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

Leading the News

EPA: Team Underestimated Pressure In Mine Before Spill.

As New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez “declared a state of emergency in San Juan County” Monday afternoon, EPA officials met at the Gold King Mine “to discuss last week’s breach into a tributary of the Animas River,” the Farmington (NM) Daily Times  (8/12, Garrison) reports. The EPA’s on-scene coordinator Hayes Griswold told County officials that “an EPA team working at the mine on Wednesday underestimated how much pressure was hidden behind the debris that plugged the mine’s entrance.” Griswold said the team “was not attempting to dislodge the plug, but was instead attempting to stick a pipe into the top of the mine.” While the team was “very careful,” Griswold said, “the team removed too much material from the mine’s roof, which caused the rupture.”

The New York Times  (8/12, Turkewitz, Subscription Publication) reports that EPA officials said Tuesday that “water continues to spill at a rate of 500 to 700 gallons a minute.” David Ostrander, a regional emergency response director for the EPA said that the agency “is treating the toxic water as it pours out.” Also, Tuesday, Administrator McCarthy “apologized for the accident at an energy forum in Washington,” saying, “I am absolutely, deeply sorry that this ever happened,” according to the AP.

On NBC Nightly News (8/11, story 4, 2:25, Holt), Lester Holt noted some “potential good news,” as the plume, “which had turned the river a mustard color, appears to be dissipating.” However, “that’s only after the sludge traveled some 300 miles, leaving the long-term impact a bit of a troubling question mark tonight.” Miguel Almaguer added that Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper “says pH levels are returning to normal but after the EPA triggered this spill the state will now conduct its own tests on water quality.”

The Washington Times  (8/12, Richardson) notes that while Martinez and other officials “have called on the EPA to hold itself to the same standards as it would a private company in the aftermath of Wednesday’s accident,” the agency “will pay nothing in fines for unleashing the Animas River spill.” Thomas L. Sansonetti, former assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s division of environment and natural resources, said, “Sovereign immunity. The government doesn’t fine itself.” An editorial in the Wall Street Journal  (8/12, Subscription Publication) argues that the EPA is being held to a different standard than would a private company that caused similar damage.

Higher Education

Clinton Dings GOP Debaters For Neglecting College Affordability.

The AP  (8/12, Ronayne) reports that Hillary Clinton continued her college affordability theme on Tuesday, criticizing the participants in last week’s Republican presidential debate for not mentioning “one-word” about college costs. The AP quotes Clinton saying, “I don’t know who they’re talking to out on the campaign trail. I think this is a major challenge, and I want us to address it. Not one word from the other side.” The AP notes that on Monday, Clinton unveiled “a $350 billion plan to address higher education costs, in part by encouraging more state and federal spending, making it easier for students to refinance loans and capping loan payments based on their incomes.” The piece notes that Clinton “singled out Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker” over his higher education cuts.

The Washington Post  (8/12, Gearan) reports that during a Tuesday campaign event in New Hampshire, Clinton “accused” GOP presidential candidate Gov. Scott Walker “of gutting public education programs in Wisconsin.” Speaking at a community college, Clinton said that during last week’s GOP presidential debate, “there was not one word from one of those candidates about making college affordable or dealing with debt.” Clinton added, “Then you take somebody like Governor Walker of Wisconsin, who seems to be delighting in slashing the investment in higher education in his state and making it more difficult for students to get scholarships or to pay off their debt.”

The Huffington Post  (8/11, Lachman) reported that Clinton said that Walker “is also ‘eliminating the opportunities for young people who are doctors or dentists who actually work in underserved areas in return for having their debt relieved, ending scholarships for poor kids, [and] … rejecting legislation that would have made it tax deductible for you on your income tax to deduct the amount of your loan repayment.’”

ABC News  (8/11) reports that Clinton “called out” Republicans, Walker in particular, for “‘slashing’ the investment in higher education and for ignoring the issue of college debt during the GOP primary debate.” The New York Daily News  (8/11, Joseph) reports that Clinton said that Walker “flunks the test on higher education.” Clinton “slammed” Walker “for cutting funding from the University of Wisconsin system, contrasting his moves with her new proposal to increase college affordability.”

