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Leading the News

House Pushes Senate To Adopt Short-Term Transportation Funding Extension.

The Hill  (7/23, Schroeder, Becker) reports that both Republican and Democratic leaders in the House are in “rare agreement” that the Senate highway bill is “looking to be a nonstarter in the lower chamber.” On Thursday, the House “upped the pressure” on the Senate to consider the House-passed five-month extension of funding and “continue the debate after the August recess.”

Meanwhile, Roll Call  (7/23, Lesniewski) reports that Senate negotiators working on a long-term highway bill ironed out “some issues in a new version unveiled Thursday afternoon, but lawmakers appeared on track for weekend work, including potential Sunday votes.” However, the piece warns that the legislation may get bogged down by unrelated amendments.

Senate Bill Calls For Delay In Rail Safety Measures. The New York Times  (7/23, Shear, Subscription Publication) reports that two months after the Amtrak crash, the Senate bill “calls for a three-year delay of the deadline for installing a rail safety system that experts say would have almost certainly prevented the Pennsylvania accident.” Lawmakers “from the Northeast and train safety experts expressed outrage over the provision.”

Stabenow Secures Blight Removal Funds. The Detroit News  (7/24, Burke) reports that Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow “held up a vote” on the transportation bill on Thursday evening “until Republican leadership agreed to safeguard money that Detroit and other urban centers are using to combat neighborhood blight.” Part of the bipartisan bill “would have rescinded unused money from a fund within the Troubled Asset Relief Program meant for foreclosure prevention and blight removal in urban centers such as Detroit and Flint.”

USA Today Backs Gas Tax Increase. In an editorial, USA Today  (7/24) endorses the idea of raising the current 18.4-cent-per-gallong gas tax in order to increase transportation funding. USA Today says that “merely restoring the tax to its 1993 level (a little more than 30 cents in today’s dollars) and indexing it for inflation would be a big start toward a major infrastructure upgrade.”

In an opposing op-ed for USA Today  (7/24), David McInosh, head of the Club for Growth, argues that raising the gas tax to boost the Highway Trust Fund “is like pumping gas into a junkyard car. For every $1 of gas tax, Washington wastes 20% to 30% in needless federal regulations that jack up highway construction costs.” He argues for cutting out the federal “middleman” and letting states handle the bulk of the funding for road projects.

Higher Education

Committee Hearing Features Optimism About Competency-Based Education.

Inside Higher Ed  (7/23) reported the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on “exploring barriers and opportunities in education.” During the hearing, senators and witnesses “said they are optimistic about the potential of competency-based education and noninstitutional boot camps to provide” better education at a lower price than “traditional colleges.”

Groups Urge Administration To Identify Colleges Facing Investigations, Lawsuits.

Education Week  (7/24, Adams) reported almost 50 education and consumer groups are asking the Administration to identify colleges that are the subject of investigations or lawsuits from the government as part of the new Federal college comparison website. In a July 22 letter to Education Secretary Duncan, the groups said, “Students deserve to know when a college’s practices are under heightened scrutiny from federal and state regulators, just as investors in publicly traded for-profit colleges are required to be notified of such events.”

MIT Looking At New Online Education Programs.

The Washington Post  (7/24, Anderson) reports the Massachusetts Institute of Technology president L. Rafael Reif announced the college is considering launching new online education programs. MIT has long been at the forefront of digital innovation in education.

More Graduate Schools Dropping Standardized Tests From Admissions.

Education Dive  (7/22, Mathewson) reported more graduate schools are dropping standardized tests from their admissions requirements. Standardized tests have often been criticized as culturally biased or favoring those who can afford test preparation courses, while others say the tests are valuable predictors of how well students will perform in academically rigorous programs.

Study Finds Parents’ Income Correlated With Students’ College Major.

