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

Leading the News

Scientists At Berkeley Labs Invent Tiny Invisibility Cloak.

AFP  (9/18) reports that researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory said Thursday that that they have invented a small invisibility cloak. The cloak “works by manipulating light, changing how light waves bounce off an object so that it cannot be detected by the eye.” According to the researchers, the cloak is “microscopic in size but could conceivably be scaled up in the future.” Details of the cloak were published Thursday in the journal Science.

Rachel Feltman of the Washington Post  (9/18, Feltman) says that with the breakthrough, “We’re one step closer to Harry-Potter-style invisibility cloaks.” She goes on to describe the technology behind the cloak. While “most cloaking devices in development work by funneling the light that would normally hit an object away from it,” this one “changes the way the light scatters, creating the illusion of a surface as flat as a mirror instead of the actual object’s shape.” Reuters  (9/18) also covers this story.

Higher Education

GAO: Government Needs To Improve Awareness Of Student Loan Payment Plans.

The Washington Post  (9/18, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the Government Accountability Office released a report Thursday saying that “Millions of borrowers may be missing out on a way to better manage their student loans because of government contractor’s haphazard promotion of repayment plans.” The article notes that ED has improved enrollment over the past year, but adds that the GAO says “the gulf between participation and eligibility suggests that borrowers are not receiving sufficient information about so-called income-driven repayment plans.”

NSF Gives Grant To Cal State Los Angeles And Penn State Partnership For Engineering And Materials Science.

The Los Angeles Times  (9/18, Rocha) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $3.3 million Partnership for Research and Education in Materials grant to Cal State Los Angeles and Penn State University to “help minority students pursue degrees in engineering and materials science.” The five year grant will establish a master’s degree in materials science and engineering at Cal State Los Angeles to prepare students for doctoral degrees at Penn State and elsewhere.

Report: Student Loans Are Not Preventing Home Ownership.

The Wall Street Journal  (9/18, Kusisto, Subscription Publication) summarizes a report released by real estate website Zillow that concluded student loan debt is not preventing young people from buying homes as has often been claimed. The report looked at home buying from the late 1960’s until 2013 and found that a couple with at least one college degree and no student debt was only 2% more likely to buy a home, than a couple with at least one college degree and $30,000 in student debt. The report also found that couples with master’s degrees and more debt had a higher chance of buying a home. The article cites Dartmouth sociology professor Jason Houle whose research has shown little correlation between student loan debt and not owning a home. Houle believes many people falsely assumed that a decrease in home ownership after the recession was tied to growing student debt.

Study: International Student Enrollment At Graduate Schools Growing Even While Economy Improves.

The Washington Post  (9/18, Douglas-Gabriel) reports a study by the Council of Graduate Schools found that the enrollment of international students increased across the country last fall more than any other year since 2009. The results were surprising to researchers because graduate school enrollment has often declined when the economy improves, so it appears that more students are willing to gamble that the higher cost of graduate school will pay off than in the past.

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Research and Development

PrecisionHawk, Kansas State University Partner To Develop UAS App.

Inside Unmanned Systems  (9/18) reports Kansas State University and PrecisionHawk have formed a four-year partnership “to develop apps and programs designed to turn aerial images of corn” taken by unmanned aerial systems “into useful data about potential crop production issues.”

KSNT-TV  Topeka, KS (9/17, Broyles) says Kansas State University “officials praise the partnership as a win for both the university and Precisionhawk.” Karen Burg, vice president for research and professor of chemical engineering, commented, “Unmanned aerial vehicles are an emerging technology that will support precision agriculture, and Kansas State University’s expertise in building and protecting global food systems makes us a great fit for this kind of collaboration.”

Google Researchers: Android Security Doesn’t Live Up To Hype.

Ars Technica  (9/17) reports that “members of Google’s Project Zero vulnerability research team have challenged a key talking point surrounding the security of Google’s Android mobile operating system” arguing that “a key exploit mitigation known as address space layout randomization does much less than the company’s overworked public relations people say in blocking attacks targeting critical weaknesses in Android’s stagefright media library.” The article notes that “researchers tested a home-grown stagefright exploit on a Nexus 5 device running an Android 5.x version” finding that “at best, ASLR will lower the chances their exploit will succeed.”

Industry News

General Motors To Pay US $900 Million To Settle Ignition Switch Defect Case.

