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

Leading the News

Latest Images Show Pluto’s Glaciers, Hazy Atmosphere.

ABC World News (7/25, 6:42 p.m. EDT) broadcast that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft spotted “a slow-moving icy glacier” on Pluto. It also returned “the first full-color images” and an image of “Pluto’s back side, back-lit by the sun.”

The AP  (7/25) reported that on Friday, principal scientist Alan Stern said that these were among the new “mind-blowing discoveries,” including that the atmosphere was hazier than expected. William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis said that it is “a dream come true” to have observed ice flows that are only tens of millions of years old at most, which indicates an underground ocean. Furthermore, it is now “evident” that “Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature” is made up of two distinct regions that are “quite different.” After this latest series of images, there will be few new ones for several weeks because transmissions will be filled with “engineering or other technical data.” Stern said that after this period, “the spigot opens again” until fall 2016.

The New York Times  (7/24, Chang, Subscription Publication) noted that Stern said that the data indicates that Pluto’s atmosphere is potentially seeing the beginning of the atmosphere’s disappearance as Pluto moves along its orbit. Michael Summers of George Mason University said that the haze may in fact be what is causing Pluto to have a reddish color.

The Los Angeles Times  (7/24, Khan) reported that Summers said that scientists now have to rework everything that was thought to be known about Pluto’s atmosphere in light of the new findings. Stern said that the complexity of Pluto implies that it must be a planet and that the term needs to be redefined.

AFP  (7/25) reported that John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said, “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling.”

Higher Education

Essay: Private Colleges Less Able To Scale Engineering Education Than Public Universities.

In commentary for Inside Higher Ed  (7/23), Andreas Cangellaris, Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, writes about his reaction to the recent announcement that Harvard University’s Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science has received a $400 million gift and is expanding, noting that public universities have historically “set the standard” for “world-class engineering education for the masses.” Harvard, by comparison, “has set the standard for the liberal arts and sciences.” He writes that despite Harvard’s ambitions to expand its engineering and applied science program, private schools like Harvard “simply cannot satisfy the demands of 21st-century engineering alone.”

CFPB Accuses FAFSA Firm Of Deceptive Practices.

Inside Higher Ed  (7/24, Ed) reports that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last week accused of the firm Student Financial Aid Services Inc., which operates the website, of bilking consumers by “using deceptive sales tactics and illegally enrolling customers an automatic annual subscriptions without their permission.” The piece notes that the firm charged fees to help families fill out their FAFSAs, and reports that it had agreed earlier this month to relinquish control of the domain to ED.

Impact Of Gainful Employment Rule On For-Profit Sector Examined.

CBS News  (7/27, O’Shaughnessy) reports that ED’s new gainful employment rule, which kicked in this month, “has the potential to shut down roughly 1,400 schools that enroll 840,000 students.” The article explains colleges’ obligations under the new rule, noting that almost all “of the colleges in the regulation’s bull’s-eye are for-profit institutions, an industry that has been reeling from repeated setbacks in recent years.” The piece points out that if a Republican president takes office after the next election, the rule may fizzle, preventing any schools from closing. The piece includes a quote from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said when the rule took effect, “The clock is ticking for bad actors in the career college industry to do right by students. We know many have taken steps to improve or to close programs that underperform, but we believe there is more work to be done across the board so students get what they pay for: solid preparation for a good job.”

NACIQI Seeking Broader Authority To Recognize Accrediting Agencies.

Inside Higher Ed  (7/24) reports that the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity “is calling on policymakers to give it the final authority to decide which accrediting agencies deserve the federal government’s recognition,” noting that the agency “currently only makes recommendations to the education secretary about whether an accreditor meets the federal standards to be a gatekeeper of federal funds.” The piece notes that the agency “also wants greater power to force accreditors to focus more on student learning and student outcomes.”

Maryland’s Montgomery College New Approach To Remediation.