USA Today  (7/23, Ahmed) reported data analysis showed that parents’ income was correlated with students’ college majors. The analysis was completed by Kim Weeden, a Cornell University sociologist, at the rest of The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker. The study showed that students from high-income families were more likely to major in English and history than their peers, while students from low-income families were relatively more likely to major in law-enforcement. Weeden says that students from low-income families are less likely to be exposed to the arts and humanities and are more likely to pick a major with more job opportunities.

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Research and Development

Kepler Finds Closest Exoplanet To Earth Yet.

ABC World News (7/23, story 11, 1:15, Muir), as its final segment for the evening, broadcast that NASA announced that the Kepler space telescope discovered an exoplanet known as Kepler 452b, which may be “the closest thing yet to Earth.” Reporter David Wright said this discovery was “the second big news in a week from NASA,” following last week’s Pluto flyby. Wright notes that although researcher are not certain, the planet, which is larger than Earth, could have liquid water and an atmosphere.

NBC Nightly News (7/23, story 7, 1:50, Holt) broadcast that John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said that the discover “makes me feel like there is a solar system like ours. There is another earth out there.” The broadcast also notes that NASA “memorized” the public recently with images of Pluto.

The AP  (7/24, Dunn) reports that Jon Jenkins of Ames Research Center said the newly discovered planet, one of 500 added Thursday to Kepler’s catalog, “is the closest thing that we have to another place that somebody else might call home. … Today the Earth is a little less lonely because there’s a new kid on the block.” Grunsfeld added that he wanted to “emphasize” that the telescope could still find even better analogs to Earth. The article notes that Kepler 452b was just the first of 12 potential exoplanets with less than twice the radius of Earth in the new set “confirmed as a true planet, thanks to ground observations.”

According to the New York Times  (7/24, Overbye, Subscription Publication), the exoplanet is “right on the edge between being rocky like Earth and being a fluffy gas ball like Neptune.” Jenkins likened Kepler 452b to “an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment. … It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent six billion years in the habitable zone of its star, longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”

The Washington Post  (7/23, Feltman) highlights the fact that scientists cannot be certain of a lot of the planet’s properties because of the distance and way the planet was discovered. Meanwhile, Joseph Twicken, lead scientific programmer for the Kepler mission, said, “Continued investigation of the other candidates in this catalog and one final run of the Kepler science pipeline will help us find the smallest and coolest planets. Doing so will allow us to better gauge the prevalence of habitable worlds.”

NASA Uses Crowdsourcing To Design Robonaut 2 Tools.

CNN Money  (7/23, Kavilanz) reports that NASA has turned to the crowdsourcing platform Freelancer.com for help designing tools for the Robonaut 2. NASA is presenting challenges which “expire weekly, requiring designers to be quick.” Steve Rader, deputy manager with the Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovative at NASA, said that the agency plans to release more crowdsourcing challenges in the future, like one “to develop a telescope that can take the best quality photo of the space station.”

Dean: Crowdfunding Efforts Leads To Questions About Government’s Role. At the Washington Post  (7/24) “Post Everything” blog, Margaret Lazarus Dean writes on the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum’s Kickstarter to raise funds to repair Neil Armstrong’s Apollo 11 spacesuit. Dean likens the “sadness or disgust” that some feel because the museum cannot fund this work on its own to her own feelings about the “depressing” amount NASA is given each year. She thinks that the Smithsonian is just following NASA’s “success creating connections with followers through Twitter, Instagram and other social networks.” Both situations lead to questions about the role and extent that governments should fund “things we value, like historical preservation of national artifacts, or spaceflight, or education.”

Two Senators Introduce Bill On Advanced Stirling Conversion Development.

The WTAP-TV  Parkersburg, WV (7/23, Farrar) website reports that two US senators have introduced a bill that would promote the development of a technology called “Advanced Stirling Conversion,” which is being led by the Glenn Research Center and Sunpower. Sen. Rob Portman said, “We know from talking to NASA and NASA Glenn in Cleveland as well as Sunpower Inc. in Athens that this is ‘the’ technology for the future of deep space exploration. … So we’re excited about the technology. We believe it’s the right thing for the taxpayer and it also happens to be good for jobs in Athens, Ohio.” Portman added that the goal is to get the measure added to NASA’s reauthorization bill.

