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

Leading the News

Administration Announces New Fracking Rules.

Media reporting of the Administration’s announcement on Friday of new regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was straightforward and provided little depth. The coverage notes that the move received the anticipated reactions from the oil industry and environmentalists. Although the broadcast networks did not provide any coverage of the announcement, the major dailies all provided reporting on the story, but provided little depth and analysis. Reporting noted that the rules only apply to Federal land, diminishing its impact, and the industry immediately filed a lawsuit to begin its fight against the new regulations.

In what the Washington Post  (3/21, Warrick) calls the Administration’s “most significant effort to tighten standards for hydraulic fracturing,” it announced Friday, according to the AP  (3/21, Daly, Lederman) that “it is requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations,” otherwise known as fracking. The new rule “to take effect in June also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids” used fracking.

McClatchy  (3/20, Cockerham, Subscription Publication) reports Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told reporters that “Many of the regulations on the books today haven’t kept pace with advances in technology.” Jewell added that “many” of the current rules were in place “when I was working on drilling and fracking operations in Oklahoma over 30 years ago.”

Jewell “credited fracking with helping reduce” US “dependence on foreign oil to its lowest level in 30 years,” according to the Los Angeles Times  (3/21, Susman) reports, but “said public worries mandated tighter regulation.” According to Jewell, “There is a lot of fear. There’s a lot of public concern, particularly about the safety of groundwater.”

The New York Times  (3/21, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports the “vast majority of fracking” in the US is done “on private or state-owned land,” and Jewell noted that while the new rules do not apply to those efforts. Jewell said for many states, “these may be the only regulations they have,” adding that efforts to address the state or private land “must now be taken up in statehouses and boardrooms across the country.”

Bloomberg News  (3/21, Harris) reports the oil industry “attacked” the new fracking regulations, and according to The Hill  (3/21, Cama), “wasted little time” in responding with a lawsuit. The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and Western Energy Alliance filed the complaint “less than an hour after” the Interior Department announced the new rules. The lawsuit “accuses federal regulators of promulgating ‘a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns’” that is not based on evidence.

The Washington Times  (3/21, Richardson) reports Republicans were also “outraged, accusing” the Administration of “once again making it more difficult to develop Western energy resources of public land.” Sen. Steve Daines said statues such has his home state of Montana “have successfully overseen hydraulic fracturing for years” but the Administration “seems more set on overregulating…than promoting the responsible development of our nation’s vast energy resources.”

Reuters  (3/21, Volcovici) reports Jewell indicated the new rules will benefit both the public and the drilling companies. Jewell said the regulations “will move our nation forward as we ensure responsible development while protecting public land resources,” adding it “is good for the public and good for industry.”

While environmental groups predictably “complimented the new rules,” according to USA Today  (3/21, Jackson, Today), “some said the administration should simply ban the practice.” Dan Chu, the senior director for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign, said the new steps “represent important progress;” however, “the only true way to protect communities from fracking is to not frack at all.” The Wall Street Journal  (3/21, Harder, Gilbert, Subscription Publication) reports environmental groups were also concerned that the mandatory public disclosures will be done through an industry website called FraFocus. The groups wanted the Interior Department to receive the disclosures directly from companies.

Environmentalists Criticize Fracking Rules. The Washington Times  (3/23, Richardson) reports that Friday’s announcement of new fracking regulations from the Department of the Interior “met with a chilly reception from fracking foes,” who had sought a complete ban of hydraulic fracturing on Federal land. A coalition on environmental groups called Americans Against Fracking said in a statement that the rules were “toothless,” and that the Obama Administration “has devised fracking regulations that are nothing more than a giveaway to the oil and gas industry.”

WPost Supports Interior’s New Fracking Regulations. In an editorial, the Washington Post  (3/23) comments on the Administration’s newly finalized rules for fracking on public lands, commending the Interior Department for choosing “the sensible place in the debate,” rather than siding with fracking’s strongest supporters or opponents. The Post examines the concerns of both environmentalists and the energy industry, saying that unlike them, “the Obama administration is getting the balance right on fracking.”

