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

Leading the News

Obama Initiative Aims To Develop New Supercomputer.

The Washington Post  (7/31, Peterson) continues coverage in its “The Switch” blog of President Obama’s National Strategic Computing Initiative, which seeks to “speed up the development of an ‘exascale computing system’” with leadership from the Department of Energy, Defense Department and National Science Foundation. The Post highlights the potentially revolutionary nature of such a system, but notes that funding and technical challenges yet remain. “In the case of exascale, there are a couple of areas where we still need to do active research,” said J. Steve Binkley, associate director of the DOE’s Advanced Scientific Computing Research office. Expanding on technical challenges, he added, “If you scale current technology up to exascale levels, it would be up to the range of a nuclear powerplant just to run one computer.”

Science Magazine  (7/31) quotes Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory deputy director Horst Simon as saying, “This is an extremely important step for high performance computing in the U.S.” He added that the initiative “reverses” previous difficulties the DOE had in convincing the Office of Management and Budget to increase supercomputer budgets. The New York Times  (7/31, Victor, Subscription Publication), the Christian Science Monitor  (7/31, Mansoor), TIME  (7/31, Berenson), and the NPR  (7/30) “The Two-Way” blog also cover this story.

Higher Education

White House Hosting Summit On Short-Term Training Programs.

Inside Higher Ed  (7/30) reports that the White House hosted a meeting this week “on the growing boot camp and coding academy space, which offers short-term training programs to students,” noting that “online course platforms” and other alternative education providers will also be discussed. The article notes that ED “is considering an experimental sites project to allow federal aid to flow to a limited group of boot camps and MOOC providers that partner with accredited colleges.”

University Of Phoenix Faces Federal Probe Over Deceptive, Unfair Business Practices.

USA Today  (7/30) reports that Apollo Education Group announced Wednesday that its subsidiary, the online college University of Phoenix, is facing an FTC probe “for potential deceptive or unfair business practices.” The piece describes Federal efforts to investigate for-profit colleges that recruit low income students and/or large numbers of veterans, and quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan having said, “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.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Settles With For-Profit Colleges.

The Boston Globe  (7/31, Mehrotra) reports that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy announced Thursday that Kaplan Career Institute and Lincoln Technical Institute “will pay hundreds of their former students $2.3 million after being accused of unfair recruiting tactics and inflating job placement numbers.” The piece notes that many graduates of for-profit colleges “end up without a job and burdened with debt.” The article reports that the state alleges that the two colleges “falsely reported that the job placement rates for their vocational programs were in excess of 70%.” The Boston Business Journal  (7/30, Subscription Publication) reports that both schools have released statements denying the state’s allegations.

Federal Government Taking Aim At For-Profit Sector’s Marketing Practices.

The Washington Post  (7/31, Douglas-Gabriel) reports on the aggressive marketing practices that have made “the country’s largest for-profit universities…household names,” noting that “federal regulators and lawmakers are cracking down on for-profit colleges for what they say are misleading and aggressive recruitment practices.” The piece notes that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has introduced a bill banning all colleges “from using federal student grants and loans for advertising, marketing or recruitment.”

More Students Eschewing Four-Year Colleges In Favor Of Trade School.

The Engineering News Record  (7/29) reports that given the prevalence of high-paying jobs requiring technical training, but not bachelor’s degrees, “a growing number of young people are bypassing four-year colleges and opting for trade schools and apprenticeships.” The article notes that rising higher education costs and a dearth of jobs for college graduates also contributes to the trend. The article cites ED data showing a sharp rise in “sub- baccalaureate certificates such as associate’s degrees awarded in construction, manufacturing and transportation” between 2000 and 2012.

Writer: Elite Colleges Discriminate Against Women In Admissions.

In a piece for the Washington Post  (7/31), freelance writer Jon Birger writes that it is much harder for female students to gain admission to elite colleges because “private college admissions are exempt from Title IX’s ban on sex discrimination,” calling this “a shameful loophole that allows some of the most supposedly progressive campuses in the nation to discriminate against female applicants.” He cites ED data showing that Brown University accepted 11% of male applicants and 7% of female applicants in 2014. He suggests that this is because “elite schools field applications from many more qualified women than men” and are attempting to prevent having a much higher ratio of female students.

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Research and Development

Engineers Studying Origami To Improve Modern Materials Practices.

Forbes  (7/30) reports that engineers are studying “the ancient art of origami” to devise “new ways to make rigid, thick structures fold up and move out.” The article reports that engineers are “making it easier to fold up and move materials like solar panels and wings, without compromising on how strong they’ll be when they’re full size again.”

