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

Leading the News

NASA “Back In Business” With SLS.

Richard Hollingham, in an article on the BBC News  (3/10) “Future” website, wrote that NASA is “back in business” with development of the Space Launch System (SLS). SLS systems engineer Dawn Stanley, who highlighted how “versatile” the rocket will be, said, “If they want us to go to an asteroid to do a retrieval mission, this rocket can get you there or if you want to go to Mars, this rocket can get there. … The SLS can meet those many missions that our government has.” Meanwhile, Hollingham described a tour of the Michoud Assembly Facility, where he was impressed by the “remarkable” friction stir welding process he saw, as well as the “most impressive” final assembly hall. Hollingham commented that because of current funding, it was “almost certain that, unlike previous rocket programmes, the SLS will fly.”

Officials Disagree On Whether Private Sector Could Build Rocket Like The SLS. In an article for Bloomberg News  (3/10), Justin Bachman wrote that some criticize that the SLS is such a “drain” on NASA’s budget that it prevents the “vital research” it needs to be doing if it wants to send astronauts to Mars. Former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver thinks that developing the transport should be left to private companies. However, Bill Hill, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, disagrees with that view, saying, “There’s an impression that the commercial guys are basically paying their own way … but if you dug into it, you may find that is not necessarily the case.” Jason Davis, an editor with the Planetary Society, similarly noted that there is “no market for Mars,” and only the beginnings of a market “for low-earth orbit” that is “almost entirely dependent on NASA.” Hill said that “our mantra right now” is making the SLS “competitive with other folks in the market. … And if we can’t, then it’s not going to sustain itself.”

SLS’ Qualification Motor Gets Undergoes “Key” Test Firing Today. NASA Space Flight  (3/10, Bergin) reported that Orbital ATK is ready to test fire the Qualification Motor -1 (QM-1) today, a “key” event toward the Space Launch System’s eventual launch. The QM-1 has taken “a long path to its big day, involving a major investigation – and subsequent solution – after the discovery of voids in one of its segments.” Any information from the test firing will go into the next test firing, “which has not yet received a test date.”

Vertical Assembly Center Suffering From Misalignment. Space News  (3/10, Leone, Subscription Publication) reported that after finishing construction of the Vertical Assembly Center, Boeing discovered the welding machine was “misaligned,” and now is three months behind schedule. However, in a recent interview, the article notes that Virginia Barnes, Boeing vice president and program manager for SLS, said that the rocket should still launch on time in 2018, “assuming Boeing comes up with a fix by midsummer.” According to the article, Barnes added that the Vertical Assembly Center is the current “bottleneck for Boeing’s entire SLS stages contract.”

Higher Education

In Atlanta, Obama Signs “Student Aid Bill Of Rights.”

The President’s visit to Atlanta was not mentioned on the network newscasts last night, but it generated a fair amount of local TV coverage, as well as overwhelmingly positive print and online reporting. Stories cast the President’s “Student Aid Bill of Rights” – which he signed at the White House before leaving for Atlanta – in very favorable terms, describe his Georgia Tech audience as enthusiastic, and note that state officials from both parties came out to listen to Obama issue his “clarion call to Americans saddled by student debt,” as the AP  (3/11, Lederman) puts it this morning. Even criticism of the proposals from national GOP leaders was relatively muted.

The Washington Post  (3/10, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the plan is “the latest in a series of steps the administration has taken to promote college access and affordability, including expanding a program that caps student loan payments to 10 percent of a person’s income for 20 years.” The piece notes that the plan was announced amid reports that “student debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion and the average graduate is leaving school with nearly $29,000 in education loans.”

In Atlanta, notes the New York Times  (3/11, Shear, Subscription Publication), Obama “told a crowd of almost 10,000 students that the United States needs to make sure that they are not burdened by tens of thousands of dollars in debt after they leave college.” Said the President, “Higher education has never been more important, but it’s also never been more expensive.” His new initiative, he added, is “not a fancy new program,” it “doesn’t have a complicated acronym,” and “doesn’t involve new spending.” Rather, it “directs the secretary of education to develop a ‘state of the art complaint and feedback system’ that would allow students to easily file grievances about the federal financial aid process.”

NYTimes “Debate” Feature Explores Relevance Of Same-Sex Colleges.

In the wake of the abrupt announcement that Virginia’s Sweet Briar College, an all-women liberal arts school, is closing, the New York Times  (3/10, Subscription Publication) runs a “Room for Debate” feature asking whether single-sex colleges “play an important role in education” or are “outdated.” Contributors include author Diane Halpern  (3/11, Halpern, Subscription Publication), Sweet Briar graduate Julia Patt  (3/11, Patt, Subscription Publication), Hampden-Sydney College President Christopher B. Howard  (3/11, Howard, Subscription Publication), author Lise Eliot  (3/11, Eliot, Subscription Publication), and author Edward Fergus  (3/11, Fergus, Subscription Publication).

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Research and Development

Virginia Tech Professor Receives Fellowship To Tackle Issues In Cloud Storage.

The Augusta (VA) Free Press  (3/10, Graham) reports that Virginia Tech College of Engineering Associate Professor of Computer Science, Ali R. Butt “has received a NetApp Faculty Fellowship” to address difficulties that arise “with a high volume of requests” in data stored and shared via cloud computing.

KU Research Spending Has Biggest Four Years Ever, But Prognosis Not Good.