Clinton Plan Reflects Society’s Growing Focus On College Affordability. NPR  (8/11) reports on its “NprEd” blog that the “big takeaway” from Clinton’s college affordability plan, and those of her rivals from both parties, is that “college affordability may have become the mainstream, crowd-pleasing middle-class issue of the moment, like homeownership or Social Security or health care in previous eras.” The piece reports that Clinton’s plan highlights “a lot of shifts in how Americans perceive, and achieve, what is increasingly a requirement for prosperity: a college degree.”

Clinton Plan Includes Some GOP-Friendly Facets. The Christian Science Monitor  (8/11) reports that though Republicans immediately criticized Clinton’s plan, and there are basic ideological differences over the issue of college affordability, some parts of her plan “include areas of agreement between Democrats and Republicans.” For example, Clinton is calling for simplifying the FAFSA application and allowing for the consolidation of student loans, both of which have been espoused by Republicans.

“Experts”: Clinton Video Exaggerates Problems With Student Loans. Politico  (8/11, Hefling) reported that Hillary Clinton’s campaign this week released a video in conjunction with the Democratic presidential frontrunner unveiling “a $350 billion higher education plan heavy on student loan debt relief.” In the video, several “students” discuss college loans they received, and according to Politico, “it’s clear some of the college-cost and student-loan horror stories the campaign is using to detail the problem are extreme, student financial aid experts said. ‘This is just not what is typical,’ said Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.” Among the claims in the video: “Student loan interest rates at 9 percent”; “Graduates leaving school with more than $100,000 of debt”; and “An annual college bill of $64,380”.

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Research and Development

Many High-Risk Medical Devices Get FDA Approval With Only A Single Trial: Study.

Reuters  (8/12, Doyle) reports that a study  published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that many high-risk medical devices are approved by the Food and Drug Administration with a single study to support their safety and efficacy. The study analyzed all 28 high-risk devices approved through the FDA’s Premarket Approval pathway in 2010 and 2011. Of the required post-market studies for 28 devices, only six had been completed by October 2014.

Modern Healthcare  (8/12, Evans, Subscription Publication) reports that concerns about the approval process for medical devices “come as Congress debates new legislation known as the 21st Century Cures Act, which has been criticized for relaxing safety standards for medical devices by allowing less rigorous evaluation before approval.” The Act, which passed the House in July, “includes $9.3 billion over five years for the National Institutes of Health and $550 million for the FDA.” Also covering the story are Medscape  (8/12, Frellick) and the Medical Daily  (8/12, Scutti).

Opinion: FDA Should Streamline Medical Device Approval Process. Forbes  (8/12) contributor Michael Blanding argues that while the FDA “has chiseled away pharmaceutical review times over the years to speed innovative drugs to market, the opposite seems to have occurred in the agency’s approval of medical devices.” Blanding concludes that lawmakers should consider “streamlining its procedures and new product requirements” in order to “shave months off the time that it takes to get needed devices into the hands that need them.”

NSF Gives Oklahoma State University $6 Million To Develop Weather Drones.

The Oklahoman  (8/12) reports that Oklahoma State University will lead a research team funded by a $6 million NSF grant “to develop an integrated unmanned aircraft system to improve weather forecasting through the study of atmospheric physics.” Researchers are working on developing “small, affordable unmanned systems to be used by government and university scientists and private companies to expand the understanding of atmospheric conditions and improve weather forecasting.” The Tulsa (OK) World  (8/12) and the Oklahoma Journal Record  (8/10) also cover this story.

University Of Arkansas Joining Auto Electronic Research Consortium.

The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette  (8/11) reports that the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville is joining a consortium of other universities working on increasing “the density and efficiency of electrical system components in cars, airplanes and other equipment.” The piece reports that the Engineering Research Center for Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems is “an $18.5 million center sponsored by the National Science Foundation.”

Students Gather At University Of Arizona For Driverless Car Experience.

KVOA-TV  Tucson, AZ (8/12) reports that students from across the country are “getting hands-on experience” with driverless car technology at the University of Arizona in Tucson through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. KGUN-TV  Tucson, AZ (8/12) reports that the students “spent the last 10 weeks developing technology to make a car drive on its own and on Tuesday, each team demonstrated their work.”

