Leading the News
Volkswagen US CEO: Emissions Cheating Was Not A Broad Conspiracy.
The CBS Evening News (10/8, story 2, 2:10, Pelley) reported that Volkswagen Group of America CEO Michael Horn told Congress Thursday that “the scandal that has wiped out a third of VW’s market value was the work of individuals, was not a corporate conspiracy.” CBS (Van Cleave) added that Horn “told a skeptical House committee he only learned of his company’s deception in September, days before” the EPA revealed that “some of Volkswagen’s diesel cars used software designed to cheat on emissions tests.” Horn: “Investigations were ongoing but this was not a corporate position from my point of view. This was a couple of software engineers who put this in for whatever reason.” ABC World News (10/8, story 9, 0:30, Muir) reported that committee members asked, “How are we supposed to believe that? Volkswagen [is] saying it may take years to fix all of the vehicles.” VW is “considering compensating owners,” but has not said “if it will buy back those troubled diesel cars.”
The New York Times (10/8, Ivory, Subscription Publication) reports that while Horn “expressed remorse for the deception and even said he felt deceived by the scandal, he came under withering criticism” from members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations “for not delivering a concrete deadline for fixing most of the cars, or simply to provide more details about how the scheme was conceived and who was responsible.”
The Wall Street Journal (10/8, Spector, Harder, Subscription Publication) reports Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked Horn, “Do you really believe as good, as well run, as Volkswagen has always been reputed to be, that senior-level corporate managers and administrators had no knowledge for years and years?” Horn replied, “I agree, it’s very hard to believe.”
The Los Angeles Times (10/7, Puzzangher, Hirsch) reports that Horn could not provide the exact number of engineers that VW believes is responsible. He said both “couple” and three, then under questioning admitted he did not yet know the exact number. Nevertheless, the claim that a small number of people would be able to pull off “such a massive fraud brought immediate skepticism from lawmakers and industry experts.” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) said, “Suspending three folks — it goes way, way higher than that.” Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, added, “There are not rogue engineers who unilaterally decide to initiate the greatest vehicle emission fraud in history. They don’t act unilaterally.” International auto industry expert James Womack said it’s likely that a group of engineers developed a “novel solution” and “floated it upstairs.”
The New York Times (10/9, Subscription Publication) says in an editorial that “nobody believes that the handful of senior managers suspended so far, three of them involved in engine development, could have carried out this scheme without any support. … Even if they manage to fix millions of cars, VW executives will still face a monstrous challenge from lawsuits, potential prosecutions, lost sales and the blow to VW’s reputation for quality engineering.”
Male Engineering Student Writes Letter Describing Sexism In STEM Fields.
The Huffington Post (10/9, PIttman) reports Eastern Washington University mechanical engineering senior Jared Mauldin wrote a letter to his college’s student newspaper describing the sexism he sees in his engineering classes. Mauldin’s letter, which shares stories of his female peers being discriminated against, has now been spread across the Internet.
Durbin Introduces Bill To Promote Use Of Open, Free Textbooks.
The Chicago Tribune (10/8) reports that on Thursday, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin proposed legislation to create a “competitive grant program that would expand the use of ‘open’ and free textbooks.” The Affordable College Textbook Act “would provide grants that schools could use to publish what are essentially online materials that are free for professors, students, researchers and others.” Under the bill, ED “would oversee the competitive grant process, which would support pilot programs aiming to expand the use of open textbooks.”
CFPB Investigating Wells Fargo Over Student Lending Practices.
The Wall Street Journal (10/9, Andriotis, Subscription Publication) reports that the CFPB, which has been ramping up investigations into student lending practices, is investigating Wells Fargo for its practices in student loan servicing since at least late 2014, according to sources. At this point, it is unclear what practices are the focus of the investigation or whether it will result in any action, but the Journal adds that since there are so few players in this area, any kind of enforcement could create a significant change in the industry.
ED Data On Pell Grant Recipient Graduation Rates Called Into Question.
US News & World Report (10/8, Butrymowicz) reports ED’s recently released Pell Grant recipient college graduation rates differ significantly, on average 10%, from the rates released by independent groups like the Institute for Higher Education Policy and the Education Trust. The difference might be due to the fact that colleges do not have to report their Pell Grant recipient graduation rates to the government, so the government instead relies on information from the National Student Loan Database System, but the significant difference in the rates found by using this information may show that it is not a reliable proxy. The ED’s data is being used on the new College Scorecard system, but the difference may make the information included inaccurate and unreliable. An anonymous ED official said the data was imperfect and that ED would work with universities and colleges to improve their reporting, but said they would not call on universities and colleges to provide the data themselves “in the interest of minimizing the burden on institutions.”
