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

Leading the News

Clemson Researchers Awarded For Creating Robot that Trusts, Regrets.

GSA Business  (3/20) reports that Clemson University researcher Yue “Sophie” Wang has received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation’s Faculty Early Career Development Program “for work she says is improving opportunities for humans and robots to collaborate in manufacturing.” Wang’s research focuses on “trust and regret while aiming to develop ‘control algorithms.’” Wang’s colleague Jacob Sorber also won the award for research that “enables low-cost, low-power sensors to gather data for long periods.”

WSPA-TV  Greenville, SC (3/20) reports that Wang’s award is for “a robot coded to understand trust and regret,” while Sober’s is “for a device that never needs to be plugged in to charge.” Sorber’s research is in developing “tiny sensors that can operate for decades” by harvesting “renewable solar, thermal or vibration energy” and making “the most efficient decisions about where that energy should go.”

Higher Education

MOOCs Poised To Transform College Admissions Process.

A Washington Post  (3/19, Carey) article about the college admission process discusses the traditional criteria by which schools select students, including high school GPAs, scores on college aptitude tests, and extracurriculars, but notes that the advent of massive open online courses is likely to “level the playing field for students in America and abroad.” The piece explains that MOOCs “give students a chance to prove that they’re ready for a university — and in turn, the institution gets an accurate measure of whether a student is prepared for its academics.”

Engineering Education Being Transformed By 3-D Printing.

US News & World Report  (3/19) reports that “additive manufacturing,” as represented by 3-D printing techniques, is “putting a new spin on graduate education in both engineering and industrial design.” The article touches on the expected growth of 3-D printing in the coming years, and notes that Carnegie Mellon University’s Institute for Complex Engineered Systems is “one of several academic research centers exploring” the bounds of additive manufacturing “through collaborations of faculty, students and companies.”

Engineering Programs Form Bridge Between Research And Consumer Markets.

US News & World Report  (3/19) reports on a number of consumer products and processes that “were developed in the research lab by engineering graduate students, who have delivered or are delivering them to the marketplace.” The article describes several products of “‘translational research,’ or engineering conducted at the lab bench with an eye toward rapidly getting it to customers or, in a medical context, to the bedside.” The piece reports that engineering schools are increasingly embracing such research “reflecting the growing push to tailor graduate study ‘to be more driven by real-world experience – designing real systems and building things that work.’”

VIDEOS – Watch a collection of talks from the Public Policy Colloquium, held in February. (Due to audio problems, not all talks were captured.)

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Research and Development

Utah State Freshman Recreates 18th Century Steam Engine.

KSTU-TV  Salt Lake City (3/15) reports that after seeing “a couple of photographs showing just a couple of angles,” Utah State University freshman Charles Roos was able to “recreate a working model of an 18th Century steam engine, and now he’s being recognized with an award given by the largest engineering company in Europe.” The piece explains that USU engineering professor John Devitry “started the project after a visit to the Henry Ford museum in Detroit, where he observed an old steam engine once owned by Ford himself.” Roos “found a special interest in the assignment,” and later entered his project “in the Siemans Solid Edge Design Competition, where it won top honors.”

Scientists Call For Investigation Of Indoor Biomes.

The New York Times  (3/20, Zimmer, Subscription Publication) reports on indoor biomes which it says “remains at science’s frontier.” Twenty-five scientists “have issued a manifesto” in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, “urging serious scientific investigation of the indoor biome. We need to find out not only what is living in our homes and workplaces, the scientists say, but how they got there.” The Times notes that current “research may eventually help us engineer the indoor biome to push pathogens out of our homes.” Argonne National Laboratory microbiologist Jack Gilbert said, “We will have an ability to start to design healthier buildings.”

Split Opens Up On Capitol Hill Over Science Funding.

Chemistry World  (3/20) reports on the “battles over what science gets funded” from Congress. Science advocates and researchers are “particularly worried now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress,” and they “fear that science budgets will be cut and the independence of research agencies curtailed.” According to the article, their worries have been fueled “by two simultaneous developments: increasing public criticism by key Republicans of research funded by agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF) and a congressional power shift that has placed many vocal so-called climate change sceptics [sic] and opponents of environmental regulations in positions of power.”

Scientists Discover Optical Fibers That Can Create Synapses.