Higher Education

University Of Illinois Launches College Of Medicine With Engineering Focus.

USA Today  (3/22, Castillo) reports on the decision by the University of Illinois to start “the nation’s first college of medicine, which will have an integration in both engineering and medicine.” It is the first new college established at the university in “almost 60 years.” The university is partnering with Carle Health System in developing the college. The college will offer MD-MS degrees as well as MD-PhD degrees. It is hoping to produce “physician scientists, physician engineers and physician entrepreneurs.” The College of Medicine at the university “will be entirely dependent on tuition, clinical revenue, philanthropy, grants and contracts,” and will receive no state funding. A Harvard-MIT program in Health Sciences and Technology “trains physician-scientists who want to have a research component to their career.”

Obama Weighs In On Debate Over Amateurism In College Sports.

In an interview on Friday with the Huffington Post  (3/21, Jamieson), President Obama weighed in on the controversy surrounding “amateurism in college sports,” claiming that “universities bear ‘more responsibilities than right now they’re showing’ toward their athletes and that the NCAA should require schools to guarantee athletic scholarships with no strings attached.” Obama “stopped short” of arguing in favor of the right of collegiate athletes to be paid or to unionize.

The AP  (3/23, Superville) reports that Obama told the Huffington Post that paying college athletes “would ‘ruin the sense of college sports,’” and expressed frustration that coaches, athletic directors, and the NCAA all make “huge amounts of money” while athletes face harsh restrictions.

Colleges Increasingly Providing “Safe Spaces” To Protect Students From Emotional Trauma.

The New York Times  (3/22, Shulevitz, Subscription Publication) reports that when a member of Brown University’s Sexual Assault Task Force learned last fall about a debate about campus sexual assault at which one party was considered likely to “criticize the term ‘rape culture,’” she helped to organize a competing presentation “to provide ‘research and facts’ about ‘the role of culture in sexual assault.’” Simultaneously, student volunteers organized a “safe space” during the event, “intended to give people who might find comments ‘troubling’ or ‘triggering,’ a place to recuperate.” Such facilities are part of an “increasingly prevalent” opinion among students that schools “should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints.”

Sweet Briar Alumnae Seek To Keep School Open.

The New York Times  (3/23, Stolberg, Subscription Publication) reports on the reaction of the Sweet Briar College community of students, alumnae, parents, and faculty to the decision of the board to close the college as of the end of the school year, describing “a hotbed of anger and activism.” A newly founded group, Saving Sweet Briar, “has raised $3 million and intends to demand this week that the school make its finances public — or face legal action.” The faculty held a unanimous vote rejecting the board’s decision. The closing of the school is “playing out against a backdrop of wrenching changes for small liberal arts schools, especially those in rural areas, and women’s colleges,” in which over the last fifty years the number of women’s colleges in the US has declined from 230 to 46.

The Washington Post  (3/21, Balingit) reports that alumnae are organizing in an effort to reverse the board’s decision. President James Jones has said the college “needs an immediate infusion of $250 million just to keep the school afloat.”

Study Finds Students Whose Parents Open College Savings Accounts Graduate With Less Student Loan Debt.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/20, Mitchell) reports that college-savings accounts may be “a key tool for helping Americans afford college while avoiding student debt.” That’s according to research published in the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review finding that “having a college-savings account established by parents substantially lowered a student’s probability of taking on student debt.” The study controlled for income as well as other variables, and found that students whose parents had established college savings accounts “are about 39 percent less likely to have student loan debt,” while those who did graduate with debt “had $3,208.88 less student debt,” than those who did not have such accounts. The authors conclude that encouraging college savings accounts “could be an important piece of the response to the student debt problem.”

WPost Criticizes GOP Plan To Freeze Pell Grant.

