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

Leading the News

Researchers Develop Buoyant Metal Matrix Composite.

The Engineer  (5/15) reports that a team of US researchers from the firm Deep Springs Technology and the New York University Polytechnic School of Engineering “have developed a new metal matrix composite so light that it can float on water,” noting that the groups says the material “could potentially be used to make unsinkable boats” and “also has potential automotive applications, where lightweight and heat resistance could be used to help improve fuel economy.”

R&D Magazine  (5/15) reports that the new material differs from “syntactic foams” which “have been around for many years.” The Times of India  (5/15) also covers this story.

New GE Ceramic Allows Lighter, Hotter Jet Engines.

The AP  (5/15, Fahey) reports that three decades of work along “a tortured path of fluctuating research funding and disappointments” by General Electric researcher Krishan Luthra have produced a new “lightweight, strong” ceramic that can withstand extreme temperatures. It is being incorporated into “jet engines and promises to save billions of gallons of fuel” through reduced weight and allowing higher operating temperatures. The GE engine using the material, the LEAP, has 8,000 orders worth $100 billion, and it will be used on the coming Airbus 320neo and Boeing 737 MAX, with “the first test flight…expected to take off in the next several weeks.” GE predicts that, by 2020, with more components made with this material, “engine thrust could be increased by 25 percent and fuel consumption could improve by 10 percent.”

Higher Education

CFPB Launches Public Inquiry Into Student Loan Servicers.

NBC News  (5/15, Weisbaum) reports that the CFPB is “launching a public inquiry” into the student loan servicing industry as Director Richard Cordray tries to find out which industry practices lead to repayment challenges and barrier for distressed borrowers. Cordray said, “Today’s inquiry seeks information on the pain points in student loan servicing that make repayment a more difficult and stressful process.” The article notes that the CFPB “received more than 28,000 comments and complaints about student loans in the past two years,” with common complaints including “trouble with the posting of payments, lost records, slow response times in fixing errors and a general lack of customer service.” Cordray also noted parallels to the mortgage industry pre-crisis, saying the problems of student borrowers “bear an uncanny resemblance to the situation where struggling homeowners reached out to their mortgage servicers before, during, and after the financial crisis.”

The Hill  (5/14, Schroeder) reports that the CFPB is looking into Student Loan Servicers, what the agency calls the “critical link,” attempting to identify any problems that borrowers face when dealing with the agents that manage their accounts. The agency noted that there are no comprehensive federal rules for these type of servicers and was examining whether rules from other financial products could be applied. CFPB Director Richard Cordray said, “Having seen the improper and unnecessary foreclosures experienced by many homeowners, the Consumer Bureau is concerned that inadequate servicing is also contributing to America’s growing student loan default problem.” He added, “At this point, about 8 million Americans are in default on more than $100 billion in outstanding student loan balances.”

State AGs Call On ED To Keep Corinthian Students Appraised Of Options.

Noting that ED has faced criticism for including other troubled schools on a list of potential transfer schools for former Corinthian Colleges Inc. students, MainStreet  (5/15) reports that Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and eleven other attorneys general have signed a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan “expressing concern about information the Department provided to students about Corinthian alternatives.” The letter also calls on ED to “identify schools that are currently under investigation or subject to judgments that may affect a student’s choice of school in response to a request for information from the Department.”

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Research and Development

University Of Hawaii Taking Part In Data Network Research Project.

The Pacific Business News  (5/15, Subscription Publication) reports that the University of Hawaii Manoa is working with UC Davis on NetSage, “a project designed to better understand the use of scientific data networks.” The National Science Foundation is giving the school $1 million, “part of a $5 million grant.” Noting that Indiana University “is the lead school on the project,” in which schools “will monitor and visualize traffic flowing over the NSF’s national and international research networks in order to gauge future needs.”

MIT Student Team Wins $100K Prize For UAV Development.

