Leading the News
Solar Power May Transition From Large, Utility Scale Installations.
TIME (2/27, Sanburn) reports on the Desert Sunlight and Topaz Solar Farms in California, the world’s two largest solar power plants. Harry Atwater of California Institute of Technology said, “These projects [are] the first utility-scale projects that are really on the scale of a conventional coal or nuclear power plant.” However, TIME notes, the incentives for the solar industry are changing as oil prices fall and Federal subsidies fall from the 30 percent investment tax credit to 10 percent in 2016. While solar energy is “now a $15 billion business in the US, employing more people than coal mining, even as costs continue to decrease,” the “big question is whether projects this large are sustainable.” As “photovoltaic technology has gotten cheaper and energy meters have gotten smarter, it’s now possible to build a more distributed grid where electricity is generated on a smaller scale.” As a result, solar power “may succeed without more utility-scale projects like Desert Sunlight coming online.”
UT-Austin Holds Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.
Alex Samuels, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, writes in a blog on USA Today (2/27) about Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (Girl Day) at UT-Austin, now in its 14th year at the school. Approximately 4,300 girls across the state registered for the event, at which they interact with “engineers in the industry, community members and college students to engage in a day full of grade-specific, hands-on, engineering activities.” Volunteer organization DiscoverE created the event, which was held at 43 entities this year.
Obama’s Free CC Tuition Proposal Brings Issue To Fore.
An editorial about high costs for higher education in the Deseret (UT) News (3/2) opens by noting that Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last year, “all students should have the opportunity to achieve … and thrive in whatever career or college they pursue. We owe 100 percent of our students that chance.” The piece says that high tuition is a barrier to this goal, but laments the difficulty of lowering or eliminating tuition, as suggested by President Obama. Nonetheless, “President Obama’s optimistic America’s College Promise program is a step in the right direction, even if it leaves many questions unanswered.” The piece argues that though the plan may well come to naught, it is laudable in that at least it puts the issue on the agenda table for national policymakers.
Boston Globe Praises ED College Ranking Plan.
An editorial in the Boston Globe (3/1) describes ED’s college rating framework proposal, noting that it was “merited” by the economic fallout from rising student debt levels. The piece says that Education Secretary Arne Duncan “had it right when he asserted that ‘students deserve to know, before they enroll, that the schools they’ve chosen will deliver’ value to match their financial sacrifice.” The Globe writes that the plan still needs a lot of work before it is usable, but cites the need for “a mechanism to help applicants compare their options.”
Students From Defunct For Profit College Seek Federal Loan Forgiveness.
The Washington Times (2/28, Howell) reports that 15 students who attended for-profit Corinthian Colleges Inc., which was shut down by the Department of Education “following a slew of conflicts with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and lawsuits from the states of Massachusetts and California,” refuse to repay Federal student loans. The group published a letter to the ED seeking loan forgiveness. They write that the agency allowed the school to take advantage of them, “and now you cash in.”
CNN (3/2, Wallace) reports the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “negotiated $480 million in forgiveness for Corinthian’s private loans,” but that only accounted for 40 percent of the debt for those who qualified.
Senate Democrats Urge Duncan To Grant Student Debt Relief Instead Of “Profiting.”
Bloomberg News (2/27, Kitroeff) reports that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and a number of other Senate Democrats have written to Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling on ED “to offer relief to distressed borrowers this week, even if that dampens the profit it makes from collecting on people with outstanding loans.” Bloomberg quotes the letter saying, “It is not the job of the Department of Education to maximize profits for the government at the cost of squeezing students.” Bloomberg reports that ED spokeswoman Denise Horn “said in an e-mail that the department is reviewing the letter.”
Research and Development
Dearth Of Federal Funding May Be Harming US Research.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (3/2) profiles a University of Pittsburgh graduate student who grew frustrated as he “watched his boss struggle for money to keep the research team going,” and then decided to leave academia for the private sector. The piece reports that “a growing number of young researchers…who came of age during the federal budget sequestration, are giving up on public research before they begin.” The piece reports that President Obama and “top lawmakers” are warning that sequestration “is costing the United States its leadership in global research.”