Workforce

Opinion: Pipeline Construction Good For Pennsylvania Workers.

Writing in the Pittsburgh (PA) Tribune-Review  (7/24, Kunz), International Union of Operating Engineers local leader James Kunz Jr argues that Pennsylvania’s position on top of the Marcellus shale and the push to expand the state’s pipeline infrastructure are opportunities to help the state’s engineering workers and “deliver new economic growth opportunities.” He ends my promoting the Mariner East 2 pipeline as part of that movement.

Engineering and Public Policy

Northrop Grumman Unveils I3E Simulator.

Defense Daily  (7/23, Host) reports that on Thursday Northrop Grumman introduced its Immersive Interactive Information Environment (I3E) physics simulator that “produces electronic warfare (EW) environment mission simulations that are both empirically-accurate and fully-rendered in game-quality visualization.” Northrop Grumman Sector VP of Business Development for Electronic Systems Steve Goldfein lauded the simulator’s ability to be paused, and asserted the designers created the simulator by considering “an engineer’s perspective of how to understand and visualize physics.” The article notes that Northrop is developing a maritime and a classified version of I3E, and that Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is a potential I3E customer.

State Opposition To Clean Power Plan Fades As Compliance Examined.

In a front-page story, the Washington Post  (7/24, A1, Warrick) reports that state opposition to the President’s Clean Power Plan is fading, even among coal states, as governments find ways to meet its target without significant pain. For example, in Kentucky, “five of the state’s older coal-burning power plants were already scheduled to close or switch to natural gas in the next two years, either because of aging equipment or to save money, state officials say.” As a result, the state’s emissions “are set to plummet 16 percent below where they were in 2012 — within easy reach of the 18 percent reduction goal proposed” by the EPA.

Construction Begins On First Commercial Offshore Wind Farm. The New York Times  (7/24, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that off the coast of Rhode Island, construction has begun on “the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm.” It is a “moment that its supporters have long anticipated, billing it as nothing less than the dawn of a new clean energy future for the United States, which lags Europe and China in harnessing ocean gusts for electricity.” However, it is “a much more modest beginning than was originally expected,” as other, larger projects “remain stalled.”

CSMonitor Analysis: Big-City Mayors In “Vanguard” Of Climate Change Fight. The Christian Science Monitor  (7/23, Bruinius) reports that while much focus has been on “top down” efforts to cut carbon emissions, the “mayors of major cities – from New York to Johannesburg, South Africa, to Beijing – are taking the ‘bottom up’ approach.” By “working to effect change at the local level, they’ve been at the vanguard of reducing emissions throughout the world in the past decade.”

Reid, Heller Introduce Measure To Give Nevada Veto Ability Over Yucca Mountain.

Greenwire  (7/23, Northey, Subscription Publication) reports that the Nevada Senate delegation “quietly introduced legislation yesterday in hopes of cementing their state’s ability to veto the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in a bipartisan bill that will be considered in the upper chamber next month.” Nevada Sens. Dean Heller (R) and Harry Reid (D), “Capitol Hill’s most vocal opponents of the abandoned Yucca Mountain,” introduced the measure that would “require the Energy secretary to obtain the consent of affected state and local governments before spending Nuclear Waste Fund cash to build a nuclear dump.” The measure is “notable because it was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is slated to hold a hearing on nuclear waste on Aug. 4 to consider a bipartisan bill that would jump-start the country’s stalled nuclear waste policies.”

The Las Vegas Sun  (7/23, Roerink) adds that Reid and Heller’s bill, S. 1825, “would prevent the federal Department of Energy from making payments for transporting nuclear waste through Nevada without receiving the consent of the governor, local officials and tribal leaders.” The measure is a “companion” to another bill the “two are working on that would require similar sign-offs for the construction of a nuclear repository at the long-controversial site.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (7/24, Tetreault) also reported the story.

Report: Clean Power Plan Will Bring Lower Energy Rates.

