Leading the News
Dawn Becomes The First Spacecraft To Visit A Dwarf Planet.
The AP (3/6) reported that the Dawn spacecraft “flawlessly” entered Ceres’ orbit on Friday, making its the first spacecraft ever to visit a dwarf planet. Dawn chief engineer Marc Rayman said, “It went exactly the way we expected. Dawn gently, elegantly slid into Ceres’ gravitational embrace. … The real drama is exploring this alien, exotic world.” As with previous coverage, the article noted that Rayman stated that the first “new pictures” of Ceres now that Dawn has arrived will not come until next month.
The New York Times (3/6, Chang, Subscription Publication) highlighted the capabilities of Dawn’s ion engine. Rayman said, “Ion propulsion, with its continuous thrust, produces trajectories that don’t fit with intuition. … But any point along that trajectory after orbit capture, if we did stop thrusting, it probably would look to you more the way you think of an orbit.”
According to the Washington Post (3/6, Feltman) “Speaking of Science” blog, Dawn made “history twice over:” once for arriving at a dwarf planet, and a second time for being “the first spacecraft to orbit two different alien bodies during its mission.” The article noted that Dawn team members were “incredibly confident” the spacecraft would enter orbit successfully. Rayman said, “Dawn had already been operating its ion engine for more than five years, so this is just like any one of about 1,800 days. It’s just flying along, emitting its blue-green beam of ions. It’s very much a routine day for us in every sense of the word.”
SPACE (3/6, Wall) reported that Dawn principal investigator Chris Russell of UCLA said that the “legacy” of both Dawn and the New Horizons mission to Pluto is to shows that these objects are not characterized by “arbitrary labels based on their size or their ability to scatter other objects.”
In an article for the New Yorker (3/6), Michael Lemonick wrote that no matter what Dawn and New Horizons find at their respective destinations, they will not counteract “the tortuous reasoning” that led to them being designated as dwarf planets. Lemonick thought that there is really “no practical difference” to whether Ceres and Pluto are called a planet or dwarf planet because both will still reveal facts about the early solar system.
The Los Angeles Times (3/6, Netburn), The Hill (3/6, Hattem), Reuters (3/6, Klotz), Popular Science (3/6, Fecht), Wired (3/6, Woo), Forbes (3/6, Parnell), AFP (3/6), IGN (3/8, Pitcher), Wall Street Journal (3/6, Hotz, Subscription Publication), CNN (3/6, Barnett), NPR (3/6, Brumfiel) “The Two-Way” blog, Mashable (3/6), NBC News (3/6, Boyle), The Verge (3/6, Vincent), and other media sources also covered the story.
Bakersfield College Highlights STEM careers.
The Bakersfield College (CA) Renegade Rip (3/5, Wyatt) reports that the Bakersfield College is in the process of creating a bachelor’s degree program in “Industrial Automation,” starting in the fall of 2015. In a bid to encourage students interested in the STEM program, the college invited speakers to talk to students about engineering and automation. “There is no accomplishment in doing something that is easy, there needs to be a challenge,” said Randy Cowart, a Control Systems Engineer. “If something is hard, and you are able to do it, it will give you a great sense of accomplishment.” “Quite a bit of engineering goes into just being able to turn on water at home,” said David Kennedy, a physicist. The pair spoke to students as part of the STEM Pathways Series, which brings individuals working in the industry to campus in order “to give students information about what they do and the steps they took to get there.”
Despite Reprieve, CCSF Facing Major Hurdles.
The San Francisco Chronicle (3/9) reports that despite having survived a “near-lethal challenge” to its accreditation from the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, City College of San Francisco “still has numerous repairs to make before it can kiss the accrediting commission good-bye for another seven years.” While the legal challenges surrounding the commission’s attempts to revoke the school’s accreditation continue, CCSF is working on reducing “its $179 million unfunded liability for the lifetime health benefits it gives retirees,” and on ending “its dizzying loss of students, who bring in state revenue.”
Report: Community Colleges Improving Student Supports.
The Hechinger Report (3/9) reports that according to the Community College Survey of Student Engagement, community colleges, facing pressure to reduce dropouts and improve graduation rates, “are getting more up close and personal with their students.” The report indicates that “students say they’re able to speak more often with advisors and instructors about their career plans, and that they’re being called upon more frequently to make presentations in class.”
Northern Arizona University-Yuma Seeks To Attract STEM Students Through Scholarship Grant.
The Yuma (AZ) Sun (3/9) reports that Northern Arizona University-Yuma, through a $613,347 grant from the National Science Foundation, “is looking to recruit 30 students who have a financial need and would like to complete their last two years of coursework in one of these two science majors.” Francisco Villa, associate clinical professor of biology, says, “The project seeks to increase the number and diversity of Science, Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) workers to support local need.”
NASCAR Race Engineer Profiled.
