Leading the News
Foxx Unveils $478 Billion Highway Bill.
The Hill (3/30, Laing) reported that with “lawmakers struggling to beat a May 31 deadline to renew federal infrastructure spending,” Transportation Secretary Foxx has unveiled a “six year, $478 billion highway bill,” which he “pitched…as a solution to a transportation funding problem that has bedeviled lawmakers for several years.” Foxx said in a statement, “Our proposal provides a level of funding and also funding certainty that our partners need and deserve. … This is an opportunity to break away from 10 years of flat funding, not to mention these past six years in which Congress has funded transportation by passing 32 short-term measures.” The Washington Post (3/31, Halsey) reports that the measure, which is “the first legislation out of the gate in a year that is likely to produce a competition among three bills,” is “the least likely of the three to make it back to the president’s desk for his signature.”
In a separate story, the Washington Post (3/31, Halsey) reports that a paper by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute “provides a sobering analysis for those who hold hope that the gas tax might provide a revenue solution” for transportation funding. According to the paper, gasoline consumption “fell by 11 percent over a decade during which the U.S. population grew by 8 percent.” With a May 31 deadline “to find more money to fund transportation” looming, “bumping up the federal tax on gasoline, now 18.4 cents per gallon, seems like a bad bet to ensure a long-term flow of cash.”
Cards Against Humanity Releases Science-Themed Expansion To Support STEM Scholarships.
The Washington Post (3/30, Feltman) “Speaking of Science” blog reports that the makers of the party game Cards Against Humanity are releasing “a new science-themed expansion,” and will use the proceeds to “benefit a brand new scholarship; one that gives women seeking undergrad degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics a full ride to college.” The Post notes that applications for the scholarships “will be reviewed by a board of 40 awesome and probably super intimidating and cool women in the sciences.”
The Chicago Tribune (3/31, Elahi) reports that the new expansion deck “sells for $10 and adds lines like “supermassive black hole” to the building blocks for creating funny and offensive sentences in the game, known for its dark humor.” The Tribune reports that the scholarship will “cover four years of tuition for one high school or college student who identifies as a female.”
Corinthian Debt Strikers To Meet With Federal Officials.
Several media outlets are covering a scheduled meeting between Federal officials and former Corinthian Colleges Inc. students who are publicly refusing to pay back their Federal student loans. The Washington Post (3/30, Douglas) reports that the movement has grown from 15 to 100 debtors, and reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has “invited the group to Washington on Tuesday “to discuss their demand for debt cancellation.” The Post explains that the students say they won’t repay their loans because Corinthian “broke the law.” The article reports that Corinthian “has become the poster child for the worst practices in the for-profit education sector,” leading to its downfall. The piece reports that the former students “have asked to meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan,” adding that ED spokeswoman Denise Horn “said a senior official from the department plans to attend the CFPB meeting.
The Huffington Post (3/31, Nasiripour) characterizes the movement as an “organized revolt against ED,” noting that the “former students of allegedly dodgy for-profit schools once owned by Corinthian” are protesting ED policies. The piece explains that the former students launched a “debt strike” earlier this year “to force the Education Department to forgive” the Federal loans of “tens of thousands of” former Corinthian students. The Post describes how ED forced the firm to sell or shutter its colleges last year, and explains that the debt strikers complain that ED bailed out Corinthian while leaving its former students in debt. The debt strikers, the Post adds, are calling on Duncan to “address his legacy of allowing the company to lure students into taking out loans backed by taxpayers under allegedly false pretenses by forgiving those debts on the grounds that they were fraudulently originated.”
The Hill (3/31, Wheeler) reports that CFPB and ED officials have agreed to hear the debt strikers’ complaints on Tuesday, noting that CFPB sued Corinthian last year for “luring students into expensive ‘Genesis’ loans to cover tuition by advertising bogus job prospects and career services.” And while ED and CFPB have “secured more than $480 million in debt relief” for the firm’s former students, “that money is only to relieve the private Genesis loans.”
NSF Gives Middle Tennessee State University Grant To Recruit Female, Minority Engineering Students.
The Murfreesboro (TN) Daily News Journal (3/30) reports that the National Science Foundation has given Middle Tennessee State University over $600,000 “to recruit minority and female engineering students.” The piece explains that the funding is “designed to increase numbers, diversity, retention and graduation rates of MTSU students with a mechatronics engineering degree,” defining mechatronics engineering as “a program that combines mechanical, computer and electrical engineering, systems integration and project management.”