Colorado State University Leading Water Sustainability Research Project.

The Fort Collins (CO) Coloradoan  (7/30) reports that Colorado State University is leading a coalition of 14 institutions and partners “tasked with addressing challenges that threaten urban water systems across the globe.” The piece notes that the National Science Foundation has given the Urban Water Innovation Network a $12 million grant “to create solutions to help communities better prepare for and respond to water crises.”

California’s Urban Areas Successfully Cutting Water Use. The Los Angeles Times  (7/31, Morin, Stevens) reports that “despite record heat,” Californians managed to reduce urban water use by 27% in June and “demonstrated once again that they were on track to meet Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic 25% conservation order,” state water officials announced on Thursday. However, State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus “said she worried that residents might ease up on their efforts in anticipation of a potentially drenching El Niño season.”

Laser Integration Could Take Over A Decade.

Defense Daily  (7/30, Parsons) reports that it could take “up to a decade or longer” before laser systems are able to be used to destroy targets aboard aircraft. The Air Force, however, “continues to chase the possibility of installing a high-energy laser on large aircraft like a bomber,” with a 150-kilowatt laser targeted for use on a B-1B bomber within the next five to six years, according to a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments report. The report also conceded that “it may not be possible to develop an SSL with an affordable unit cost in the near term that would have sufficient range and power for counter-air missions.”

China Displays Operational Laser Turret. Popular Science  (7/30, Lin, Singer) reports that while lasers and directed energy weapons are “all the rage in DC,” the Chinese Academy of Physics Engineering is “already hawking a combat-ready laser turret” able to shoot down drones. The 10 kilowatt laser will be able to “identify and track” drones and its size allows for “stealthy placement.”


CBC Looks To Press Silicon Valley To Hire More African-Americans.

Politico  (7/30, Romm) reports that next week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus will fly to Silicon Valley to “press the nation’s biggest technology companies to hire more African-American workers.” It’s a “sign that the industry’s well-documented diversity problems are starting to generate new political heat in Washington.” The tech industry’s workforce “doesn’t look like the rest of America.” Google, for example, has “disclosed that just 2 percent of its US employees are black, only 3 percent are Hispanic and 70 percent are male.”

Global Developments

Foreign Firms, Consortia Bid For Saudi Aramco Gas Project.

Reuters  (7/31, Shamseddine) reports that three companies and three consortia have each submitted bids to engineer a 2.5 bcf gas processing plant for Saudi Aramco at Fadhili, according to unnamed sources. Estimated to cost up to $6 billion, the project is expected to come online in 2019, Reuters reports. The source named the firms and said a decision may be made in two months, Reuters reports.

Industry News

Facebook Creates First UAV For Using Lasers To Beam Data.

The New York Times  (7/30, Goel, Hardy, Subscription Publication) reports that Facebook “has moved several steps closer to fulfilling its grand ambition of building an Internet network in the sky.” The company announced on Thursday that it had constructed its “first unmanned drone and found a way to vastly increase the capacity of the lasers that will eventually beam data between the drone network and the ground.” A team in Britain has been building the Aquila solar-powered UAV for about 14 months, and it is now ready for its first in-flight tests, likely to be in the US.

The Los Angeles Times  (7/31, Shively) notes that the UAV is “the size of a Boeing 737 aircraft.” A Facebook spokeswoman would not specify the company’s plans for flying the UAV because it is currently “discussing regulations with local governments.” Drone Analyst CEO Colin Snow said the project is “technically feasible” and realistic, although it could run into issues inf there are “unexpected maintenance requirements or disruption from solar flares,” according to the article.

Bloomberg News  (7/30, Frier) reports that according to Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice president of engineering, Facebook is considering flying the UAV for testing in parts of the US.

The New York Daily News  (7/30, Alba), Popular Science  (7/30, Gershgorn), Reuters  (7/30) and other media sources also cover the story.

Engineering and Public Policy

Senate Passes Three-Month Highway Funding Bill.

In a 91-4 vote, USA Today  (7/31, Kelly) reports, the Senate on Thursday approved a measure “to keep the Highway Trust Fund running for another three months, preventing an abrupt halt to road and bridge construction at midnight Friday.” The President “said he will sign the legislation,” passed by the House on Wednesday. Bloomberg Politics  (7/31, Miller) notes the measure is “the 34th stopgap highway funding bill in the past six years.” Politico  (7/30, Caygle) similarly refers to the “long line of punts Congress has relied on to keep programs running since 2009, funneling more than $73 billion into the Highway Trust Fund to cover shortfalls in gas tax receipts.”

