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

Leading the News

California’s Efforts To Reduce Water Use Faltered In February.

NBC Nightly News (4/7, story 8, 2:05, Holt) reported, “In California, February was the worst month for water conservation since the state started tracking those efforts last summer.” Now, “water wasters could face hefty fines.” The remainder of the piece focuses on the changes coming to cities such as Palm Springs, which have traditionally used large amounts of water.

The CBS Evening News (4/7, story 2, 2:20, Pelley) reported that families “weary of mandatory cuts of 25 percent and more managed to reduce water use only three percent.” CBS (Okita) reports that on Tuesday, “the state’s water board began hammering out strict new measures to try to get Californians to conserve 25 percent more water,” but “the new rules may take months.”

The New York Times  (4/8, Nagourney, Fitzsimmons, Subscription Publication) reports that California officials said that their efforts to reduce state water use “slowed markedly” in February, with total water use falling by “only 2.8 percent.” Felicia Marcus, head of the California State Water Resources Control Board, said, “I know many communities in the state stepped up since last summer and dramatically conserved water. But not enough communities in the state have saved enough water.” The report comes a week after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) “issued an executive order last week calling for a 25 percent mandatory statewide reduction in urban water use.”

Higher Education

Budding Scientific Entrepreneur Offers STEM Advice To Girls.

A story in the Huffington Post  (4/8, Freeman)profiles Sara Sakowitz, a Columbia University biomedical engineering student and “budding entrepreneur,” and relays her views on girls and STEM fields. Sakowitz tells how she became interested in science and notes how important encouragement from friends and professors has been. Her advice to girls considering STEM careers is to find good role models and “continue pursuing their interests, no matter how many obstacles they might encounter.”

Washington AG Sues Loan-Processing Company.

The AP  (4/7) reports that Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit Monday against StudentLoanProcessing. US (SLP) and its president, James Krause, alleging that the defendants “charged illegally high fees and failed to inform customers of their rights.” The suit contends that the company “violated Washington’s Debt Adjusting Act and Consumer Protection Act” by charging at least ten times the legal amount in fees, thus “exploiting student loan borrowers for profit.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer  (4/7, Robison) “Boomer Consumer” blog reports that “The services SLP offers are available – for free – through the U.S. Department of Education.” The Attorney General’s Office is seeking the cancellation of all SLP contracts with Washington consumers and restitution for fees paid to the company. It is also seeking fines for Consumer Protection Act violations and “an injunction against SLP prohibiting future violations of state law.”

The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review  (4/7) adds in its “Education” blog that “SLP, an unofficial business name for Irvine Web Works, Inc., is also being sued by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.”

ED Said To Be Exaggerating Enrollment In Income-Driven Loan Repayment Program.

The Huffington Post  (4/8, Nasiripour) reports in a +3600-word piece that “a review of government documents and interviews with industry executives and borrower advocates” show that the Education Department “may be overstating the number of people benefiting from” the government’s income-driven repayment “program by as much as half.” Though many borrowers are kicked out of the program “because its loan-servicing contractors are not making an adequate annual effort to keep them fully enrolled,” ED “still officially counts these borrowers as among those making payments based on their income.”

Johns Hopkins Partners With Hagerstown Community College For Cyber Security Training.

WHAG-TV  Hagerstown, MD (4/8) reports that Hagerstown Community College and Johns Hopkins University are partnering to “allow local students the opportunity to prepare for a career in the cyber security workforce,” using a $700,000 National Science Foundation grant. The program will allow HCC students to participate in “research efforts conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute.”

March+April Prism now online (members only)
Cover Story: “Growing Pains.” Ethiopia is pushing engineering education harder than any other country In Africa, creating challenges for its academics.

VIDEOS – Watch the speakers and presentations from the Engineering Research Council meeting, held in March.

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

ASEE Perks
Learn about the broad collection of benefits available to ASEE members.

Research and Development

Argonne National Laboratory Developing ‘Super Batteries’.

The Washington Examiner  (4/8, Siciliano) reports that Jeffrey Chamberlain of the Argonne National Laboratory said the US is “on the cusp of developing a ‘super battery’ that could fundamentally change the way the world uses energy.” Chamberlain said the lab wants to “democratize the creation and use of electricity” and encourage the proliferation of wind and solar energy.

The Christian Science Monitor  (4/8, Vasile) reports that Chamberlain suggested that the US is “unlikely to keep pace” with Asia in battery technology development.

MIT Engineers Developing Body Armor Inspired By Fish Scales.

