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

Leading the News

SpaceX Will Launch Turkmenistan’s First Satellite On Saturday.

Florida Today  (3/14, Dean) reported that if SpaceX launches “Turkmenistan’s first satellite” next Saturday, it will be the third launch from Cape Canaveral “in as many weeks.” SpaceX will not try a booster landing test during the launch, instead waiting for its next mission to the ISS, which will take place “no earlier than April 10.”

SpaceX Expects To Be Certified By Air Force By June. Reuters  (3/13, Shalal) reported that on Friday, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell told the publication that it expects the Air Force to certify it to compete for security launches by June, adding that relations between the two sides are at a new high following the settlement of a lawsuit in January.

Activity Increasing Ahead Of Launchpad Construction. The Brownsville (TX) Herald  (3/14, Perez-Treviño) reported that SpaceX is increasing its activity around Boca Chica ahead of the start of construction of its commercial launch complex. This included the “the near completion of its design and continuing land purchases.”

Higher Education

Elon Researchers Working On Better X-Ray Scanners.

The Greensboro (NC) News & Record  (3/16) reports that a research team at Elon University is “fighting terrorism with a razor blade, a hacksaw and a low-powered desktop X-ray machine.” Associate professor of engineering Scott Wolter and his team are “working with Duke University researchers who are trying to develop a new and better X-ray scanning system to screen bags at the nation’s airports.”

Colleges Criticize ED Plan To Grade Education Schools On Teacher Training.

McClatchy  (3/16, Noguchi, Subscription Publication) reports that a Department of Education plan would “grade education schools” and training programs “partly on how well new teachers’ students perform on standardized tests.” Colleges have “fiercely objected” to the proposals, which would “hit hard in California,” where a survey has ranked its credential programs “lower than average.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan, however, has said that teacher preparation in the US is “mediocre” and has called for “revolutionary change.”

Chicago Community Colleges Aim To Reduce Need For Remedial Classes.

The Chicago Tribune  (3/13, Keilman) reports that community colleges in Chicago are attempting to work with local high schools to create courses for students “with shaky academic skills” in order to help incoming students “avoid remedial classes altogether.” The Tribune says that while President Obama has prioritized community college education, an additional barrier to students’ success is their “ability to do college-level work,” noting that half of community college students in the US are required to take remedial math and English courses.

Commentary: Gainful Employment Rules Could Hurt Law Schools.

Attorney and former American Bar Association President Martha Walters Barnett writes at The Hill  (3/16) “Congress Blog” that ED’s for-profit college gainful employment rules would be harmful for “proprietary law schools that have been accredited by the American Bar Association,” and could cause some of them to have to close down. She concedes that some for-profit schools are leaving students in debt with little prospect for employment, but says that ED “casts the net too wide and is sure to bring about unintended and detrimental consequences.”

Schools Cracking Down On “Racially Tinged” Incidents.

The AP  (3/16, Hefling, Holland) reports that despite many schools’ “swift and tough” responses to fraternities’ “racially tinged parties or behavior,” episodes like the racist chants by members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma keep recurring. The AP reports that these incidents often draw attention after students “post pictures or videos online.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that he thinks “the vast majority of fraternities and sororities and their members conduct themselves very well and contribute to their university communities, are leaders on campus, but where we have places where racism is part of the culture, we have to challenge that.”

Obama Touts Student Aid “Bill Of Rights” In Weekly Radio Address.

The Hill  (3/14, Hensch) reported in its “Briefing Room” blog that in his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Obama “urged Americans to sign his new ‘Student Aid Bill of Rights’ and collectively work towards reducing the cost of higher education.” Obama said, “But just when it’s never been more important, it’s also never been more expensive. The average undergrad who borrows to pay for college ends up graduating with about $28,000 in student loan debt.” The Hill added Obama touted policies aimed at reducing college borrowing, adding his “Student Aid Bill of Rights” will help in that effort.