US News & World Report  (7/30, Neuhouser) noted that “Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont – a Democratic presidential candidate – voted against the bill.”

The AP  (7/31, Lowy) reports that Senate Majority Leader McConnell said yesterday that the bill’s passage is “a win for our country,” adding, “Many thought we’d never get here, but we have.” Sen. Barbara Boxer “negotiated compromises with McConnell that helped pick up enough Democratic support for the bill for it to clear procedural hurdles and pass.” Said Boxer, “We had to give some ground, but we found common ground. … And we all believe this bill is so important for our nation.”

The New York Times  (7/31, Siddons, Subscription Publication) reports that “earlier on Thursday, the Senate voted 65-to-34 for an alternative highway bill that would pump $350 billion over six years into projects for the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.” The measure “will be shelved until the fall, and House members have expressed strong reservations about its funding provisions, which would cover only the first three years of spending.” Roll Call  (7/30, Lesniewski) indicated that “all of those issues and the extent to which they were resolved by the Senate will be matters for both the House and likely the eventual conferees who will have to hammer out differences between the two bills.” The Wall Street Journal  (7/31, Hughes, Subscription Publication) quotes McConnell as saying, “We all want to work out the best possible legislation for the American people in a conference later this year.”

The Huffington Post  (7/30, Barron-Lopez), The Hill  (7/30, Carney), Washington Times  (7/31, Howell), Washington Post  (7/30, Snell) and Reuters  (7/31, Morgan), among other news outlets, run similar stories this morning.

Senate Committee Approves Bill Ending Oil Export Ban.

The Hill  (7/30, Cama) reports that “after three days of debate, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted” 18-4 “Thursday to approve its attempt at the first broad energy policy reform bill in eight years,” the “Energy Policy Modernization Act.” The bill “includes a number of policy priorities from both Republicans and Democrats,” including “provisions to expedite projects to export liquefied natural gas, indefinitely authorize the federal government’s main conservation fund, reform or remove outdated programs and better prepare the electric grid for modern needs, among other policies.” National Journal  (7/30, Plautz, Subscription Publication) notes that the bill would also “repeal a ban on crude-oil exports.” Chairwoman Lisa “Murkowski and other Republicans have said that lifting the ban is a necessity, given America’s booming oil output.”

Oil industry groups expressed satisfaction over the measure, Reuters  (7/31, Gardner, Volcovici) reports, and quotes the API’s Louis Finkel as saying, “Free trade in energy will allow America to harness the full economic opportunities created by our energy revolution.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Girls Who Code Teaches Girls Technology Skills, Hopes To Build More Female Role Models In The Industry.

The Los Angeles Times  (7/30, Solomon) reported the nonprofit organization Girls Who Code is offering classes for 1,200 girls in 14 cities, including Los Angeles. The organization founded by Reshma Saujani aims to prepare women for technology careers with their classes, and further encourage more women to enter the field by exposing them to and creating new female role models in the industry.

Oregon Camp Teaches Young Girls About Programming And Robotics.

The Eugene (OR) Register-Guard  (7/31, Reihs) reports seven young girls between the ages of nine and 13 learned about programming and robotics at the i (<3) Robot camp at the Eugene Sudbury School in Eugene, Oregon. The camp was founded and designed by Hannah Felton who was in part inspired by the low enrollment of girls in robotics camps she attended when she was younger. Felton hopes the camp will create a more comfortable setup for girls who are interested in learning more about programming and related fields.

Teachers Using Pluto Photographs To Teach Students About Science And Technology.

Education Week  (7/31, Bell) reports teachers are using photos from the recent flyby of Pluto by NASA space probe New Horizons to teach their students about science and technology. The articles gives two examples of teachers in Washington D.C. and Washington state who have incorporated photos from the flyby into their lesson plans.

More Kentucky Educators Teaching Students About Computer Programming.

WPSD-TV  Paducah, KY (7/31, Valencia and Jones) reports more schools and teachers in Kentucky are working to teach their students about computer programming to prepare them for future careers. The article notes that “there are close to 50,000 open computer jobs” in Kentucky and neighboring states, Illinois and Missouri.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

NRC Chairman Discusses New Reactor Technology With House Lawmakers.
University Of Colorado Gives Community College Students Chance To Conduct Scientific Research.
Arizona State University Researchers Invent First White Laser.
Liberal Arts Degrees Wanted At Technology Firms.
Telephone Manufacturers See Growing Market For Unlocked Phones.
McDonough: GOP Attacks On Climate Change Rule Won’t Work.
Education Technology Experiments Present Challenges.

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