Leading the News
Engineer Named University Of Texas-Austin President.
The Austin (TX) American Statesman (4/24, Subscription Publication) reports that Gregory L. Fenves, University of Texas-Austin executive vice provost, has been named as the school’s new president, replacing current President Bill Powers. The piece notes that Powers is leaving under a cloud over allegations of “irregularities in admissions, notably occasional intervention by Powers to order the admissions office to accept students it had intended to reject.”
The Houston Chronicle (4/20, Mcgaughy) reports that Fenves is “an engineer and long-time academic,” and notes that he “began his career at UT-Austin in 1984 as an associate professor of engineering.”
The Texas Tribune (4/20) reports that before he was provost, “he was dean of engineering at the school for about five years,” and before that “led the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.”
Small, Private Colleges Often Overlooked By First-Generation And Low-Income Students.
A Council of Independent Colleges study featured in the Education Week ’s (4/24, Adams) College Bound blog reports that first-generation and low-income college students often, in the blog’s words, “overlook” small private colleges despite the fact that they “can find the nurturing environment they need to be successful” there. The blog adds that the “personalized attention” can lead to “deeper engagement” and boosts graduation rates compared to large public universities. Small, private colleges are often are ignored due to “family and financial pressures,” leading report author P. Jesse Rine to write these groups should be “made aware of the affordability, accessibility, quality, and effectiveness of these institutions” early on.
Arizona State Online Courses Have Lofty Goals Amid Challenges.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (4/24, Young) reports that a primary challenge for Arizona State’s attempt to create online courses for students has been student’s ineligibility for Federal financial aid. The project is being created in conjunction with edX, a joint venture between MIT and Harvard, and aims to bring students in low-income families to “try before they buy.” Previously, enrollment in edX classes has primarily come from those already holding degrees, which the company said has meant it is “not completely hitting our target.”
Angelo State University Receives Civil Engineering Program Approval.
The San Angelo (TX) Standard-Times (4/24) reports that Angelo State University’s civil engineering program will start in the fall after receiving clearance from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board this week. ASU President Brian May called the news “an exciting step forward.” The university will need new staff, equipment, materials, and a new facility to enact the program. The price of the facility will be covered in part by a $4.5 million anonymous donation.
Research and Development
GAO Investigating Possible Gender Bias In Research Grants.
Scientific American (4/24) reports that the Government Accountability Office “has launched an investigation into whether gender bias is influencing the awarding of research grants,” noting that “there is evidence of gender disparity in” STEM research at US colleges, where “women hold only 35% of all tenured and tenure-track positions and 17% of full professor positions in Stem fields.”
University Of Texas-Arlington Researchers Develop More Efficient Marine Engine.
Ship & Bunker (4/24) reports that University of Texas-Arlington researchers have developed a new maritime engine that “may help vessels produce power up to 25 percent more efficiently.” The piece quotes Raheem Bello, an aerospace engineering doctoral candidate and co-founder of Afthon, the group behind the engine, saying, “Up to 70 percent of energy is lost in current gas turbine combustion engine technology just because that technology hasn’t changed in several decades. We capture the bulk of that energy more efficiently so that it’s not wasted as heat in the body of the engine.”
University Of Pennsylvania Research Could Lessen Electronics’ Heat Waste.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (4/24, Avril) reports that “the increasing numbers of transistors crammed into the innards of our electronic gadgets” cause them to give off a noticeable amount waste heat. The article reports that “an amiable pair of University of Pennsylvania physicists may have hit on the beginnings of a solution: a new kind of material called topological insulators.” The article notes that it could be years before the technology makes it to the market, but reports that researchers Charles L. Kane and Eugene J. Mele “are sharing a Franklin Medal in physics with Stanford University scientist Shoucheng Zhang, who also conducted fundamental work on topological insulators.”
Engineering and Public Policy
USGS Releases Survey Showing Impact Of Human-Caused Quakes.
The New York Times (4/24, Pérez-Peña, Subscription Publication) reports that on Thursday, the US Geological Survey released its “first comprehensive assessment of earthquakes believed to be caused by human activity,” releasing a map “identifying 17 regions with significant levels of seismic movement triggered mostly from oil and gas operations.” According to the survey, the “hardest-hit” state is Oklahoma, “where earthquakes are hundreds of times more common than they were until a few years ago.”
The CBS Evening News (4/23, story 10, 2:00, Pelley) reported, “Government scientists said today that man is to blame for a surge of earthquakes. Oklahoma has now surpassed California in seismic activity.” CBS (Bojorquez) says that in Oklahoma since 2009, “there have been 300 times more earthquakes than in previous decades,” adding that a “portion of Oklahoma is now one of 17 regions identified by the US Geological Survey for human-caused earthquake activity, possibly triggered by oil and gas production.”
In Written Q&A, Obama Warns Of Climate Change, Expresses Optimism About Emissions Standards.
National Geographic (4/24, Welch) submitted questions to President Obama on Monday morning in advance of Earth Day on a series of environmental topics, and received written replies on Wednesday evening. The President said he is working with California to get funding to mitigate the drought there, and wrote, “While no single drought event can be traced solely to climate change, the fact of the matter is with a warming climate we’re going to see more frequent and more severe droughts in the West in the future.” Obama also wrote that “he is optimistic that an international conference in Paris in December will set, for the first time, ‘ambitious, durable’ requirements for countries to curb carbon dioxide emissions.” But the President was “opaque” about whether Americans will have to “sacrifice everyday activities that consume fossil fuels and water” in the near future. The National Geographic link contains Obama’s full written responses to all 10 questions.