Engadget  (3/19, Moon) reports that researchers have found that “optical fiber made from chalcogenides can create synapses to latch onto each other,” similar to the way our brains operate. Engadget notes that the fibers could eventually be made into an AI system but the researches have yet to “find a way to combine multiple fibers to form an artificial neural network.”

Global Developments

Solar Eclipse Poses Challenge To Europe’s Increasing Use Of Solar Power.

The New York Times  (3/20, Eddy, Subscription Publication) reports that the “cosmic coincidence involving a solar eclipse, a supermoon and the spring equinox” is causing some concern in Europe “that the lights might go out.” That is because of “Europe’s increasing reliance on solar energy” and the eclipse’s casting of “a partial shadow across much of Europe, nearly blocking out sunlight.” One expert said the problem is “the speed at which the energy generated by solar panels was expected to drop and then rise again, at a time of day when demand was high.” It is particularly incorporating the sudden return of power into the grid that offers the challenge.

The New York Times  (3/20, Overbye, Subscription Publication) reports, “The only places on land where the eclipse will be total are the Faroe Islands and Svalbard,” though there will be a “partial eclipse” over Europe, Russia, and North Africa.

Industry News

FAA Gives Amazon Approval To Test Drones Outdoors.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/20, Bensinger, Subscription Publication) reports the Federal Aviation Administration awarded an experimental airworthiness certificate, allowing it to engage in open space tests of its drone delivery systems with certain restrictions and reporting requirements. Amazon is attempting to develop unmanned vehicles for 30-minute package delivery.

Seattle News Helicopters Encounter Drone. ABC World News (3/19, story 7, 1:50, Robach) reported that the FAA is investigating an incident that ABC characterized as “an alarming danger” that saw two news helicopters “nearly colliding” with a drone that was “violating Federal regulations by flying so high”. Such reports were said to be increasing to “25 a month” and were “raising real concerns about safety in the skies.”

Sales of Cars With Recall Defects Investigated.

ABC World News (3/19, story 10, 1:55, Robach) reported that some dealerships are selling cars with “potentially dangerous defects” that are subject to a complete recall status, which is illegal. The investigation “uncovered hundreds of new cars” around the country that were “sold with unfixed safety recalls.”

GM CEO To Be Deposed Over Switches. The Wall Street Journal  (3/20, Bennett, Subscription Publication) reports that General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra and other employees will testify under oath during a deposition this October with legal representatives of consumers as part of a class-action suit seeking damages for an issue that is the subject of an on-going recall concerning a malfunctioning ignition switch.

Honda Adds 105,000 Vehicles To Air Bag Recall. The AP  (3/20, Krisher) reports that Honda’s US recall – which started in 2008 due to issues with exploding air bag inflators, made by Takata Corp. of Japan – is adding another 105,000 vehicles.

Engineering and Public Policy

Obama Orders Cuts In Federal Greenhouse Emissions

President Obama’s signing of an executive order Thursday reducing Federal greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent was not covered on any of last night’s network newscasts, but it is generating reports in the nation’s major dailies and wires this morning. Reports note that the move represents the latest in a string of executive actions by Obama and fulfills a commitment he made last year as part of a climate deal with China.

The executive order, the New York Times  (3/20, Davis, Subscription Publication) reports, “set new goals for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of federal agencies,” but notes that the Federal government’s “share of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is minuscule — less than 1 percent in 2013.” But the goals are “in line with a commitment” the US made as part of a climate deal with China. The Detroit News  (3/20, Shepardson) notes the order includes reducing emissions from the Federal government’s “655,000 vehicles by 30 percent by 2025.”

The AP  (3/20, Lederman) says that by reducing pollution “within the US government, Obama sought to increase political pressure on other nations to deal seriously with climate change.” During a visit to DOE headquarters, Obama said, “We thought it was important for us to lead by example. These are ambitious goals, but we know they’re achievable goals.”

USA Today  (3/20, Jackson) notes the executive order “also directed the government to increase its use of renewable resources to 30% of energy use,” and the White House announced that “several major federal suppliers — including IBM, General Electric, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell — have committed to their own reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”

Interior To Issue Fracking Regulations Today The Wall Street Journal  (3/19, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that the Interior Department today is expected to announce long-awaited regulations for hydraulic fracturing in the oil and natural-gas industries. Interior Secretary Jewell said Tuesday, “The rule will include measures to protect our nation’s groundwater—requiring operators to construct sound wells, to disclose the chemicals they use, and to safely recover and handle fluids used in the process.”