Chinese Students To Be Eligible For Rhodes Scholarships.
The New York Times (3/31, Barboza, Subscription Publication) reports that it was announced this week that students in “the developing world and other countries” will soon be eligible for Rhodes scholarships, starting with China. The change “is the first step in what the program expects to be its biggest expansion since it made women eligible in the 1970s.” The piece explains that the financially struggling program will have “a new platform to raise money” by moving into China.
Research and Development
Administration Thanks Kelly For Taking Part In One-Year Mission.
The AP (3/30) reported that on Monday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that he was “fooled” for a time when astronaut Mark Kelly appeared without his mustache right before his brother Scott launched on his one-year mission to the ISS because the mustache was “the only way I can tell [the twins] apart.” Meanwhile, during a phone conversation with the ISS crew, John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s science adviser, said, “You guys are all heroes up there, and we’re depending on you.”
The CBS News (3/30, Harwood) website noted that in his conversation with Bolden, Scott Kelly said that he was “looking forward” to the research he would take part in while at the station. Kelly added, “It’s going to be a lot of work. … but I really look forward to the privilege of serving NASA and our nation.” Bolden told Kelly, “This is a really important step on our road to Mars. … We’re excited about having you and Mikhail [Kornienko] there as partners and excited about seeing all the things you’re going to do.”
Cosmonauts Used Tablets Instead Of Manuals During Flight. Sputnik News (3/30) reported that when flying to the ISS, cosmonauts used tablets instead of manuals “for the first time in the history of Russian space exploration.” Cosmonauts could eventually use the tablets depending on how they operated during the flight.
University Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Researchers Leading Search For Gravitational Waves.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (3/31) reports that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is leading a team of 60 scientists at 11 institutions across the country in “a new effort to detect low-frequency gravitational waves, a discovery that would give mankind a new picture of the universe and confirm one of the last unresolved predictions of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.” The research is being funded by a $14.5 million National Science Foundation grant. The article explains the theory of gravitational waves, and notes that the grant will “establish a Physics Frontiers Center directed by Siemens and Maura McLaughlin, an astronomer at West Virginia University.”
Op-Eds Criticize ARM’s Value As Pathway To Mars.
In an op-ed for Space News (3/31, Subscription Publication), Paul Brower, an O3b Networks aerospace systems engineer, wonders why the development of a lunar base has become “a taboo subject” for space policy advocates. Few are willing to take what he sees as the “seemingly necessary baby steps” to a Mars mission. Brower notes that even before the Apollo program, the idea of a lunar base was discounted. The positions expressed today by advocates may be “biased by the Obama administration’s” intent to distance itself from the Constellation program. To move forward, the US needs to “align our actions” with long-term goals, and “not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense,” such as the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which he thinks has few applications. Instead, if necessary when funds are limited, the US should take “a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope” to continue progress.
In an article for The Conversation (UK) (3/30), Roger Handberg at the University of Central Florida, details how the US went from the Constellation program to where it is today, considering ARM a mission “being done on the fly,” suffering from “money and lack of consistent direction.” To Handberg, it appears like ARM is morphing into “a US presence on the moon.” However, the current uncertainty in direction is likely to continue until the US “clarifies its intentions.”
Meanwhile, in an article for the Space Review (3/30), Space Review editor Jeff Foust detailed last week’s announcement of ARM’s architecture. In the second half of the piece, Foust detailed the continuing opposition to the plan, especially from MIT’s Richard Binzel. At the same time, some were concerned that if NASA had no deep space manned mission in the next decade could harm NASA’s long-term plans. Astronaut Tom Jones said that without a mission like ARM, the public could “lose interest” in future missions. According to Foust, even with the recent news, NASA is not likely to “get much of a break from critics,” and will have to continue to try “to justify” ARM as the best “next step” toward Mars.
Blog Coverage. In a blog post for the Huffington Post (3/30), Chris Carberry, CEO of Explore Mars, and Rick Zucker, director of political outreach for Explore Mars, writes that “within NASA, within the aerospace community, and among policy makers,” there is “far more consensus…than there ever has been before” about sending people to Mars. They contend that much of the current opposition relies “on disinformation and distraction tactics,” especially when it comes to how much money a mission would cost. Even though they believe the President has a role in such a mission, the pair argue that “another Kennedy-esque presidential speech” may no longer be needed because of the grassroots program that is forming now. This and other topics will be discussed at the Humans to Mars Summit in May.
