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

Leading the News

Volkswagen Expected To Name New CEO Amid Widening Controversy.

The New York Times  (9/25, Ewing, Eddy, Subscription Publication) reports that Volkswagen is expected to name a new CEO on Friday to replace Martin Winterkorn, who resigned on Wednesday “in the face of a widening emissions scandal that has engulfed the automaker.” According to the Times, a leading candidate to replace Winterkorn is Matthias Müller, “who is in charge of the division of Volkswagen that makes Porsche sports cars, according to people close to the company’s supervisory board, which meets on Friday.”

USA Today  (9/25, Bomey) reports that Mueller “would take on the immense challenge of addressing the fallout of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, which has severely damaged the automaker’s finances and reputation,” and that his “ascension comes several months after Volkswagen’s then-chairman, Ferdinand Piech, waged a campaign to install Mueller as Winterkorn’s replacement.” That effort failed, and Pieche “then exited the company’s board,” but “his family still controls a majority of Volkswagen shares.” The Wall Street Journal  (9/25, Boston, Varnholt, Kopplin, Subscription Publication) reports that Volkswagen is also demanding the resignations of several top engineers in an effort to deal with the scandal over emissions cheating that has spread from the US to Europe over the last few days.

AFP  (9/25) reports that a Justice Department spokesman said on Thursday that the department “was taking the allegations against the German automaker Volkswagen ‘very seriously,’ highlighting the potential health implications of the emissions test cheating scandal. ‘The Department of Justice is working closely with the EPA in the investigation into these allegations,’ a department spokesman said. ‘We take these allegations, and their potential implications for public health and air pollution in the United States, very seriously.’”

The New York Times  (9/25, Henning, Subscription Publication) examines “what types of proceedings Volkswagen is likely to face and how far up the corporate ladder prosecutors can go in seeking to hold individuals accountable.” The EPA “can impose civil penalties on an automaker of up to $37,500 for every vehicle for violations of the Clean Air Act,” but “can impose only a civil penalty, but the Justice Department can seek criminal punishment based on the same conduct.” The Justice Department “is not limited to environmental violations in its investigation.” Bloomberg News reported “that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s office in Detroit is handling the criminal inquiry, which means that other avenues for pursuing charges will be considered.”

West Virginia Engineering Students Exposed Deception. NBC Nightly News (9/24, story 7, 1:55, Holt) reported that “the world may never have learned of Volkswagen’s deception if it weren’t for a team of researchers who blew the lid off.” NBC (Shamlian) added that “at a small lab at West Virginia University, a team of just five engineering students and teachers led by Dan Carder…discovered the emissions cheating that will cost Volkswagen billions and could threaten its very survival.” NBC added that “automakers are racing to distance themselves from Volkswagen, including Mercedes and BMW, which issued this statement. ‘The BMW group does not manipulate or rig any emissions tests,’” and “dealerships across the country are being inundated with calls from owners of the affected cars.”

Higher Education

GAO Report: More Needs To Be Done To Promote Student Loan Relief.

The Street  (9/25) reports that a Government Accountability Office report found that ED’s efforts to promote solutions for struggling student loan consumers “didn’t adequately address problems of borrowers who are in the dark about their options once they find that they can’t afford to pay back their loans.” The piece quotes Education Secretary Arne Duncan saying recently, “We won’t stop fighting to help people who are struggling to pay back their student loan debt. But the fact that more borrowers are taking advantage of the opportunity to cap their monthly payments is a good sign.” However, the GAO report found that “not enough people are in the programs.”

Denver Campaign Would Launch New Sales Tax To Provide Scholarships.

The Denver Post  (9/25, Murray) reports on a ballot initiative in Denver to enact “a proposed new sales tax to help Denver students pay for college,” noting that Mayor Michael Hancock and other dignitaries “laid out the economic case for the small tax, amounting to 8 cents on a $100 purchase.” The piece notes that the “‘College Matters’ proposal faces skepticism from some elected officials, pundits and voters who see it as expanding the city’s mission too far into education.”

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Research and Development

NRC Grants Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College $500,000 To Promote Radiation Protection.

The Orangeburg (SC) Times And Democrat  (9/25, Linder-Altman) reports on grants to Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College students, which totaled nearly $1 million in early September. The NRC awarded the college $269,000 on top of a previous $231,000 award to “attract students to electronics engineering with an emphasis on radiation protection,” and to “establish a summer radiation protection program at OCtech to attract students into the field of energy.” The article notes OCtech intends to help fund internships with organizations including “Westinghouse, the Savannah River Site and SCE&G.”

Companies Explore Innovative Sources Of BioFuel For Transportation Vehicles.

CNBC  (9/24, Frangoul) reports on the use of biofuels to fuel airplanes. The first plane to fly on “unblended biofuel” was in 2012 by the National Research Council of Canada. According to Steve Fabijanski, CEO of Agrisoma, a company which produces fuel from oilseed crops, said the biofuel is unique and behaves, “identically to petroleum.” CNBC notes that biofuels are becoming increasingly important, with the IEA stating that biofuels “could provide 27 percent of the world’s transportation fuel by 2050.”

Industry News

Bombardier Expects CSeries Certification To Be Completed By November.

Reuters  (9/25, Shalal, Lampert) reports that sources say that Bombardier Inc anticipates that its new CSeries narrow-body commercial jet will complete its certification testings by the end of November. Although Bombardier declined to confirm the report, the article notes the company does expect certification for the jet to be completed by the end of the year and for it to enter into service by June 2016.

Lockheed Martin Awarded $120 Million Submarine Imaging Contract.

