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

Leading the News

Federal And State Officials Celebrate Approval Of FEIS For Southeast High-Speed Rail.

In ongoing coverage, The Hill  (9/19, Laing) reports on the Transportation Department’s decision to give the “proposed high-speed railway between Richmond, Va. and Raleigh, N.C.” the all clear by signing off on the environmental impact statement. The R2R project would “cut the time of a train trip between the Virginia and North Carolina capitals from three-and-a-half to two hours,” but the project lacks funding at the moment. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that the R2R line is essential lest growth in the Southeast be “choked by congestion for a very long time…and I urge everyone involved to continue pushing this effort forward.” Likewise, Acting FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg commented that “this critical project” will “improve safety and reliability” in “one of the fastest growing areas of the country,” as well as further encouraging economic development.

The AP  (9/19) reports from Raleigh that Friday’s announcement builds into “the effort to allow faster trains from Atlanta to the District of Columbia,” as the rail plans would do away with “every level-grade rail crossing along the line” by “closing some and building dozens of bridges to carry automobiles over or under the tracks.”

Mass Transit Magazine  (9/19) reports that Foxx called high-speed rail in the Southeast “not a luxury but a necessity.” Also, this past July, Foxx promised $1 million in Federal investment in the development of “a regional long-term vision for the corridor” and to “engage states and stakeholders to help the region form a governance organization that can sustain planning efforts and implement the vision.”

The Civil & Structural Engineer Magazine  (9/18) also reported from its website.

VR Devices Might Not Live Up To Hype.

Jason DeMers writes for TechCrunch  (9/20) that while “techies of all varieties constantly look forward to the next great revolution,” and for video gamers, “that revolution promises to be virtual reality.” However, he questions whether the final products will match the “lofty expectations” raised by “so much hype.”

However, UberGizmo  (9/18, Lee) reported that Juniper Research expects there to be “as many as 30 million virtual reality headsets” shipped by 2020, and that those hardware sales will top $4 billion. UberGizmo noted that Juniper’s report believes that the VR will be mainly used for videogames, though it will also have industrial and medical applications.

New Optical Mining Technique Could Access Large Amounts Of Asteroid Water.

In his column for SPACE  (9/18), Leonard David wrote that during a session at AIAA Space 2015, a “special” NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) session described “a possible game changer for space exploration” known as the Asteroid Provided In-Situ Supplies (Apis). The NIAC program funded the work, which could lead to an optical mining technique that could access “huge amounts of asteroid water.” Apis principal investigator Joel Sercel, founder and principal engineer at ICS Associates Inc. and TransAstra, said that the technology fits into NASA’s Evolvable Mars Campaign by providing the resources all of its missions would need. According to David, the Apis project uses “thin-film inflatable structures stemming from work on NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM),” although the exact use is different.

Sputnik News  (9/18) also covered the story, citing SPACE.

Higher Education

Duncan Wraps Up Bus Tour With STEM Event At Carnegie Mellon.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (9/18, Niederberger) reports that Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Carnegie Mellon University for the last stop of his annual back-to-school bus tour, where he “said Pennsylvania won’t be alone in seeing lower standardized test scores after aligning its tests with core standards, and that the lower scores don’t mean students aren’t smart.” The piece quotes Duncan saying, “Obviously, students aren’t going to be less smart than they were six months ago or a year ago. In far too many states, including Pennsylvania, politicians dummied down standards to make themselves look good.” The piece notes that ED recently gave Pennsylvania permission to delay tying teacher evaluations to student assessments, and said “the one-year pause, which has been granted to other states as well, gives time to set a new baseline for test scores.”

WESA-FM  Pittsburgh (9/21) runs a brief online report about Duncan’s stop in Pittsburgh, noting that he “held a rally this afternoon for students at Barack Obama Academy of International Studies in East Liberty and appeared at Carnegie Mellon University to discuss college access and STEM education.” The New Pittsburgh Courier  (9/18) reports that Duncan was scheduled to take part in a “college access rally and town hall highlighting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education” at Carnegie Mellon.

Duncan Praises Carnegie Mellon’s Women In Robotics Program. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review  (9/21) reports Duncan praised the Women at SCS program at Carnegie Mellon, in which women in the School of Computer Science “visit local schools to talk about robotics and computer science” and encourage girls to study STEM subjects. Duncan, “impressed” by the group, said, “It is a world-class university. It could be an ivory tower. They are reaching out. They are reaching out to the community.”

Editorial: Congress Must Address For-Profit College Abuses.

An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch  (9/21) describes how workers laid off during the Great Recession turned in large numbers to the for-profit college sector in an effort to improve their employment prospects, noting that such schools “marketed themselves heavily, especially targeting low-income students who could tap federal student loans.” The piece says this “predictably” led to high numbers of defaults, and cites ED data showing “that in many careers a diploma from a for-profit college will get you a lower salary than a high-school dropout in the same field.” The piece calls on Congress to rein in the for-profit sector.

New America Foundation Praises College Scorecard.

In commentary for the Chronicle of Higher Education  (9/21), Amy Laitinen, deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation, writes about the difficulties faced by families as they prepare to make college attendance decisions without reliable and relatable data. She writes that ED’s new College Scorecard is a “huge” improvement, but concedes that there are still gaps in the knowledge that families will have. She explores a number of roadblocks to providing more comprehensive data, and concludes that ED “has now done everything it can do — and much more than many of us expected.”