Shimkus Hopeful Yucca Mountain Can Move Forward Now Reid Is Not Majority Leader.

The Hill  (3/19) reports Rep. John Shimkus “is hopeful Congress can move forward on sending the nation’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada now that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is no longer the majority leader.” The GOP lawmaker “tells The Hill that Reid had blocked a law to create a nuclear repository there when Democrats controlled the Senate. The chamber is now in GOP control.” In an interview with The Hill, Shimkus stated, “Remember, there hasn’t been a vote on Yucca Mountain in the Senate since Sen. Reid was the majority leader. … Now he’s the minority leader, and being the minority leader, he can’t block what bills come to the floor, especially if there is a majority of senators — a supermajority of senators — who say, ‘No, we’ve got to move this bill.’”

Duke Energy, ElectriCities Do Not Support Renewable Direct-Sales Bill.

The Charlotte (NC) Business Journal  (3/20, Downey, Subscription Publication) reports in its “Energy” blog that Duke Energy and ElectriCities of North Carolina are “clearly not on board” with a bill in the state’s House allowing renewable energy developers to “bypass utilities and sell power directly to customers.” They are concerned that net metering rules enable customers to “escape paying their full share of the fixed cost for infrastructure and transmission” and seek legislation that would “deal comprehensively with the issues.” North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association spokesperson Allison Eckley is “wary” that Duke is trying to delay a bill which has bipartisan support and mirrored what is already in place in 24 states.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Thirty-Eight Teams Set To Participate In Bridgewater, NJ Robotics Competition.

The Middlesex County (NJ) Home News Tribune  (3/19, Bhatia) reports that 38 teams will compete in a robotics competition in Bridgewater, NJ on March 28 and 29. The competition is sponsored by FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an organization that advocates for STEM education and hosts a “range of annual robotics competitions” for students from elementary to high school. Last year’s competition at Bridgewater Raritan High School drew more than 2,000 attendees, who, in addition to watching the competition, are able to “learn about the opportunities in math and science that FIRST provides.”

Fifth Annual Philadelphia Science Festival To Be Held Next Month.

The Philadelphia Inquirer  (3/20, McCullough) reports that the fifth annual Philadelphia Science Festival, hosted by the Franklin Institute, will be held from April 24 to May 2. The festival brings together “hundreds of the region’s parks, libraries, universities, museums, eateries and pubs” to host over 100 events. The festival’s events are designed “to stoke interest in science and technology” with a “boggling array of grand, engrossing, and goofy opportunities for science education.” According to officials, the festival, which began with a grant from the National Science Foundation, is now “self-sustaining” and funded primarily by sponsors.

Middle School Students Participate In Underwater Robot Design Program.

The Pioneer Press (IL)  (3/19, Michaels) reports that 23 members of a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Club at a La Grange middle school have been meeting since the beginning of the school year to design an underwater robot. The program is part of Shedd Aquarium’s Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle competition and affiliated with the Marine Advanced Technology Education organization, “which sponsors international contests.” The competition teaches skills such as “soldering and basic wiring” and requires students’ robots to perform “mock” underwater tasks: teams “command their robots to pick up sea urchins (a toy on the bottom of the pool), and repair an oil pipeline (a PVC pipe with a valve).”

Carnegie Science Center Directors Attend STEM Conference In Washington, DC.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (3/20, Majors) reports that around 100 education leaders gathered in Washington on Wednesday to discuss how to “get kids more enthusiastic” about STEM fields. Among the participants were the directors of the Carnegie Science Center, whose director Ann Metzger noted Pennsylvania business leaders’ concerns about finding workers with skills they need. Last year, the Carnegie Science Center started pilot programs for the STEM Excellence Pathway in several school districts, the results of which have “been encouraging,” according to Science Center directors.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Dominion To Build Biggest Solar Farm In Virginia On Land Leased From Phillip Morris USA.
Bipartisan Bill Proposed To Establish “Manufacturing Universities”.
Mercury News: US Must Boost R&D Spending.
Tech Workforce Diversity Increasingly A Focus Of SXSW.
FCC Set To Reform Rules On Spectrum Auctions.
STEM Program Expands To Ohio Elementary Schools.

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