Leading the News
US, Canada Unveil New Oil Train Safety Rules.
Transportation Secretary Foxx and Canada’s Minster of Transport Lisa Raitt on Friday unveiled “sweeping new safety rules” for oil trains, the AP (5/2, Lowy, Brown) reports. Under the new regulations, “new tank cars carrying the most volatile liquids, including crude oil and ethanol, must have an outer shell, a thermal lining to withstand fire, improved top and bottom fittings and thicker, 9/16ths-inch steel walls to keep them from rupturing.” Further, “thousands of older tank cars known as DOT-111s” and “some newer tank cars, called 1232s” must “be phased out or retrofitted.” The Wall Street Journal (5/2, Harder, Tita, Subscription Publication) reports the new regulations also require oil trains to be equipped with expensive brakes.
The number of oil trains that travel from the Bakken oil fields, “which straddle the U.S.-Canadian border,” to refineries on the East and West coasts has increased “from 9,500 seven years ago to 493,126 last year,” the Washington Post (5/1, Halsey) reports. Foxx stated: “It only takes one accident to create a big problem for a community and a country. This rule is recognition that we have growing risk.”
The Hill (5/2, Cama) quoted Foxx as stating: “Our goal and what we accomplished is to create a comprehensive approach to safety that will prevent accidents from happening, that will mitigate damage if they do and support emergency response.”
Corinthian Debt Strike Focuses Attention On ED’s Student Loan Role.
The New York Times (5/4, Lewin, Subscription Publication) reports that over 150 former Corinthian Colleges Inc. students have “gone on strike,” refusing to pay their loans back, while over 1,000 others are “formally asking the Education Department to wipe out their debt, arguing that the school used false graduation and placement statistics to entice them into taking out burdensome debt.” The article notes that ED could wind up having to pay millions in taxpayer money to cover the loans, “raising questions about the department’s double role as both lender and collector of federal student loans.”
Former Corinthian Students Left With Few Options. The Washington Post (5/1, Douglas-Gabriel) runs an article on Corinthian’s collapse, citing “allegations that the company lied about the success of its programs and trapped students in predatory loans.” The piece notes that the firm’s downfall “brings into focus the risky gamble students can make in pursuing higher education,” noting that crippling levels of student debt can negate the increased earning potential of a higher education. The piece quotes Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) lambasting Corinthian and lamenting the plight of its former students.
Coalition Forming To Support Free Community College Plan.
Inside Higher Ed (5/1) reports that amid a range of skepticism and excitement about President Obama’s proposal for free tuition at community college, a coalition of “business leaders, academics, mayors and foundations” is forming with the goal of “promoting the benefits and importance of the proposal.” The article quotes former Under Secretary Martha Kanter saying, “There are a lot of people thinking about this and organizing the way to go…. We all are working on a plan to say, ‘Could we join together and first do the analysis of what we want to accomplish? What are the challenges of getting the first two years of community college funded in a federal-state partnership?’”
Hillary Clinton Working On Plan To Fight Student Debt Crisis.
Yahoo! Finance (5/4) reports that presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is “putting together a plan to tackle the nation’s student debt crisis.” The piece notes that the plan is unlikely to be finalized for months, but speculates about what it might include by noting that her track record seems to put her on the side of borrowers. The Latin Post (5/3) also covers this story.
Google Employees To Help Instruct At Historically Black Colleges.
The AP (5/4, Mendoza) reports that Google has sent employees to several Historically Black Colleges and Universities to teach, mentor students, and provide curriculum advice. The outreach is part of a larger movement by tech firms to improve their diversity, with “typical” rates of black technical staffers hovering around 1 percent.
Research and Development
NYTimes Says Ige “Needs To Step Up” On Telescope Debate.
The New York Times (5/3, Board, Subscription Publication) editorializes Hawaii Gov. David Ige “has been far too withdrawn” in expressing his opinion about the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope, which the Times notes has been stalled by “militant advocacy not often seen in the Aloha State.” According to the Times, Ige “needs to step up” and say whether “he thinks the telescope is an important asset that promises great benefits to Hawaii’s residents and economy, not to mention to science and humanity at large” or “If he thinks more needs to be done to protect the environment and native interests…and make it happen.”
Tyson: Scientific Discovery Can Boost Economy.