University Admissions Director Says Community College Is A Smart Way To Save Money.

University of Louisville admissions director Jenny Sawyer explained in a Washington Post  (9/18, Anderson) article that four years at a four-year university is not worth it for everyone. Sawyer she recommends many students start out at community college before transferring in order to save money because college is so expensive. Sawyer says that poor students are unlikely to take advantage of all the services the college has to offer if they are working while attending school, so paying for all of them with full-tuition does not make sense.

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Research and Development

Nevada’s Desert Research Institute Honors Drone Researcher.

The AP  (9/21) reports that Nevada’s Desert Research Institute has given its coveted Nevada Medal to Mary “Missy” Cummings, “a former military pilot and pioneer in the research of drones who was told a decade ago she was wasting her time studying unmanned aerial systems.” Cummings is also “an associate professor of engineering at Duke University and director of the school’s Humans and Autonomy Lab.”

Industry News

Volkswagen Shares Drop More Than 20% After The Automaker Admits Cheating On US Emissions Tests.

Late last week it was reported that researchers had detected a discrepancy between their testing of some Volkswagen diesel-fueled cars and the cars’ official EPA emissions data. Bloomberg News  (9/19, Plungis) reported that, according to the EPA, Volkswagen “admitted it sold 2009-2015 diesel Volkswagen and Audi cars with software that turns on full pollution controls only when the car is undergoing official emissions testing.” On Bloomberg TV this morning, it was reported that diesel-powered models accounted for 26% of VW’s US sales in July.

Reuters  published a report on Friday titled, “Volkswagen Faces $18 Billion Probe From EPA.” The widely reported $18 billion figure is arrived at by multiplying the $37,500 per car fine that VW could face by the approximately 480,000 cars in question. However, most analysts say any potential fine will likely fall far short of $18 billion.

In Frankfurt trading on Monday morning, VW shares dropped by as much as 22.72%. VW shares were trading at €126.40 at 10:55 AM Central European Time (4:55 AM EST), which was more than 50% off their closing price on March 16 of this year, €255.20. The Wall Street Journal  (9/21, Boston, Harder, Spector, Subscription Publication) notes that even before Monday’s plunge, VW shares had lost 37% of their value since March.

As do many other outlets, Bloomberg News  (9/21, Weiss) reports that “criminal prosecution is also possible.” Commerzbank analyst Sascha Gommel is quoted as saying: “If this ends up having been structural fraud, the top management in Wolfsburg may have to bear the consequences.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Pentagon Invests In Renewable Energy Projects.

The Washington Post  (9/19, Warrick) reports that the Navy is investing in a number of solar projects as “part of a military-wide renewable-energy binge,” which has been “gaining intensity in recent months.” Across the country, Pentagon officials are joining in partnership with “local utilities for huge solar and wind ventures inside military bases or on land nearby.” The move is part of an effort by the military to become energy self-sufficient “at a time when traditional electric grids are under the threat of cyberattacks.”

Crown Hydro Seeks To Build New Hydroelectric Project.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (9/19, Brandt) reported that Crown Hydro is looking to build a hydroelectric powerhouse in a complex in St. Anthony Falls currently owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which it was granted a license for in 1999 but never used. Two prior hydroelectric proposals “fizzled,” and the current proposal involves tunneling “underground past the Stone Arch Bridge to release water downstream.” Residents, park and city officials, however, have told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “that they think the firm should be required to obtain an entirely new license” because the proposal is “‘essentially a different project’ that needs new engineering and environmental analysis.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

New Alabama Standards Require Climate Change, Evolution Instruction.

The Washington Post  (9/18, Layton) reports that the GOP-controlled board of education in Alabama approved new standards for K-12 schools, which will require students to learn about climate change and evolution. The new standards will also emphasize “learning by doing, as opposed to reading and memorizing.” The Post notes that the new standards were passed with little controversy. This was in part because students are expected to know this curriculum for college and additionally, the standards committee is now a large committee, which includes subject matter experts and university professors.

Eastern Nebraska Schools Using Drones For Many Purposes.

The AP  (9/19) reports schools in eastern Nebraska are using drones for many purposes. Educational Service Unit 3, a “political subdivision that provides technology support to 18 eastern Nebraska school districts”, purchased 25 drones, which are lent to schools to record football practices, teach students about programming, and to monitor the progress of construction projects.

Florida School District Opens New STEAM Magnet School.

The Pasco (FL) Tribune  (9/20, Fox) reports Sanders Memorial Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, Florida reopened this year after $24 million in renovations changed the school that closed in 2010 into a STEAM magnet school. The article shares the story of fifth-grader Jayden Otero who has already created a website and a video game after just a few weeks of school. Principal Jason Petry says the school’s architecture and teaching style represents “21st century learning.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

Scientists At Berkeley Labs Invent Tiny Invisibility Cloak.
GAO: Government Needs To Improve Awareness Of Student Loan Payment Plans.
PrecisionHawk, Kansas State University Partner To Develop UAS App.
General Motors To Pay US $900 Million To Settle Ignition Switch Defect Case.
North Dakota To Help NASA Develop UAS Traffic Management System.
MIT President Reaches Out To Ahmed Mohamed.

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