The Washington Post  (3/22, Board) criticizes the House GOP for targeting the Pell grant in the budget. The Post says it disagrees with the “pretext” that the “administration’s expansion of student assistance is expensive and ill-targeted.” The Post adds that the “proposal is a poor way to achieve cost savings or increase the efficiency of federal student aid.”

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Research and Development

Engineering Students Build Device To Extinguish Fires With Sound Waves.

The Washington Post  (3/22, Jackman) reports that two engineering students at George Mason University have developed a way to extinguish fires with sound waves from a bass frequency generator. Although the students have only put out fires started with rubbing alcohol, they plan to “continue to refine” the device. Since applying for a provisional patent last November, a local fire department has already asked the pair “to test their bass waves on a structure fire” as a way to potentially “replace the toxic and messy chemicals involved in fire extinguishers.”

Self-Driving Cars Making Progress, Start Cross-Country Road Test.

ABC World News (3/22, story 10, 2:05, Llamas) reported on an Audi SUV which is driving coast-to-coast “without a human driver, just an engineer behind the wheel, hands-free.” The trip from San Francisco to New York is described as a “critical road test for the self-driving car.” There is a brief interview with Matt Lewis, Systems Engineer at Delphi Labs, who says self-driving cars can pick up on cars entering their lanes “much faster than a human,” and the car is “set up to drive very conservatively.” Karl Bruaer, senior analyst at Kelly Blue Book is quoted as saying “we’re about five years away” from self driving cars, “and even then it will probably only be done under certain circumstances.”

US Research Satellites Examined.

Under the headline “Infoporn: America’s Science Space Armada, From Hubble to CubeSats,” Wired  (3/19, Dobush) published a slide show of US research satellites. Accompanying text noted NASA recently launched the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, adding, “from the granddaddy Hubble telescope to itty-bitty cutie-pie CubeSats, the science space armada is shaping up to be a powerful force.”


Former Female Twitter Engineer Sues Over “Secretive,” Discriminatory Promotional System.

The San Francisco Chronicle  (3/22) reports that Tina Huang, a former Twitter engineer, has sued the firm alleging that its “‘secretive’ promotional system favors men.” Huang’s class action lawsuit comes amid similar complaints against firms in and out of the tech sector.

TIME  (3/22) reports that Huang has sued Twitter “for gender discrimination while two other high-profile sexism lawsuits unfold in Silicon Valley.” Huang said that Twitter’s “unfairly favors men” and that the firm “has no formal procedures for granting promotions, and instead relies on a ‘shoulder tap’ process that explains why few women are in high-level engineering positions.” The article notes that Facebook is facing a similar allegation.

Engineering and Public Policy

Quakes’ Effect On Infrastructure Examined.

The Dallas Morning News  (3/20, Weiss) reported on the uncertainties accompanying the rise in tremors and quakes in Northern Texas. “We do not expect problems with our infrastructure during small-magnitude earthquake clusters, but our expectations are based on limited experience and subject to change,” said Ian Buckle, an engineering professor at the University of Nevada Reno. The article reports that in addition to potential cracks to structures, roads and bridges, there is a potential risk for water and sewer pipes and some were not designed with earthquakes in mind. “Are we worried? Of course we’re worried. … But nobody has seen any impact,” said Randy Payton, assistant director for the Dallas Water Utilities department. “Unofficially, water equipment in the quake zone is getting an extra eyeballing,” the article reports. “There could be a pipe out there somewhere that is so badly corroded or a slip joint that is just at the point of pulling out,” said Douglas Nyman, who specializes in controlling natural hazards to oil and gas pipelines. “An earthquake might be just enough to trigger a problem.”

Federal Government Examines Potential For Drone Terrorist Attacks.

CNN’s Situation Room  (3/18) broadcast a segment on concerns in the Federal government that unmanned areal vehicles could be used to conduct terrorists attacks, reporting that witness described potential dangers at a Capitol Hill hearing.