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Research and Development

NASA Launches Magnetospheric Science Satellites.

The Christian Science Monitor  (3/15) reports that NASA launched a “constellation of state-of-the-art magnetospheric science satellites” into orbit on Thursday, noting that they are intended to “unravel the mysteries of the process known as magnetic reconnection.” The article describes the scope of the $1.1 billion Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, and thumbnails what is currently known about magnetic reconnection.

SXSW Demonstrators Protest Robots, AI.

USA Today  (3/14, Swartz, Today) reports that a group of roughly two dozen protestors demonstrated at the SXSW tech and entertainment festival in Austin to protest advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. Organizer Adam Mason, a computer engineer, said, “This is about morality in computing.” The piece notes that “gawkers” stared at the “rare protest” at the festival, and notes that such science luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Tesla founder Elon Musk have expressed concerns about AI.

Dawn Engineer Interviewed About Mission Goals.

The Prescott (AZ) Daily Courier  (3/14, Orr) interviewed Yu Takahashi, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University of Prescott, AZ graduate. Takahashi works on the navigation team for the Dawn spacecraft, an unmanned mission now exploring the dwarf planet Ceres. Takahashi explained that the mission hopes to unveil information about the origins of the solar system, saying, “If you study things like this, it’s like taking a sample of the early solar system to study the chemistry and chemical makeup that was there as the Sun was forming,” adding, “They think some of these guys formed more than four billion years ago.”

Swallowable Sensor May Help Detect, Analyze Intestinal Gases Inside The Body.

TIME  (3/14, Oaklander) reported that researchers “in Australia say they’ve developed a noninvasive swallowable sensor, in the form of a pill, that can detect the gases brewing inside of” a person’s intestines. The sensor could help detect the source of digestive woes and could also “be useful for figuring out exactly how foods affect the body.” The research appeared online in the journal Trends in Biotechnology.

Industry News

Impact Of Robots, Automation Expected To Put Pressure On Jobs, Wages.

CNBC  (3/13, Wee) reported online about the trend of increased use of automation in manufacturing, noting that in the past 15 years robots have “advanced and are smaller, nimble and more affordable,” encouraging even small and medium-size US businesses to begin automating their shop floors. China in 2013 “ordered more robots … than any other country,” about 37,000, CNBC said, citing research co-published by the NAM-affiliated Manufacturing Institute. “Some economists see a future where robots will push down labor costs and lift productivity so companies will think twice before offshoring U.S. jobs,” CNBC said. It cited a Boston Consulting Group finding that automation is expected to increase productivity by up to 30% in “many industries,” and reduce labor costs by “at least” 18% in the coming decade. Although BCG researchers didn’t specify what labor cost savings would mean in terms of the potential number of jobs eliminated by automation, CNBC noted the generalized fear of “botsourcing” – that “more robots” equals “lost jobs.”

Engineering and Public Policy

FAA To Begin Testing Lead-Free Aircraft Fuels.

The Press of Atlantic City (NJ)  (3/13, Wittkowski) reported that the FAA “will start testing on lead-free fuels this month” at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center in an effort “to reduce environmentally harmful emissions from general aviation aircraft.” As there is no certainty that any of these unleaded fuels will ever hit the market, Dave Atwood, FAA mechanical engineer and program manager for the testing, said that the agency “doesn’t pick a winner. The market will decide.” The tests represented “a $30 million research program.”

Texas Electric Utilities At Odds Over Transmission Line Expansion.

The Dallas Morning News  (3/14, Osborne) reported that as Dallas continues to grow and local power plants are decommissioned, space on high voltage transmission lines into the city “is becoming sought after” to the point “they are being overloaded and ‘will cause significant reliability issues,’ reads a report from the state’s grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.” But what “seems a basic engineering problem has turned into a flash point for the industry, as some of Texas’ largest power companies line up against each other in a legal fight that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.” The Morning News said the dispute pits CenterPoint Energy of Houston against generators NRG Energy and Calpine.