Cards Against Humanity Will Donate $500,000 To Fund Scholarships For Women In STEM Fields.
The Huffington Post (10/9, Erbentraut) reports Cards Against Humanity, “the party game for horrible people”, is donating $500,000 to sponsor scholarships for women in STEM fields. The funding will come from sales of an expansion pack to the namesake card game that the company is known for.
Research and Development
NSF Director To Inaugurate New Research Center.
The Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette (10/8, Wurth) reports that NSF Director France Cordova travels to the University of Illinois next Thursday to promote the $18.5 million grant for the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS) center. The center aims to conduct research on increasing energy density for electrical systems in vehicles, machinery, and mobile devices.
Scientists Improve Catalyst For Hydrogen Power.
The New Kerala (IND) (10/8) reports that scientists “upgraded an inexpensive catalyst” called molybdenum disulfide which releases “four times more hydrogen from water,” replacing expensive platinum. Lead author Stan Chou from Sandia National Laboratories expressed optimism for increased hydrogen power output as a result.
The Press Trust of India (10/8) reports the scientists also cautioned that their research was “fundamental proof of principle, not an industrial process.” Co-author Bryan Kaehr said, “There are many intricacies to be worked out.”
XPrize Carbon Conversion Teams To Use Planned Test Lab At Wyoming Coal Plant.
The AP (10/9, Gruver) reports that teams in a $20 million XPrize Foundation competition “to discover new ways to trap and use carbon dioxide will use a planned research facility” at Basin Electric’s Dry Fork Station coal-fired power plant in Wyoming. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said Thursday, “We are making an investment in the future of coal.” The AP reports that the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, NRG Energy, and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance have pledged funding for the Integrated Test Center.
Mohawk Innovative Technology Wins $2.5 Million For Microturbine Technology.
The Albany (NY) Times Union (10/9, Rulison) reports Mohawk Innovative Technology, a firm in Colonie, “has won $2.5 million from the federal government to develop a micro turbine for residential combined heat and power.” The funds are coming from the “Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which supports cutting-edge technologies in the energy sector.”
NIH Awards Grant To NYIT Researcher To Develop Device That Can Be Implanted In Digestive Tract.
The Phys (UK) (10/9) reports the National Institutes of Health awarded a $457,000 grant to New York Institute of Technology Assistant Professor Aydin Farajidavar to “develop an implantable wireless system to study the body’s gastric and digestive systems.” Farajidavar hopes his research will create a tool that can gather more detailed information about what is happening in a patient’s stomach and digestive tract than is available through external monitors.
Union College Promises Support For Expansion Of Startup Center.
The Albany (NY) Business Review (10/9, Diana, Subscription Publication) reports a group of General Electric retirees in Schenectady, New York are working to expand their project WiseLabs by building the Electric City Innovation Center. WiseLabs is a start-up accelerator where entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and investors can all meet together to help create businesses and bring new ideas to market. The new center will be a physical space dedicated to startups so that new businesses can have a location to do valuable work. Union College has said they look forward to working with and supporting the center that will provide valuable opportunities for their students and faculty.
US Laying Off Solar Energy Researchers Despite Need For Expertise.
The Washington Post (10/9, Harvey) reports in a 1,750 word story on the laying off of solar energy researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory “involved in ‘next generation,’ or long-term, solar research,” due to Federal funding cuts. The Post reports that the move is the “latest sign of a trend that experts say is undermining U.S. efforts to promote alternative energy” as funding has declined steadily over the past several years, despite emphasis from the Administration on continued investment. Al Compaan, president and CTO of Lucintech, said that “I’m particularly pained to see any further cuts in funding [to NREL],” whose work he credits to the success of First Solar. The Post reports that “applied research, particularly on long-term, forward-looking technologies…has been one of the areas to suffer.” Citing Compaan, the Post adds that continued reductions in research and development funding “could undermine U.S. capabilities when it comes to training a new workforce for continued research in the ‘photovoltaic module area.’”
Engineering and Public Policy
Johns Hopkins Study Links Fracking With Premature Births, High Risk Pregnancies.
