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

Leading the News

VW Facing Growing Outrage, Mounting Legal Challenges Following Debacle.

In continuing coverage of the Volkswagen emissions debacle affecting more than 11 million vehicles worldwide, the AP  (9/28, Krisher) reports on the increasing outrage against the auto manufacturer, saying that the company will need to pay more than the $7.3 billion it has set aside for the scandal. According to the AP, experts said that the company must find a balance between appeasing regulators, ensuring customer satisfaction and minimizing cash expenses. A cheap fix could antagonize customers further by reducing performance, while a better solution, that maintains performance, could cost as much as $20 billion.

The AP  (9/28) also reports on the significant legal problems likely to face Volkswagen, noting that state and federal officials are investigating questions regarding “Who knew about the deception, when did they know it and who directed it.” According to David M. Uhlmann, former chief of the Environmental Crimes Section at the Department of Justice, “the company and any individuals involved could face criminal charges under the Clean Air Act, and for conspiracy, fraud and false statements.” William Carter, a former general counsel of the California Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement, “They’re facing a tsunami of possible state and federal enforcement actions, and a potential large number of violations — including administrative, civil and criminal.” Commenting on the investigative procedure, Gregory Linsin, a former environmental crimes prosecutor at the Justice Department, said, “If a software package such as this were intentionally designed to defeat the emissions testing, there may well be email traffic, meetings, records that would establish that intent.”

USA Today  (9/27, Phelan) reports that the act of premeditation separates the recent Volkswagen debacle from prior emissions scandals, noting, “Volkswagen set out to cheat emissions tests and sell cars that would damage human health and the environment.” In contrast, “other automakers seemed legitimately baffled and eager to address their crises.”

In an article about the growing legal backlash facing Volkswagen, the Boston Herald  (9/28) reports that Northeastern University engineering professor Yiannis Levendis “said years of cars running with ineffective emissions controls is enough to make an environmental impact.” The piece quotes Levendis saying, “The impact is we had more pollutants from those cars emitting all the time. The impact was sizable.”

EPA To Toughen Emissions Inspections After Scandal. Bloomberg News  (9/25, Plungis) reported that EPA regulators will increase the frequency of spot-checks of cars already on the read, “as part of a toughening of U.S. environmental oversight,” following the Volkswagen emissions debacle. On Friday, the agency sent a letter to auto manufacturers to inform them “emissions monitoring is being enhanced.” In a conference call speaking to reports, Christopher Grundler, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality at the EPA, said, “We are upping our game,” adding, “If EPA believes that vehicles are not compliant, we do not certify them, and they cannot be sold.”

Higher Education

College Scorecard Data Expand Understanding Of Student Debt Crisis.

Inside Higher Ed  (9/23) reports that while ED has long compiled data on student loan defaults for particular colleges’ graduates, data accompanying the department’s new College Scorecard shows that “for every borrower who defaults on a student loan, there are many more who are unable to make progress in repaying their loans and are watching their balances grow.” The new information comes as “enthusiasm is building for using loan repayment rates as a more comprehensive metric to judge colleges.”

Scorecard Excludes Many Community Colleges, Trade Schools. The Walla Walla (WA) Union-Bulletin  (9/27) reports that the new College Scorecard “failed to include 17 percent of all community colleges,” noting that ED said this was because “those colleges awarded more certificates than degrees.” ED officials said that because such certificates are widely varied, “that makes them harder to compare to traditional associate and bachelor degrees.”

The Huffington Post  (9/28) reports that the College Scorecard “leaves out a large swath of schools,” including “schools offering certificate programs and accepting federal student loan and grant dollars.” The Post singles out cosmetology schools, noting that most of them are for-profit. The Post quotes ED spokeswoman Denise Horn saying, “The data provided on the Scorecard are intended to provide prospective students with a variety of useful information about an institution to help them make informed decisions about which institutions they should attend. At launch, we focused our attention on predominantly two- and four-year degree programs. We will be exploring ways moving forward to account for shorter degree programs and to incorporate them onto the website.”

Bipartisan Coalition Is Working To Save Federal Perkins Loan Program.

