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

Leading the News

Shell Halts Efforts To Find Oil, Gas In Arctic.

In news that drew heavy media coverage, Royal Dutch Shell announced on Monday that it is ending its exploration for oil in Arctic waters near Alaska for the near future after disappointing findings from a test well. The move is being broadly cast as a judgment on the viability of drilling in the American Arctic, as well as a win for green groups. ABC World News (9/28, story 8, 0:20, Muir) referred to a “major reversal” by Shell. Shell’s “decision to drill in Alaska was controversial in part because of environmental concerns. Tonight, many environmentalists declaring victory.” NBC Nightly News (9/28, story 8, 0:35, Holt) reported that their Cynthia McFadden “toured Alaska with Shell’s North America president four weeks ago. At the time, he was cautiously optimistic about the operation. Today, he said the news was disappointing. Shell won approval to drill from the Obama Administration in mid-August for the first time in 24 years. It was a move fiercely fought by environmentalists and some of the locals.”

The New York Times  (9/29, A1, Krauss, Reed, Subscription Publication) reports that the decision “came after the Burger J well, which the company drilled this summer, produced disappointing results.” Shell said the well had “found indications of oil and gas, but these are not sufficient to warrant further exploration” of the Burger prospect, a “geological structure.”

The AP  (9/29, Joling, Fahey) reports that Shell “spent more than $7 billion on the effort” and required the company to work through a “regulatory gauntlet” and fight green groups. The Wall Street Journal  (9/28, Kent, Walker, Subscription Publication) similarly says that Shell faces strong opposition from environmental groups and headwinds from falling oil prices.

McClatchy  (9/28, Cockerham) reports that the move “casts doubt on the future of offshore oil exploration in the American Arctic,” as industry players globally were “closely watching Shell’s pioneering efforts to see whether drilling would succeed in the remote and harsh environment off the northern coast of Alaska.” McClatchy says the result of the exploration was a “disaster” that incurred “a loss of billions of dollars.”

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (9/29, Subscription Publication) notes that Shell cited not just the weak results from drilling, but also the unpredictable federal regulatory environment in the region. The Journal adds that Shell’s effort wasn’t about the price of oil today, but about establishing a solid foundation a decade from now, and hopes that the next president will be friendlier to Arctic exploration.

Oil Prices Remain Low. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal  (9/29, Friedman, Subscription Publication) reports that despite the emergence of a decline in US oil production, prices have remained stubbornly low. Despite federal data showing the production drop last month, oil prices have fallen 9.7 percent over the course of this month. A big contributor is that even if market demand starts to outstrip supply, inventories remain huge.

Higher Education

Treasury’s Raskin Calls For More Accountability In Student Loan Market.

The Washington Post  (9/29, Douglas-Gabriel) reports Treasury Deputy Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin “said it is time for student loan servicers … to take responsibility for people falling behind or defaulting on their loans.” In a speech Monday at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling conference, Raskin “pressed the need for market-wide servicing standards to help borrowers navigate the student loan system. Too many people, she said, are unaware of repayment options or fight to get consistent information and help.” Raskin stated: “Student loan servicers may not be acting as the beacons we need them to be. We need to see increased enrollment in income-driven repayment plans, high touch servicing, and counseling that helps borrowers understand their options and sets them on a more secure financial path.” The piece notes her remarks come as “Treasury and other federal agencies carry out President Obama’s plan to overhaul the way Americans repay their student loans.”

Coalition Of Colleges To Create Simplified Application, Online Planning Tool.

The New York Times  (9/29, A17, Pérez-Peña, Subscription Publication) reports that on Monday a coalition of over 80 schools pledged to design a simplified college application and an online tool for college planning to help disadvantaged students. The tools will be introduced in 2016, and will “give students a place to store schoolwork, get advice, and collect information on colleges and financial aid and link it to the new application.” The Times notes this would not replace the Common Application or other simplified applications currently in circulation.

The Washington Post  (9/29, Anderson) adds that the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success is comprised of “the most selective colleges and universities,” providing a list of its members. The article highlights the stress and extensive process involved in college applications. The Post says this concept arose as the Common Application “was plagued with technical glitches” in 2013.

College Abacus Releases New Tool To Help Low-Income Students Pick Best College.

Inside Higher Ed  (9/28) reports “College Abacus is a free online tool for students and families to compare college pricing.” The ED used the tool and others like it to help release the White House’s College Scorecard earlier this month. The online tool will release a new feature for low-income students to compare “average loan payments for Pell Grant recipients, the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants, and the average monthly income percentage spent on federal loan repayments after college” among different colleges.

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Research and Development

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. The article quotes Angel Abbud-Madrid, director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines, saying, “After many years of dead-end investigations trying unsuccessfully to adapt terrestrial mining techniques to extract resources from asteroids in the future, we are excited to finally participate in the development of what we consider the most feasible and effective technique to recover valuable volatile elements, such as space propellants, from asteroids.”

Delaware State Opens New Research Center To Increase STEM Opportunities At College.

WHYY-FM  Philadelphia (9/28, Wolfman-Arent) reports Delaware State opened its new Optical Science Center for Applied Research using a laser instead of scissors at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. The university hopes the new center will make it a “regional heavyweight” in STEM fields because optics combine many different STEM fields. The new building also has space reserved for start-ups and other businesses.

University Of Wisconsin Opens New $80 Million Research Center.

The AP  (9/29) reports the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is scheduled to open the Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex, a five-story $80 million research center. The university wants to use the new facility to compete for larger national science grants.


Gender Employment Gap Widened In Cyber Security Field.