McClatchy (10/9, Cockerham) reported that new research from Johns Hopkins University, published in the Epidemiology journal “suggests pregnant women living near fracking wells in Pennsylvania are more likely to give birth prematurely or have high risk pregnancies.” Researchers “found that living among the most active quartile of fracking activity was associated with a 40 percent increase in premature birth and a 30 percent increase in reported high-risk pregnancies, which can mean factors like high blood pressure or excessive weight gain.” Said lead researcher Brian Schwartz, “Now that we know this is happening we’d like to figure out why. … Is it air quality? Is it the stress? They’re the two leading candidates in our minds at this point.”
FAA To Support Ban On Passenger Plane Battery Shipments.
The AP (10/9, Lowy) reports that the FAA has said that it supports a proposed ban on shipments of lithium-ion batteries on passenger aircraft due to the risk of fire. At a public meeting Thursday, Angela Stubblefield, a hazardous materials official with the FAA, said, “We believe the risk is immediate and urgent,” citing research indicating that batteries can create fires and explosions capable of destroying an aircraft. The AP notes that the meeting was held to discuss what the stance the US should take on the issue at a meeting in Montreal later this month with the International Civil Aviation Organization.
EPA Under Fire After Reports Of New Colorado Mine Spill.
The Washington Times (10/9, Richardson) reports that the EPA is under fire amid “reports of another spill from a clean-up project at a Colorado mine, this time a relatively small discharge at the Standard Mine near Crested Butte.” Local officials “have confirmed that more than 2,000 gallons of reportedly uncontaminated water were spilled from the mine side Wednesday into a local watershed.” Josh Green, spokesman for Rep. Scott Tipton, “said the accident, coming on the heels of the Aug. 5 blowout at the Gold King Mine, raises more questions about the agency’s competence and commitment to transparency.” According to Green, “the EPA has yet to notify his office a day after the accident, which was first reported Thursday by the Crested Butte News.”
Flint, Michigan To Return To Detroit Water Supply.
NBC Nightly News (10/8, story 6, 2:05, Holt) ran a feature on the “water emergency in Flint, Michigan,” where residents “haven’t been able to trust the water in their taps [for] the better part of the year after the city made a change to save money but ended up contaminating part of the water supply with lead.” NBC (Mott) reported that “after a flood of complaints from residents and businesses,” on Thursday, officials including Gov. Rick Snyder “finally gave in, announcing Flint was returning to Detroit’s supply.” The CBS Evening News (10/8, story 5, 0:20, Pelley), in a brief item, said even still, “it may be weeks before the water is drinkable again.”
Two Florida Middle Schools Apply For Funding From DOE Provided By ED To Support Afterschool STEM Programs.
The Panama City (FL) News Herald (10/8, Kleine) reports two middle schools joined together under the Leadership Empowerment Authentic Development Coalition in Panama City, Florida are applying for $325,416 in funding from the Florida DOE to develop new afterschool STEM programs. The funding would come from an ED 21st Century Learning Grant awarded to the state to fund STEM education.
New York City Students Will Visit Cultural Institutions For STEM Days Out Program.
The AP (10/9) reports New York City school students will be able to “see and touch exhibits” at nine New York City cultural institutions participating in the STEM Days Out program aimed to get students interested in STEM fields and careers. The program will be funded by grants from Con Edison as well as public donations on DonorsChoose.org.
Department Of Defense Education Activity Awards $1 Million Grant to Mississippi School District.
The AP (10/9) reports the Department of Defense Education Activity has awarded a $1 million grant to Biloxi School District in Mississippi to enhance STEM education and support military families. The grant will fund a program to teach students in military families STEM lessons they may have missed because they have moved many times. Many students in the school district are in military families.
Massachusetts Elementary School Uses STEAM Lab To Teach Students.
The Marshfield (MA) Mariner (10/8, Sparks) reports students at Gov. Winslow Elementary School in Marshfield, Massachusetts learn in a STEAM lab. Students learn about STEAM fields, problem solving, and scientific observation through activities in the lab.
Chicago Mayor Calls For Computer Programming To Be Required In All Schools.
The Hill (10/9, Trujillo) reports Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is calling for the federal government to make computer programming classes a requirement for high school graduation. Emanuel said all students should have basic skills in the field because of its ubiquity.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• UT Austin Engineers Develop Wearable Patch Breakthrough.