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

Leading the News

NASA “Closer” To Mars Mission With SLS Booster Test.

The CBS Evening News (3/11, story 11, 0:20, Pelley) broadcast that in Utah there was a “spectacular display” when NASA successfully test fired for two minutes “a souped-up version of a space shuttle solid rocket booster.”

The AP  (3/11) notes that with “the first pre-flight test for the Space Launch System,” NASA is “one step closer” toward deep space missions. According to the article, Orbital ATK, which also carried out the test, claimed the test was “an important milestone” because it involved a five-segment motor for the first time. The article also notes that officials stated that the rocket motor produced “3.6 million pounds of thrust” as expected.

The Deseret (UT) News  (3/11, Lee) reports that while the SLS will be flexible and “the most powerful rocket in history,” it also “builds on the technology from previous rockets,” according to NASA Booster chief engineer David Wood. According to the article, Tim Lawrence, SLS Booster Motor system manager, there has been “significant progress” on the booster, which is on track “to meet the planned 2016 phase two test and the 2018 flight schedule.” In a longer version of the Deseret News article, the KSL-TV  Salt Lake City (3/11, Lee, Hollenhorst) website notes that there are those who view the SLS as “a waste of money” that Congress “forced” onto NASA. However, Alex Priskos, manager of NASA’s SLS Boosters Office, said that there were even some at NASA who agreed with that view once, “I think, right now, the important part is we’ve watched an agency really coalesce around a vision; and what dispersion might have been there has narrowed significantly over the last couple of years.”

Higher Education

University of Toledo Launches National Science Foundation I-Corps.

The Toledo (OH) Free Press  (3/11, Ramsey) reports “the University of Toledo was selected by the National Science Foundation as one of the first four sites in the nation to launch its Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Program for commercializing technology.” The school “partnered with the University of Michigan to launch the first class of I-Corps program participants at UT this week (March 8-11).”

SXSWedu Forum Explores Gulf Between Graduates’ Skills, Employers’ Needs.

Caralee Adams writes at the Education Week  (3/12) “College Bound” blog about a SXSWedu session that addressed the disconnect between “what students are learning in school and what employers need on the job,” noting that “when it came to whom to blame and how to solve the disconnect—fingers were pointed in all directions and the ideas were endless.” Speakers addressed the “high percentage of college graduates who are unemployed or underemployed,” even as “businesses have millions of jobs they can’t fill with qualified workers.” One issue highlighted was the perception that K-12 and college educators are “focused on content when employers want creative problem solvers.”

CUNY Program Seen As Potential Model For Improving CC Graduation Rates.

In an op-ed in the New York Times  (3/12, Subscription Publication), Susan Dynarski, professor of education, public policy and economics at the University of Michigan, writes about low graduation rates at US community colleges, noting that this statistic can make the schools “dead ends rather than gateways for students.” She notes that community colleges “can’t exclude poorly prepared students,” and are “required to take anyone who walks in the door, and they have to work harder to get those students to graduation.” Dynarski suggests that one potential solution to this issue is a City University of New York initiative called the Accelerated Study in Association Programs program, which “nearly doubled the share of students graduating within three years.”

ICE Raids Alleged Fake Schools Recruiting International Visa Students.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/12, Jordan, Subscription Publication) reports that ICE Homeland Security Investigations agents have raided a network of schools in the Los Angeles area believed to be involved in a scheme to profit from foreign nationals who obtain student visas with no intention of actually studying.

Obama Asks College Reporters To Help Push Student Loan Initiative.

The Washington Times  (3/11, Wolfgang) reports that President Obama on Wednesday asked reporters from college newspapers to help disseminate information about the Student Aid Bill of Rights. Speaking during a conference call with roughly 50 college reporters, Obama promoted the initiative and “urged the young journalists to help sell his programs by directing readers to White House websites” to voice support for the initiative, the Times reports. “We want to mobilize the energy and focus the attention of everybody nationally around the basic principles that can make it easier for young people to get the education they need,” Obama said.

College Dean: Obama Proposal Unsustainable. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal  (3/12, Subscription Publication), Joshua Hochschild, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Mount St. Mary’s University, compares President Obama’s “Student Aid Bill of Rights” to the Beatrix Potter children’s’ book “The Tale of Ginger and Pickles.” Hochschild argues that the initiative will cause a credit bubble in education, in which students will take out large taxpayer-backed loans without collateral or a guaranteed ability to pay them back; he says the public will suffer should the loans not be repaid, adding that defaults have been increasing and are likely to continue. Hochschild concludes that such an economic model is unsustainable.

