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

Leading the News

MIT Study: US Losing R&D Edge.

The Wall Street Journal  (4/28, Mcmillan, Subscription Publication) reports that a new Massachusetts Institute of Technology report warns that the rest of the world is quickly gaining on the US when it comes to funding research and development and that is putting the US at risk of attracting and keeping the top researchers in the world. The Journal notes the case of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory deputy director Horst Simon, originally from Germany, who said that the US was clearly the best place for him to get his Ph.D. in the 1990’s, “because of all the incredible scientific opportunities here.” However, Simon said, “The rest of the world has closed the gap.”

Reuters  (4/27, Begley) reports that MIT scientists are concerned that Federal spending cuts on basic science research may lead to a lack of innovation and potentially limit advancement in nearly 15 fields of scientific study. The Federal spending cuts have affected the NIH budget.

Researchers Studying Improvements In Concrete.

WHYY-FM  Philadelphia (4/28) reports that Penn State civil engineering researchers are studying ways to prevent “a chemical reaction that happens in the ingredients in concrete: cement, rocks, and water. It’s called the alkali-silica reaction, and over time, it makes bridges and other structures crack.” Researchers are looking for a “substance they can add to concrete to prevent this chemical reaction.”

Meanwhile, PBS’ Newshour  (4/28) profiles environmental chemist David Stone, a University of Arizona researcher who is developing an environmentally friendly substitute for Portland cement, which “has a huge carbon footprint.” The piece notes that limestone must be heated to very high temperatures to make cement, but reports that Stone’s formula “doesn’t require high heat and recycles materials from other industries.”

Higher Education

Engineer Suggests More Women Would Study Engineering If Societal Benefit Were Emphasized.

In a New York Times  (4/27, Subscription Publication) op-ed, Lina Nilsson, innovation director at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, writes about the dearth of women in the tech sector, exploring the possible reasons why there are “so few female engineers.” Nilsson writes that “if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves” in engineering disciplines. She writes that many women are “drawn to engineering projects that attempt to achieve societal good.”

Senators Push ED To Close GI Bill “Loophole” For For-Profit Colleges.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (4/28, Brunswick) reports that a group of 20 senators sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week “asking him to assist in closing a loophole that allows for-profit colleges to count GI Bill benefits as nonfederal funding in their revenue breakdowns.” The letter “raises concerns that active-duty service members and veterans have been targeted by some for-profit colleges because of the attractiveness of access to their GI Bill funding.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (4/28) reports that the lawmakers wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday calling on ED to “more frequently forgive the loan debt of students who attended colleges that engaged in ‘fraudulent activities.’” The letter said ED “should ‘take immediate action’ to inform students eligible for debt relief” and sought “information about how the department advises students of their options to have loan debt discharged.”

Minnesota Working To Promote STEM Education.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (4/28, Renault) profiles Nathan Klein, a University of Minnesota student who is among 16 statewide “to win competitive Barry Goldwater Scholarships, a national award reserved for undergraduate juniors and seniors who are expected someday to conduct cutting-edge research in” STEM fields. The state’s students “perform well on STEM competitions and scholarships because the state has invested heavily in programs that cultivate scientists early, according to Doug Paulson, STEM specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education.”

Many STEM Graduates Finding Higher-Than-Expected Salaries.

CBS News  (4/28) reports that many new STEM graduates “are earning higher salaries than they anticipated when they were undergraduates,” according to a new study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. For example, chemistry graduates “in 2014 anticipated making a beginning salary of roughly $38,500, but they ended up making 50.5 percent more ($57,900).” Meanwhile, engineering graduates “expected to make initial salaries of roughly $56,150, but they ended up earning $64,891.”

ASEE Member Named Founding Dean of New School
Louisiana Tech’s Jenna Carpenter will be the dean of the new school of engineering at Campbell University.

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

Research and Development

Ohio Grad Students Invent Technology For Marijuana Testing.

The Christian Science Monitor  (4/28) reports that two biomedical engineering graduate students at the University of Akron “have invented a device that will allow law enforcement officers to determine whether motorists have used marijuana,” noting that lab testing typically takes weeks. The device “tests saliva to determine the concentration of pot’s active chemical in the bloodstream.”

Wisconsin Researchers Studying Water Purity Systems.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  (4/28, Schmid) reports that there has been a spike in the number of researchers studying “the next generation of water sensors that are meant to detect impurities,” noting that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee “has no fewer than five research teams testing sensors inside everything from wastewater channels to lake buoys.” The article profiles “early-warning water-monitoring products, with potential applications from California to China.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Vatican’s Focus On Climate Change Worrying Some US Conservatives.

The New York Times  (4/28, Davenport, Goodstein, Subscription Publication) reports that as Pope Francis “prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor,” his stance is “alarming” some US conservatives, who are “loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.” As part of the push on behalf of the encyclical, “top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting Tuesday to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping” UN climate change deal in Paris in December.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal  (4/28, Seib, Subscription Publication) reports that when Pope Francis visits Washington later this year, the President told the paper that he expects that climate change will be a major subject when they meet. The President told the Journal, “We’re going to talk about climate change, I’m sure, because he is very clear that part of the Church’s teachings, and part of my faith, is that we have to be good stewards of this incredible planet we’ve been given, and there are steps that can be taken there.”