GovCon Wire  (9/24, Clemens) reports that Lockheed Martin has won a $120 million contract modification from the US Navy to “engineer and test” the US Navy submarine imaging system. The option will run until 2016 and will include “work to design, refresh, reverse engineer, assess and develop the AN/BVY-1 system.”

Zacks Equity Research  (9/24) and Washington Technology  (9/24) also cover the story.

Engineering and Public Policy

UAVs May Need NASA-Like Agency For Regulations.

MarketWatch  (9/24, French) looks at the different ways people view two new robotic technologies, UAVs and self-driving cars, noting that UAVs have “an image problem.” University of Washington robotics professor Ryan Calo sees the solution to overcoming the misunderstandings that have hampered commercial UAV regulation is to create a NASA-like agency for the robotics sector. Having summits on managing air traffic control for UAVs can work occasionally but is not a permanent strategy, Calo said, adding that “NASA can’t devote its time to looking at other agencies’ technology. They need to put robots on Mars.” Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University, does not want a new agency and argues that existing laws are capable of handling safety, privacy, and liability issues. Brendan Schulman, DJI’s vice president of policy and legal affairs, supports an agency but wants the government to distinguish small and light UAVs from larger ones.

New EPA Climate Rules Said To Spur Emissions Markets.

Bloomberg News  (9/25, Nussbaum) reports that a number of states across the country are considering allowing companies the right trade greenhouse gas emission permits, “spurred on by the Obama administration’s new climate change rules.” In an interview Thursday at conference on pollution trading, Dirk Forrister, president of the International Emissions Trading Association, said that dozens of states are engaging in discussions on creating an emissions trading system that would mitigate climate change. The new carbon pollution standards, Forrister said, “have really given states a lot of new options to consider.” In a statement, Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and a former EPA deputy administrator, said, “What they’ve done here is provide a lot of pathways to have flexibility to move credits and allowances across state lines.”

Indonesia Pledges To Reduce GHG Emissions.

The AP  (9/24, 8:56 a.m. EDT) reports that Indonesia, the fourth largest country in the world, has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, compared to the business-as-usual scenario, by 29 percent by 2030, “and strengthen the protection of its forests and boost the production of renewable energy.” The country says it would reduce the target further to 41 percent with international support.

Clinton Calls For Power Grid Upgrades To Reduce Energy Costs, Repel Cyberattacks.

The Hill  (9/25, Williams) reports Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is calling for power grid upgrades that “reduce energy costs and increase consumer choice,” plus increase cybersecurity. A “sweeping” energy infrastructure policy statement released Wednesday calls for the creation of a new presidential team that would “coordinate threat assessment and response efforts between federal agencies and the power industry.” The plan also calls for increases the digital defenses of “clean energy” technology as part of an overall strategy of grid modernization. Her plan comes amid “growing concerns about power grid vulnerability.” Federal documents accessed through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that hackers have infiltrated the Department of Energy’s computer system over 150 times between 2010 and 2014. DHS has moved to boost grid defenses, in August announcing the creation of a new committee tasked with identifying how well the department’s “lifeline sectors” are prepared to meet threats and recover from a “significant cyber event.”

Shell, Others To Advise Governments On Clean Energy Decisions.

Reuters  (9/25, Schaps) reported that representatives from Shell, Statoil and other energy companies have joined to form the Energy Transitions Commission. Members of the commission, including Shell Chairman Chad Holliday, will advise governments on making clean energy decisions by providing research and encouraging debate. The formal launch of the commission will be Monday at a Texas event.

The Financial Times  (9/25, Clark, Subscription Publication) adds that the group will advise governments on mitigating climate change without weakening their economies.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Middle School Girls Learn About Careers In Engineering Through Alabama Power iCan Program.

The Tuscaloosa (AL) News  (9/25, Coker) reports that 16 students from Davis-Emerson Middle School in Tuscaloosa recently participated in the “Alabama Power iCan program,” where girls have the opportunity to learn about engineering and receive mentoring from female Alabama Power employees. Alabama Power spokesperson Anna Catherine Roberson explained that the goal of the program “is to introduce middle-school girls to careers in a STEM field.” Roberson added, “Our mission statement for iCan is empowering young female minds of today to engineer a better world for tomorrow.” The article mentions that Alabama Power also holds the iCan program “at schools in Gadsden, Anniston and Birmingham.” The AP  (9/25, Coker) also carries coverage of the story from the Tuscaloosa News.

Philadelphia Has Five Career And Technical Education High Schools.

In an almost 2,000 word article, The Atlantic  (9/25, White) reports that five high schools in Philadelphia have been designed to focus on career and technical education rather than preparing students for college. All students are required to participate in career and technical education programs at the city’s five Career and Technical Education High Schools, but the district also offers 111 such programs at 28 other high schools. At Randolph Technical High School “students are just as likely to be founding working dental X-ray machines or learning how to sauté vegetables as they are to be sitting at a desk, learning about math or history.” The purpose of the schools is to graduate students who have job options available because of the skills they learn from the programs.

NSF Awards $1.4 Million Grant To Lewis University To Train More STEM Teachers.

The AP  (9/25) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $1.4 million grant to Lewis University to fund a program that will “help recruit and prepare future math and science teachers.” The program funds 36 scholarships for undergraduates with STEM majors who train to become math and science teachers.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Boeing Takes Heat From Unions For Moving 737 Work To China.
OCR Finds No Anti-Asian Discrimination At Princeton.
University Of Michigan Plans To Build Nuclear Engineering Laboratory.
SHAPE Program To Develop New Manufacturing Process For Aerospace Components.
SpaceLS Hopes To Compete With Private Launch Firms With Prometheus 1.
Amyris Receives $34.2 Million Bioengineering Infrastructure Contract.
Opinion: STEM Education Complements Other Subjects.

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