CNBC (5/3, Kramer) reports on comments by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who argues that scientific discovery and innovation can help boost the economy. In an interview with CNBC, Tyson said that when “an engineer comes out with a new patent to take you to a place, intellectually, physically, that has never been reached before, those become the engines of tomorrow’s economy.” Tyson added that the costs, required time, and risks involved space exploration could “limit the long-term interest of private enterprise,” the article notes.
Study Shows Astronauts Could Suffer Brain Damage From Radiation In Space.
The Wall Street Journal (5/1, Hotz, Subscription Publication) reported that a new NASA-funded study by University of California, Irvine and the University of Nevada researchers determined that prolonged exposure to the radiation in deep space could damage astronauts brain, negatively affecting memory and decision-making. The article notes that while NASA declined to be interviewed about the results, it did issue the following statement: “NASA recognizes the importance of understanding the effects of space radiation on humans during long-duration missions beyond Earth orbit, and these studies and future studies will continue to inform our understanding as we prepare for the journey to Mars.”
The Los Angeles Times (5/1, Brown) “Science Now” website noted that Charles Limoli of UC Irvine, who led the research, decided to investigate the issue in relation to astronauts “as an outgrowth of his work on the effects of radiation on brain cancer patients.” Limoli stressed that if organizations want to deal with the radiation in space, they need to know what will happen. According to the article, astronauts may one day need drug treatments like the ones Limoli is developing for cancer patients on Earth.
The PBS’ NewsHour (5/1, Akpan) “The Rundown” blog Peter Guida of Brookhaven National Laboratory noted that the difference between the new study and similar ones in the past was that Limoli exposed the rodent subjects to “‘space relevant’ doses of charged particle radiation.” According to the article, there are questions about whether the findings will apply to humans.
Solar-Powered Motorbike Captures Attention Of Afghanistan’s First Lady.
The Los Angeles Times (5/4, Latifi) reports that “when Mustafa Mohammadi told his parents he wanted to spend tens of thousands of afghanis and several weeks building a solar-powered motorbike, they thought he was delusional.” But after overcoming a number of obstacles, the 30-year-old “self-trained” engineer completed a prototype in mid-December and the “bright yellow vehicle quickly became an attraction.” The vehicle has even “caught the attention of First Lady Rula Ghani, who hung a picture of it in her office in the presidential palace as a symbol of the accomplishments of young Afghans.”
Nepalese Engineering Students Prepare To Inspect Buildings For Quake Damage.
The Los Angeles Times (5/2, Makinen) reports that a number of students at the engineering school of Tribhuvan University in Katmandu, Nepal have become “building-inspectors-to-be,” and are learning “about how to assess whether a building cracked by Nepal’s giant earthquake was safe.” The students “learned how to identify whether cracks were caused by tension or compression, and how to categorize them by size.” The piece notes that the Nepal Engineering Association and the National Society for Earthquake Technology are taking part in the effort.
States, Companies Vie For Piece Of Growing Cybersecurity Market.
The Christian Science Monitor (5/3, Socher) details the anticipated “goldrush” associated with cybersecurity services. The CSMonitor notes that “millions” in Federal contracts will soon be available to build up “a cybersecurity ecosystem” and that research firm Markets and Markets projects the global market will be worth $156 billion by 2019. The CSMonitor focuses on state governments who are trying to support the industry their states through tax incentives, including Washington state, home to Amazon and Microsoft.
Engineering and Public Policy
Green Groups, Lawmakers Highlight Links Between Quakes, Drilling.
The Hill (5/3, Henry) reports that “green groups and lawmakers are seizing” on new USGS research released last month that links earthquakes to oil and gas drilling, arguing that it shows the “need for tougher federal regulations” instead of continuing to place primary responsibility on states. While the new research is linked to “traditional” drilling, it “raised a red flag for those opposed to fracking.” However, it doesn’t appear that the EPA is likely to act in near future. Additional coverage was provided by the Native American Times (5/3).
NRC Report: FAA Falls Short On NextGen System Implementation.
The Hill (5/2, Laing) reported that on Friday, the National Research Council (NRC) criticized the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for only “tinkering around the edges of the national air traffic control system” rather than completing the overhaul the agency promised when it unveiled plans to switch to a “satellite-based system called NextGen.” According to the Hill, because the FAA “struggled to meet deadlines” and get Congressional funding for NextGen, it resorted to “a piecemeal approach” instead. The Boston Globe (5/1) also covers this story.
Republicans Leading Charge Against Virginia Natural Gas Pipeline.
