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

Leading the News

Fifteen States Ask Court To Block EPA’s Carbon Emissions Rules.

Thursday’s announcement from the White House that President Obama will travel to Alaska as part of his push to highlight climate change came as 15 state attorneys general filed a petition in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seeking to block the EPA’s new rules on carbon emissions from power plants. The Hill  (8/13, Cama) said West Virginia led the “conservative states,” which the Wall Street Journal  (8/14, Harder, Subscription Publication) notes are primarily from the South and Midwest.

Reuters  (8/14, Volcovici) says the states asked the court to rule by Sept. 8, one year before they have to submit compliance plans to the agency. National Journal  (8/13, Geman, Subscription Publication) notes that the lawsuit, which was filed even before the regulation was published in the Federal Register, says that without a stay, “states will be ‘irreparably harmed’ because they must spend resources and begin reordering their energy sector.” The states “also want to upend the entire rule, so they are asking the court to put all the measure’s deadlines on hold until the court fight over the rule’s overall legality is completed.” The matter is “expected to eventually land before the Supreme Court.”

Bloomberg News  (8/14, Harris) reports that EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency will fight the lawsuit, writing in an email, “To ensure that the Clean Power Plan’s significant health benefits and progress against climate change are delivered to all Americans, EPA and the Department of Justice will vigorously defend it in court. … The Clean Power Plan is based on a sound legal and technical foundation.”

Lawyer: Up To 26 States Considering Legal Challenges. In the Huffington Post ’s (8/14) “The Climate Post” blog, Tim Profeta of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, discussed the legal challenges the Clean Power Plan rule could face, noting that Bill Bumpers, a partner at a law firm which represents power companies, “estimates 22-26 states are considering such challenges, a decision he called ‘more political than practical.’”

Higher Education

Columnist Pans Trigger Warning Trend On College Campuses.

In a piece for Bloomberg View  (8/13), Megan McArdle writes about current trends on college campuses related to attempts to censor speech, specifically the use of trigger warnings to designate thoughts perceived as being “dangerous.” McArdle refutes the notion that ideas are inherently dangerous, and laments that current trends in campus censorship claim “that merely hearing wrong, unpleasant or offensive ideas is so dangerous to the mental health of the listener that people need to be protected from the experience.” She counters that it is impossible “to have a community of ideas in which no one is ever offended or upset.” She writes that a contributing factor to this trend is that under President Obama, ED’s Office for Civil Rights has “broadened the definition for what constitutes offensive speech,” leading to a chilling effect sparked by a fear of litigation. She also cites the increasing notion that college is “a consumer experience, rather than an institution that is there to shape you toward its own ideal.”

Clinton College Affordability Plan Prompts Rivals To Outline Their Proposals.

The New York Times  (8/13, Bosman, Lewin, Subscription Publication) reports that Hillary Clinton’s “ambitious, expansive $350 billion plan to reduce debt in higher education,” unveiled last week, “has opened a new front in the” 2016 race for the White House, “put[ting] pressure on her opponents as she has made a centerpiece of her agenda an issue that resonates across classes, party lines and generations.” Since announcing her proposal, candidates from both parties, including Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, have “highlighted their own plans to reduce student debt and stem rising college costs.”

UPDATE – Deans Pledge Diversity Efforts
Over 130 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

UMass Research Gets $1 Million For Robotics Research.

The Boston Business Journal  (8/13, Castellanos, Subscription Publication) reports in its “Techflash” blog that Google Inc., the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology awarded Holly Yanco, founder of the university’s Robotics Lab and director of the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center at UMass Lowell, over “$1 million to advance four areas of robotics research that could help save lives and help people with mobility issues.” The areas are improving emergency responses “through technology and information-sharing,” international training standards for teaching robotics technology in the field to emergency personnel, “testing the durability and performance of robots used in mobile manufacturing environments,” and developing a lower-cost, assistive robotic arm.

ASU To Lead New Research Center.

KJZZ-FM  Phoenix (8/14, Brodie) reports, “ASU will be collaborating with three other universities on a new engineering research center,” directed by ASU engineering professor Ed Kavazanjian.