Researchers Develop Shape-Shifting Probe For Biological Sensing.
The Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (3/31) reports that researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the NIH “say they have developed a shape-shifting probe, which is capable of sensitive, high-resolution remote biological sensing that is not possible with current technology.” If integrated into widespread use, “the probe, about one-hundredth as wide as a human hair, could have a major impact on research in medicine, chemistry, and biology and might be used in clinical diagnostics, according to the scientists.”
Lockheed To Purchase High Speed Wind Tunnel For Testing.
Air Force Magazine (3/31) reports Lockheed Martin announced its planned purchase of the High Speed Wing Tunnel (HSWT) in Grand Prairie, Texas, which the article calls “one of the few wind tunnel facilities in the United States capable of generating test conditions at subsonic to supersonic speeds and at adjustable Mach numbers.” The article features praise from HSWT manager Mike McWithey for HSWT’s legacy assisting in the aerospace engineering field. Lockheed reportedly plans to modernize the tunnel’s test data systems.
Engineering and Public Policy
Oklahoma Supreme Court Hears Case Alleging Oil And Gas Companies Caused Earthquake.
The Wall Street Journal (3/31, Bustillo, Gilbert, Subscription Publication) reports on a suit being heard by Oklahoma’s supreme court alleging that oil and gas companies caused earthquakes by their wastewater injections. The oil and gas industry is said to be concerned about the possibility of liability suits in these cases though the earthquakes in question are generally quite small. Oklahoma and Kansas are developing regulations to lessen the possibility of earthquakes, while Arkansas and Ohio have prohibited injection wells in some areas. Some companies have settled cases. Some in the industry are skeptical that injection wells are to blame. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner John Doak is considering investigating insurance companies for denying earthquake claims.
Wastewater Injection Wells Credited With Causing Some Earthquakes. The Wall Street Journal (3/30, Gilbert) reports in its “short answer” blog on earthquakes and waste water injection wells. It points out that the possibility of causing an earthquake by such means has been known for about 50 years, and that the effect is related to the depth of the well and the pressure of the injection. Fracking itself is regarded as less likely to cause an earthquake because of the location of the shale, though an Ohio report found that fracking was probably responsible for some smaller earthquakes last year. It also points out that in the Bakken Shale there has not been a large increase in seismic activity.
Oklahoma Geological Survey Said To Be Pressured On Linking Fracking To Seismic Activity. Bloomberg News (3/30, Elgin, Philips) reports on what is interpreted as “pressure” applied to the Oklahoma Geological Survey to avoid coming to the conclusion that increased seismic activity in the state is due to fracking, specifically waste water injection wells. It describes a meeting called by University of Oklahoma president David Boren with Austin Holland, the state seismologist, an employee of the university, and Harold Hamm, founder of Continental Resources, a major oil and gas business and a major donor to the university. This is presented as part of “a steady stream of industry pressure” on OGS. All parties to the meeting deny that there was any “pressure” and Holland “bristles” at the suggestion that the OGS research was affected by it. Holland points out that “there have been large spikes of natural earthquakes in the past.” He has now concluded that much of the increased seismic activity in the state is due to waste water injection wells.
McCarthy: Keystone Pipeline Would Not Be A “Disaster For the Climate.”
Politico (3/30, Restuccia, Schor) reported that contrary to the contentions of Keystone Pipeline opponents, EPA Administrator McCarthy said Monday that building the pipeline “would not be a disaster for the climate.” During an interview with Politico, McCarthy said, “No, I don’t think that any one issue is a disaster for the climate, nor do I think there is one solution for the climate change challenge that we have.” McCarthy’s assertion contradicts the arguments of pipeline critics who “have long alleged that the pipeline, if approved, would greatly exacerbate climate change.”
Art Schools Partnering With Scientists.
The Chicago Tribune (3/29, Brotman) reports that partnerships, often funded by the NEA and the NSF, between art schools and scientists are allowing artists to “increasingly explor[e] the intersection of art and science.” The Tribune calls the trend a “return to classical tradition,” when artists were primarily scientists, and notes that artists often approach science from a fresh new angle.
Monday’s Lead Stories
• US Oil Industry Teams Up With Tech Companies.