Leading the News
JPL Scientists Excited By Proposed Europa Clipper Mission.
The Pasadena (CA) Star-News (2/6, Vuong) continued coverage of the Europa Clipper mission that was funded in the Administration’s proposed 2016 budget for NASA. Ray Crum, spacecraft manager of the Europa Clipper at JPL, said, “It’s the first time there has been a five-year budget for a Europa mission. … We’re thrilled to have this officially become a project. I think it’s really going to bring some great scientific knowledge to whether Europa provides a habitable environment for life.” According to the article, Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper pre-project scientist, believes that the current concept is “just right” to win funding in the budget.
The Business Insider (2/6, Orwig) detailed what kind of life could potentially be discovered at Europa based on the creatures living in similar habitats on Earth. Steve Vance, a member of the Europa mission science team at JPL, said, “My modest thought about what kind of life might be at Europa involves the kinds of things that we see at heads of thermal vents [on Earth], mainly microorganisms. … But in my bolder moments … I wonder if Europa could have the kind of vigorous biosphere that Earth has that supports larger forms of life.” Vance, a member of the Europa Clipper, said that he and others are “really excited” about the Juno spacecraft on its way now to Jupiter “because it will give us some sense of how Jupiter’s tides affect Europa.” The article notes that this will help inform scientists about how active Europa’s undersea hydrothermal vents may actually be.
Obama Drops Plan To Scale Back 529 Savings Accounts.
During a Friday town hall meeting at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis, President Obama revealed that he “dropped” his “widely criticized plan to scale back tax benefits” for 529 savings accounts “because the savings weren’t worth it,” the AP (2/7, Pickler) reports. Although the Administration’s proposal was estimated to “bring in about $1 billion over 10 years,” Obama said: “It wasn’t worth it for us to eliminate it. The savings weren’t that great. So we actually, based on response, changed our mind and are going to be paying for the two years of free community college with other sources.”
The Washington Times (2/6, Boyer, Howell) reports that Obama’s comments were made in response to “questions from a woman in the audience who… asked if the president still planned to kill the savings plan.” USA Today (2/6, Korte) reports that Obama’s “unscripted remarks” were his “first public defense of his position on 529 accounts since his administration abandoned the proposal to cut the tax benefits last week.” Bloomberg News (2/7, Linskey) reports that after Obama unveiled his plan to scale back the savings accounts, the White House “faced immediate criticism from lawmakers of both parties in Congress.”
The Washington Post (2/7, Jaffe) “Post Politics” blog reports that “the setting for Obama’s Friday speech” in Indianapolis “reflected a pattern that has held for virtually all of the president’s speeches this year, which have focused almost exclusively on Republican-dominated states.”
Virginia House Approves Bill Requiring State To Offer A “Cooperative,” Low-Cost Bachelor’s Degree.
The Washington Post (2/5, Anderson) reports that the Virginia House of Delegates “unanimously approved a bill by Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge) that would require the state to develop options for a ‘cooperative’ four-year degree priced at about $4,000 a year,” envisioning “students amassing credits through online education, community colleges and four-year colleges.” If enacted, the House bill “would require the state education secretary and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia to develop a plan and report back to the legislature by Oct. 1, 2016.” The Post notes that “the idea echoes proposals for a $10,000 bachelor’s degree that emerged a few years ago in Texas, Florida and other states.”
Research and Development
Navy Debuts Electromagnetic ‘Rail Gun’.
The Washington Post (2/7, Davenport) reports the Navy debuted is newest weapon this week, an electromagnetic “rail gun,” at the Navy’s Future Force Science and Technology Expo. The article cites that the weapon uses electromagnetic pulses “to fire a projectile at Mach 7,” causing “one heck of a boom” upon impact.
Advances Expected To Make Space Ripe For Investment.
Newsweek (2/6, Maney) reports venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, an early backer of SpaceX, has “impatiently waited for space to turn into Silicon Valley’s next playground,” and he says this is “space’s Netscape moment” as a “bunch of advances in different fields are converging to make space less the final frontier and more like the next startup garage.” Newsweek notes the plans of SpaceX and Virgin Group to develop reusable satellite launch systems, noting the “same kind of technology that’s put a touch-screen computer in your pocket is helping reduce satellites to the size of a loaf of bread. The cost of both making satellites and putting them up is crashing.” In the near future, “launching a satellite is going to get 10,000 times cheaper than it is today.” Jurvetson said, “I’ve never seen something in business where the costs will come down by 10,000 times.”
Solar Energy Viewed As “Best Candidate” For Breakthrough In US Energy Industry.
