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

Leading the News

National Research Council Report Urges Further Research Into Geoengineering.

On Tuesday, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences released two related reports promoting further research on geoengineering as a solution to climate change. Geoengineering would most likely take the form of some type of carbon capture and store technology or a form of solar reflection, and the Council released a report for each. As the National Academy of Sciences Geoengineering Climate Committee Chair Marcia McNutt told the press, “The committee felt that the need for information at this point outweighs the need for shoving this topic under the rug.” Besides the National Academy of Sciences, the Energy Department, NASA, NOAA, and the US intelligence community sponsored the report.

The New York Times  (2/11, Fountain, Subscription Publication) reports that the National Research Council’s recommendations won the support of “NASA and other federal agencies.” The government panel concluded that “carbon dioxide removal” had few risks, but “was expensive, and that even if it was pursued on a planetwide scale, it would take many decades to have a significant impact on the climate.” On the other hand, “solar radiation management” would be “far more controversial”: doing so “would be relatively inexpensive” but could require repeated action “and would do nothing about another carbon dioxide-related problem: the acidification of the oceans.” Plus, the latter option raises serious questions about global agreement on how to manage such solar management.

The New York Times  (2/10) also reported in its “Dot Earth” blog that “there are no big surprises in the voluminous reports, but they do provide a great guide to both the scientific and societal issues attending using ‘climate interventions.’” Although the Council said that reducing emissions is the surest way to fight climate change, is submitted that geoengineering could “contribute to a broader portfolio of climate change responses.” Also, the committee believes that any geoengineering projects and research should be based on “a far more substantive body of scientific research, including ethical and social dimensions, than is presently available.”

Bloomberg News  (2/10, Roston) reports, “Geoengineering has provided a shock of fresh air to climate debates in recent years because it’s complicated, and that means it has initially resisted being deformed into either political party’s talking points.” According to Bloomberg, both reports “are sufficiently thorough to mention some of the really far-out ideas.”

The Los Angeles Times  (2/11) calls the duo of reports “the most exhaustive U.S. examination of direct intervention in the Earth’s climate.” As for current climate research, the US sponsors about $4 billion in climate studies, although “just $100 million of that money goes to areas relevant to climate intervention and just $2 million to albedo research.”

The Hill  (2/11, Cama) reports, McNutt stated that the fact “that scientists are even considering technological interventions should be a wake-up call that we need to do more now to reduce emissions, which is the most effective, least risky way to combat climate change.”

The AP  (2/11, Borenstein) reports, “this is the first time a government-associated science panel talked about the controlled small scale outdoor tests of the artificial cloud concept, called solar radiation management or SRM,” but the panel itself “downplayed the idea and said it would require some kind of government or other oversight before it is done.”

Science Magazine  (2/11, Kintisch) reports that the NRC recommendations “may help scientists who for years have failed to secure much federal funding for such work.” Science Magazine also points out that the Energy Department “called for a $64 million research effort on AM,” or albedo modification, in 2001.

In the Washington Post  (2/11) “Energy and Environment” blog, Chris Mooney argued that the entire geoengineering debate says that “we’ve failed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions enough to prevent the risk of dangerous climate change.”

Higher Education

Texas Instruments Gives University Of Texas Engineering School $3.5 Million.

The Dallas Morning News  (2/9) reports that Texas Instruments has given the University of Texas Cockrell School of Engineering $3.5 million “for teaching and project labs for its Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.” The paper reports that the school’s Engineering Education and Research Center is scheduled to open in 2017 in Austin, and will house the TI Laboratories.

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Research and Development

Wichita State Ranks Among Top Aerospace R&D Universities.

KSNW-TV  Wichita, KS (2/10) reports that the Higher Education Research and Development Survey, compiled from National Science Foundation data, found that Wichita State University is “first among the nation’s universities in industry-funded aerospace engineering research and development expenditures.” The article describes the various funding streams from such sources as NASA, DOD, and FAA, and quotes Wichita State President John Bardo saying, “Our commitment to increasing industry partnerships shows in these latest numbers. We’re doing everything we can to realize continued growth in the next few years.”

The Wichita (KS) Business Journal  (2/11, Heck, Subscription Publication) reports that the university “reported $25 million in that category for fiscal year 2013, according to the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development survey.”

US Admiral Says Laser And Electromagnetic Guns Are The Future.

The AP  (2/10, McGuirk) reports Adm. Jonathan Greenert said on Tuesday that “lasers that shoot down drones with precision and electromagnetic cannons that fire more than 100 miles are part of the future of naval warfare, promising to be cheaper to use than conventional weapons.” Speaking at the Australian National University, Greenert said “that the experimental guns were an important departure from gunpowder and inexpensive to fire.”


Gender Pay Equity In STEM Field Explored.

The Scientific American  (2/11, Ceci, Ginther, Kahn, Williams) reports “gender differences in salaries for academic jobs in science and engineering could lead women to leave the sector.” There are “many competing explanations for sex differences in salaries,” including “women’s decision to spend time in child care.” While “hundreds of studies have identified a ‘child salary penalty’ for women in the labor market as a whole,” there is also “a marriage and child premium for men.”

Industry News

Private Group Looks To Build High-Speed Rail Line In Texas.

The Wall Street Journal  (2/11, Campoy, Tsuneoka, Subscription Publication) reports that a group of private backers is pushing to build the Texas Central Railway, a high-speed link between Dallas and Houston. Unlike the publicly backed California high-speed rail system, which is budgeted at $68 billion, the backers of the Texas project believe it can be done with $10 billion. However, the firm still has to fully secure its finances.

Senate Report: High-Tech Cars May Be Vulnerable To Hackers.

