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

Leading the News

Emergency Declared In Colorado After EPA Accidentally Pollutes River.

USA Today  (8/10, Toppo) reports that Durango, Colorado and nearby La Plata County “declared a state of emergency Sunday,” after the EPA “took responsibility for breaching a debris dam near a Colorado mine, releasing water contaminated with heavy metals into a river that flows through the region.” Now, “the Navajo Nation is considering suing the EPA.” Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye told a local paper “that he had directed Navajo Nation Attorney General Ethel Branch to assemble a legal team to file a lawsuit against the EPA.”

ABC World News (8/9, story 6, 1:55, Llamas) reported that the “potentially toxic runoff has stretched 100 miles, shutting down vacation spots and angering residents.” The EPA “is on the scene because get this, one of their crews caused it.” ABC (Bruce) said that the “thick yellow muck” is heading toward Lake Powell in Utah and could reach the Grand Canyon.

The Farmington (NM) Daily Times  (8/10) reports that EPA officials said Sunday that the “Gold King Mine discharged an estimated 3 million gallons of contaminated water, three times the amount previously believed.” The “mine continues to discharge 500 gallons per minute, EPA Region 8 administrator Shaun McGrath said in a teleconference call Sunday afternoon, but the polluted water is being contained and treated in two ponds by the site of the spill near Silverton, Colo.”

EPA Orders New Tests For Contaminants From California Superfund Sites. The Los Angeles Times  (8/10, Barboza) reports that the EPA has “ordered a new round of air quality tests for a South Bay neighborhood after detecting a variety of contaminants inside homes near two federal cleanup sites.” The EPA “sampled 107 homes near the Del Amo and Montrose Superfund sites earlier this year under pressure from residents worried they are breathing dangerous chemicals seeping in their homes from a plume of tainted groundwater below.” The tests found pollutants “at levels above the agency’s health standards for long-term exposure.”

Higher Education

Clinton To Release College Tuition Plan.

The New York Times  (8/10, Healy, Subscription Publication) reports that on Monday Hillary Clinton plans to announce a new federal plan to “help undergraduates pay tuition at public colleges without needing loans,” noting that the proposal includes debt relief for current student loan holders and is expected to cost $350 billion over 10 years. In exchange for grants to the program, states would have to commit to increasing higher education spending. The Times reports that Clinton’s plan requires a certain level of family contribution, meaning it “does not go as far as her Democratic presidential opponents in promising to end tuition debt altogether.”

The Los Angeles Times  (8/10, Memoli) reports that Clinton’s “New College Compact” would give grants to states that agree to boost spending on higher education, and the grant money could be used to reduce the “gap between what families can afford to pay and the full tuition costs.” The plan also “aims to give incentives to colleges and universities to control costs and assume a share of the responsibility for rising debt.”

Politico  (8/7, Karni, Grasgreen) reports that the plan is “expected to be the most detailed and costly plank of her campaign,” describing the plan as “a federal-state partnership to increase funding for public colleges and universities,” adding that it “is expected to create an incentive system for states to increase their investments in higher education.” The plan has been compared with the Race to the Top program, “which creates incentives for how to deliver quality education.”

The Washington Post  (8/8, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that although Clinton is not expected to propose “debt-free” college, she is expected to give a “detailed, and expansive plan to increase funding for public colleges and universities” that will “center on” giving Federal incentives to states that increase investment in higher education, according to a source familiar with Clinton’s strategy.

The Christian Science Monitor  (8/7) and the Wall Street Journal  (8/10, Meckler, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) also cover this story.

Western Governors University Marking 20th Year.

The Salt Lake (UT) Tribune  (8/10) reports that Western Governors University, “the Utah-based online program that grew from one lonely student in 1998 to its current student body of 59,000 nationwide,” is marking its 20th year. The piece explains that the college was founded after a group of governors of Western states discussed “revolutionizing higher education by offering classes over the Internet,” and says that the school “has had overwhelming success” in attracting nontraditional students.

Deans Pledge Diversity Efforts
Over 100 deans of engineering signed a letter pledging support for diversity initiatives. The letter was presented by University of Southern California Dean Yannis Yortsos at the first-ever White House “Demo Day.”

