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

Leading the News

NRC Chairman Discusses New Reactor Technology With House Lawmakers.

Greenwire  (7/29, Northey, Subscription Publication) reports that NRC Chairman Stephen Burns “outlined his agency’s permitting process today before a House panel whose members expressed alarm over the United States’ reliance on decades-old nuclear technology and the slow emergence of new reactor designs.” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who faulted the NRC for “continuing to license light-water reactors that can operate for up to 40 years when there are a number of companies touting safer designs that are facing licensing and commercialization challenges.” Chairman Burns told the lawmakers that his agency of “about 3,700 employees aims to complete combined licenses for new plants in about 3 ½ years or 42 months.” Burns also noted that “there is a required process that companies must maneuver through, including environmental reviews and safety demonstrations, and that it costs developers between $45 million to $70 million in application fees.” But Rohrabacher “pushed Burns,” saying “The NRC is waiting for the customers, but the customers are waiting for the NRC.”

GAO Report Points To “Obstacles” Facing New Reactor Efforts. Prior to the hearing, E&E Daily  (7/29, Panko, Northey, Subscription Publication) reported that the new Government Accountability Office report that “shines a critical light on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing of new reactors” will likely play a “central role in today’s House hearing on the topic.” The GAO report determined that the NRC’s licensing process – “which can cost billions of dollars and take up to a decade – is one of the challenges facing the widespread use of small modular reactors (SMRs) and advanced reactor designs that use coolants other than water despite the government’s deployment of loan guarantees and matching funds to foster the technology.” The GAO said that “DOE officials, members of GAO’s expert group, and reactor designers said that the cost and time needed to certify or license a reactor design and construct it, along with uncertainty about the energy market in the future and potential customer interest, create obstacles to the development and deployment of new reactors.”

Higher Education

University Of Colorado Gives Community College Students Chance To Conduct Scientific Research.

The Boulder (CO) Daily Camera  (7/29, Brennan) reported the University of Colorado at Boulder is hosting the Research Experience for Community College Students that gives community college students an opportunity to conduct field or lab research. The program is funded by the National Science Foundation and conducted jointly by the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory.

ED’s Plan To Test Pell Grants For Inmates Draws GOP Fire.

Coverage of ED’s plan to begin a limited pilot program in which inmates in state and federal prisons would be able to get Pell grants continues today. Stories focus on the details of the plan and on emerging Republican opposition to it. Inside Higher Ed  (7/29), noting that ED is scheduled to formally announce the plan on Friday, reports that the proposal “is already drawing criticism from some Republicans.” Noting that ED plans to use the experimental sites initiative, “which allows the department to waive certain rules that govern federal financial aid,” the article reports that this has drawn the ire of some Republicans, because Congress “explicitly cut most prisoners’ eligibility for Pell grants in the mid-1990s.” The article quotes ED officials saying in an email that the “administration believes equipping incarcerated individuals with the skills they need to successfully re-enter the community is one of the most powerful and cost-effective methods to ensure they avoid future contact with the justice system and become productive members of society.”

The National Journal  (7/30, Subscription Publication) characterizes the plan as an “end-run around Congress,” suggests that this type of “loophole” is typical of the Administration’s policies, and predicts that “Republicans aren’t going to like it.” This piece reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are scheduled to formally announce the program on Friday, and notes that notwithstanding Republican opposition, the Administration sees this plan as part of its efforts to reform the criminal justice system before the end of President Obama’s term. The article quotes ED officials saying “the administration believes equipping incarcerated individuals with the skills they need to successfully reenter the community is one of the most powerful — and cost-effective — methods to ensure they avoid future contact with the justice system and become productive members of society.”

WEYI-TV  Flint, MI (7/30) reports that Duncan and Lynch are scheduled to visit the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland to announce the plan on Friday. The NPR  (7/30) “NprEd” blog also covered this story.

Group Sees College As Key To Reducing Recidivism. Diverse Education  (7/30) reports that the group College Bound Dorchester, which “works with high school dropouts and former gang members to get them into community college,” says that educating prison inmates “is critical to the forward progress of the nation’s economy and the security of individual neighborhoods.” The piece quotes the group’s CEO, Mark Cullition saying, “Just because someone’s been locked up, just because they may be gang-involved doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have incredibly high expectations for these individuals or that we shouldn’t put forth every effort into getting them to and through college.” The article touches on ED’s pending announcement about giving Pell grants to inmates.

NEH Effort Aims to Enable Scholarship “Relevant To Contemporary Life.”