MIT Researchers Developing Magnetic Cancer Sensor.

The Boston Globe  (8/11) reports that MIT researchers are working on a cancer fighting tool consisting of “a simple magnet” to enable them to access data in miniature sensors that are inserted into a cancerous tumor. Before this development, doctors “needed to put the sensor into an MRI machine, a costly and complicated procedure.” The technology could allow doctors to better monitor cancer treatments.

University Of New Hampshire Gets NSF Grant To Study New England Dams.

The AP  (8/12) reports that the National Science Foundation is giving the University of New Hampshire $6 million grant to conduct “a four-year study examining the future of dams in New England.” Researchers in the University’s civil and environmental engineering department “will look at strengthening connections between scientists and decision-makers about a number of options including maintaining existing hydropower dams, expanding hydropower capacity and removing aging dams to restore fisheries or reduce safety risks.”

Global Developments

Utah And Pakistan Educational Institutions Team Up To Solve Water Issues.

The Deseret (UT) News  (8/12) reports that the University of Utah and Mehran University of Engineering and Technology on Tuesday formalized an “academic partnership for water research.” The partnership is “part of a program known as United States-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Water and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development.” Academic programs resulting from the project will “include master’s and doctorate degrees in three water disciplines at Mehran University, which provides many opportunities for research and will be the primary center for the project because it’s located in the water-stressed Sindh province of Pakistan.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Commentary: Congress Should Act To Resolve Divisions Over Nuclear Waste.

In a commentary for the Baltimore Sun  (8/11), Dan Ervin, professor of finance at Salisbury University, wrote generally of the “contentious subject” of nuclear waste disposal, and how while nuclear proponents insist the “engineering issues are, for the most part, solved,” critics say “major technical questions are unanswered.” Ervin notes the 1982 passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act which mandated that the Federal government take possession of used fuel for long-term storage while electric utilities using nuclear power pay “approximately $750 million annually to fund this project.” But the government “did not take the spent fuel,” and has been “penalized” by the courts for breach of the law. In the Senate, a bipartisan bill has emerged to “let private companies establish interim facilities for storing spent fuel until reprocessing is revived in this country or a permanent repository becomes available.” Ervin adds that he hope Congress remedies the situation.

Activists Press Administration To Take Hard Line On Airline Emissions.

The Washington Times  (8/12, Wolfgang) reports that as the Administration “moves ahead with regulations limiting emissions from aircraft,” environmentalists are “urging” the federal government to “take a hard line on the airline industry as part of the broader effort to combat climate change.” The EPA on Tuesday held a hearing on the proposed rules with stakeholders. Industry leaders say that the EPA “must keep in mind that airlines have made dramatic improvements in pollution control and fuel efficiency in recent decades without government interference.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Next Generation Science Standards Profiled.

Brian Witte of Varsity Tutors writes on TIME  (8/12) that, during this “time of upheaval in education, when change is certainly necessary, but the structure and content of this change remains unclear,” the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) seek “to bring K-12 science education into the 21st century.” They are “a series of goals and best practices,” not lesson plans, required textbooks, or exams. The NGSS emphasize scientific practices and explore “ideas across science disciplines.” Witte calls them “intriguing” and suggests “we may one day see it in all or a portion of our classrooms.”

Former Student Of Philadelphia CTE Programs Profiled.

The Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook  (8/12, Ward) reports on the Philadelphia School District’s career and technical education (CTE) programs, which offer students the “opportunity to choose a career path that best matches their interests and talents, while gaining hands-on training in high school.” Many of the students in the programs go on to post-secondary institutions or gain employment in their fields after high school. The article profiles Precious Terry, who was part of a culinary arts CTE program.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

EPA Could Be On Hook For Damages In Colorado Spill.
Clinton Proposes $350 Billion Plan To Make College More Affordable.
NSF Awards Rice Engineering Center $18.5 Million Grant To Develop New Water Treatment Systems.
Survey Shows Significant Corporate Opposition To Expanding H-1B Program.
Indian E-Commerce Firms Scaling Up Workforce.
Michigan Senators Look To Force Delay On Canadian Nuclear Waste Project.
Sailing Camp Provides Education To Young Boston Students In Summer.

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