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Research and Development

NASA To Test UAV Air Traffic Control System.

The AP  (8/10) reports that a project out of NASA’s Ames Research Center will have 12 groups test UAV software at the space agency’s Crows Landing Airport as part of testing “an air traffic control system for drones.” Richard Kelley, chief engineer at the UNR’s Nevada Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center, said they seek “to create a system the Federal Aviation Administration can use to monitor fast-flying manned and unmanned aircraft that operate at altitudes of 500 feet and below.”

The Las Vegas Sun  (8/7, Rothberg) reported that UNR researchers, who “wrote the code that allows its test drone to communicate with NASA’s system, will” run their test with Flirtey and Drone America.

USAF Study Considers Benefits Of Quantum Tech.

Defense News  (8/9, Mehta) summarized a report by the US Air Force Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), which found that quantum capabilities could have near-ubiquitous impact, but in many areas where the technology is not ready for use. The article described the areas in which the report asserted quantum capabilities may be useful, including quantum sensing, quantum communications and quantum computing. According to engineering systems professor Seth Lloyd, IBM is one of several companies “pumping millions of dollars into quantum technology development.”

DARPA Awards Boeing Additional $6.6 Million For Space Plane Development.

The SPACE  (8/7, Wall) reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Boeing another $6.6 million to continue developing the XS-1 robotic space plane, bringing the contract’s value to $16.6 million. The goal is an unmanned vehicle that can “fly 10 times in a 10-day span and launch 3,000- to 5,000-lb. (1,361 to 2,268 kilograms) payloads for less than $5 million per mission.”

The Washington Times  (8/7, Howell) reported the XS-1 “is meant to defend against the growing threat of Russian and Chinese space weapons.” The Telegraph (UK)  (8/7, Tovey) also covered this story.


Obama Says Diversity In Tech Startups A Recipe For Success.

USA Today  (8/10, Snider) reports that last Tuesday, President Obama hosted a number of entrepreneurs for White House Demo Day, with the objective of increasing the number of minorities in the tech sector. The piece, which focuses on Jewel Burk of Partpic, reports that the President noted the low number of women and minorities in tech startups and said, “Yet we’ve seen again and again that companies with diverse leadership often outperform those that don’t. That’s the market that is out there — not just here in the United States, but globally. So that lack of participation from everybody isn’t good for business.”

Engineering and Public Policy

FRA: Most Railroads Won’t Meet Speed Control Deadline, Subject To Fines.

The New York Times  (8/8, Nixon, Subscription Publication) notes that in a Friday report to Congress, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) said most freight railroads and passenger trains won’t be able to meet the Dec. 31 deadline for the installation of speed control technology to help avoid collisions. The FRA is warning that the biggest railroads will only have 39 percent of trains equipped with technology by the deadline, and only 34 percent of employees trained. Meanwhile, only 29 percent of commuter railroads will have the safety equipment installed, and it is unlikely these railroads will have the technology fully installed before 2020.

McClatchy  (8/8, Tate) reports the FRA is planning “to impose big penalties” on railroads that haven’t met the year-end deadline. Starting Jan. 1, railroads that haven’t installed Positive Train Control may face fines up to $25,000 per day “for each violation.”

EPA “Takes Full Responsibility” For Colorado Wastewater Spill.

The CBS Evening News (8/7, story 10, 1:50, Pelley) reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “takes full responsibility” for accidentally releasing “a million gallons of toxic sludge” into the Animus River in southern Colorado. Tests have confirmed that “heavy metals, like lead, cadmium, and arsenic are now flowing in the river,” which is a source of “drinking water for towns surrounding it” and “dangerous for human life.” ABC World News (8/7, story 9, 0:25, Muir) similarly reported that “dozens of miles of river” are now closed, “stretching all the way to New Mexico.”

NYTimes: NHTSA Needs Security Standards To Protect Cars Against Hackers.

