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

Leading the News

Rochester To Serve As Photonics Research Hub.

The AP  (7/28, Thompson) reports that Federal officials have named Rochester, New York as the national headquarters for “a $610 million research and manufacturing hub dedicated to” research in the field of integrated photonics. The piece describes the field as “a light science with the potential to transform communications, medicine and national defense.” The piece notes that there are already around 100 companies “focused on optics and photonics” in Western New York, and reports that “supporters of the new project say it will bring together government, industry and academia to advance photonics research and its commercial uses.” The article reports that Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Louise Slaughter announced the project.

The Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle  (7/27) reports that Biden said that the new “manufacturing institute for integrated photonics will give Rochester’s optics businesses the space and capability they need ‘to generate the next great breakthrough.’” The piece reports that according to a press release, the technology is expected to be used to make “cameras smaller than pills that travel within arteries,” along with other medical applications.

Higher Education

Duncan Lays Out Administration’s Higher Education Priorities.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered remarks at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County on Monday laying out the Administration’s higher education priorities for its remaining time in office. Several media outlets covered the story, focusing on his calls for supporting students financially and for holding colleges accountable for providing quality education. The Los Angeles Times  (7/28, Rivera) reports that Duncan said that college is too expensive, resulting in poor value for students, and that “states and the federal government must do more to ensure that students complete their degrees.” Duncan called on states to increase funding for higher education, saying, “Make no mistake: Our administration will not let up on our efforts to help more students pay for college, to break the upward cycle of cost and to crack down on bad actors that take advantage of students. But as a nation, we must go further. We must reset the incentives that underpin the system so the focus is on the outcome that matters – completing a quality degree at a reasonable cost. And we must have the courage to embrace innovations that meet the needs of a student body that has changed enormously in recent years.”

The Washington Post  (7/28, Anderson) reports that Duncan called for “quality degrees at a reasonable cost,” saying that getting students out of school without crippling debt is “only part of the solution,” and that “politicians focus too much on what college costs and not enough on what it delivers.”

The Baltimore Sun  (7/27) reports that Duncan called for “higher graduation rates, especially for people of color, as well as an increase in state funding for higher education.” The Sun reports that Duncan called on college leaders “to focus on student success and promote innovation and transparency,” quoting him saying, “All of us … need to do a much better job of rewarding good actors and challenging those that aren’t making a difference. This is about shared responsibility and mutual accountability. I think every state should be working to have the highest graduation rates in the nation, and as a nation we have to try and lead the world.” The piece reports that ED spokeswoman Dorie Nolt “said Monday’s event was designed to bring together policy experts, leaders from local institutions, elected officials and others involved in higher education.”

The Wall Street Journal  (7/28, Belkin, Subscription Publication) characterizes Duncan’s comments as a sign that the Administration plans to ramp up accountability on colleges, quoting Duncan saying “We must shift incentives at every level to focus on student success, not just access. When students win, everyone wins. But when they lose every part of the system should share responsibility.” The piece notes that Duncan faulted accreditors for giving colleges access to Federal financial aid without being rigorous enough in their assessment of them.

Duncan Refutes Causal Link between Federal Aid, High Tuition. The Washington Examiner  (7/28) reports that Duncan “pushed back against the idea that federal aid to students raises college tuitions” as suggested in a recent New York Fed report, quoting him saying, “If you look at historical data — we’ve looked at this question very closely — that does not quite seem to be the case.” Under Secretary Ted Mitchell is quoted saying, “Historically, we do not see that correlation. [We] continue to be encouraged that states and institutions are not using the federal grant program and aid program as a way of bumping up their own tuitions. But we continue to look at that, it’s one of the things were very concerned about.”

Administration Poised To Provide Financial Aid To Prisoners.