ABC World News (9/17, story 7, 2:15, Muir) reported General Motors has agreed “to pay $900 million to the US government” in “one of the biggest payouts by an American carmaker in history for hiding that ignition switch defect linked to at least 124 deaths.” GM CEO Mary Barra: “We let those customers down in that situation. We didn’t do our job.” The CBS Evening News (9/17, story 4, 2:35, Pelley) reported GM will also pay “another $575 million to settle civil lawsuits. Criticism rained on the Justice Department because while GM admitted it concealed a fatal flaw, no one will be prosecuted.” NBC Nightly News (9/17, story 11, 0:20, Holt) also ran a brief report.

The New York Times  (9/18, Ivory, Vlasic, Subscription Publication) reports that in the settlement, “no individual employees were charged, and the Justice Department agreed to defer prosecution of the company for three years.” If GM “adheres to the agreement, which includes independent monitoring of its safety practices, the company can have its record wiped clean.” US Attorney Preet Bharara “defended the settlement” at a news conference, saying, “It has been a challenging case, for the agencies, for the prosecutors and for me. We’ve had to think long and hard about the appropriate resolution in this case.”

USA Today Calls Lack Of Prosecutions “Disturbing.” USA Today  (9/18) says in an editorial that “the truly disturbing part of the announcement was that not a single individual has been criminally charged for concealing the defect: a faulty ignition switch that allowed cars to suddenly stall or prevented air bags from deploying. … If an individual who kills someone, even unintentionally, through negligent acts with a car can be charged with manslaughter, individuals at a company that kills scores of people with a car they know is unsafe ought to face criminal prosecution, too.”

Engineering and Public Policy

North Dakota To Help NASA Develop UAS Traffic Management System.

The Bismarck (ND) Tribune  (9/18, Holdman) reports that NASA has given the North Dakota Department of Commerce a contract to help develop its UAS traffic management system. The team will “try and provide feedback” on the system. Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a statement, “This NASA contract is more confirmation that our ongoing work to establish North Dakota as a national hub for UAS research, development and commercialization is gaining more traction every day.”

NASA Tests UAV Avoidance System. Quartz  (9/17, Murphy) reports that on September 16, NASA flew its Ikhana UAV to test “a prototype system that allows unpiloted drones to detect and avoid other aircraft.” Dennis Hines, a program director at the Armstrong Flight Research Center, said, “We recorded some valuable data that will take some time to analyze fully, and we expect we’ll need to make some minor refinements to our algorithms, but from what we saw during the tests, the results look promising.” An unnamed NASA spokesperson added, “These tests are part of an evolving process that will culminate in a capstone exercise next spring.” According to the article, if the tests are successful, NASA will make “a significant dent in one of the biggest challenges preventing commercial drone services,” like Amazon deliveries, “from becoming a reality.”

Kansas City Engineering Firm Celebrates DOE Electric Vehicle Pledge With Demonstration Day.

The Kansas City (MO) Star  (9/18, Hack) reports that Overland Park-based engineering firm Black & Veatch will hold a demonstration at its headquarters on Friday of “several makes of electric vehicles.” Also as part of the event, representatives from automakers Tesla, BMW, Nissan and Chevrolet “will be on hand…to answer questions about owning and driving electric vehicles.” The event is being held “in conjuction” with Black & Veatch “signing the Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge pledge, which encourages workplaces to have vehicle charging stations.”

NBC Analysis: Shell Placing Big Bet On Arctic Oil.

NBC Nightly News (9/17, story 10, 3:20, Holt) broadcast the final part of its series on “the melting American Arctic,” where Royal Dutch Shell “is placing a bet that no other oil company’s making right now.” NBC reports that so far, Shell has spent $7 billion “looking for oil without a barrel to show for it.” NBC added, “Some say up to 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil is in the Arctic and with climate change and more and more melting ice, that oil is now more accessible than ever. But locals here are divided about drilling.” NBC broadcast footage from Shell’s Alaska operations and spoke with Shell Oil President Marvin Odum on Shell’s emergency fleet and rapid response capabilities, as well as interviewing some residents opposed to the drilling.

Royal Dutch Shell CEO: Arctic Production Likely To Occur Nearer To 2030. Drawing on Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden’s interview with the BBC, which was published Thursday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer  (9/18, Connelly) reports that van Beurden “says oil development in Arctic waters is not a sure thing, and that a great deal rests with what the drilling rig Polar Pioneer finds during an exploration season fast approaching its end.” The article notes that van Beurden said he does not see sanctioning a project before 2020, and expects production to occur nearer to 2030.