The Los Angeles Times  (7/30, Boehm) reports the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) “has embarked on a ‘Public Scholars’ campaign to generate books that embody excellent scholarship yet have a chance of landing on best-seller lists.” NEH’s announcement of the program said its aim is “to enable the publication” of nonfiction books that are “relevant to contemporary life.” However, the Humanities Education and Research Assn indicated on Tuesday “that the way the new program is being presented risks trivializing what scholarship is all about.”

MHerald Analysis: Miami-Area Colleges’ Enrollment Follows National Trends.

Miami Today  (7/28) reports “enrollment in post-secondary, degree-granting institutions increased” from 1900 to 2013, “with most of the increases occurring between 2000 and 2010,” according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Herald says enrollment at local institutions “follows national trends, with slightly lower numbers since the recession.”

Study: Student Debt “Correlates” To Establishment Of Small Businesses.

The Philadelphia Business Journal  (7/29, Subscription Publication) reported on its website that a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia study “shows that the rise of student debt correlates to a decline” in the number of new small businesses. The study “found that small firms” with one to four employees “decreased by 17 percent in counties where relative student debt grew by about 2.7 percent.” According to the Journal, “they stymying effect derives from the inability of those who wish to start a business to access capital in the form of more debt.”

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Research and Development

Arizona State University Researchers Invent First White Laser.

Nanowerk  (7/29) reported Arizona State University researchers have invented the first white laser. The researchers created a new “nanosheet”, which is a “thin lawyer of semiconductor that measures roughly one-fifth of the thickness of human hair in size with a thickness that is roughly one-thousandth of the thickness of human hair” that can be used to create a laser beam with a white color.

Air Force Proposes “Technology Roadmap” For Microwave Weapon.

Flightglobal  (7/29, Drew) reports that the US Air Force Research Laboratory has “unveiled a technology roadmap” for the CHAMP high-power microwave weapon. ACC vice-commander Maj. Gen. Jerry Harris said that “we are still trying to study how that weapon system would impact some of the threats we’re looking at,” and that “we’re trying to bridge that gap from just a technology to bringing it into production for the warfighter.” Legislative representatives, however, claim that the Air Force is “dragging its feet.”

Drexel Partners With Peace Group On Conflict Prevention Technologies.

The Philadelphia Business Journal  (7/28, Subscription Publication) reports that Drexel University is partnering with the nonprofit group PeaceTech lab, which “develops technology to prevent violent global conflicts.” College of Engineering Dean Joseph Hughes said that “the goal is to form a master’s program around the partnership.” The focus of the project is “on building improved infrastructure technology, such as communications networks, power grids, and water treatment.”

Graphene Holds Promise Of Improved Flexible Electronics.

BBC News  (7/30) reports that research has found that “some mechanical properties of graphene mimicked those of a sheet of paper,” and that discovery “could pave the way to better flexible and stretchable electronics.”NBC News  (7/30, Coldewey) reports that one difficulty is that “no one has quite figured out how to make the stuff in bulk just yet.”


Liberal Arts Degrees Wanted At Technology Firms.

Forbes  (7/29, Anders) reported liberal arts degrees are in demand at technology companies. The article highlights the stories of several technology company founders or employees with liberal arts degrees and how that education helps them in their current positions.

Industry News

Telephone Manufacturers See Growing Market For Unlocked Phones.

PC Magazine  (7/30) reports on moves by more telephone manufacturers to sell unlocked phones rather than through a carrier. Steve Cistulli, SVP of North America for Alcatel One Touch, said that he believes that sales of unlocked phones may reach 20 million next year. Motorola’s SVP of software engineering, Seang Chau, credited T-Mobile with “exposing the true price of a phone.”

Engineering and Public Policy

McDonough: GOP Attacks On Climate Change Rule Won’t Work.

Politico  (7/29, Guillén) reported that White House Chief of Staff McDonough told an event hosted by the New Republic and the Center for American Progress on Wednesday that the Administration “won’t yield to Republican attacks on its landmark climate change rule,” saying, “We will not back down. We will finalize a stronger rule. … We’ll veto ideological riders to stop this plan or undercut our bedrock environmental laws. And we’ll move forward on behalf of the American people with the vision set forward by the president.”