Marketplace  (2/11) broadcast a report on a new Senate reports about the susceptibility of new “connected” cars to hackers, which highlights concerns about keeping the internet of things simultaneously user-friendly and secure. The report found that such cars “are vulnerable to hacking and data theft,” and that “auto-industry security measures are ‘inconsistent and haphazard.’” The piece features Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute researcher Steve Checkoway saying, “Every time you add a new point of connectivity to a device, you have increased the attack surface — more ways to gain access.”

Engineering and Public Policy

White House Announces $2 Billion Private Sector Investment Goal For Clean Energy.

The Hill  (2/11, Barron-Lopez) reports that “the White House announced a $2 billion goal for private sector investments in the fight to tackle climate change, and improve low-carbon energy technology.” According to a fact sheet released yesterday by the White House, the effort is meant to boost clean energy investments. The White House fact sheet said, “Today’s announcements will help clean energy investors reduce transaction costs, spread promising investment models, and increase their climate mitigation impact.”

The Washington Examiner  (2/11, Colman) reports the Department of Energy “will collaborate with foundations, universities and other investors to identify clean energy investment opportunities” under the program. The Energy Department “will lend a hand by providing technical assistance and programs to potential investors.”

Reuters  (2/11, Gardner) also provides coverage of this story.

California Lawmakers Introduce “Sweeping” New Climate Legislation.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News  (2/10, Rogers, Calefati) reports that a new set of legislation mirroring “many of the goals set out by Gov. Jerry Brown in his State of the State speech last month” will propel California “to a new level in setting environmental policy for other states.” The measures aim to “significantly expand renewable energy use in California, cut gasoline use by 50 percent and require the state’s major government pension funds to sell off investments in coal companies.” Moreover, the package has a high likelihood of passing thanks to Democratic majorities in both state houses.

Republicans, Industry Respond To Proposed Climate Change Measures. The AP  (2/10, Lin) reports that Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and fellow Democrats want to “jumpstart negotiations among oil producers, utilities, state regulators and Brown’s administration” over newly proposed climate change legislation, which has been criticized by Republicans and industry lobbyists as a “job-killer.” Sen. Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) called the proposals “blatant coastal elitism at its worst,” claiming it would “would artificially create green jobs while eliminating middle-class jobs.” Likewise, the Western States Petroleum Association has called the mandate to reduce petroleum consumption by 50 percent “an impossibly unrealistic goal,” and utilities are demanding more flexibility in implementation.

The Ventura County (CA) Star  (2/11, Herdt) reports that at a recent news conference de León praised California’s clean-tech companies for “creating more jobs and investing more money than those in any other state,” to conclude that “choosing between climate change and policies that create jobs is a false choice.” Opponents of the new mandates, however, have argued that “any green jobs created in meeting these goals would be more than offset by the loss of jobs in traditional industries.” For example, the California Manufacturers & Technology Association has warned that thousands of manufacturing jobs will be “lost or not created in California if we burden manufacturers with higher costs.”

The Los Angeles Times  (2/11) reports on the “heated debate” between supporters of California’s newly proposed climate change legislation, and opponents, such as “oil companies, utilities and other business groups” who view the proposals “with skepticism, if not outright hostility.” A coalition of oil companies has called the goal of reducing gasoline use by 50 percent by 2030 “radical,” and utilities have already “circulated an alternative energy proposal.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Students Participate In Boat-Building Program.

The Oregon Public Broadcasting  (2/11, Burns) reports “the Coos Bay school is one of a handful on the West Coast participating in the Educational Passages boat-building program.” Students at the school are “building a boat that will be launched this March by a research vessel with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

Colquitt County Schools Participate In Technology Fair.

The Moultrie (GA) Observer  (2/11) reports “Colquitt County Schools hosted the 9th Annual Colquitt County Schools Regional Technology Fair at Colquitt County High School Jan. 24.” At the event, “more than 330 students in grades 3-12 from Colquitt County Schools and Thomas County Schools competed in specific categories like robotics, digital photography, animated graphics, mobile app design, and digital game design.”

Startups Push Coding.

Tom Duening write on Forbes  (2/10, Duening) that “if ever there was an industry ripe for disruption, the US education industry is it.” Duening says “statistics show that students educated in the U.S. K-12 system consistently rank below their peers on multiple key measures, particularly in the fields of science technology, engineering, and math (disciplines known as STEM),” and that “among those students who express an interest in a STEM-related career when they enter high school, nearly 60 percent will change their minds before they graduate.” However, “right on cue, a number of startups are seizing the opportunity to create alternative, non-traditional educational pathways,” with “one extremely promising trend” being “the wave of startup companies that focus on teaching people with no background in the area how to write basic html and other computer code.”

Khan Academy Launches Ambitious LearnStorm Program.

EdSource Today  (2/11, Fensterwald) reported that “on Monday, Khan Academy, a nonprofit based in Mountain View, launched LearnStorm, a three-month pilot math competition for 3rd- through 12th-graders in 10 Bay Area counties.” Students in the program “will be vying with each other by school, district, even city, as they master skills in math by plowing through Khan Academy’s extensive tutorials and quizzes.” Meanwhile, the “more subtle, larger goal, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan said in a video, is to ‘help every student appreciate that they really can learn anything.’”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

SpaceX Will Launch DSCOVR On The Same Day Dragon Returns To Earth.
Clemson Pilot Program Aids Engineering Students In Creating Businesses.
DKIST Expected To Obtain Unprecedented Views Of The Sun.
Purdue Mechanical Engineering Professor Named To Forbes “30 Under 30” List.
Obama Expected To Downplay Upcoming Keystone Veto.
Virginia School Team Head To Finals For Future City Competition After Winning Regional Level.

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