Energy journalist Bill Loveless writes in USA Today (2/8, Loveless) that “declining oil prices may be slowing the U.S. shale boom” but there is “no denying that the nation will remain a leading global producer of oil and natural gas well into the future, thanks to advances in drilling technology.” Consulting firm Wood Mackenzie views solar energy as the “best candidate” to break through next. Wood Mackenzie, in a new study, “says steep reductions in the cost of making solar modules put that technology in a strong position to compete with other forms of electric power in many parts of the U.S.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Debate Over Geoengineering Ongoing.
The Washington Post (2/7, Achenbach) reports that the term “geoengineering” covers a “variety of hypothetical technological fixes for the problem of climate change” and has led an “argument among scientists and environmental activists.” The Post says supporters of geoengineering research say that “we’re already changing the planet in stupid ways and should at least consider doing it intelligently, using technology” while many scientists and environmentalists dislike the term because it “doesn’t address the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which causes ocean acidification and kills coral reefs.” The Post adds the National Research Council will release a comprehensive report on geoengineering this week.
DOE Decision On FutureGen Seen As “Setback” For Clean Coal.
The Hill (2/9, Cama) reports the Department of Energy’s decision last week “to pull the plug” on FutureGen 2.0 “stands as the latest setback for a technology that only recently held promise as a key piece of the United States’ fight against climate change.” In the meantime, “industry groups are seizing on the decision to scrap the years-old initiative as more evidence of the Obama administration[‘s] ‘war on coal.’” FutureGen 2.0 “had the lofty aim to be the first utility-scale coal-fired power plant to use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).” MIT research engineer Howard Herzog said, “The biggest problem CCS faces right now is that there are no markets for the projects. … These demonstrations are created by government incentives and government programs to get the first of the kind going.”
WPost Blasts Opponents Of Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Storage Project.
The Washington Post (2/9), in an editorial, makes the case that the best solution for storing nuclear waste is to create a storage facility under Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Post says the reason that there is not already such a facility there is because Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid fought against the proposal and President Obama “ended funding” after he “took swing-state Nevada in the  presidential election.” The Post contends that a recent report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirms that “Nevadans’ intense opposition to the Yucca project is unreasonable, unambiguously harmful to the country and should end.”
Surgeon General Speaks At Miami STEM Expo.
WSVN-TV Miami-Dade, FL (2/9) reports that on Saturday, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy “was the keynote speaker at the Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Expo, also known as STEM.” Dr. Murthy stated, “I’m especially happy to be at the STEM event, because science, technology, engineering and math education are critical to solve the greatest problems that our country is facing.” The article notes that Dr. Murthy was born in England “but grew up in Miami.”
Illinois School Districts Begin Transition To STEM Education.
The Chicago Tribune (2/5)reported that Illinois is among 26 states that recently worked on updating “its math and science standards geared toward preparing students for the evolving and fast-growing fields in science and technology.” Local school districts are currently in the middle of a curriculum transformation as the state looks to shore up its “pipeline of science, technology, engineering and math talent.” Illinois is pursuing the Next Generation Science Standards, which looks to merge critical thinking schools with math, science, engineering, technology and language. The article looks at how local educators are working to establish the program in their classrooms in the coming years.
NASA Engineer Talks About Importance Of STEM As Part Of Celebrate Literacy Week.
The Leesburg (FL) Daily Commercial (2/9) reported that as part of Celebrate Literacy Week, “NASA Computer Engineer Dr. Gholam “Ali” Shaykhian recently made a guest appearance at Rimes Early Learning and Literacy Center in Leesburg,” which is striving to become a STEM school. To finish off the week, students met Shaykhian and participated in hands-on learning projects with him.
New Study Shows Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math, Science.
The New York Times (2/6, Miller, Subscription Publication) reports that a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research says that the influence of a teachers’ unconscious biases is among the many factors that play a role in why women are underrepresented in math and science jobs. However, the study “also highlights how powerful a little encouragement can be,” finding that “early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn.” According to the study, “the effect is larger for children from families in which the father is more educated than the mother and for girls from lower-income families.”
Science Of Baseball Camp Gives Students Chance To Apply STEM To Real-Life.
The Arizona Daily Star (2/9) reports about the Science of Baseball camp for Mansfeld Magnet Middle School students, started two years ago by a University of Arizona professor, in which the students’ activities include measuring ball trajectory and pitch velocity. The program “gives students the opportunity to see real-life applications of math, technology and engineering,” and the school has “recently transitioned to a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math education, or STEM.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Navy Unveils Firefighting Robot.