The Boston Globe  (5/14, Subbaraman) reports team Raptor Maps has beat out 193 contestants and won a check for $100,000 in the 25th annual MIT 100K Entrepreneurship Competition Wednesday evening. “The founders of Raptor Maps are three Massachusetts Institute of Technology students with backgrounds in health sciences and aerospace engineering.” The intention of the team “is to use technology that analyzes aerial images of agricultural land to more efficiently identify areas attacked by pests.”

GE Creates Working Jet Engine From 3D-Printed Parts.

International Business Times (UK)  (5/15, Papenfuss) reports that General Electric created a working jet engine “the size of an American football” exclusively from 3D-printed parts. The article notes that engine is able to “roar up to 33,000 rpm and could power a model jet.” According to the Times, using 3D-printed parts could be a “huge advantage” in the future because it may reduce both cost and production time, noting that a “typical jet engine can take up to two years to manufacture.”


Female Tech Entrepreneur Cites Success Stories.

The Los Angeles Times  (5/15, Lien, Chang) reports that Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, founder of online video shopping start-up Joyus “was well aware of the biases against women and minorities in her industry” and knew that the tech sector faced challenges in workplace diversity, but “believed that the ongoing media coverage overlooked the success stories.” Singh Cassidy recently wrote on the tech blog Re/Code drawing attention to successful female tech entrepreneurs.

Industry News

Lower Gas Prices Hurt Hybrid And EV Sales.

The New York (NY) Times  (5/15, Ulrich, Subscription Publication) reports that lower gasoline prices have hurt sales of hybrid and electric vehicles as their owners are switching back to conventional models, according to auto research firm Edmunds. The article notes that in 2012, high gas prices justified higher upfront costs for a hybrid vehicle. Now that those prices have dropped from nearly $4.00 to $2.66 on average, the financial calculus has reverted as “55 percent of hybrid and electric vehicle owners are defecting to a gasoline-only model at trade-in time.” General Motors’ executive chief engineer for electrified vehicles Pamela Fletcher says that the industry “can’t say, ‘Just kidding’” when gas prices dip, and instead are working to cut costs to make the vehicles more competitive.

Engineering and Public Policy

Oil Industry Begins Ad Fight Against EPA Ozone Regulation.

The Hill  (5/15, Cama) reports that lobbyists for the oil industry have begun running advertisements in print, radio, and television advocating against new regulations proposed by the EPA to curb ozone pollution. The ads argue that the current standards, instituted in 2008, are sufficient. The article notes that the industry and the EPA have wildly different ideas of how much the regulation will cost: a study for the National Association of Manufacturers cited in the ad says compliance will cost $1.1 trillion, while the EPA says that benefits will outweigh costs and save the economy roughly $22 billion. Statute mandates that the EPA ultimately consider only public health, and not cost, when determining air quality regulations.

Environment & Energy Publishing  (5/14, Peterka, Subscription Publication) reports that the American Petroleum Institute, which is behind the campaign, called the standards a “mission critical” area and that the advertisements were being backed by “significant resources.” E&E notes that the Sierra Club launched a campaign favoring the changes, saying that “Little lungs deserve healthy air.” A decision on the rules will be made by October 1, as per a Federal court order.

Group Of House Members Opposing Short-Term Highway Funding Move.

Roll Call  (5/15, Dumain) reports that in the House, a “growing number of Democrats and some moderate Republicans” are opposing another short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund. They are “signing on to a letter pledging they’ll vote against another stopgap extension of the account funding transportation and infrastructure projects around the country.” The letter says that the US “cannot afford to have Congress kick the can down the road while our roads and bridges continue to crumble and workers remain idle.”

Reid Hits GOP Candidates Over Support For Reopening Yucca Mountain.

Roll Call  (5/15, Dennis) reports that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is “using Yucca Mountain as a club against Republican presidential candidates hoping to win his home state in 2016.” In an email “blast” on Thursday, Reid “ripped Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in particular on the mothballed nuclear waste storage project he has spent decades blocking.” Reid said, “Let me be as clear as can be, Yucca Mountain is dead. It is not coming back. And I dare any Republican to step foot in Nevada and declare their support for it.”

USA Today: US Should Allow Shell To Drill Off Alaska.