Administration To Ease Deadline For States To Cut Greenhouse Gases. Politico  (7/29, Guillén) also noted that McDonough’s comments came as the Administration “prepared to soften a deadline for states to cut the greenhouse gases from their power plants.” As early as Monday, the Administration is expected to release a final EPA rule “that delays for two years the initial deadline for states to begin cutting the greenhouse gas pollution from their power plants.” On its website, the New Republic  (7/30, Leber) noted that while two years “may seem inconsequential,” it could “damage faith in the US’s ability to deliver on its United Nations promise to cut greenhouse gasses up to 28 percent by 2025.”

Pentagon Report Calls Global Warming A National Security Threat. A Pentagon report released Wednesday calls climate change “an ‘urgent and growing threat to our national security’ and blames it for ‘increased natural disasters’ that will require more American troops designated to combat bad weather,” the Washington Times  (7/30, Scarborough) reports. According to the report, “Global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for US national security interests over the foreseeable future because it will aggravate existing problems — such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions — that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries.”

House Easily Passes Three-Month Highway Extension.

With the Highway Trust Fund set to run out of cash at the end of the week, the House on Wednesday passed a bill extending funding through October 29. The Senate is expected to act on Thursday. USA Today  (7/30, Kelly) reports that the House vote was 385-34. While the short-term fix “will prevent a crisis, it does not give states the long-term funding they were seeking to help them plan and construct major transportation projects that take years to complete.” This is the “34th time since 2009 that Congress has passed a short-term fix instead of the traditional six-year highway bill.” Reuters  (7/30, Morgan) says that quick action on the $12 billion bill is expected in the Senate.

Roll Call  (7/30, Mejdrich) reports that the legislation also “contains veterans-related tax provisions and a $3.3 billion transfer from the VA Choice Fund to be used for non-VA health care and to purchase hepatitis C drugs through Oct. 1, according to a CBO report.”

The AP  (7/30, Lowy) reports that the short-term extension “puts off House action on a long-term transportation bill, adding one more messy fight to a fall agenda already crammed with difficult, must-pass legislation.” On the other side of the Hill, a “$350 billion, long-term Senate transportation bill cleared a procedural hurdle Wednesday by a vote of 65 to 35,” with passage “likely Thursday.” Senate GOP leaders had hoped that the House would act this week on that long-term bill, but House Republicans “have made it clear they won’t be hurried into accepting the Senate measure.”

Roll Call  (7/29, Lesniewski) reports that the expected Thursday Senate votes on highway measures “could be the chamber’s last significant bill before the August recess, even with the Senate planning to stick around for another week.” However, a “procedural vote to take up GOP legislation to bar federal funding to Planned Parenthood could come as early as Monday.”

White House Says President Will Sign Short-Term Bill. The Hill  (7/29, Fabian) reports in its “Blog Briefing Room” blog that White House spokesman Eric Schultz said on Wednesday, “The unfortunate reality is that, due to inaction, Congress will need to pass this other short-term extension to keep federal funding for the surface transportation system flowing. The president would sign that.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Education Technology Experiments Present Challenges.

Education Week  (7/29, Herold) reported some schools have struggled to incorporate new classroom technology. The article shares the example of a laptop computer program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district in North Carolina. The program provided low-cost laptops to many students for two years, but has now been abandoned because of numerous challenges including a lack of technical support.

YMCA Hosts Thingamajig Invention Convention In Maryland.

The Washington Post  (7/30, Harris) reports the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington held its annual Thingamajig Invention Convention at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The event challenges children between five and 14 years old to learn STEM skills and participate in team competitions using those skills. Some teams built robots and drones for the competitions. More than 4,000 children participated in the event.

Students Learn About STEM Research At University of Tennessee Camp.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (7/29, Slaby) reported the University of Tennessee is holding the Middle School Introduction to Engineering Systems camp for students entering seventh grade. Students learned about STEM research projects being conducted by university faculty and graduate students.

University Of Virginia Supporting New Commercial Accelerator With Research Agreements.

Education Week  (7/29, Sparks) reported the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education is advising the Jefferson Education Accelerator, a commercial venture that will invest in education technology companies that “agree to subject their products and services to high-quality research.” The researchers backing the project hope the accelerator will help businesses develop new education technologies and provide valuable information about the effectiveness of different education technologies.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Amazon Announces Drone Air Traffic Control Plans At NASA Conference.
ED To Pilot Giving Pell Grants To Inmates.
US Lawmakers, Defense Officials Prepare For Directed Energy, Railgun Weapons.
Ireland, Portugal, Spain, And UK Have Largest Technology Skills Gaps In Europe.
Administration To Extend Deadline For States To Comply With Climate Plan.
Wisconsin Science Teacher Takes Part In Space Camp.

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