Reuters  (9/28, Finkle) reports the gender employment gap in cyber security has increased over the past two years. The ISC2, a cyber security industry group, found that the number of women employed in cyber security fell from 11% to 10% from 2013 to 2015.

Industry News

Johns Hopkins Hackathon Results In Production Of Ebola Suit.

The Washington Post  (9/29, Svrluga) reports that Johns Hopkins University held a recent hackathon at which “everyone from freshmen to robotics experts to a wedding-dress maker” collaborated to devise a protective suit for workers in Ebola infection zones. DuPont will manufacture a version of the resultant design, which will be on the market next year.

Engineering and Public Policy

Rail Industry Not Expecting To Meet Year-End Safety Technology Deadline.

The New York Times  (9/29, Nixon, Subscription Publication) reports that despite spending “nearly $6 billion,” the US rail industry says that it won’t meet “its year-end, government-imposed deadline to install” positive train control, which is designed to prevent “collisions or derailments caused by excessive speed.” If the technology is not in place by December 31, the “result could be a massive disruption in the nation’s rail service.” Congress hasn’t passed an extension, and “with a crowded agenda, it is unclear when lawmakers will take up the matter.”

EPA Considers Ozone Standard Under Pressure From Industry, Green Groups.

The Washington Examiner  (9/29, Barone) reports on environmental groups’ disapproval of rumored Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that would lower the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion (ppb) to 70 ppb instead of a standard closer to 60 ppb. Earthjustice managing attorney David Baron said that setting the standard at 70 ppb “would be nothing short of a betrayal of the Clean Air Act’s promise of healthy air,” while others pointed to health risks from leaving the smog standard as high as 70 ppb. Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute’s Howard Feldman asserted nearly half of the US couldn’t comply with a standard of 68 ppb. “The National Ambient Air Quality Standards are scheduled to be made public by Oct. 1,” the Examiner adds.

Big Utilities Enter Market For Small Rooftop Solar.

The AP  (9/29) reports that “traditional power companies” have been expanding into the rooftop solar market, a move which comes “comes as utilities and smaller solar installers fight over the future of the U.S. energy system.” Among other examples, the AP notes that since July, Georgia Power has been “helping customers interested in solar energy analyze their electricity usage,” and through its website, the company “refers customers to multiple installers, including one run by an unregulated wing of Georgia Power itself.” According to the article, “Regulators will be watching to see if Georgia Power uses the advantages of its monopoly electric business – for example, customer databases, advertising budgets or staff – to subsidize its commercial solar venture,” though “so far, no formal complaints have been filed.”

New Technology Could Save Millions In Energy Savings, Federal Researchers Say.

The Kansas City (MO) Star  (9/29, Hack) reports on the Q-Sync Smart Synchronous Motor, an “emerging energy-saving technology” developed by the Department of Energy to help run the evaporation fans that keep food cool. Kansas City inventor Joe Flynn and his colleagues invented this new electric motor at QM Motor, and federal researchers believe it “could save half a billion dollars in energy costs every year.” QM Power’s next big challenge is to persuade grocers and their vendors to make the switch to the new technology. The company is currently “working with utilities to make sure their customers know about rebates and other energy-conservation incentives that will help them pay for the Q-Sync.” According to Bobby Castaneda of CLEAResult, a contractor with Kansas City Power & Light, the utility was “always looking for new technologies that can reduce the load on the electric grid. QM has been assertive in demonstrating its technology works – offering proof, and not just theory or sales talk.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Dallas District Will Open First All-Girls STEAM School.

WFAA-TV  Dallas (9/28, Fernandez) reports the Dallas Independent School District will open the first all-girls STEAM school in August 2016. The school will be located at the former Bonham Elementary, which shut down three years ago, but the facilities remain in good condition. Mike Kaprowski, the chief of the district’s Office of Transformation and Innovation said, “We know that young girls are often facing false stereotypes about what they can and cannot do in math and science. So this school is about busting those stereotypes and showing that all kids can be great.”

NSF Awards $2 Million Grant To Research Effect Of Minecraft On Interest In STEM Careers

. The Bangor (ME) Daily News  (9/29, McCrea) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $2 million grant to researchers at the University of Maine who will study how playing Minecraft affects children’s interest in STEM careers. The researchers will create a program that can teach students how to program using Minecraft and then study its effectiveness and whether students are more interested in pursuing STEM careers. Minecraft is an “open-world game in which the player mines blocks of materials used to craft items and build structures.”

Council Of Chief State School Officers Announce Career Readiness Initiative To Improve Career And Technical Education.

Education Week  (9/29, Adams) reports the Council of Chief State School Officers announced the launch of the Career Readiness Initiative on Monday that will “provide resources and coaches to states that want to review” their career and technical education, and develop plans to improve students’ job skills. School leaders from 17 states have agreed to support the initiative.

Also in the News

University Of Oklahoma Honors Water, Sanitation Engineer.

The Norman (OK) Transcript  (9/29) reports that the University of Oklahoma has given its International WaTER Prize to Peter Lochery, an “internationally renowned water and sanitation leader known for his work addressing social inequities faced by women and girls.” The prize “recognizes an individual’s work in clean water and sanitation either through teaching, research or service with emphasis on developing countries.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

VW Facing Growing Outrage, Mounting Legal Challenges Following Debacle.
College Scorecard Data Expand Understanding Of Student Debt Crisis.
University Of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Cutting Ribbon On New Research Center.
John Deere Tech Program Offers Job Training.
Facebook Sees Next Year For First Test Flight For Aquila Drone.
California Reinstates Requirement For 10% Carbon Fuel Cut By 2020.
White House Honors Teenage Computer Coder.

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