Study Links Climate Change To Majority Of Extreme Weather. USA Today  (4/28, Rice) reports that a study published in the British journal Nature Climate Change found that “man-made global warming is responsible for about 75% of all hot-temperature extremes worldwide in the past 100 years,” and is “also responsible for about 18% of heavy rainfall.” The study also predicts that climate change “will cause higher percentages of extreme weather in future decades.”

The New York Times  (4/28, Gillis, Subscription Publication) reports that Erich Fischer, the lead author of the study, said, “People can argue that we had these kinds of extremes well before human influence on the climate — we had them centuries ago. And that’s correct. But the odds have changed, and we get more of them.”

Group Assembles Panel Of Scientists To Examine Government Handling Of Climate Data. The Daily Caller  (4/27, Bastasch) reports that the Global Warming Policy Foundation has assembled a “panel of veteran scientists” to determine if government climate agencies “may be tampering with temperature data to make global warming seem more extreme than it’s actually been.” Terence Kealey, former vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, who has been named the head of the panel, said in a statement, “While we believe that the 20th century warming is real, we are concerned by claims that the actual trend is different from – or less certain than – has been suggested. We hope to perform a valuable public service by getting everything out into the open.”

GAO Finds Green Loan Program Could Cost More Than $2.2 Billion.

The Washington Times  (4/28, Dinan) reports that a new GAO audit released on Monday found that taxpayers “are on the hook for more than $2.2 billion in expected costs from the federal government’s energy loan guarantee programs.” The GAO said that “nearly $1 billion in loans have already defaulted” under the Department of Energy program. Still, the $2.2 billion “price tag” is “an improvement over initial estimates, which found the government was poised to face $4 billion in losses from the loan guarantees.”

States Call Comment Period On EPA Climate Rule A “Sham.”

The Hill  (4/28, Cama) reports fifteen states that are suing the EPA told the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit “that the agency’s public comment period for its land climate rule is a ‘sham’ because it has already made up its mind about the rule.” The letter to the Federal court “is part of their effort to convince the court that the EPA has decided to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, a policy the states say is illegal under the Clean Air Act.” It’s “a key argument to their challenge to the regulation, because courts traditionally can only overturn agency actions that are final, not proposed.” The states “drew the judges’ attention to a tweet EPA chief Gina McCarthy sent saying the agency is ‘committed’ to writing the rule, along with a Huffington Post story to the same effect.”

NERC Says Energy Industry Needs Time To Meet Clean Power Goals.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (4/28, Legere) reports “a vastly changed power generation mix will be the result” of the EPA’s “plan to reduce greenhouse gases from existing power plants, but industry and utilities will need more time to build it, said” the North American Electric Reliability Corp. in an analysis. NERC “predicts a wave of retirements of coal-fired power plants and the rise of natural gas-fired plants to replace them.” But NERC “said it will take longer to dig pipelines, string transmission lines and erect wind farms than the EPA’s earliest compliance targets in 2020 allow.” The analysis “suggests that the final EPA rule should include a safety valve clause to ensure that grid reliability issues can be addressed if they arise so that energy will be available to meet consumer demands.”

Construction Begins On First US Offshore Wind Farm.

The Hill  (4/28, Henry) reports Rhode Island lawmakers on Monday celebrated the start of construction on the nation’s first offshore wind farm, Deepwater Wind’s project at Block Island. The “ground-breaking of sorts” was held at a business that will support the five-turbine project.

Report: North Carolina Solar Boom Result Of Many Factors.

The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer  (4/28, Murawski) reports that North Carolina’s “stratospheric ascent” to the nation’s fourth-largest developer of solar energy is the result of “tax credits, state mandates, plummeting solar costs and visionary businesses.” A Rocky Mountain Institute report says that the state ranks second in the nation in large utility-scale projects. The News & Observer reports that efforts to weaken renewable energy sourcing requirements and the expiration of a tax credit, “could put an end to the solar expansion at any time.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Greater Phoenix Area Partnership Working To Engage Students With STEM Programming.

TIME  (4/27, Bajarin) reports that the PHX East Valley Partnership in the greater Phoenix area has made STEM education a “core tenet” of its economic model and profiles its president and CEO Roc Arnett. It adds that major companies, including Boeing, Intel, and Lockheed Martin are working to add STEM programming to local schools, especially focusing on local work such as microchip technology, supply chain management, and photolithography.

Los Angeles Unified School District Hosts Data Science Classes.

The Los Angeles Times  (4/28, Menezes) reports that a $12.5 million grant from the NSF to a partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and UCLA’s education and computer science departments is being used to introduce computational thinking into city classrooms via a data science class. The article notes the ways respective teachers and students have reacted to the data science program and adds that many students that were not succeeding in previous math classes were taking interest in the more hands-on math class.

STEM Concepts Brought To Elementary School Students Via Project Lead The Way.

AP  (4/27, Bock) reports that nine Project Lead The Way programs in Missouri are introducing STEM concepts in elementary school with a new program, Launch, the first time the project has offered material to students younger that middle school. Teachers note that the programs emphasize creativity and problem solving. Assistant Superintendent Travis Bracht said that teachers are hopeful that starting the curriculum in kindergarten will encourage overall progress for the program.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Drought Impacting Power Generation In West.
Corinthian Announces It Will Close Last 28 Schools.
MIT Scientist Concerned About Science Funding Cuts.
Home-Battery Revolution Gains Ground In US.
Federal Court Upholds Truck Rule Established By EPA, NHTSA.
Bronx Science Fair And Mentorship Allows Students To Work In STEM Fields.

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