Politico  (7/28, Grasgreen) reports that more prisoners “may soon have access to federal subsidies to pay for college under a new Obama administration initiative, ending a 20-year ban on Pell grants for state and federal prisoners.” The move “could come as soon as this week,” as Attorney General Lynch and Education Secretary Arne Duncan “are scheduled to visit Goucher College’s Prison Education Partnership at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup on Friday, to make ‘an important announcement related to federal aid.’” The Wall Street Journal  (7/28, Mitchell, Palazzolo, Subscription Publication) also reports this story.

FairTest Lists Colleges That Don’t Require Entrance Exams.

The Washington Post  (7/27) reports that the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, keeps a list of colleges that make it optional for applicants to have taken the SAT or ACT college entrance exams, noting that George Washington University is the newest addition. The article notes that schools’ specific policies vary, adding that there are some 800 schools on the list.

The New York Times  (7/28, Southall, Subscription Publication) reports in a brief item that George Washington University “will no longer require most applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores to be considered for undergraduate admission,” making the school “one of the largest colleges in the nation to adopt a ‘test-optional’ policy.”

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Research and Development

Innovative Brain Imaging Combines Sound And Light.

NPR’s Morning Edition  (7/27, Hamilton) reports that Lihong Wang, professor of biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, “has already helped develop instruments that can detect individual cancer cells in the bloodstream and oxygen consumption deep within the body. He’s also created a camera that shoots at 100 billion frames a second, fast enough to freeze an object traveling at the speed of light. ‘It’s really about turning some of these ideas that we thought were science fiction into fact,’ says Richard Conroy, who directs the Division of Applied Science & Technology at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. Wang’s ultimate goal is to use a combination of light and sound to solve the mysteries of the human brain.”

Battery Life The “Big Issue” In Electric Plane Development.

Discovery News  (7/27, Niiler) reports on NASA and Cape Air’s efforts under the Scalable Convergent Electronic Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) project “to develop an Cessna 402 9-passenger electric airplane suitable for the short hops.” Matt Redifer, chief engineer for SCEPTOR, said, “We are looking at the whole system, instead of just replacing engines with electric motors, we are looking at a design that couples electric propulsion with a redesign of the wing.” Currently, the “big issue” for Redifer and others to overcome is the plane’s battery life. However, according to the article, over time electric planes with “automatic flight controls and self-guided navigation” should be “much cheaper and easier” than current planes.

NASA’s Spacesuit Designer Wants New Suits To be More Customizable.

Ria Misra at io9  (7/27) interviews Amy Ross about the spacesuits she is designing for NASA, which could be used on future trips to “Mars—and maybe beyond.” When it comes to future missions, Ross said, “You’re going to want to make sure it’s just right for the crew member. You’re going to customize it in certain ways and you’re also going to help them be a lot more independent in doing their jobs. We’re trying to be creative and really push the tech to incorporate information technology in the spacesuits.” After detailing the Z2 prototype suit now being developed, Ross said that she looks for inspiration from multiple sources and tries to “stay open to creative solutions.” If she had her way, Ross would like to design a spacesuit that “could adapt to your own mobility, like as you’re moving.”

Blastr  (7/27, Moore) also covers the story, citing io9.

Engineering and Public Policy

First Off-Shore US Wind Farm Begins Construction.

The Washington Post  (7/28, Warrick) reports that on Monday, state and federal officials crowded on a boat off the coast of Rhode Island to witness the start of construction on the first offshore wind farm in the United States. The Post notes that officials hope that the construction of the Block Island Wind Farm will spur a race “to harness a vast energy resource capable of powering millions of homes along the East Coast.” According to Oceana campaign director Claire Douglass, “Once the benefits of offshore wind can be demonstrated on a small scale, the industry can focus on larger projects that will provide more power at lower costs.”

Similarly, The Hill  (7/28, Cama) reports that the Monday tour by officials of the Block Island Wind Farm construction site included “Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D).” In a statement following the tour, Jewell said that the Block Island Wind Farm will “serve as a beacon for America’s sustainable energy future.”