University Of Pittsburgh Receive $1.7M For Additive Manufacturing Research.

The Pittsburgh Business Times  (8/14) reports in its “Morning Edition” blog reports that America Makes has given University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering $1.7 million “to improve design development for structures in additive manufacturing.” The piece notes that funds will be divided between two projects.

PSC Retiring Blacklight Computer.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (8/14, Wills) reports the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is retiring its Blacklight supercomputer. Blacklight is able to “perform 37 trillion calculations per second.” The fastest supercomputer in the US, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “performs 17.59 quadrillion calculations per second.” CMU research physicist Nicholas A. Nystrom said, “Blacklight is more about memory than about speed.” The Tribune Review adds, “Blacklight will be retired Saturday and replaced by Bridges – a machine with 12 times Blacklight’s memory capacity that will be built by Hewlett Packard.”

RS-25 Engine Undergoes Its Sixth Successful Test.

The Orlando (FL) Sentinel  (8/13, Speck) “Go For Launch” blog reports that 1,200 people watched as NASA tested the “powerful RS-25 engine” at the Stennis Space Center on Thursday. The engine, which will eventually be used by the Space Launch System, was successfully fired for over eight minutes, making this the “the sixth and next to last test firing of the RS-25 engine.” NASA is now “on schedule” to complete the testing this year.

Popular Science  (8/13, Fecht) describes the successful test as “epic,” especially because the engine was fired for the duration of the actual launch. Engineers are now expected to review the data for the next week.

SPACE  (8/13) notes Gary Benton, RS-25 test project manager at Stennis, said on NASA TV, “There are probably some people in the control center high-fiving, because that was a very successful test.” NASA officials added in a statement, “The tests also support the development of a new controller, or ‘brain,’ for the engine, which monitors engine status and communicates between the vehicle and the engine, relaying commands to the engine and transmitting data back to the vehicle. … The controller also provides closed-loop management of the engine by regulating the thrust and fuel-mixture ratio while monitoring the engine’s health and status.”

Product Design and Development  (8/13, Crouse), meanwhile, details the NASA Social that was held before the test. SLS Program Manager Todd May, Mark Kirasich, the deputy program manager for Orion, and Test Operations Engineer Nyla Trumbach all took part. The article notes that NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman was also a “surprise guest.”

Florida Today  (8/14, Dean), Wired  (8/13, Palmer), Universe Today  (8/13, Kremer), and Daily Mail (UK)  (8/13, Zolfagharifard) also cover the story.

Satellites Could Help Improve Biodiversity Measurements.

Popular Science  (8/14, Harrington) reports that the “grunt work” in measuring biodiversity could soon disappear thanks to improvements in satellite imagery. Biologists are now “calling for a universal method of measuring biodiversity via satellites,” a topic which will be discussed in October by the Group on Earth Observation Biodiversity Observation Network, which “counts NASA and others as a partner.” Meanwhile, the article notes that NASA’s Applied Sciences Program just released its 2014 annual report on how it used satellite data “to study Earth’s ecology for years,” especially through EnvDATA, “a database where researchers can input their data on species’ movements and compare it to satellite imagery and data on weather patterns, vegetation, and human population density.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Says That Colorado River Now Safe.

ABC World News (8/13, story 8, 0:20, Muir) reported that the EPA is “now saying the water is safe” in the Colorado river “contaminated with three million gallons of toxic chemicals – arsenic, lead.” However, the EPA is “facing possible lawsuits.”

The CBS Evening News (8/13, story 3, 2:05, Pelley) reported that “Colorado rivers are said to be recovering after the accidental release of three million gallons of mining waste. But Mireya Villarreal found that what lies beneath the surface remains a stubborn problem.” CBS (Villareal) adds that Sinjin Eberle of the American Rivers advocacy group, “says as a result of this spill, dangerous heavy metals like arsenic, zinc, and lead have settled to the bottom of the river and on the banks.”