Popular Science  (4/8) reports that MIT mechanical engineer Stephan Rudykh is leading a team of researchers designing a flexible body armor “inspired by fish scales,” noting that they “came up with a single metric for the armor’s value: protecto-flexibility.” The metric measures flexibility versus protection, allowing researchers to “greatly increase the strength of the armor while only modestly reducing its flexibility.” The article notes that the Army Research Office supported the research through the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.

Montgomery County Launching Start-up Accelerator For Health-Tech Companies.

The Washington Post  (4/7, Harrison) reports that the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and BioHealth Innovation, “a nonprofit that promotes research and technology commercialization in central Maryland” have collaborated to “create a business accelerator program in Rockville, Md. specifically tailored for early-stage health-technology companies.” BioHealth President Richard Bendis said that there are some advantages to settling in Montgomery County, namely, “it’s neighbors.” Bendis “noted that federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Health and Human Services all have a major presence in central Maryland, and all of them are looking for the latest technology solutions to improve the country’s health care system.”


Demand For H-1B Visas Dramatically Outstrips Supply.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/8, A2, Jordan, Subscription Publication) reports that demand for H-1B visas, which are issued for skilled workers, topped the entire year’s supply in the first week that companies could apply for them. USCIS said Tuesday that it has received more than 65,000 applications for standard H-1B visas for FY16, and the same situation applied for the 20,000 H-1Bs for foreign nationals with advanced degrees from US universities. The Hill  (4/8, Trujillo) says the news “will only bolster the effort of reform advocates who say the current cap on the visa program…should be increased.”

Industry News

UAVs Are Now Being Used As Flying Billboards.

MarketWatch  (4/7, French) reported one of the new uses for UAVs is using them as flying billboards. Raj Singh, founder of DroneCast, said that his company had received offers as high as $25,000 for 4 hours of flight time. According to the article, while UAVs can fly where traditional advertising vehicles like blimps cannot, their size means that they still cannot match the advertizing space offered by blimps or even large billboards.

Operators Could Plant One Billion Trees Per Year With UAVs. The RT (RUS)  (4/8) reports that BioCarbon Engineering wants to use UAVs to plant “1 billion trees a year” in order to combat deforestation. According to the article, the technique BioCarbon uses is better than “the previously flawed dry seeding by air methods.” CEO Lauren Fletcher claimed that just two operators and “several UAVs” could plant as many as 36,000 trees per day.

Analyst Says Auto Industry Heading For Radical Changes.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/8, Hirsch) reports that Adam Jonas, the lead auto analyst at Morgan Stanley Research, says that the auto industry “is entering a period of deep disruption that will make it unrecognizable.” Jonas “wrote that the two most important technological trends in automotive transportation are the sharing economy and autonomous driving” and says that those trends “will fuse into what he calls ‘shared autonomy’ or what is essentially a world of competing robotic taxi services.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Company Says Technology To Contain Blown Wells Far Advanced From Five Years Ago.

The AP  (4/8, Burdeau) reports that on Tuesday, the Marine Well Containment Co., a “consortium developing high-tech containment technology,” said that an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico today could be “cleaned up far faster than five years ago when BP’s Macondo well blew out 45 miles off the coast of Louisiana.” The company unveiled its latest containment technology earlier this year, which caps blown-out wells and funnels the oil to tankers on the sea’s surface.

Russian Hackers Accessed White House Email System Via State Department.

Brian Ross reported on ABC World News (4/7, story 3, 1:20, Muir) that according to officials, “Russian hackers penetrated one of the White House’s two computer systems for several months last year, forcing the White House to shut down the system for several days. The hacked system is not used for classified information, but is used by the White House advance and press offices, the General Counsel’s Office, and several others, all dealing in non-public information, including private details of the President’s schedule.”

Andrea Mitchell reported on NBC Nightly News (4/7, story 2, 0:50, Holt) that officials “say Russia got into the White House computers through vulnerabilities in the State Department’s computer networks,” and Evan Perez reported on CNN’s Situation Room (4/7) that once the hackers got into the State Department’s system, “they used that access to trick someone to get them into the Executive Office of the President. Investigators say it’s one of the most serious cyber breaches of US government agencies.”

Rich Edson reported on Fox News’ Special Report (4/7) that the Administration says the report “is referring to an already disclosed incident from last year,” and officials “refuse to acknowledge any Russian connection.” Reuters  (4/8, Stephenson, Mason, Edwards) reports White House spokesman Mark Stroh, in a statement, would not comment on media reports claiming Russian hackers were behind the attack, and the Washington Times  (4/8, Wolfgang) quotes him as saying, “This report is not referring to a new incident – it is speculating on the attribution of the activity of concern on the unclassified EOP network that the White House disclosed last year.”

