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

Leading the News

UT-Austin Engineer Develops First Silicene Transistors.

GigaOM  (2/2) reports that if “electronics stalwart silicon and futuristic graphene had a child, it would be silicene.” Now, a University of Texas-Austin engineer “has made the first transistors from silicene, moving the material closer to its potential to create more powerful devices.”

Nature  (2/3, Peplow) reports while the “device’s performance is modest, and its lifetime measured in mere minutes, this proof of concept has already been causing a stir at conferences, says Deji Akinwande, a nanomaterials researcher at the University of Texas at Austin who helped to make the transistor.”

MIT Technology Review  (2/3) reports Silicene “comes in layers of silicon just one-atom thick” and this “structure gives the material fantastic electrical properties, but it also means it’s devilishly tricky to produce and work with.”

Higher Education

Epicenter Picks 25 Institutions For Pathways To Innovation Program.

Stanford University  (2/3) has announced that the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation (Epicenter) has selected has selected 25 institutions for its Pathways to Innovation Program, which “is designed to help institutions fully incorporate innovation and entrepreneurship into undergraduate engineering education.” The announcement explores the connection between engineering and innovation, and explains that “faculty and administrators participating in Epicenter’s Pathways program are taking on this challenge and leading their universities into a new era of engineering education that prepares students to tackle big problems and thrive in this ever-changing economy.”

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Research and Development

Spaceflight May Prematurely Age Immune Systems.

The PBS’ Newshour  (2/2) “The Rundown” website reports that a new study in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), shows that long periods in space could harm astronaut’s immune systems. By simulating “low-gravity conditions on mice” scientists determined that the mice’s immune systems experienced “premature aging.” The article notes that this is the first time that a study has found that spaceflight can have a negative effect on the immune system. A similar study conducted by NASA found that astronaut’s immune systems were “confused.” According to the article, both the NASA and FASEB studies recommend that scientists do more research in order to come up with “countermeasures to prevent these immune changes from taking place, whether in the form of drugs or in spacecraft design.”

Science World Report  (2/2, Griffin) also covers the story.

Hubble Telescope Could Last Until 2020.

SPACE  (2/2, Kramer) reports that at last month’s American Astronomical Society meeting, Kenneth Sembach of the Space Telescope Science Institute said that the Hubble telescope is performing so well that it could still be working “at least until 2020.” Sembach said that operators are trying to ensure that the Hubble telescope overlaps with the James Webb Space Telescope for one year. During the same news conference, Jason Kalirai of the Space Telescope Science Institute added that officials with both telescopes are looking at projects that can utilize “both facilities to take data of the same targets.”

Hubble Takes “Amazing Photo” Of XZ Tauri. SPACE  (2/2, Hall) reports that the Hubble telescope has taken an “amazing photo” of XZ Tauri in the Taurus constellation. The article describes the features in the photo, noting that what appears to be a single star is “actually a binary star system with one of those two stars also a binary system, making a total of three stars within a single system.”

“Jupiter’s Ghost” Displayed. New Scientist  (2/2, Graham) reports on a photo of an object called a “Jupiter’s Ghost,” which is the remnant of a small or medium-sized star after it dies. These types of stars “peacefully expand, creating clouds while they shed their outer layers like a dandelion.” The image featured in the article combined dated from the XMM-Newton and Hubble Space Telescope.

Industry News

NGAT Test Flies UAV System.

Phys  (2/2, Peeler) reports that Thursday the NextGen Air Transportation institute “hosted a flight demonstration of its new UX5 fixed-wing UAV…that is part of the next wave of aerial imaging that could provide valuable data for commercial agriculture, state government, and other Federal and local agencies.” It is “one of several unmanned aerial systems” that NGAT “uses from multiple industry partners around the nation and the state that are looking to do research into the evolving industry.” The FAA “will issue long-awaited proposed regulations for operating” the UAVs in the coming months.

Engineering and Public Policy

Obama Budget Proposal Would Create $4 Billion Fund To Reward States For Reducing Carbon Emissions.

McClatchy  (2/3, Adams, Subscription Publication) reports that the included in the EPA’s 2016 budget, which was released on Monday, “calls for a new $4 billion fund to reward states that make significant progress in reducing their carbon pollution.” The measure “furthers President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda, which shows up repeatedly in the White House fiscal 2016 budget as a major administration priority.” According to McClatchy, the $4 billion fund, which “would help states seeking to comply with the Obama administration’s proposed ‘clean power’ rule,” is “certain to face withering opposition in Congress.”