The New York Times  (7/24, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports that Hopper said, “Steel in the water off Block Island is an important step in proving that offshore wind is a viable technology off the coast of the United States. Having an offshore wind project that people can see and understand and study will take away a lot of the concerns that folks had.”

The AP  (7/28) reports that “one hurdle, however, is that the renewable energy industry has to fight, regularly, to keep the tax credits and incentives it has, while the well-established oil and gas industry has tax credits it no longer needs, Jewell said.”

McCarthy Says House Will Not Take Up Senate Highway Bill.

Reuters  (7/27, Lawder) reports that Majority Leader McCarthy announced yesterday that the House will not take up the Senate transportation bill. Instead, McCarthy argued that the “best option” to fund necessary transportation funds is that the House approve the measure passed by the lower chamber – which does not renew the Ex-Im Bank’s charter. The AP  (7/28, Werner) notes that, in addition, the House bill “is a five-month extension of current programs while the Senate’s version authorizes $350 billion in transportation programs for six years, though only three of those are paid for.”

The Hill  (7/28, Wong, Cirilli) reported that “McCarthy’s declaration is a blow not only to the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had teamed up to craft the bipartisan, long-term highway bill,” but also “to backers of the Ex-Im Bank, who had hoped the 81-year-old institution would be revived by catching a ride on the back of the Senate transportation bill.” The Washington Times  (7/27, Howell) indicates that while “conservatives say the bank hands out corporate welfare and should die off…a large majority in the Senate supports” it. The Wall Street Journal  (7/28, Peterson, Hughes, Subscription Publication) runs a similar report this morning.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Arizona Teen Takes Part In NASA Aviation Challenge.

The East Valley (AZ) Tribune  (7/28, Ochoa) reports that Gilbert, Arizona seventh-grader Nicholas Cain took part in NASA Aviation Challenge, a week-long camp in Huntsville, Alabama that “uses fighter pilot training techniques to engage trainees in real-world applications of STEM subjects.” As a participant in the camp’s MACH II Program, Cain spent his time on “activities that ranged from flying planes in a simulator, learning the history of different planes and how they are flown, and completing military missions.”

Microsoft Grant Will Fund Children’s Computer Skills Education.

The Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal  (7/27, Haug) reported Microsoft awarded a $7.3 million grant to the Children’s Home Society of Florida to help “7,000 disadvantaged kids across the state gain the computer knowledge they need for a brighter future.”

Arizona Engineering Firm Creates High School Internships.

The Arizona Republic  (7/27, Samoy) reported Arizona engineering firm Assured Engineering Concepts started an internship program last spring to help high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain exposure to STEM careers.

Texas School District Could Get Up To $2 Million To Fund STEM Teacher Training.

The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram  (7/27, Berardy) reported Lockheed Martin “had pledged to donate up to $1 million in a dollar-for-dollar match if a partner, such as a private foundation, chips in” to fund STEM teacher training in the Forth Worth School District. The district is also planning to set aside $350,000 in federal money to train teachers how to better teach STEM subjects.

Also in the News

Scientists Take AAAS To Task For Perpetuating Stereotypes.

The Huffington Post  (7/28) reports that a group of 600 scientists and other stakeholders have written an open letter to “the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science” criticizing the group for “feeding into ‘harmful stereotypes’ about minority groups, including publishing sexist advice columns and transphobic cover photos” in its publications. The letter “suggests the AAAS should introduce diversity training for its editorial staffs and more closely monitor the comments sections of its online materials to weed out insensitive statements.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

Latest Images Show Pluto’s Glaciers, Hazy Atmosphere.
Essay: Private Colleges Less Able To Scale Engineering Education Than Public Universities.
Kanzius Machine To Undergo Clinical Trials.
Tech-Savvy Millennials Seen As New Face Of Nuclear Revival.
Fiat Chrysler To Pay Record $105 Million Fine.
Aging Rail Infrastructure Threatens Safety, Efficiency Of Northeast Corridor.
University Of Akron Event Targets Girls For STEM Careers.

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