The New York Times  (8/9, Board, Subscription Publication) editorializes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should “start writing basic security standards that require automakers to test the software and make sure a car’s wireless system cannot be used to control the engine and brakes.” The Times also calls on Congress to “give the agency more resources,” noting the “2015 budget of $268.5 million for safety research and operations has barely kept up with inflation in the last decade.”

President Nominates Former LLNL Executive For Key Department Of Energy Post.

The Harvard Gazette (MA)  (8/6, Robins) reports that the White House announced Wednesday that President Obama has nominated Cherry A. Murray, the Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), to the key post of director of the Office of Science in the U.S. Department of Energy. She served as dean of SEAS from 2009 to 2014 and before that had “a distinguished career as an experimental scientist and administrator in two of America’s leading basic and applied research organizations, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Bell Laboratories.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

California Teens Take Part In College STEM Camp.

The Inland Valley (CA) Daily Bulletin  (8/7, Tate) reports that high school students in California’s Inland Valley region took part in a STEM Camp at the University of La Verne, where professors helped them “learn academic principles, build communication and analytical skills and retain knowledge through hands-on experiences, experiments, forest forays and field trips.” Over two dozen students “from culturally diverse backgrounds and varying performance levels” in STEM subjects took part in the event.

Massachusetts Tech Advocacy Group Developing Computer Science Curriculum.

The Boston Globe  (8/9, Adams) reports that, since the Massachusetts Legislature decided in July to provide the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN) with $1.5 million in matching funds, the advocacy group plans to “use the funds to train teachers in computer science instruction and to lobby more school districts to introduce the lessons.” It adds that MassCAN is developing a computer science curriculum “that will be reviewed by the Massachusetts Board of Education this fall.”

University Of Hawaii Science Professor Engages Children Through “GENE-ius Program.”

Citing the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the AP  (8/8) reported on the “GENE-ius program” at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in which science professor Ania Wieczorek introduces elementary school students to “topics that range from DNA sequencing to forensic science.” With some grant assistance, Wieczorek teaches the classes one day per month during the school year, but she hopes to develop a curriculum that will “run throughout a student’s years in grade school.” It reported that her goal is for children to learn about science while having fun.

STEM Camp Lets California High School Students Explore Career Options.

The Inland Valley (CA) Daily Bulletin  (8/7, Tate) reported on the University of La Verne’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Camp, a 2-week program that let 27 local high school students “stay in campus dorms…complete lab analyses, learn from ULV professors, [and] explore career options.” The Daily Bulletin relayed students’ comments about how beneficial the program was, and it noted that the camp was funded with support from the U.S. Department of Education and the nonprofit Bright Prospects mentoring program.

Editorial Praises STEMpact Program.

In a piece from the publisher of the St. Louis Business Journal,  (8/7, Sherberg, Subscription Publication) , Ellen Sherberg praises the sponsors of Washington University’s STEM Teacher Quality Institute, including The Laclede Group, calling it the “collaborative of smart St. Louis corporations.” She points out that these corporate funders “underwrite the $3,200 tuition for each teacher who attends the program,” and says the “implications for the rest of us are impressive.” Concluding that science, technology, engineering and math are key to professional development, Sherberg says that this program is worthy of duplication.

Tennessee School System Offers New STEM Track In Middle Schools.

The Memphis (TN) Commercial Appeal  (8/8, Roberts) reported that middle schools in the Collierville Schools system will be “offering an invitation-only STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) intensive track” this year. Forty-eight sixth-grade STEM Scholars, almost half of which are girls, will take three years of “advanced math, language arts and STEM courses together, a trajectory and mix district officials expect will produce higher achievement heading into high school.” The Commercial Appeal noted that more than 150 students took the aptitude test when it was offered in January, “about 32 percent of all the fifth-graders in the town.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

Many Native Alaskans Support Shell’s Off-Shore Arctic Drilling.
College Professor Recommends Stint Teaching Middle School To Gain Perspective.
Boeing, University Of South Carolina In Long-Term Research Agreement.
Pennsylvania Generating Station Faces “Final Hurdle” To Bring New Scrubbers Online.
Iowa Externship Program Gives Teachers Opportunities To Learn More About STEM Skills In the Workforce.

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