Bloomberg News  (2/2, Drajem) reports the budget also calls for “making permanent tax breaks for wind and solar, investing in Appalachian communities facing a steep drop in coal-industry employment and offering $2 billion of tax credits for coal plants that capture and bury their carbon emissions.” In a fact sheet, the White House said, “The United States is undergoing a rapid energy transformation, particularly in the power sector.”

The Wall Street Journal  (2/2, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that the $4 billion fund is called the Clean Power State Initiative Fund. Overall, the budget increases the Department of Energy’s budget almost 10%, to $29.9 billion. The majority of the agency’s budget is taken up by the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Reuters  (2/2, Mason, Volcovici) reports Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said yesterday that energy infrastructure technology investments and the reduction of methane emissions coming from natural gas systems are key parts of the DOE’s budget request. According to The Hill  (2/2, Barron-Lopez, Cama), Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “We are prepared to defend this budget.”

The AP  (2/3) notes that the budget “proposes across-the-board increases in the research and development of renewable energy sources,” including geothermal energy, solar, and wind, “and advanced vehicle technologies such as electric cars and advanced batteries.” The budget also “adds $38 million toward development of carbon capture and storage.”

The Washington Examiner  (2/3, Colman) reports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has said he plans to use the spending process to push funding toward favored GOP programs.” Likely, that “would include shifting money from targeted clean energy subsidies toward basic research and fossil fuels, along with stripping spending from efforts such as EPA climate change and greenhouse gas emission monitoring programs.”

The “Federal Eye” blog of the Washington Post  (2/2, Warrick) notes the EPA would see an increase “in spending of nearly nine percent next year, to $8.6 billion.”

The Hill  (2/3, Barron-Lopez) also provides coverage of this story.

SRNL Testing New Technology To Detect Cyberattacks Against Power Grid.

Environment & Energy Publishing  (2/2, Behr, Subscription Publication) reports on an “unconventional cyberdefense strategy” that is coming under close examination by the Energy Department’s Savannah River National Laboratory, which is “looking to protect critical power plant hardware that the most common cybersecurity programs may not shield.” PFP Cybersecurity, headed by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University professor Jeff Reed, has “developed a small sensor that monitors minuscule changes in power consumption by microprocessors attached to grid devices.” The sensor is “coupled with analytics that compare a grid device’s moment-by-moment operating ‘signature’ against the base-line track of a normal operation.” The PFP tool “issues an alarm when it sees a significant variation in the signatures.” Engineer Joe Cordaro, of DOE’s SRNL, which is testing the PFP technology, said, “It’s just been laboratory testing. But it shows promise.” Cordaro said that the technology could address a “troubling gap in power grid’s cyberdefenses.”

Concerns Rise That Reduced Energy Consumption Threatens Grid.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/3, Smith, Subscription Publication) reports that the recent drop in energy consumption by US consumers is threatening the future of the electrical grid. Some utility experts fear that as Americans reduce their power consumption, electric utilities won’t have sufficient revenue to maintain the massive grid.

Reid Welcomes Obama Budget’s Lack Of Funding For Yucca Mountain.

The Washington Examiner  (2/2, Ferrechio) reports that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), “praised President Obama’s 2016 budget for leaving out money to develop Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste dump.” Reid said the budget “ensures that Yucca Mountain will never see the light of day.” He added that Yucca Mountain “has not received a dime in years, and that will not change. Everyone should accept that and move on.” Reid has helped block the project by “preventing federal funding for its development and by ensuring the appointment of Nuclear Regulatory Commission members who side with him on the issue.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (2/3, Tetreault) also notes that the FY16 budget contains no money for Yucca Mountain, adding that Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the Obama Administration remains committed to finding an alternative site to store nuclear waste.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Texas May Help Teachers, School Districts With Tough New Math Standards.

The Dallas Morning News  (2/1) reports that Texas teachers and school districts “are likely to get more help from the state” because they are “struggling with this year’s tough new” math standards. At last week’s midwinter meeting of the Texas Association of School Administrators in Austin, “there was talk of additional teacher training and chopping the stakes of state-required math tests.” However, the piece notes that not addressed was “what happens with the grades of students who are struggling in math classes that are a lot harder than they were a year ago.” The state cannot impose a grading policy, as that authority “rests at the district level, even with each teacher.” The piece highlights reactions, challenges, and discussion points as a result of the new policy.

Monday’s Lead Stories

SMAP Satellite Successfully Launched Into Space.
South Dakota Mines Graduate Student Receives DOE Science Graduate Research Award.
Boston University Professor Testing Bionic Pancreas.
House Must Still Decide If It Can Accept Senate Keystone Bill.
Nine Virginia Middle Schools Chosen To Participate In NASA Challenge.

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