The Hill  (7/24, Cama) reports that a report by Synapse Energy Economics finds that “States can significantly lower electricity bills for consumers and businesses if they take the right steps in complying with the Obama administration’s climate rule for power plants.” The report concludes that two thirds of residential customers who participate in energy efficiency programs under the plan would experience up to $35 less in monthly bills by 2030. The estimates outstrip those from the EPA, and the study was paid for by an environmental group.

Congress Lumbers Toward Responses To Grid’s Cyber And Physical Threats.

EnergyWire  (7/24, Behr, Subscription Publication) reports that in recent subcommittee meetings, members of Congress have explored potential threats to the power grid, and advanced legislation aimed at increasing protection of energy infrastructure. On Wednesday, the House Energy and Power subcommittee “unanimously backed the need for a federal plan to build a strategic reserve” of transformers, though according to the article, “major questions remain on how the reserve would be organized and paid for, and how such a government program would mesh with current industry programs.” In addition to existing programs, several energy companies, including Southern Company, have “proposed to create an independent organization called Grid Assurance that would purchase large transformers and other essential grid equipment as emergency stockpiles.”

Construction Begins On First Commercial Offshore Wind Farm.

The New York Times  (7/24, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that off the coast of Rhode Island, construction has begun on “the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm.” It is a “moment that its supporters have long anticipated, billing it as nothing less than the dawn of a new clean energy future for the United States, which lags Europe and China in harnessing ocean gusts for electricity.” However, it is “a much more modest beginning than was originally expected,” as other, larger projects “remain stalled.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Boeing Company, Family Donating $30 Million To Seattle Museum For STEM Education.

The AP  (7/23) reported the Boeing company and family are donating $30 million to Seattle’s Museum of Flight to expand the institution’s STEM education programs. The donation will allow the museum to double the number of students who can participate in the programs.

McClatchy  (7/23) adds that Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO said that the donation was “an opportunity to invest in our children and in our region’s future economic health and growth,” and went on to note that some of the 45,000 jobs the company expects to post in the region “could go unfilled here…because we don’t have people qualified to take them.”

Summer Program Helps Equip Educators To Better Teach STEM.

The St. Louis American  (7/24, Rivas) reports on the STEM Teacher Quality Institute, in which educators spend two weeks during the summer “learning to better teacher their students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.” According to Deborah Holmes, project manager and facilitator for the institute, “the goal is not just to raise test scores but to foster and grow a lifelong interest in the fields, thereby establishing today’s students as the STEM leaders of tomorrow… and the method seems to be paying off.” The article notes that the project is “a local collaborative partnership made up of representatives from the area’s top STEM companies,” and funded by The Laclede Group, Inc., among others.

Opinion: US Needs STEM Mentoring.

In an opinion piece in The Hill  (7/24, Weeks), Kirsten Weeks, the head of Cisco’s STEM mentoring efforts, explains why the US needs a national movement to encourage STEM education to meet the demand for skilled workers. Weeks recounts President Kennedy’s challenge to the nation to go to the moon in the 1960s and how that challenge inspired a generation of scientists and technological innovation. Weeks says that mentoring relationships are needed to help a new generation of STEM workers develop the skills they need to succeed and help the US in the future.

Also in the News

Scientists “Band Together To Call Out” AAAS.

Tech Times  (7/23) reported “scientists have banded together to call out” the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). In a Tuesday letter, more than 600 scientists ask “that AAAS works more diligently in preventing harmful stereotypes in the content it publishes” and suggest the editorial staff receives diversity training.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Cyber Security Experts Remotely Hack Into Chrysler Vehicle.
Alexander Calls For Congress To Support Higher Education Innovation.
Research On How Wildfires Spread Could Improve Firefighter Safety.
Despite Stock Drop, Analysts Remain Upbeat On Apple.
US Team Wins Wave Energy Modeling Award.
Google Sponsors STEM Education Event In Chicago For Kids.
Connecticut College Professor Discouraged Teen From Building Gun-Firing UAV.

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