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

Leading the News

Report: DOE Projects Could Get US To 35% Wind Power.

According to the Huffington Post  (3/12, Sheppard), a report released by the Department of Energy on Thursday predicts that the US “could draw 35 percent of its electricity from wind power by 2050.” The report says that wind power represents 30% of new generating capacity installed between 2009 and 2013, and that the US could install up to 11 gigawatts of additional wind capacity annually by 2050 for a total of 400 gigawatts, “enough power for 100 million homes,” the article adds.

Bakken Oil Field Fatalities Increase. The Wall Street Journal  (3/13, Berzon, Subscription Publication) reports that as many as eight oil workers have died in North Dakota oil fields since October, more than in the preceding year, as oil companies rein in drilling in the region in response to falling oil prices. The Journal cites Eric Brooks, director of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Bismarck office, as saying that the increase in fatalities could be a result of pressure on oilfield service companies to cut costs by hiring inexperienced workers.

Oil Price Fall Hits North Dakota Town. The Wall Street Journal  (3/13, Gold, Subscription Publication) reports on the impact falling oil prices have taken on the town of Williston, North Dakota, which was once the fastest-growing small town in the country as oil workers migrated there. As oil companies have scaled back drilling operations due to lower prices, layoffs have increased and overtime work has dwindled, leaving many workers struggling.

Higher Education

University Of Illinois Poised To Begin Engineering-Based Medical School.

The Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette  (3/12) reports that the University of Illinois board of trustees was poised to announce its decision on “opening a new College of Medicine in Urbana by the fall 2017 target,” noting that the “engineering-based medical school, to be developed in partnership with Carle Health System, was endorsed Wednesday by UI President Bob Easter and received support from UI trustees.”

US Engineering Schools Dominate Top 10 Rankings.

The E&T Magazine  (3/13, Pultarova) reports “the UK’s top universities have climbed up in global rankings, with Oxford and Cambridge rated the second and third best educational institution in the world, but US schools still dominate in engineering and technology disciplines.” Specifically, The Times Higher Education World University Rankings found Harvard University to be “the global number one, with further seven US universities making the top 10.” Oxford and Cambridge are “the only non-US schools that have placed in the top 10.”

Fiber Optic System Will Link University Of Texas System To SpaceX.

Wants The McAllen (TX) Monitor  (3/12, Perez-Treviño) reports that the University of Texas System is looking for proposals “for a fiber optic infrastructure project” to connect Brownsville facilities to those in “Boca Chica and to the nearby site of SpaceX’s control center and to the rocket-launch pad.” According to the article, this is the first infrastructure project linking SpaceX to the university.

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Research and Development

Device Could Solve Astronauts’ Eye Problems.

The KELO-TV  Sioux Falls, SD (3/12, Wonnenberg) website reported on John Berdahl’s work to help astronauts reach Mars by protecting their eyes. Berdahl said that “one of the biggest health obstacles that astronauts face in getting the first person to Mars” is the swelling of the optic nerve seen experienced by ISS astronauts. This can lead to vision problems. In order to combat the syndrome known as VIIP, Berdahl has developed a device “to balance the pressure in the eye with brain pressure.” Berdahl said that the research was “a real big deal” because not only could it help astronauts in space, but it could also treat glaucoma, “the second leading cause of blindness in the world.”

Ganymede May Have More Water Under Its Surface Than Earth.

The AP  (3/12, Chang) reported that Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters, said, “The solar system is now looking like a pretty soggy place” because of findings that Jupiter’s largest moon, Ganymede, has even more water than the Earth beneath its surface. By looking at the moon’s auroras using the Hubble telescope, scientists led by Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne were able to find “the most convincing” indications of Ganymede’s interior ocean. The article noted that the ESA is next planning to launch a mission to Jupiter in 2022 which will “slip into orbit around Ganymede for a close-up look – the first attempt at orbiting an icy moon.”

USA Today  (3/12, Watson) noted that no only did the Hubble data “nicely” correspond to predictions of what should happen if an ocean was present, it could not fit a scenario where Ganymede had no ocean.

The New York Times  (3/13, Chang, Subscription Publication) reported that Christopher P. McKay of the Ames Research Center summarized the recent announcement about water on solar system moons by saying, “Surprising is the understatement. … After spending so many years going after Mars, which is so dry and so bereft of organics and so just plain dead, it’s wonderful to go to the outer solar system and find water, water everywhere.” McKay added that because Enceladus appears to have the right conditions for potential life, while Ganymede does not, “my mantra now is follow the plume,” referring to the plumes on Saturn’s moon.

According to the Washington Post  (3/12, Feltman) “Speaking of Science” blog, John Grunsfeld, assistant administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement, “This discovery marks a significant milestone, highlighting what only Hubble can accomplish. … In its 25 years in orbit, Hubble has made many scientific discoveries in our own solar system. A deep ocean under the icy crust of Ganymede opens up further exciting possibilities for life beyond Earth.” Meanwhile, Hubble senior project scientist Jennifer Wiseman said that while researchers could theoretically make similar findings about oceans on exoplanets, such findings “may require a telescope larger than the Hubble, it may require a new space telescope, but nevertheless it is a tool we have now.”

Discovery News  (3/12, Klotz) reported that Green said that the new technique used to investigate Ganymede’s interior was “an astounding demonstration.”