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Research and Development

Army Research Office Studies Elephants’ Ability To Smell Bombs.

The AP  (3/11, Torchia) reports that research taking place in South Africa and funded in part by the Army Research Office has found that elephants “excel at identifying explosives by smell, stirring speculation about whether their extraordinary ability can save lives.” The piece reports that ARO head scientist Stephen Lee says that another benefit is that “elephants remember their training longer than dogs.”

LG Will Invest Record Amount In R&D For 2015.

Reuters  (3/12) reports that LG Group will invest 6.3 trillion won ($5.57 billion) for research and development this year, the company’s highest R&D spending ever. The company said that it was looking to invest in electric car batteries, cutting-edge displays, and the Internet of things.


Ford Campaign Aims To Highlight Female Engineers.

The Washington Times  (3/12, Althoff) reports that to mark International Women’s Day, Ford Motor Co. launched the hashtag #SheDrivesWeDrive “to shed light on female engineers working to churn out the next generation of Detroit automobiles.” The piece quotes Ford virtual reality and advanced visualization technical specialist Elizabeth Varon saying, “What we’re doing is literally and figuratively driving change. We’re looking at ourselves as women in the automotive industries as agents of change. And also, of course, creating these amazing vehicles that are so fun to drive.”

Industry News

Audi Planning Battery-Powered SUV For 2018.

The Verge  (3/11, Lowensohn) reports that at Audi’s annual press conference in Germany yesterday, engineering chief Ulrich Hackenberg “said the company plans on bringing a battery-powered ‘sports activity vehicle’ in early 2018.” The car would have a range of about 310 miles.

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Chief: Climate Change Could Endanger Coffee.

The Washington Times  (3/12, Wolfgang) reports EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on Wednesday warned that climate change endangers the security of global food supplies and economies. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, McCarthy said, “Climate change puts the world’s coffee-growing regions at risk,” and added that climate change policies must be factored into other policies. “Climate change isn’t just a moral responsibility we must accept. It’s an economic opportunity we can seize,” she said.

The Hill  (3/12, Cama) notes “global warming could have wide-ranging effects on various forms of agriculture, which McCarthy warned, would ripple through the world’s major economies through higher prices.” McCarthy stated, “Blue chip, global companies like Nike and Coke see climate impacts disrupt supplies of water, cotton and sugar. … And what happens with scarcer inputs are available? That means that increased costs are passed onto consumers.”

McCarthy Says US Must Lead Climate Change Fight. The Hill  (3/12, Cama) reports the US must lead the fight against climate change, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said yesterday during a speech hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. She “said climate change causes global unrest and instability, and it is in the United States’ best interests to play a leadership role in stopping it.” McCarthy said, “Climate change fuels instability around the world, by amplifying risks to global health, security and to growth.” She “repeated President Obama’s sometimes controversial statement that climate change is a national security risk on par with threats like terrorism and war.”

McCarthy Says EPA Will Enforce Power Plant Rules. Reuters  (3/12, Volcovici) reports EPA Administrator McCarthy also warned states about not cooperating with the proposed power plant emissions regulations that have been proposed, saying that the regulations will be enforced anyway. McCarthy stated, “The EPA is going to regulate. Mid-summer is when the Clean Power Plan is going to be finalized.”

Republicans Highlight State Objections To EPA Climate Rule. The Hill  (3/12, Cama) reports Republicans in the Senate “used a Wednesday hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) landmark climate rule to highlight the objections from states that oppose the rule.” Republicans “brought in officials from Indiana, Wyoming and Wisconsin — each of which has Republican governors and Republican majorities in both legislative chambers — to outline how they find the rule unreasonable, irresponsible and illegal.” The Hill notes “it was the second hearing in as many months that the panel has held on the rule, to which Republicans strongly object and have sought to scuttle or change significantly.”

DOE Tells House Committee There Are No Alternate Plans For Yucca Site.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (3/12, Tetreault) reports the Energy Department has informed Congress that there are no alternative plans for Yucca Mountain. In addition, there are no proposals from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which visited the site recently, according to DOE principal deputy assistant secretary for nuclear energy John Kotek. Kotek told the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a letter sent last week, “we have been informed that DTRA does not intend to make such a proposal.” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz had been asked by Rep. Fred Upton about reports that DOE and DTRA had discussed the Yucca site.