The Hill (4/23, Henry) reports on the written answers, saying that according to the President, the climate change fight “represents one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.” The President “said advancements in the clean energy sector could drive job creation in the future.”
Programs To Help Farms Adopt More Environmentally Friendly Practices.
The Hill (4/24, Cama) reports the Obama Administration on Thursday “announced a suite of voluntary programs…aimed at getting farmers, ranchers and foresters to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.” The programs, which will be overseen by the Department of Agriculture, “will prevent or sequester more than 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases, the administration said. The USDA will provide incentives for some of the measures.” In a statement Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations. … We can build on this success in a way that combats climate change and strengthens the American agriculture economy.”
The Hill (4/24, Cama, Henry) reports that “among the programs aims are encouraging rotational grazing, preserving private forests, planting trees in urban areas and other measures.”
McCarthy Says Reliability Won’t Be Sacrificed During Transition Away From Coal-Fired Plants.
The FuelFix (4/23, Tresaugue) reports EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said yesterday at the CERAWeek conference that while electric utilities begin the “inevitable” move away from coal-fired plants, the power will remain on. She said, “Let me be clear: There is no scenario, standard or compliance strategy I will accept where reliability comes into question. … Period.” Her “pledge comes amid anxiety over the Obama administration’s push to sharply reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector while rapidly expanding the use of cleaner-burning natural gas, wind and solar.”
Reuters (4/24, Scheyder) reports that of the Clean Power Plan, McCarthy said, “Our rule creates a dynamic where cutting carbon pollution and investment decisions align. … Environmental protection isn’t window dressing; it’s foundational to strong, lasting economic growth.” IHS Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin called McCarthy’s comments “vigorous” and “forthright.”
EPA’s Clean Power Plan Expected To Be Most Litigated Environmental Regulation Ever. The FuelFix (4/23) reports the Clean Power Plan is expected by electric utilities “to be the most litigated environmental regulation of all time. But some companies say that’s because of the complexity, not the intent.” Exelon senior vice president for regulatory affairs Kathleen Barron said, “The question is, can they write something that stays largely intact.” The agency’s “645-page plan will be challenged for several aspects, including the disparity of its state-by-state targets for pollution reductions and aggressive pace for compliance.”
The FuelFix (4/24) reports Peabody Energy CEO Greg Boyce said yesterday at CERAWeek that the EPA’s power plant rules will “hurt people and cripple economies for negligible environmental benefit.” Boyce, the CEO of the largest coal producer in the US, said, “The administration continues forcing a carbon agenda with little regard for consequences to people, the economy or in some cases the rule of law.”
Coal, Natural Gas Rivalry Debated At CERAWeek. The Wall Street Journal (4/24, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports that stricter environmental regulations are increasing the competition between coal and natural gas for use in the US power market. At the IHS CERAWeek forum, chief executive of Statoil Eldar Saetre slammed coal, saying “cleaner coal, there’s no such thing,” and urging electric companies to rely on cleaner natural gas. “The only thing that gets tense is when somebody like the head of Statoil makes a comment like there is no such thing as clean coal,” said Peabody Energy Corp CEO Gregory Boyce. “In my view, that’s an irresponsible statement to make.” EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said all fuel sources would remain in use under current climate plans. She said that by 2030, “it is very clear that we are talking at least 30% of our energy generation coming from coal.”
Natural Gas Boom Causing Changes In Power Industry. The Houston Chronicle (4/24) reports that “some of the same forces roiling the oil and gas business over the last decade also are sparking changes in the power industry, with cheap natural gas emerging as the fuel of choice for producing electricity, executives and regulators said at the IHS Energy CERAWeek conference.” The transition “to natural gas has power companies around the country building new plants so they can pull the plug on aging units and insulate themselves as regulators update current rules and mandate lower carbon emissions.” And with improved energy efficiency “keeping demand from growing as much as it has in the past, existing ratepayers mainly will be the ones charged for those facilities.” A panel of executives told those in attendance that “rates are poised to increase across most of the country.”
Entergy Rate Increases Not Expected Be As Dramatic As They Will Be For Other Companies. The San Antonio Express-News (4/24) reports that with electricity rates expected to rise throughout the country, the “hike” in Texas “will be eased thanks to economic growth that has boosted power demand in the state and along the Gulf Coast” and “the increase will mean there’s a larger base of income to fund the new plants and keep the need to turn to existing ratepayers at a minimum.” Entergy CEO Leo Denault said, “We’re going to be in a situation where our rates will not be rising the way they will be in the rest of the United States.”
Girls 4 Science Presents Women’s History Month Reception And Awards.
The Pioneer Press (IL) (4/23) reports that the fourth annual Women’s History Month Reception and Award Ceremony was held in Chicago by Girls 4 Science on March 11 recognizing members and supporters of the Girls 4 Science group. The event also called for the 175 attendees to “make a difference” in STEM fields. The event raised $32,000.
Maryland Students Start Girls-Only STEM Club.
WJLA-TV Washington (4/24) reports that two Rockville, Maryland girls have started an afterschool program for girls that promotes “hands-on” lessons in STEM fields. The club encourages girls, especially those that haven’t done hands-on projects before, to learn engineering skills, and many of the club’s members are hoping to take engineering classes in the future.
Houston Students Learn STEM Subjects From Local Theater.
The Houston Chronicle (4/24, Mellon) reports that a theater in Houston provides lessons for students that incorporate arts into academics. The “Staging STEM” program provides theatrical adaptations of STEM materials along with tests to ensure students are learning the material. The Houston Ballet offers lessons as well under its “Dance To Learn” program, with lessons on physics and motion.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• MIT Team Wins Desalination Prize.