New York Cancer Center Benefits From Engineering Students’ Insights.
The Buffalo (NY) News (3/2) reports that Dr. Khurshid Guru, director of robotic surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was seeking “a better way to perform surgery on cancer patients, one that preserves more of their kidney function,” and “asked a 20-year-old intern, Lauren Samar, to help solve the problem.” The piece explains taht Samar, “a biomedical engineering major at Rochester Institute of Technology, worked on the problem through Roswell Park’s Applied Technology Laboratory for Advanced Surgery, a program with a dual mission of training and research.”
Companies Look To Woman To Address Skills Gap In Manufacturing.
Manufacturing (2/27, Szal) reports that ExxonMobil will be hosting “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” events in the coming months in hopes of “bolster[ing] the number of women in the industry.” The article notes that research by the Manufacturing Institute found that “women represent more than 46 percent of the overall U.S. labor force, but they comprise just less than one quarter of workers in durable goods manufacturing.”
“Active SETI” Advocates Push For “More Aggressive” Astronomical Agenda.
The Washington Post (3/1, Achenbach) profiles radio astronomer Frank Drake, who “conducted the first extensive search for alien civilizations in deep space,” prompting the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. Some SETI researchers are now “pushing a more aggressive agenda,” referred to as “active SETI,” which calls for officials to “transmit messages” to “newly discovered planets orbiting distant stars.”
Technology Will Help Architects 3D Print Concrete Moulds.
The Engineer (2/27) reports that a new 3D printer technology can produce “moulds up to the size of a phone box” that will give architects the ability to create “freeform concrete designs” with concrete. According to the article, the developers of the technology, say that architects will “no longer constrained by technical limitations and can create irregularly curved surfaces, lightweight half-open mesh or honeycomb structures, and even ornamental craftwork.”
Air Force May Open Competition For Rocket Launches.
Reuters (2/28, Shalal) reports the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center may launch a competition worth billions of dollars for 28 spring launches of satellites from FY 2020 through FY 2024 as a way to help end US reliance on rocket engines build by the Russians.
Engineering and Public Policy
WPost Bemoans Inhofe’s Rejection Of Global Warming.
In an editorial, the Washington Post (3/2) says that Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Jim Inhofe’s speech last week on global warming, in which he brandished a snowball as evidence, was foolish. The Post says that global warming is “a long-term and worldwide trend” and that there is “no reasonable doubt that the world is heating up.”
Oil Train Concerns Prompt Calls For Safety Improvements.
Amid growing oil train safety concerns, “the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements” on February 5, the AP (2/28, Lowy) reports. However, officials have not “yet unveiled its proposed regulations.” Although safety regulators typically “propose tough regulations” and the Office of Management and Budget “demands they be scaled back,” experts claim “there may be less resistance” this time around.
In a related article, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2/28, Schmitz) reports that, on Friday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf called on President Obama “to improve the safety of crude oil shipments by rail.”
Walker Hopes To Eliminate Funding For UW Renewable Energy Research Center.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/1, Content, Bergquist) reports Gov. Scott Walker, “in an about-face from his first term…wants to eliminate funding for a University of Wisconsin-Madison renewable energy research center that has played a key role in helping land one of its biggest government grants ever.” Walker “in his budget…is proposing to eliminate $8.1 million over two years — a total of 35 positions — from a bioenergy program.” The program “is charged with developing technologies to convert wood chips, corn stalks and native grasses to homegrown sources of power.” Officials at UW “say that Walker’s proposal to end funding for the bioenergy program would cripple broader energy-development research that is receiving $25 million annually from the federal Department of Energy.”
Seven Hundred Maryland Students Take Part in Lego League Challenge.
The Annapolis (MD) Capital Gazette (2/28) reports that 700 students representing over 70 teams took part in the FIRST Lego League state championship on Saturday at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County over the weekend. Students “were scored for such attributes as robot design, performance and project research.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• On Party-Line Vote, FCC Approves Tough Net Neutrality Rules.