Blog: Peer-review Used To Justify NY Fracking Ban Was Biased.

Denver-based energy industry consultant and spokesman Simon Lomax of Energy In Depth, an education and outreach program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, writes for The Hill  (3/11, Lomax) in its “Congress Blog” on the alleged unreliability of the peer-reviewed science used by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as motivation to ban fracking in his state. Lomax contends that the peer-reviewed research lacked objectivity, owing to the fact that those who conducted it failed to disclose their biases and affiliation with anti-fracking movements. Lomax cites one such journal that was criticized by a UN environmental adviser as “not a mainstream journal of the sort where high standards of refereeing would apply.” He adds, “New York’s fracking ban was a victory of fringe environmental politics over the facts.”

House Transportation Committee To Meet On Infrastructure Funding.

The Hill  (3/12, Laing) reported that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss infrastructure funding before a highway funding bill expires in May, the second such meeting on the issue. The panel is expected to hear testimony on Tuesday from state transportation officials from Utah, Wyoming, and North Carolina.

Portman, Shaheen Renew Efforts For Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill.

The Hill  (3/12, Cama) reports Sens. Rob Portman (R) and Jeanne Shaheen (D) “are putting a renewed effort into their years-long push to establish a cohesive, national energy efficiency policy through legislation.” The senators said yesterday that the latest version of their bill would improve the Federal government’s efficiency “while providing voluntary tools for businesses and individuals to reduce their own energy usage.” Earlier “versions of the bill have received broad, bipartisan support, but the issue has been mired in political fights that have prevented its passage.” The Hill notes that “with 10 new bipartisan provisions, the bill’s sponsors are upbeat about its prospects.” In a statement Portman said, “This bill has garnered such widespread support because of a simple fact – it is good for the economy and good for the environment.”

Engineers Develop New Method To Treat Oil And Gas Wastewater Simpler, Cheaper.

The WaterOnline  (3/12) reports that University of Colorado Boulder engineers have developed a new process, relying on a microbe-powered battery, that “can simultaneously remove both salts and organic contaminants from the wastewater.” According to WaterOnline, the process, called “microbial capacitive desalination,” uses microbes that “eat the hydrocarbons and release their embedded energy,” which in turn creates an electrical current that “can then be used for desalination.” Additionally, the engineers note the process generates energy which can be used to run other equipment on site.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Wisconsin Elementary School Experimenting With Science Curriculum.

The Door County (WI) Daily News  (3/12, Kowols) reports “science teachers at Gibraltar Elementary School in Fish Creek will be doing a little experimenting of their own as they work to develop curriculum for next year” as “kindergarten and third grade classrooms began a pilot program called Project Lead The Way in January.” The program “provides science, technology, engineering, and math curriculums for over 6,500 schools across the country.”

Virginia School Hosts STEM Symposium.

The Springfield (VA) Connection  (3/11) reports The Nysmith School hosted “the 2nd Annual K-12 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Symposium for the National Capital Region, featuring speakers, panel discussions, exhibits, hands-on experiments for children, and materials about government and industry Stem-related high school and college internships.”

South Carolina School Hosts LEGO Championship.

The Summerville (SC) Journal Scene  (3/11) reports “an affinity for technology and robots – and Legos – brought elementary and middle school-aged kids to Summerville High on March 7 to participate in the South Carolina FIRST LEGO League – East State Championship.” The event featured “48 teams, with kids ages 9-14.”

Virginia PLTW Students Showcase Inventions In DC.

The Washington Post  (3/11, Balingit) reports that a group of engineering students at Woodbridge High School in Prince William County, Virginia have developed an idea for a car windshield that uses LCD technology and “blocks sunlight and automatically activates when a driver leaves the car” to prevent car interiors from overheating. The students “showcased the idea on Capitol Hill last month with other high school students, presenting their work to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and other leaders.” The piece notes that the class is part of Project Lead the Way, which “brings high-level engineering classes into high schools to give students a taste of what engineering training in college might be like.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

NASA “Back In Business” With SLS.
In Atlanta, Obama Signs “Student Aid Bill Of Rights.”
Virginia Tech Professor Receives Fellowship To Tackle Issues In Cloud Storage.
Career Prospects In Petroleum Engineering, Other Engineering Fields Look Bright.
Apple Seeks Dismissal Of Battery Engineer Poaching Lawsuit.
CIA Helped DOJ Develop Specialized Phone-Scanning Technology.
Maryland Student Wins First Prize In Intel Science Talent Search.

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