The Washington Post  (9/26, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Reps. Mike Bishop and Mark Pocan introduced legislation this week to extend the Federal Perkins Loan Program for a year. Meanwhile, four members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have also “put forth a resolution supporting the continuation of the program.” The Post reports that if “Congress fails to act, colleges will lose the authority on Sept. 30 to make new Perkins loans.”

NYTimes Criticizes Education Department’s Efforts To Help Those Defrauded By Schools.

In an editorial, the New York Times  (9/27, Board, Subscription Publication) criticizes the Federal government for its “decades-long failure to curb predatory behavior by the for-profit college industry,” although it credits the Administration for taking “an important step in the right direction” by investigating Corinthian Colleges. However, the Times asserts the Education Department should do more to “make good on its promise” to forgive the Federal student loans of “those who could prove that the company had defrauded them.” According to the Times, the “abundant evidence” makes it “perplexing that the federal government has not promptly granted loan forgiveness for at least some of the people with complaints involving fraud.”

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Research and Development

University Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Cutting Ribbon On New Research Center.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel  (9/28, Herzog) reports that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is opening its new Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, an $80 million facility that marks the school’s “aspirations to raise its national research profile.” Officials hope the facility will allow students and faculty in STEM disciplines to “compete for larger national science grants.”

Nvidia Teaming With University Of Wyoming To Replace Yellowstone Supercomputer.

The Laramie (WY) Boomerang  (9/28) reports that computer hardware firm Nvidia is partnering with the University of Wyoming to replace the National Center for Atmospheric Research-Wyoming Supercomputing Center’s Yellowstone supercomputer. Noting that the computer is the 50th fastest in the world, the article reports that the “3-year-old computer is nearing the end of its life.” The AP  (9/28, Mast) also covers this story.

Pitt Researchers Develop Biomedical Putty With NIH Funding.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (9/28, Boselovic) reports a new putty for 3-D printers developed by Pitt scientists “could replace the metal screws, pins and plates used to repair fractured bones. Unlike those metal parts, which can cause infections, arthritis and other problems and either remain in a patient’s body for life or require another procedure to remove them, the putty will gradually — and safely — dissolve as the bone heals.” The putty was developed with funding from a $1.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, among others.

University Of Florida Researchers Develop 3-D Printing For Soft Structures.

The Washington Post  (9/25, Svrluga) reports that University of Florida researchers have “developed a way to print soft, delicate, detailed structures from a 3D printer, an advance that is already helping neurosurgeons and cancer researchers.” Key to the development is “a substance almost identical to common hand sanitizer, minus the alcohol and perfume,” the Post reports.

Northrop Grumman Wins $8.5 Million Air Force Research Contract.

In a blog post, ExecutiveBiz  (9/25, Edwards) reports that Northrop Grumman has won a contract valued at $8.5 million over four years for “research and development work for the US Air Force’s Advanced Staring Infrared Search and Track Technologies program.” The contract will run until 2019.

Washington Technology  (9/25) also covers the story.

Boeing Establishes South Carolina Research Center.

The Charleston (SC) Regional Business Journal  (9/28) reported Boeing last week opened a new 104,000-square-foot Research & Technology Center in South Carolina, providing a new home for hundreds of scientists and engineers. The estimated 400 employees “will research and develop advanced manufacturing technologies with a focus on composite fuselage and propulsion systems production,” the Business Journal explains. The facility will help Boeing “apply new technology and solutions to our products across the entire company faster and more efficiently than ever before,” said Lane Ballard, the center’s leader. Topix  (9/28) also reports.

Boeing’s Largest Training Facility In Miami Profiled. The Miami Herald  (9/28) reports on Boeing’s largest flight training facility located in Miami. The company decided in 2013 to make the campus next to Miami International Airport its main training facility, which was formerly in Seattle, and since has invested $100 million to double the center’s size to 134,000 square feet and install new flight simulators and support. The center trains about 4,500 students per year, from international airlines to military pilots, on 24 simulators for a variety of aircraft including the 787, 747, 737 Next Generation, 757, 767, 777 and 717.


John Deere Tech Program Offers Job Training.

The Mattoon (IL) Journal Gazette & Times Courier  (9/26, Stroud) reported studies by Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana “found that U.S. college agriculture programs are only producing enough graduates to fill two-thirds of the available ag-related jobs in the nation.” John Althaus, division chair for agriculture at Lake Land College in Mattoon, Illinois, “said there is consequently an increased demand for skilled employees to work in plant breeding, technology-aided precision agriculture, and other ag-related business and research.” The article mentioned the John Deere Tech Program allows college students to “earn a salary while learning about John Deere equipment and servicing procedures at participating dealerships.”