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on CNN’s Situation Room (4/7) that “we were public about the fact that we were dealing with cyber intrusions and the State Department was public about that. But the fact of the matter is, we have different systems here at the White House. So we have an unclassified system and then we have a classified system, a top-secret system. That is where the sensitive national security information is, the classified information is. That was a secure system. So we do not believe that our classified systems were compromised.” Bloomberg News  (4/8, Keane) reports Rhodes also declined to link the attack to Russia, and the AP  (4/8) says he “would not confirm CNN’s report that sensitive information was accessed.”

New Study Of Solar Bands Could Help Protect Against Grid Damage.

Bloomberg News  (4/7, Sullivan) reported that a team led by Scott McIntosh, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory, determined that “magnetized bands in the sun’s atmosphere” can create sunspots that can “predict when flares will erupt.” While these bands have been studied before, McIntosh said that their impact on flares is “really new stuff.” According to the article, the new study could “improve forecasts of space weather events,” which in turn could help power companies better determine when to turn off their grids to prevent damage from “massive flares.” The article notes that McIntosh wants “a series of cheap satellites” to be launched to monitor space weather.

Survey: Data Destruction, Equipment Manipulation Cyberattacks More Prevalent Than Believed.

Reuters  (4/7) reports that according to a survey by the Organization of American States, hacking attacks aiming to manipulate equipment or destroy rather than steal data are more prevalent than believed. 40 percent of respondents reported battling attempts to shut down computer networks, 44 percent reported dealing with attempts to delete files, and 54 percent reported attempts to manipulate equipment through a control system. Reuters says the figures are even more remarkable as only 60 percent of respondents indicated that they had detected attempts to steal data. Tom Kellerman of Trend Micro Inc., which prepared the OAS report, is quoted saying, “this is going to be the year we suffer a catastrophe in the hemisphere, and when you will see kinetic response to a threat actor.” DHS spokesman SY Lee is cited saying DHS did not maintain statistics on the frequency of attacks on critical US institutions.

Bill Would Help Nonprofits Carry Out Energy Efficiency Improvements.

Susan Stephenson, executive director of Interfaith Power & Light, writes in The Hill  (4/8) “Congress Blog” blog, in favor of Sens. John Hoeven and Amy Klobuchar’s Nonprofit Energy Efficiency Act that “already has four co-sponsors from both parties.” The measure would offer grants of “up to 50 percent” to aid nonprofits with energy efficiency improvement projects. A companion bill will be introduced in the House by Reps. Bob Dold and Matt Cartwright.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Teacher Argues STEM Needs To Bring In The Arts.

In an op-ed to the Miami Herald  (4/7, Futterman), Laurie Futterman, a middle school science teacher and Science Department chair, writes that the arts were “demoted” when the STEM term was created, and advocates STEAM programs acknowledging art in the history and future of technology and science. She adds that STEM education has become overspecialized and “isolated” without art, and cites instances where art has helped build scientific success. She concludes by arguing that arts can “no longer be ignored” and may be “the defining factor” in creating the 21st century economy.

Mentoring Programs Target Girls, Minorities For STEM Subjects.

The New York Daily News  (4/8, Agish) reports that mentoring programs are underway to bring girls and economically disadvantaged students into STEM fields before they graduate high school, especially in New York, where girls “have been left out” of the city’s STEM programs in years past. New York City DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye says female participation is growing in STEM subjects every year, though the paper notes there is “plenty more work to do.” Programs targeting underrepresented groups in STEM fields offer financial backing as well.

Michigan Universities Offer High School Robotics Clubs To Interest Students In STEM.

The AP  (4/8, Householder) reports that Michigan students from poorer districts who would typically be unable to participate in robotics contests are joining robotics programs offered for free by universities. The teams promote student interest in learning about the fields and “keep them engaged” in school.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

EPA Water Rule Heads To White House.
Starbucks CEO Announces Free College Tuition For Employees.
NRAO, iRobot Spar Over Lawnmower Operations Near Green Bank Telescope.
Couric And WSJ Interview Ellen Pao After Trial.
SpiderFab Could Be Constructing Large Structures In Space By Early 2020s.
Berger Defends Piece On NASA’s Quiet Shift In Policy.
West Virginia DOE To Readopt School Standards Requiring Climate Change.

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