The Canton (OH) Repository (3/4) runs a profile on Miles Stanley, a 31-year-old NASCAR race engineer for driver Joey Logano. The article describes Stanley’s position “near the top of the race team hierarchy,” and explores his background. The article notes that professor emeritus Richard J. Gross of the University of Akron mechanical engineering department “said that Stanley stood out among the students who worked on the miniature formula cars” in the department’s Formula SAE team, “where students design and build a smaller version of an open wheel Indy-style race car. Students compete against teams at other universities globally.”
Research and Development
Research Ties Texas Earthquakes To Oil, Gas Extraction.
The Victoria (TX) Advocate (3/7) reports that according to Cliff Frohlich, associate director and senior research scientist with the University of Texas’ Institute for Geophysics, “the link between human activity and earthquakes is very real and well established.” Frohlich’s research has “linked disposal wells and oil and gas extraction to earthquakes in Texas.” Frohlich said that more research and proper resource extraction management “could help energy companies develop oil and gas safely.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Obama Criticizes Keystone XL, Canadian Oil Sands.
The Hill (3/7, Byrnes) reports in its “Briefing Room” blog that President Obama “on Friday ratcheted up his criticism of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, days after the Senate failed to override his veto of legislation approving the project.” At his town hall meeting at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina, Obama said, “The truth is it’s Canadian oil that’s then going to go to the world market. It will probably create about a couple thousand construction jobs for a year or two, but only create about 300 permanent jobs.” The President added environmentalists are concerned about the pipeline because “the way that you get the oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil. And, obviously, there are always risks in piping a lot of oil through Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country.”
Reuters (3/7, Edwards) reports Obama said he has not yet “made a final determination on it, but what I’ve said is, ‘We’re not going to authorize a pipeline that benefits largely a foreign company if it can’t be shown that it is safe and if it can’t be shown that overall it would not contribute to climate change.’”
Tanker Car Accidents Raising Questions About Safety Of Model. The AP (3/7) reports that after a BNSF train hauling Bakken crude had 21 of its 105 tanker cars derail with five cars bursting into flames, new questions are being asked about the safety of a newer model of tanker car known as the 1232. The AP says while no one was hurt in Thursday’s derailment near Galena, Illinois, the “accident was the latest in a series of failures for the safer tank-car model that has led some people calling for even tougher requirements.” The accident comes on the heals of a huge explosion from a derailed oil train in West Virginia in February which also had the upgraded tanker cars. Two other tanker train accidents have happened in 2015 involving the 1232 model cars that have split open.
WSJournal: Keystone Veto Vote Represented Bipartisan Opposition To Obama’s Policy. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (3/7, Subscription Publication) characterizes the Senate’s failed attempt to override President Obama’s veto of legislation authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline as a bipartisan criticism of the President.
WPost Analyses: Utility Industry Works To Limit Growth Of Solar Industry.
The Washington Post (3/8, Warrick) reports that the utility industry and “its fossil-fuel supporters are waging a determined campaign” to end a home-solar surge that is at the top of the agenda at “government-regulated electric monopolies” across the US. The story, which details some history of the rise of the residential solar movement, says if demand for residential solar keeps soaring, traditional utilities could soon problems, including declining sales and a loss of customers. The utility industry is currently mounting a push for fee hikes on residential solar panels that could price for them “out of reach for many potential customers.”
Potential GOP Hopefuls Divided Over Federal Mandate On Biofuels.
The Washington Times (3/9, McLaughlin) reported that at Saturday’s Iowa Agricultural Summit in Des Moines, which was attended by a host of potential 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls, the prospective candidates were divided on the issue of the Renewable Fuel Standard, commonly referred to as RFS, “which mandates that a certain amount of the nation’s fuel supply is derived from green sources.” For example, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and ex-Texas Gov. Rick Perry argued that states, not the Federal government, should be the ones who establish such mandates, Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker argued that “the EPA could bring more certainty to the alternative energy market by setting new targets for the level of biofuel required to be blended into fuel.”
Noise reduction measures by natural gas companies discussed (LPM).
PBS (3/6) station Lakeshore Public Media reports on its website on noise reduction measures taken by natural gas companies. The article notes a station owned by Dominion East Ohio. Principal engineer John Schniegenberg “says the effect isn’t cheap.” The article reports, “‘We’re probably talking in excess of a quarter million dollars,’ for noise abatement at the $6 million facility, he says.” Adds the article, “But that has bought much better relations with the neighbors.”
Opponents Gear Up To Block Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Site.