Group Files FOIA Request For Communications Related To Shell’s Arctic Drilling Permit. E&E Publishing  (9/17) reports that the Institute for Energy Research’s on Thursday “asked the federal government for records of any communications with environmentalists regarding the permitting of Royal Dutch Shell PLC to drill in the Arctic Ocean this summer.” The group’s Freedom of Information Act request “seeks to ‘better understand the reasoning and potential influences’ behind permitting decisions that hindered Shell’s oil exploration, said IER President Thomas Pyle.”

Senators Question Feinberg About Railroad Safety Deadline.

The New York Times  (9/18, Nixon, Subscription Publication) reports that Sarah Feinberg, the President’s nominee to head that Federal Railroad Administration “faced tough questioning” from a Senate committee “about the rail industry’s contention that it cannot meet a year-end deadline to install a safety technology meant to keep trains from derailing.” Feinberg told the panel that “the railroad administration would enforce the 2008 law that set Dec. 31 of this year as the deadline to have railroads install the technology, known as positive train control,” saying, “On Jan. 1, we will enforce the deadline and the law.” Feinberg added that the agency will “work with the rail companies to help them with technical and financial challenges they face in trying to install the safety technology,” but stressed, “We do not have the authority to extend the deadline.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

MIT President Reaches Out To Ahmed Mohamed.

The CBS Evening News (9/17, story 11, 0:30, Pelley) reported, “In Irving, Texas, this was the last day of Ahmed Mohamed’s suspension for bringing to school a clock he had built.” Ahmed “says he wants to switch schools and eventually go to MIT,” and yesterday, “the president of MIT tweeted that he is delighted.”

Moniz Tweets In Support Of Ahmed Mohammed. The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico  (9/17, Gerstein) reported Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz “tweeted his support for Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas 14-year-old arrested by police after he brought a clock he’d constructed to school.” The Dallas Morning News “said Mohamed had a passion for electronics and robotics” and “he built the clock and brought it to school.” When Mohamed’s “English teacher got a look at it, she decided it looked like a bomb.” Moniz wrote in his tweet: “Keep it up, Ahmed. Our #NationalLabs could use your help building gadgets like this one,” with a link to an image of a camera suitable for high-powered telescopes.

Connecticut City Getting First Lego League Robotics Team.

The New Haven (CT) Register  (9/17, Ortiz) reports First Lego League, an international robotics program, is starting a team in Branford, Connecticut funded by the Branford Education Foundation. The program teaches students STEM skills by working in groups of 10 to solve problems using robots built from Legos.

Kansas School District Receives Grant To Build STEM Programs.

The Lawrence (KS) Journal World  (9/17, Valverde) reports America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education, a program sponsored by the Monsanto Fund, awarded a $25,000 grant to Eudora school district in Kansas to help create STEM programs at the district’s schools. The programs will teach STEM skills through coding, engineering, and robotics. Eudora Superintendent Steve Splichal said, “We are excited to create learning environments that place a premium on the exploration, tinkering, designing, and building inherent in the world of robotics, coding, and programming.”

Education Leaders Want To Push More Hispanic Students Into STEM Fields.

US News & World Report  (9/17, Camera) reports education leaders are looking for ways to steer more Hispanic students into STEM fields and eventually STEM careers. Sarita Brown, the president of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit aimed at increasing the number of Hispanic students going to college, said, “The growth of the Latino community is happening simultaneously when the country is talking about a dearth of talent.” The article quotes other leaders speaking about the opportunities for Hispanics to meet the growing demand for high-skilled jobs in the technology sector now and into the future.

Hawaii University And Private School System Form Partnership To Promote STEM Fields, Careers.

Pacific Business News (HI)  (9/16, Gill, Subscription Publication) reports Chaminade University of Honolulu and Kamehameha Schools, a private school system, in Hawaii have formed a partnership to promote more Native Hawaiians pursuing STEM degrees at the university and then going onto STEM careers. The partnership will offer scholarships to students studying “biology, biochemistry, forensic sciences, nursing and the environment,” with the aim of building a “cadre of Hawaiian scientists who will become leaders in the next generation.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Obama Invites Muslim Student Detained Over Homemade Clock To White House.
Comcast Announces Pilot To Give Internet To Low-Income Illinois CC Students.
Orion’s First Manned Flight Pushed Back For 2023.
At Frankfurt, Automakers Emphasize Tech Developments To Stave Off Silicon Valley.
EPA Administrator McCarthy Grilled On Gold King Mine Spill.
JPL Engineers Help Mentor Robotics Teams.

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