Industry News

Facebook Sees Next Year For First Test Flight For Aquila Drone.

The International Business Times  (9/25) reports Facebook plans for its massive Aquila drone, which has the ability to project a “50-mile-wide cone of connectivity,” to have its first test flight next year, according to the company’s top engineer, Jay Parikh. The drone, which has a wingspan larger than a Being 737 but the weight of a small car, “will fly at altitudes of up to 90,000 feet for three months at a time” and project its network via laser to unconnected parts of the world. Parikh said Facebook is consulting with regulatory bodies about regulations for flying such a device.

Engineering and Public Policy

California Reinstates Requirement For 10% Carbon Fuel Cut By 2020.

The Wall Street Journal  (9/26, Lazo, Subscription Publication) reports that regulators with the California Air Resources Board voted unanimously to retain a rule that would require a 10 percent cut on the carbon content of gasoline by the year 2020. California was the first in the nation to implement a low-carbon fuel standard, which has been frozen since 2013.

The AP  (9/26, Lin) reports that the ruling “further strengthen[s] California’s toughest-in-the-nation carbon emissions standards, but oil producers warn the changes could drive up costs for consumers at the gas pump.” Regulators say commuter costs will go up an additional $20 to $24 in 2017 and $52 to $56 by 2020. Environmentalists have also stated the regulation “will encourage greater use of cleaner biofuels and electric vehicles.”

GOP Lawmakers: Obama Needs Congress’ Approval To Surrender US Control Of Internet.

In his Wall Street Journal  (9/28, Subscription Publication) column, L. Gordon Crovitz says that in a letter last week to the Government Accountability Office, Sen. Ted Cruz joined Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, respectively chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary committees, in arguing that under the Constitution, President Obama does not have the power to surrender US control of the commercial Internet, which – since its inception – has operated under a contract from the US Commerce Department. In the missive, the GOP lawmakers pointed to a requirement in the Constitution that stipulates only Congress is permitted to “dispose” of federal property.

Xcel Completes First MN Community Solar Garden.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune  (9/25, Shaffer) reported that Xcel Energy has completed its first community solar farm in Minnesota, with utility officials holding an open house at Vetter Farms, “where 96 ground-mounted solar panels now offset electricity used on the farm and by nearby homes.” The Star Tribune notes that regulatory disputes over the program continue under a 2013 state law, and notes, “Nearly 1,300 other community solar garden applications remain in the pipeline,” with 100 having cleared the engineering stage. Noting the slow progress of the installation of the farm, Brian Vetter, president of the family operation, said, “I don’t want to make it sour grapes, but in my mind they did a lot of foot dragging.” Laura McCarten, a regional vice president at Xcel, responded, saying, “As a new program there was a learning curve for Xcel Energy and the developers,” adding, “I think we have come a long way, all of us.”

Utah Technology And Engineering Teacher Wins Awards.

The Deseret (UT) News  (9/24) reports Layton, Utah high school technology and engineering teacher Tim Feltner “was honored by the Utah Air Force Association for his teaching methods.” Feltner “is the association’s regional and Utah Teacher of the Year. He was presented the awards earlier this month. He is now eligible for the national award.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

White House Honors Teenage Computer Coder.

The Washington Post  (9/28, Shapiro) reports that earlier this month, Swetha Prabakaran “was honored at the White House as one of 11 young women named ‘champions of change,’ for her work as the founder of Everybody Code Now!,” a nonprofit that encourages students in 12 states and several foreign nations to learn to code. Swetha “beat out 1,000 other nominees and was one of two 15-year-olds celebrated at a recent ceremony.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

Volkswagen Expected To Name New CEO Amid Widening Controversy.
GAO Report: More Needs To Be Done To Promote Student Loan Relief.
NRC Grants Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College $500,000 To Promote Radiation Protection.
Bombardier Expects CSeries Certification To Be Completed By November.
UAVs May Need NASA-Like Agency For Regulations.
Middle School Girls Learn About Careers In Engineering Through Alabama Power iCan Program.

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