The Las Vegas Sun (3/7, Phillips) reports there are “renewed stirrings in Congress to push highly radioactive nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, and anti-nuclear activists are gearing up for a re-education campaign in response.” Although Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid blocked the project when Democrats held the majority in the Senate, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission “has spent $15 billion so far to pursue the license” for the nuclear waste site, “and in January finished a five-volume safety report declaring Yucca Mountain can safely hold nuclear waste for a million years.” However, opponents “seized on the report’s caveat: That the government would first need to gain rights to land and water around the mountain.” The NRC “still needs to conduct an environmental review of the project and hold licensing hearings,” and in February, Yucca proponents “got a big win when Chairman Stephen Burns said there’s still enough money in the commission’s budget to do the environmental review.”
The Las Vegas Sun (3/6, Phillips) reports anti-nuclear advocate Michael Mariotte, president of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, is “is battling pancreatic cancer, and Nevada activists are rallying to his cause by supporting a legacy fund to help him continue his work with NIRS.” Mariotte is a longtime opponent of Yucca Mountain.
McCracken: Let Science Judge Safety Of Proposed Yucca Mountain Project. The Pahrump (NV) Valley Times (3/6), author Bob McCracken writes that many “in Washington and elsewhere, are most unhappy with the lack of progress” on the Yucca Mountain national repository. McCracken cites a Feb. 8 editorial in the Washington Post on Yucca Mountain which stated, “Nevadans’ intense opposition to the Yucca project is unreasonable, unambiguously harmful to the country and should end.” Commissioners in nine Nevada counties, “representing 75 percent of the state’s geographical area, are on record as supporting completion of the Yucca Mountain licensing hearings.” Moreover, “those who live closest to Yucca Mountain in Nye, Esmeralda, and Lincoln counties, and who have had considerable experience with nuclear energy matters vis-à-vis the Nevada Test Site, favor Yucca Mountain by large majorities.” McCracken proposes a plan to evaluate the question of whether the repository would be safe for Nevadans.
Editorial: Government, Politicians Should Let Yucca Plan Die. In an editorial, the Las Vegas Sun (3/8) argues that the “long, and so far fruitless, effort to turn Nevada into a high-level nuclear waste dump” continues. “Never mind that the Obama administration has all but closed the project, and forget that a blue-ribbon commission recommended the federal government look elsewhere and find a state that actually wants the dump. (Nevada doesn’t.)” While “supporters of the Yucca Mountain project blame politics for the project’s delays,” what they fail to acknowledge is that “politics is the only reason the plan still is alive.” In fact, Yucca Mountain was “named the nation’s nuclear waste dump before the scientific process to find the best site was close to being completed.” With $14 billion spent so far on Yucca Mountain, according to the GAO the government “could end up spending $100 billion or more trying to complete it.” Instead, it “should — once and for all — back off the Yucca Mountain plan and let it die.”
More Commentary. In a commentary for the Keene (NH) Sentinel (3/6), V.K. Mathur, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire, wrote that while “a political cloud hangs over both and environmentalists are causing headaches, coal and nuclear power are here to stay.” Together, they “provide a large share of the base-load electricity that drives our nation’s economy, without which cities would go dark and industries would shut down.” But it is clear that “President Obama and his circle of energy advisers don’t really care about coal or nuclear power.” In his proposed 2016 budget, Obama “earmarked no funds for two critically important energy projects.” One is FutureGen, the Illinois full-scale carbon capture project. The other “is the Yucca Mountain waste repository in Nevada,” which is needed to “hold the nation’s radioactive waste from electricity production and the weapons program, which is stored at 121 reactor sites in 39 states.”
Study: Female Students’ Low Self-Confidence In STEM Subjects Leads To Underachievement, Hurts Economy.
In its “Wonkblog,” the Washington Post (3/8, Paquette) details a recent OECD study that indicates female students’ “mathematics anxiety,” driven by low self-confidence in STEM subjects, has made them “dramatically underrepresented in engineering and technology.” The Post quotes the study’s determination that “the strong relationship among self-beliefs, gender and performance in mathematics and science hints that countries may be unable to develop a sufficient number of individuals with strong mathematics and science skills partly because of girls’ lack of confidence in their abilities.”
STEM Education For Minorities Urged To Have “Social Justice Component.”
In an editorial for The Hill (3/9, Smikle, Contributor), Basil Smikle Jr., an adjunct professor at Columbia University, notes that minorities are “markedly underrepresented in STEM careers.” To address the imbalance, Smikle advocates for a “social justice component in STEM education” in minority communities, which would “provide specific training to help better explain science to nonscientists; include family members who may be generally supportive but aren’t always familiar with research; connect STEM with other disciplines; and encourage early learning…about the career paths that become available with an advanced STEM degree.”
Charlottesville High School Hosts EdTechTeam Summit.
WVIR-TV Charlottesville, VA (3/9) reports that Charlottesville High School in Virginia hosted the third annual EdTechTeam Summit this past weekend, which showcased “dozens of new applications [teachers] can put to use in the classroom.” Drawing educators from across the country, the summit primarily focused on teaching apps developed by Google.
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Dawn Spacecraft Arrives At Ceres Today.