The Farmington (NM) Daily Times  (8/14, Grover, Smith) reports that EPA officials says that “water quality tests on the Animas River in Colorado indicate heavy metal levels are returning to normal after a spill last week released 3 million gallons of contaminated mine wastewater into the river.” However, the EPA “has not yet released information from tests done in New Mexico.”

Gerson: “Dramatically” Increased Spending On Green Technologies Is Needed.

In his Washington Post  (8/14) column, Michael Gerson writes that if climate scientists’ predictions “about the pace of global warming, and about the total amount of carbon dioxide that humans can emit in the future without potentially catastrophic consequences,” are correct, “we currently do not have feasible policy responses that are adequate to the need.” Gerson adds that “behavioral change” and “the subsidies that governments provide to renewables such as solar and wind power,” are insufficient. What is needed, he argues, is “dramatically increased investment in basic research and development,” adding that Bill Gates “has pledged to increase his personal investments in green technologies by $1 billion over the next five years,” and has “recommended that US investments in basic energy technology be more than tripled – from about $5 billion to $16 billion a year.”

Bloomberg Analysis: Changing Lightbulbs “Best Way” For Grids To Improve Efficiency.

Bloomberg News  (8/14, Malik) reports US utility and power grid managers “are learning that the best way to cut carbon emissions and improve efficiency is the easiest: Just change your lightbulbs.” Bloomberg News notes that “the nation’s largest grid…is revising its demand forecasts after recognizing that better lighting has undercut its projections.” The Energy Department says exchanging incandescent lightbulbs with lamps using light emitting diodes (LEDs) would save enough electricity to power 20 million homes.

Investigation: Fracking Destroys Air Quality In New Mexico.

The Guardian (UK)  (8/14, Barbee) reports as a part of its “Keep it in the ground” campaign on towns in northern New Mexico that have experienced lower air quality and a host of health issues due to fracking. According to the Guardian, claims about the harmful effects of fracking on air quality and people’s health have been supported by scientists. One example the Guardian cites is imagery from NASA satellites that show a methane bubble over the New Mexican town of Aztec, The Guardian notes that the environmental effects pose a dilemma for many in the state, who rely on the industry to support the local economy and provide jobs.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program Profiled.

The Washington Post  (8/14, Siddiqui) reports on the “seven-week Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, a camp that aims to combat stereotypes about computer coders and encourage high school girls to pursue computer science education,” which is sponsored by BSA (the Software Alliance), Lockheed Martin, and Georgetown University. The girls in the program’s reasons for coding include job prospects, love of video games and technology, and empowerment. The Post details some of the projects the girls worked on.

Arizona School District Using Engineering-Focused STEM Program.

The Arizona Daily Star  (8/14, Jung) reports that Arizona’s Amphitheater School District “implemented the Engineering Is Elementary program for K-5 students as part of their STEM education.” The program “focuses on engineering design,” including creating devices to solve problems.

Alabama Urged To Make Science Teaching More Hands-On.

The Montgomery (AL) Advertiser  (8/13) reports that the Alabama State Board of Education was urged to adopt standards that science educators “said will better communicate the subject to students.” While the curriculum would not change, teaching would change “from a memorization-based model to one encouraging hands-on experimentation by students,” with more lab work and less time on textbooks and worksheets.

Study: Parents Pass Math Anxiety To Children.

Lindsey Cook writes in the “Data Mine” blog of US News & World Report  (8/13) that a study published in Psychological Science found that “math anxiety might be passed down from generation to generation.” Researches suggested that tools for the parents could “help break the cycle of math anxiety,” such as “an Internet application with structured activities involving math or giving parents video modules on effective math homework help.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

McClatchy Analysis: Obama Playing Dual Roles On Climate Change, Drilling.
Michigan Schools Call For State To Fund Native Tuition Program.
University Of Arizona Commercialization Program Takes In $2 Million In Revenues.
Over 100 Schools Sign On To ASEE Diversity Pledge.
Chinese Army Students Use Mind-Control Robots.
McCarthy: EPA Takes “Full Responsibility” For Colorado Mine Spill.

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