The Washington Post  (7/27, George) reports on the challenges the college’s face surrounding the need for remedial instruction for incoming students, noting that Maryland’s Montgomery College is testing an idea which “takes a broader view of how to measure who really needs remediation,” noting that even if students have poor standardized test results, if they got good grades in their high school math courses “they might be allowed to move into college-level math.”

ED Gives Colorado College STEM Grant.

The Durango (CO) Herald  (7/26) reports that ED has given Colorado’s Fort Lewis College a $1.1 million grant “to continue its work supporting first-generation, low-income and disabled students who are pursuing degrees in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines.” The piece explains that the funding will support the college’s STEM3 program.

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Research and Development

Kanzius Machine To Undergo Clinical Trials.

Newsweek  (7/31) profiles, as part of its series on cancer, the Kanzius machine, designed by “retired radio engineer” and cancer victim John Kanzius. Kanzius conducted initial research into developing a device for using radio waves for destroying cancer cells while living surrounding tissue unaffected. The article follows Dr. Steven A. Curley, who devoted his career to continuing Kanzius’ research, noting that the current variant will undergo clinical trials that “will involve exposing 15 to 20 pancreatic and liver cancer patients to radio waves in the Kanzius machine, primarily to prove the process will not harm them, and to study the impact on their cancer cells.”


Tech-Savvy Millennials Seen As New Face Of Nuclear Revival.

The National Geographic  (7/25, Koch) reports that Transatomic Power Co-founder Leslie Dewan is the “millennial face of next-generation nuclear.” Dewan, a “look-alike to actress Amy Adams,” defies the stereotype of “the middle-aged male nuclear scientist.” That is the case with much of the “tech-savvy push to reboot nuclear power.” It “bucks tradition” with “many U.S.-based startups with advanced reactor designs” backed by venture capitalists, not the U.S. government. And unlike “American scientists of the 1950s and 19560s, who were locked in an atom-splitting Cold War race with the Soviet Union,” the new breed “aim[s] to combat climate change.” Dewan, an MIT nuclear engineer and National Geographic emerging explorer, said she is “an environmentalist. I’m doing this, because I think nuclear power is the best way of producing large amounts of carbon-free electricity.” Dewan “says the world needs nuclear—along with solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal—to cut heat-trapping emissions.”

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 by promoting the Mariner East 2 pipeline as part of that movement.

Industry News

Fiat Chrysler To Pay Record $105 Million Fine.

In a brief story on the CBS Evening News (7/26, story 9, 0:20, Axelrod), David Axelrod reported that CBS News “confirmed a record fine against Fiat Chrysler,” under which the company “will pay $105 million for poor recall practices including misleading regulators.” David Kerley reported on ABC World News (7/26, story 5, 1:40, Llamas) that in “an exclusive interview,” Secretary Foxx said “he is slapping the biggest civil fine ever on a car maker: $70 million in cash. Twenty million dollars to fix the problems. And if Fiat Chrysler doesn’t perform, it could face another $15 million. Potentially, a $105 million fine.” Foxx: “Well, this is a good example of how not to do a recall.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Aging Rail Infrastructure Threatens Safety, Efficiency Of Northeast Corridor.

The New York Times  (7/26, A1, Fitzsimmons, Chen, Subscription Publication) reports in a front-page story that the Northeast Corridor, which “carries about 750,000 riders each day on Amtrak and several commuter rail lines,” faces the problem of aging and deteriorating infrastructure at a time when ridership is increasing. Calling the two train tunnels that cross under the Hudson River “perhaps the worst choke points along the corridor,” the Times points out that Secretary Foxx “said last week that replacing them was one of the top rail priorities in the country.”

NBC: US Roads “Crumbling.”