In an editorial, USA Today  (5/15) says “there are good reasons to doubt the Obama administration should let Royal Dutch Shell have another try at drilling for oil” off Alaska’s coast, but the company “should get another shot.” USA Today says the “drilling Shell managed to do” three years ago “went smoothly” and the US “needs the kind of oil that could be found off Alaska.”

In a USA Today  (5/15) op-ed, Susan Murray, the deputy vice president for conservation group the Pacific for Oceana, says the approval of Shell’s plans to drill off Alaska comes despite the lack of “any significant public evidence that the company has accepted responsibility for the problems it encountered in 2012 or that it is any more prepared now.” Murray says any oil in the location “will be there when – and if – companies like shell” are capable of operating there.

FERC Moves To Protect Electric Grid From Solar Storms.

The Hill  (5/15, Cama) reports the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission wants “to set new rules to better protect” the electric grid “from disturbances caused by solar storms.” Solar storms can sometimes “cause geomagnetic disturbances, which could harm transmission equipment like electric transformers and cause widespread blackouts and other electricity problems” and that concerns FERC. On Thursday, the regulatory body voted “to formally propose standards for utilities to foresee solar storm disturbances and build in systems to reduce the resulting problems.”

Duke Energy To Expand Solar Power Production In South Carolina.

The Charlotte (NC) Observer  (5/15, Peralta) reports Duke Energy has “reached an agreement with several” environmental and business groups in South Carolina “that could result in increased solar energy use for residents.” The intent of the agreement is “to augment Duke Energy’s Distributed Energy Resource programs, which were filed with the South Carolina Public Service Commission in February and are designed to grow solar capacity in Duke’s South Carolina service area from about 2 to 110 megawatts.” The Observer notes, “Included in the agreement are several programs that will provide incentives for solar energy use.”

The Hill  (5/15, Henry) reports Duke “will provide 53 megawatts of utility-scale solar power to integrate into its electricity systems.” The move by the company “is meant to comply with a state law requiring that utilities produce at least 2 percent of their energy from solar sources by 2021.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Colorado BOE Begrudgingly Releases State Science Tests.

The Denver Post  (5/15, Gorski, Robles) reports that the Colorado BOE decided, despite reservations, that it will allow students to receive their state science test scores, but will prevent the department from using the data to assess districts and schools. The board refused for two months to let the scores out, and still has not created score strata for social studies tests despite legal requirements to do so. Most board members believe the tests are not valid and rejected them in March. The board will revisit the tests this week. US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he had “never heard of a state that failed to do this” and that he would be “pretty concerned” if he lived in the state. He added that there was “no educational benefit” to the decision.

Critics Attack Indiana DOE’s Decision To Change Science Standards.

Chalkbeat Indiana  (5/14, Cavazos) reports that the Indiana DOE will update its science standards next year, but critics “some are worried” that the new standards will use standards that are “too easy, too unclear and too close to the drama” of Indiana’s use and then abandonment of Common Core standards. Hoosiers Against Common Core founder Erin Tuttle has called the Next Generation Science Standards “sister standards to Common Core.” State Superintendent Glenda Ritz countered that the Next Generation standards were only one of several guides the state will look at when creating its new standards.

Chattanooga STEM School Wins NSF Grant.

WDEF-TV  Chattanooga, TN (5/14, Mahon) reports that STEM School Chattanooga has received a $300,000 grant from the NSF to create live-streaming of class, robotic science labs, and technology opportunities.

Pittsburgh Students Qualify For Intel Science Fair.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (5/15, Ma) reports that four Pittsburgh students qualified for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The Post-Gazette details the students and their projects for this week’s fair.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

South Carolina Researcher Using Bacteria Enzymes To Develop Self-Repairing Cloth.
Cal Poly Expands Cybersecurity Program.
NSF Gives University At Buffalo $9 Million For Supercomputer Monitoring Tool.
Solar Road In Netherlands “Exceeded Expectations.”
Northrup Grumman Pitching Venus Plane To NASA.
Senate GOP Looks To Overturn Power Plant Rules.
Arkansas Students Visit NASA Engineering Academy.

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