DOE To Buy Oil To Replenish SPR.

In continuing coverage, the Houston Chronicle  (3/15, Dlouhy) reports the Department of Energy “plans to buy up to 5 million barrels of oil to replenish the Strategic Petroleum Reserve after a test sale last year.” The purchase of sweet crude being planned “between June 1 and July 31 is required by federal laws forcing the Department of Energy to buy back petroleum products within one year, using the proceeds from a test sale.” In this instance, “the recent collapse in crude prices means the government is set to make money on the two transactions – effectively buying low now after selling high last year.” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz “has suggested that the current approach to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, established in 1975 in the wake of the OPEC oil embargo, doesn’t mesh with today’s booming domestic production” and he has called “for a ‘modernization’ of the oil stockpile.”

Nuclear Regulatory Commission To Present Yucca Groundwater Study.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (3/16, Meyers) reported that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is planning to present a study on Yucca Mountain groundwater. The NRC’s report was characterized as a budget spend down effort as the Department of Energy isn’t interested in the site anymore.

California Proposes Computer and Monitor Energy Efficiency Standards.

The Los Angeles Times  (3/16, Lifsher) reported that the California Energy Commission proposed energy efficiency standards for computers and monitors on Thursday which could save 2,702 gigawatt hours a year and reduce Californians’ bills by $430 million annually. The standards include those for active and standby energy use as well as automated power management. Critical of the proposed regulation, Douglas Johnson of the Consumer Electronics Association said that manufactures “don’t wait for regulations to make products more efficient.”

Roll Call  (3/16, Subscription Publication) also covered this story.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Maryland High School Student Wins Intel Science Talent Search Top Honors.

The Washington Post  (3/15, George) reports that Michael Hofmann Winer, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland is “one of three top medalists in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search competition.” Calling Winer a “physics phenom,” the piece reports that he has “studied how fundamental quasi-particles of sound, called phonons, interact with electrons.” Winer praised his school’s math, science and computer science magnet program.

SeaPerch Competition Promotes Engineering, STEM Careers.

The Chicago Tribune  (3/15, Bucksten) reports that the Navy is the primary sponsor of the SeaPerch program, a competition in which middle and high school students build underwater, Remotely Operated Vehicles. The program, which held a qualifying competition last Saturday at Naval Station Great Lakes, is designed to encourage students to pursue careers as “robotics engineers or enter other STEM fields, hopefully while in U.S. Navy uniform.”

Massachusetts Girl Scouts Explore STEM Fields At Conference.

The Hopkinton (MA) Crier  (3/15, Roy) reports that 150 Girls Scouts in Massachusetts participated in the third annual STEM Conference and Expo on Saturday, where they participated in a series of workshops on topics ranging “from biology to computer science” and attended a panel session made up of women working in STEM fields.

Also in the News

“Rocket Girl” Tells Life Of Woman Who May Have Helped Launch First US Satellite.

The Sandusky (OH) Register  (3/15, Jackson) reports on the life and work of Mary Sherman Morgan, who may have played a role in launching the first US satellite into space through her development of hydyne fuel. Her son, George D. Morgan, has written a book and play about his mother, both titled “Rocket Girl.” When Mary Morgan died in 2004, the Los Angeles Times refused to print the obituary submitted by her son because the paper could not verify her work on the satellite project. Mary Morgan worked for North American Aviation’s Rocketdyne plant, where employee records have been difficult to research to verify Morgan’s role.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Report: DOE Projects Could Get US To 35% Wind Power.
University Of Illinois Poised To Begin Engineering-Based Medical School.
Device Could Solve Astronauts’ Eye Problems.
AWIS Fights For Equality For Women In STEM Fields.
DOE Official Says No Plans In Works For Alternative Uses Of Yucca Facility.
Survey: US Millenials Fail To See Value Of STEM Subjects.

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