NBC Nightly News (7/24, 6:49 p.m. EDT) reported that “nearly 3/4 of the roads in L.A. and San Francisco,” and “More than half the roads in Detroit, San Diego, New York, and Cleveland,” as well as “more than 40% of roads in New Orleans, Denver and Seattle” are “crumbling, ravaged by potholes and neglect.” The Highway Trust Fund “runs empty in just seven days” and new funding plans have not yet been devised by Congress.

WPost: Highway Bill Is “Better” Than Previous Versions. In an editorial, the Washington Post  (7/25, Board) asserts the best parts of the Senate’s Highway Funding “bill is that it is better than what Congress has done before, and it may be the most responsible highway policy lawmakers can get behind at the moment.” However, the Post expresses dissatisfaction with how the legislation will be financed as “needlessly unsustainable” and concludes “we are unwilling to give senators much credit for ignoring the obvious.”

Deep-Sea Mining Appears Imminent As ISA Issues Exploration Contracts.

The AP  (7/25, Mcfadden) reports that the demand for “rare-earth elements vital in manufacturing” of high-tech products has caused a “rush” to mine deep-sea deposits that where once “out of reach to miners.” The AP notes that the United Nation’s International Seabed Authority (ISA) has issues 27 deep-sea exploration contracts thus far, and has recently been doing so at a rate that has “alarmed conservationists.” According to the article, the rapid rate at which government and private companies are making claims and assessing deposits has forecasters saying mining could begin within five years.

Elementary/Secondary Education

University Of Akron Event Targets Girls For STEM Careers.

The ASME  (7/27) “ME Today” publication reports on a recent Kids’ Career Day event at the University of Akron hosted by the school’s ASME Student Section. The event targets girls in elementary school grades “to encourage them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.” The piece explains that the program “uses a multi-faceted approach which includes technical sessions led by all-women engineering faculty, industry partners and university students.”

High School Students Take Part In Johns Hopkins Summer Engineering Program.

The Washington Post  (7/24, Koh) reports that around 40 high school students took part in a summer engineering program at Johns Hopkins University’s Montgomery County campus noting that the “Engineering Innovation” program uses hands-on projects to illustrate engineering principles. The centerpiece of the program is a competition in which students attempt to build bridges using spaghetti.

Small Teaching Changes Could Improve Math Education.

The Boston Globe  (7/26, Hartnett) reported several recent studies show that small changes in the way math is taught to students could improve performance. One such study showed that students better understood the concept of patterns when it was explained to them in the abstract instead of only with concrete examples.

California High School Sends Two Teams To Robotics Competition.

The San Bernardino (CA) Sun  (7/25, Hill) reported two teams of students from San Bernardino High School in San Bernardino, California competed in the SeaPerch competition at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. The competition sponsored by the US Navy Office of Naval Research and the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers and requires teams to use robots to navigate underwater.

Solar Car Competition For High School Students Held In Texas.

The San Antonio Express-News  (7/25, Haag) reports more than 200 high school students on 29 teams competed in the 20th annual Solar Car Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas. The competition requires students to build a car powered by solar energy. The team that builds the car that completes the most laps at the speedway is declared the winner.

South Carolina STEM Camp For Girls Attended By More Than 70 Students.

WCSC-TV  Charleston, SC (7/25, Brown) reported more than 70 female students entering eighth and ninth grades in South Carolina participated in the Fourth Annual Girls Day Out, a two-day STEM camp for girls. Shanda Johnson, a representative from a corporate sponsor, said, “We want girls to know they can do this. They can go to school and major in STEM careers, have great jobs, and make contributions to our country.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

House Pushes Senate To Adopt Short-Term Transportation Funding Extension.
Committee Hearing Features Optimism About Competency-Based Education.
Kepler Finds Closest Exoplanet To Earth Yet.
Opinion: Pipeline Construction Good For Pennsylvania Workers.
Northrop Grumman Unveils I3E Simulator.
Boeing Company, Family Donating $30 Million To Seattle Museum For STEM Education.
Scientists “Band Together To Call Out” AAAS.

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