EPA Emissions Rules Face Legal Challenges.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/23, Kendall, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that while the Administration’s air pollution reduction initiatives have survived several court challenges, a new round of litigation could ultimately determine whether the most ambitious initiatives in that area will survive. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Wednesday over EPA regulations that require power plants to reduce emissions of mercury and other air pollutants, and next month, a Federal appeals court will consider a legal challenge to the EPA’s proposal to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Hill Republicans Use Manatee Protection In Bid To Slow Emissions Rules. The Washington Times  (3/22, Wolfgang) reports that congressional Republicans “have rushed to the manatee’s defense” in an attempt “to slow new carbon emissions regulations, while the Obama administration is rejecting claims that its forthcoming rules on coal-fired power plants will pose a direct threat to the Florida habitat of the endangered bulbous marine mammals.” Republican lawmakers argue that the EPA “erred by not consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service in designing its so-called Clean Power Plan because the proposal almost surely will force the closure of coal-fired power plants and subsequently reduce the warm water Florida’s manatees need to survive during cold winter months.” The Times notes that warm-water discharge from the plant “becomes home to hundreds of manatees for a roughly six-month stretch each winter.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Wyoming Resuming Review Of Science Standards.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle  (3/22, Curtis) reports that the Wyoming Board of Education is taking a “middle road” in revising the state’s science standards, a process that was suspended last year “when a budget footnote ended all financial support for the state to even consider the Next Generation Science Standards.” The footnote has since been removed in a recent legislative session, allowing the board to “get back to its job” of revising the science standards. Officials said that the new standards should allow students “more opportunities with hands-on science.”

Illinois Schools Expand Computer Science Offerings.

The AP  (3/23, Coleman) reports that schools in Illinois are “pushing forward” with computer science programs, “capitalizing on a growing interest in computer science, which the US Bureau of Statistics predicts will be the fastest-growing industry in the country.” The AP notes that schools in several Illinois districts are offering computer science courses, including Advanced Placement Computer Science and Project Lead the Way, which has inspired graduates to pursue degrees in the field.

Students Compete In Colorado Mathcounts Competition.

The Denver Post  (3/23, Gauldin) reports that 170 Colorado students from 60 schools gathered Saturday for the statewide Mathcounts competition. The four winners will represent Colorado in the national competition in May. Noelle Cochran, the Colorado state coordinator for Mathcounts, said that many of the students who participate go on to pursue careers in math and science.

FIRST Robotics Competition Held In New Hampshire.

The Seacoast Online (NH)  (3/21, Weyers) reports that over 500 students from across New England competed in the 2015 District FIRST Robotics Competition, held Saturday at the University of New Hampshire. FIRST, an acronym for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology,” aims to promote STEM education among high school students. The winners of the regional competitions “advance to championships and then nationals where they are eligible for scholarship prizes.”

RPI Hosts Engineering Fair.

The AP  (3/21) reports that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY hosted the 25th Annual Greater Capital Region Science and Engineering Fair over the weekend. Over 150 middle and high school students from more than 20 schools participated in the competition, which allows them to “showcase their research in science, technology, and engineering.”

White House Hosts 5th Science Fair.

NBC News  (3/23, Boyle) reports that the 5th annual White House Science Fair will take place today. The fair is used to showcase a lineup of “serious innovations,” including smartphone apps, and highlight the Administration’s support of STEM education. This year, President Obama is set to announce a “fresh batch of STEM initiatives” that aim to inspire young people, “especially those from traditionally underrepresented groups,” to enter STEM fields.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Clemson Researchers Awarded For Creating Robot that Trusts, Regrets.
MOOCs Poised To Transform College Admissions Process.
Utah State Freshman Recreates 18th Century Steam Engine.
Solar Eclipse Poses Challenge To Europe’s Increasing Use Of Solar Power.
FAA Gives Amazon Approval To Test Drones Outdoors.
Obama Orders Cuts In Federal Greenhouse Emissions
Thirty-Eight Teams Set To Participate In Bridgewater, NJ Robotics Competition.

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