The Lawrence (KS) Journal World  (3/10) reports that while Kansas University reported more than $1 billion in sponsored research expenditures during the last four years, “the strongest four-year span ever for the school,” the continuing Federal budget sequester meant that “research expenditures from all sources fell during fiscal year 2014.” Mary Lee Hummert, Kansas University interim vice chancellor for research, said in a news release, “Other universities are experiencing the same pressures we are,” adding, “KU’s strong focus at both campuses on human health and development attracts support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Education.”

Indiana Plans For Manufacturing Research Complex.

WLFI-TV  Lafayette, IN (3/10, Roberts) reported online about a $50 million, 62,000-square-foot building that’s being planned for the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Indiana. The federally funded Indiana Manufacturing Institute will occupy half of the building’s space, according to WLFI, which adds that construction is to begin this spring. A local development official is quoted as saying that the institute will research the manufacturing of composite materials for lighter-weight machines.


Career Prospects In Petroleum Engineering, Other Engineering Fields Look Bright.

The US News & World Report  (3/10, Gandel) reports that the petroleum engineering field is offering a wealth of opportunity thanks to the doubling of US crude production in the past five years. Graduates with a degree in petroleum engineer are entering into the field with median salary of $130,280 and a job market with projected 26 percent growth by 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The article notes that the BLS statistics also projects growth in other engineering fields by 2022, including 20 percent growth in civil engineer, 27 percent growth in biomedical engineering, and 9 percent growth in nuclear engineering fields.

Microsoft’s New Ad Tackles Gender Gap In STEM Fields.

The Huffington Post  (3/11, Couch) discusses the new ad that Microsoft “launched in honor of International Women’s Day” that discusses the gender gap in students pursuing careers in STEM fields and specifically states that “seven out of 10 girls are interested in science, but only two out of 10 will pursue a career in a related field.” The articles notes that “more brands are aiming to empower women.”

Industry News

Apple Seeks Dismissal Of Battery Engineer Poaching Lawsuit.

Reuters  (3/11, Levine, Klayman) reports that Apple requested the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by large lithium-ion battery maker A123 Systems over allegedly poaching five of its engineers. Apple’s motion suggests insufficient evidence from A123 to proceed.

Lyft Hires Former Twitter Engineering Director Peter Morelli As VP Of Engineering.

TechCrunch  (3/10, Lawler) reports that Lyft has hired Peter Morelli, formerly the “senior director of engineering at Twitter,” as its “new VP of engineering,” a role in which he will “[focus] primarily on building scalable systems within the company.”

Engineering and Public Policy

CIA Helped DOJ Develop Specialized Phone-Scanning Technology.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/11, Barrett, Subscription Publication) reports that the CIA worked closely with the US Marshals Service, part of the DOJ, to develop technology by which the government can scan data from thousands of cellphones. While the CIA uses the technology to hunt terrorists overseas, the DOJ uses it to find criminals in the US.

Groups Begin To Respond To Plans For Drilling Off Georgia Shores.

McClatchy  (3/10, Cockerham, Subscription Publication) reports that the news that President Obama is “proposing to open Georgia’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling has taken many people in the state off guard,” and left opponents “scrambling” to counter it. The piece focuses on opposition to the plan by activist groups Oceana and One Hundred Miles, who argue that the move is a surprise because there is believed to be little recoverable oil and gas off the state’s coast.

California Agencies Vow To Improve Oversight Of Water Sources Threatened By Fuel.

The Los Angeles Times  (3/11, Cart) reports that the state agencies “charged with overseeing oil production and protecting California’s ever-dwindling water sources from the industry’s pollution all fell down on the job,” one official told a state Senate board on Tuesday. During a “testy” oversight hearing, officials from the California Department of Conservation, the department’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, and the State Water Resources Control Board “promised senators a top-down overhaul of their regulation of the disposal of oil field wastewater.”

PNC Backs Away From Financing Mountaintop Coal Removal.

The New York Times  (3/11, Sorkin, Subscription Publication) reports that last week, PNC Financial, the seventh-largest bank in the US, “disclosed a significant strategic shift,” saying it would “no longer finance coal-mining companies that pursue mountaintop removal of coal in Appalachia.” The Times says that the decision is notable because PNC has “been one of the largest financiers of companies that engage in the mountaintop mining of coal.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Maryland Student Wins First Prize In Intel Science Talent Search.

The Washington Post  (3/10, George) reports that Montgomery County, Maryland, high school student Michael Hofmann Winer “was named one of three first-place winners in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition Tuesday night, earning a prize of $150,000 as one of the nation’s most promising young scientists.” Winer “studied how fundamental quasi-particles of sound, called phonons, interact with electrons.” Competition organizers said that Winer’s work “could potentially be applied to more complex atomic structures, such as superconductors.”

STEMJobSM Releases Teacher PD Series.

The Journal  (3/10, Bolkan) reports “STEMJobSM has debuted the Classroom Training Series, a professional development program designed to help teachers learn to create a classroom environment in which students feel comfortable studying STEM topics.” The program “includes five modules and 34 lessons.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Obama Unveils Initiative To Boost Tech Job Hiring And Training.
Colleges Make Few Changes To Align With Common Core.
CNES Invests In All-Electric-Propulsion Satellite Development.
Raytheon To Move 250 Jobs From Virginia To Indianapolis.
Boeing Outlines Upgrades To The 777 Before Release Of 777X.
Florida Governor Accused Of Banning Official Use Of “Climate Change,” “Global Warming.”
ED Officials Praise Baltimore’s Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center.

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