Sen  (3/12, Tyndall) noted that Wiseman added that the discovery “[demonstrates] the benefits of having serviced the [telescope]. … Thanks to the fact we’ve had multiple…missions going up to the telescope… we have the instrument [STIS] working very well and that has allowed the detection of these precise oscillations of the aurorae.”

The Los Angeles Times  (3/12, Netburn) “Science Now” website, New York Daily News  (3/12, Hensley), Reuters  (3/12, Klotz), ABC News  (3/12, Newcomb), CBS News  (3/12, Harwood) website, BBC News  (3/12, Amos), and other media sources also covered the story.


AWIS Fights For Equality For Women In STEM Fields.

Fortune  (3/12, Petrilla) reports that “as the largest multi-disciplinary organization for women in STEM careers—more then 20,000 members and counting—” the Association for Women in Science’s (AWIS) “current causes are less visible and more nuanced than erotic photos on a page: fair pay, professional isolation, work-life balance, equal recognition.” Despite some setbacks over the years, the group has “had some notable wins over the years, from successfully suing the National Institutes of Health in 1974 to include more women on peer review panels, to their ongoing push to strengthen Title IX’s application in STEM departments—as a means of protecting educational equality for girls and women, and of championing equal lab space and other resources at research universities.”

Engineering and Public Policy

DOE Official Says No Plans In Works For Alternative Uses Of Yucca Facility.

Greenwire  (3/12, Northey) reports that the Energy Department “moved to quash speculation among House Republicans that the Pentagon is considering alternative uses for the contentious Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada.” John Kotek of the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy “told three senior House Republicans in a letter dated March 4 that the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has not submitted – and is not expected to submit – a proposal for [alternative] uses of the site, which is considered the legal national waste repository under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.” Kotek is said to be in line to “replace Pete Lyons, the administration’s top official on nuclear energy.” He currently oversees the DOE’s strategy for “managing spent fuel from nuclear reactors and high-level radioactive waste, as well as nuclear research and development programs.”

NRC Plans To Release Yucca Supplement Environmental Review Next Year. E&E News PM  (3/13, Northey) reports that the NRC intends to “complete an environmental review of the contentious waste repository under Yucca Mountain in Nevada by next spring.” The agency will “craft a supplement to an environmental impact statement for Yucca that the Energy Department submitted to the commission in 2008.” In 2013, the NRC staff found that the DOE’s environmental impact statement “did not adequately address all of the repository-related effects on groundwater or the effect of surfaces discharges on groundwater and asked the department to prepare a supplement.” Concerns were high at the time that the water table “was insufficiently protected from radiation and that many people’s drinking and agricultural water would be exposed.” But a DOE official last year “said the agency would instead update 2009 findings,” which put the burden on the NRC.

USA Today Calls For End Of Ethanol Mandate.

In an editorial, USA Today  (3/13) criticizes the potential GOP presidential candidates who appeared at Iowa’s Ag Summit this week, saying they “to declare fealty to the so-called Renewable Fuel Standard,” which the editorial says mandates drivers’ use of ethanol “even though they don’t want it and it makes no practical sense.” USA Today examines how falling oil prices and greater auto efficiency “make the mandate’s demands laughable,” while consumers suffer financially from higher gas prices. “Just end the mandate — notwithstanding the kowtowing of politicians traipsing through Iowa,” the editorial concludes.

Industry Executive Defends RFS. In an opposing view, Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen writes in USA Today  (3/13) that the Renewable Fuel Standard has increased the use of renewable fuel and agricultural value while reducing imported petroleum and greenhouse emissions from transportation. Dinneen writes that opposition to the RFS is driven by the oil and food industry’s discontent at losing profitability, and that “If we are to ever realize the promise of the RFS, we must allow it to continue.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Survey: US Millenials Fail To See Value Of STEM Subjects.

The Computer Business Review  (3/13) reports that a recent survey showed that only 75 percent US millennials between the ages of 18 to 34-year-olds think the teaching of STEM subjects in primary or secondary school “is relevant,” while 88 percent of US baby boomers between 51 and 69-years-old “still believe it is important to teach these topics.” The article also notes that 42 percent of US millenials and 46 percent of baby boomers “considered engineering the least important subject to be studied.”

NASA Engineer Video Chats With Kids.

The Queens (NY) Chronicle  (3/12, O’Reilly) reports on an event held at One Stop Richmond Hill Community Center, where children got to video chat with NASA’s Eric Alexander. Alexander, a member of the engineering directorate, told the young participants that they “are the future engineers and astronauts who will lead this program.”

Dallas Schools Participate In Robotics Competitions.

The Dallas Morning News  (3/12, Farmer) reports “more than 35 students at Rockwall High School designed and built a 120-pound robot powered by a motorcycle battery over a six-week period this school year.” The school, like many others in the district, competes “in a variety of robotics programs, including FIRST Lego League, VEX Robotics and FIRST Robotics Competition, said Jean Laswell, RISD Career Education Coordinator.” According to Laswell, “nine of the district’s 13 elementary campuses have active robotics teams, and all of the middle and high schools have active teams.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

NASA “Closer” To Mars Mission With SLS Booster Test.
University of Toledo Launches National Science Foundation I-Corps.
Army Research Office Studies Elephants’ Ability To Smell Bombs.
Ford Campaign Aims To Highlight Female Engineers.
Audi Planning Battery-Powered SUV For 2018.
EPA Chief: Climate Change Could Endanger Coffee.
Wisconsin Elementary School Experimenting With Science Curriculum.

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