AP  (12/31) reports nonprofit Citizens for Objective Public Education appealed a Federal judge’s dismissal of their case that Kansas public schools promote atheism through their science standards. The lawsuit was dismissed on the grounds that it did not allege specific enough injuries to warrant its advance.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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