Politico (5/3, Schor) reports that a “core group” of Virginia Republicans, along with landowners, is “leading the charge against a proposed natural gas pipeline” using “tactics similar” to the effort against Keystone XL, “the very project Republicans in Congress have elevated into a matter of national economic survival.” The Republicans are “carrying out a well-funded campaign against Dominion’s $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would cross Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley while running 550 miles from West Virginia’s fracking fields to North Carolina.”
House Approves Appropriations Bill With Funding For Yucca Mountain Repository.
SNL Financial (5/1, Whieldon) reports on the US House having approved (240-177) a $35.4 billion appropriations bill funding, among others, the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The funding also includes “the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.” The White House has threatened to veto the bill, objecting to “drastic reductions” in funding for “the nation’s clean energy future and continued U.S. technology leadership.” The Administration also “opposes” funding Yucca Mountain.
Engineer Argues WIPP Experience Shows Need To Review Yucca Mountain. Retired engineer Harish Sharma, writes in a guest column for the Carlsbad (NM) Current-Argus (5/1), that “almost everyone thinks that soon after Sen. Reid’s departure from the Senate in 2017,” funding for Yucca Mountain will be restored, and the repository “may be operational soon after that.” He points out that the WIPP repository had been studied and prepared “for three decades,” but now, after “less than fifteen years of operation, it has been shut down.” He argues that the experience with WIPP indicates that “safety considerations for Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository need to be looked afresh.”
Iowa Debates New Science Standards.
The Des Moines (IA) Register (5/3, Ryan) reports that engineering instruction “could become more common” should Iowa begin to use the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards could be voted on by the BOE before the end of May and would mandate the inclusion of engineering in science classes, de-emphasizing memorization and adding material on the scientific process, data analysis, model development, and logic. While the standards are meant to promote “critical thinking,” conservatives see them as “advancing a liberal agenda” by addressing evolution and climate change. The Register then details the standards. A video of the story is included.
Illinois After-School Program Looks To Bring Minorities Into STEM.
The Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette (5/3, Lafond) reports that the St. Elmo Brady’s STEM Academy, an after-school program in Illinois, looks to bring minority students to STEM subjects through activities and experiments. The program also allows students to work with their fathers, and academy co-founder Jerrod Henderson says that this “key” for the program’s success. The group hosted an end-of-program fair on Saturday in Champaign, Illinois.
GenCyber Camps To Be Offered By NSF, NSA.
The AP (5/3, Ring) reports that GenCyber, a program funded by the NSF and the NSA, looks to teach children about cybersecurity both to help them defend their information and to fulfill “an insatiable need” for cybersecurity experts. The project ran six summer camps last summer and expanded to 43 for this year. The camps vary widely on the length of the program and the gender and age of the campers.
Energy Institute High School Finishing Second Year.
The Houston Chronicle (5/4) reports on the founding of and current experience at the Energy Institute High School, opened in August 2013 as a magnet school for those interested in geosciences, alternative energy, and offshore technology. The school is a partnership between petroleum associations and the Houston ISD and uses a Magnet Schools Assistance program grant from the ED. The school focuses not only on “cutting-edge technology and project-based learning” but also professional skills, where principal Lori Lambropoulos said high schools “have been way behind the game for decades.” The school will start building a new facility September.
Missouri Science Fair Held Saturday.
The Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune (5/3, Campbell) reports that the second annual Columbia Science Fair was held Saturday morning in Missouri. Students and professors from the University of Missouri’s ReSTEM Institute led the activities.
Delaware Students Track Boat Across Ocean.
The AP (5/2, Albright) reports that a man walking his dog in County Sligo, Ireland, found a four-foot sailboat washed up on the shore. Inside the boat’s waterproof compartment, Sean Creaven found “a T-shirt, thumb drive, and a letter from fourth- and fifth-graders at Lake Forest Central Elementary School in Felton, Delaware – about 2,500 miles away.” The students “had been tracking and cheering for The Mighty Spartan since it launched in November, thanks to an onboard global-positioning unit.”
California School To Become District’s First STEM Academy.
The Inland Valley (CA) Daily Bulletin (5/3, Marquez) reports that Foothill Knolls Elementary in Upland, California will become the Upland Unified School District’s first STEM academy starting next year. The school celebrated the transition Friday.
Friday’s Lead Stories
• House Science Committee Passes NASA Bill Along Party Lines.