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

Leading the News

Justices Divided Over Federal Rule Aimed At Cutting Electricity Demand.

The Los Angeles Times  (10/15, Savage) reports that Supreme Court justices on Wednesday “seemed to agree that it’s a good idea to reduce electricity demand at peak periods,” but “the justices appear divided over how best to deal with the problem and the court’s conservatives sounded ready to block a federal energy regulation that would require regional wholesalers to pay large customers to cut back on their use of electricity at peak times.”

Reuters  (10/15, Hurley) reports that the court heard arguments in an appeal filed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seeking a reversal of a 2014 ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit that dismissed the rule. The Washington Post  (10/15, Barnes) reports that the justices “seemed skeptical” that FERC “had the authority to adopt a program that environmentalists and some large energy consumers say has saved money and prevented emergencies such as blackouts.”

The Wall Street Journal  (10/15, Subscription Publication) editorializes that the rule usurps the power of the states in order to promote a federal environmental agenda, and it urges the court to uphold the lower court ruling that struck down the regulation.

Higher Education

ED Pilot Will Allow Federal Student Aid For “Boot Camps,” Other Nontraditional Training.

The Washington Post  (10/14, Douglas-Gabriel) reports in continued coverage that ED has unveiled a pilot program to allow Federal student aid to finance “short-term intensive classes,” such as computer coding “boot camps.” The Post notes that demand for such courses has risen sharply alongside the rising cost of traditional universities. Education reform advocates said that the move “is a key step toward democratizing access to the skills people need to succeed in a fast-changing economy.” Nevertheless, the move could give private firms greater access to Federal funds, echoing the “failings of for-profit colleges” for some observers.

NPR  (10/14) reports in its “NprEd” blog reports that such programs can cost in the $10,000 to $20,000 range, and notes that the high cost and lack of access to Federal aid means that “those with family or personal resources” have had greater access to them. This piece notes that ED’s decision to begin granting aid to finance such courses comes as a number of “old players” in the for-profit college sector have begun to move into the intensive course market.

Education Department Intervenes In Student Loan Court Case.

Bloomberg News  (10/15, Kitroeff) reports that ED intervened Tuesday “in the case of Robert Murphy, an unemployed 65-year-old who has waged a three-year legal battle to erase his student loans in bankruptcy.” While “student loans can be erased only in very rare circumstances,” Murphy winning in federal court “could loosen the standard used to determine how desperate someone needs to be to qualify for relief.” The Education Department argues that “no student debtor should get a break on student loans unless they can show a ‘certainty of hopelessness.’” Bloomberg reports that for over a decade, ED attorneys have “pushed the courts to adopt the harshest standards possible when considering pleas from bankrupt students.”

Opinion: Boehner Hurt Students By Protecting Lenders.

In an opinion piece in The Hill  (10/15, Collinge) Alan Collinge, author of “The Student Loan Scam”, outlines how House Speaker John Boehner has been the greatest advocate for the student loan industry during his career. Collinge highlights Boehner’s work to prohibit people from discharging student loans in bankruptcy, prevent people from refinancing their loans at lower rates, and to subsidize Sallie Mae and other lenders “who assumed zero risk for the loans they made to begin with.” In return for his support, Sallie Mae and other lenders lavished Boehner with perks like vacations and a job for a family member.

CFPB Report Criticizes Student Loan Lenders And Debt Collectors.

The Washington Examiner  (10/15, Bedard) details that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analyzed 6,400 complaints about student loan servicers and 2,300 complaints about debt-collectors in order to prepare a new report on the related industries. The report heavily criticizes student loan servicers and debt collectors for their practices based on the many complaints from debtors. WWBT-TV  Richmond, VA (10/15, Sullivan) also covered the report that found student loan servicers were prone to a wide variety of errors and compared their practices to “what happened in the mortgage crisis.” The report found that “one in four borrowers are now in default or struggling” and not just because borrowers are not making enough money. CFPB Deputy Assistant Director of the Office for Students says the errors range “from lost or misapplied payments, surprise fees, or just getting bad information in terms of how they should pay off their student debt.” The CFPB, ED, and the Department of Treasury just issued new guidelines for the industry. The San Luis Obispo (CA) Tribune  (10/14, Montag) adds that the report also said student loan services were not doing enough to help borrowers sign up for easier repayment plans. The CFPB received many complaints that student loan servicers lied to debtors about their options to change payment plans or refused to help them change plans.

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Research and Development

Harvard Bioengineering Research Funded By NIH, NSF, ONR Spun Out To New Company.

The Photonics  (10/15) reports Ultivue Inc. has been spun out from Harvard University to commercially develop DNA-PAINT, a “low-cost alternative to more specialized superresolution microscopy techniques.” DNA-PAINT was developed by researchers at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and Office of Naval Research.

Michigan State Announces Plan To Expand STEM Faculty, Research, Education.

The AP  (10/15) reports Michigan State University is planning to recruit 100 new faculty members to improve STEM research and education. The plan is part of the university’s broader Global Impact Initiative approved in 2014 that also aims to “expand research in genomics, cybersecurity, computational science and precision medicine.”

NSF Awards $630,000 Grant To University Of Massachusetts Researchers Developing Better Prosthetics.

The Greenfield (MA) Recorder  (10/15) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $630,331 grant to two University of Massachusetts researchers who “are developing better fitting, more functional and comfortable robotic lower limbs for persons with below-knee amputations.” The professors of engineering and kinesiology are aiming to reduce the chance that people who wear prosthetic limbs will develop pressure ulcers or experience deep tissue injury.

Global Developments

Israeli Designer Develops Concept For Grounded Parcel Delivery Drone.

Reuters  (10/14) reports that Israeli industrial designer Kobi Shikar has developed a concept for a parcel delivery drone, dubbed the Transwheel Delivery Drone, that is land-based rather than the type of aerial drone that Amazon plans to use. The concept is a unicycle that balances in a similar manner as a Segway and is loaded with sensors and on-board cameras to help it maneuver through traffic and dodge obstacles. Shikar expects his drones to be tested at airports and military bases.

Industry News

Boeing, Lockheed Martin Showcase Anti-UAV Systems At AUSA.

Flightglobal  (10/15, Drew) reports Boeing and Lockheed Martin at the AUSA conference showcased their “two very different approaches” for anti-UAV systems. Boeing’s 2-10kW laser system – which it says can be integrated into the Army’s AH-64 Apache – is designed “to literally burn UAVs out of the sky” after using a high-resolution telescope and plug-in radar units to track the devices. David DeYoung, director of Boeing’s laser and electro-optical systems group, said anti-UAV “could be the perfect initial application for laser-based weapon systems.” Meanwhile, Lockheed’s non-kinetic Icarus system, targeted more for civil defense, employs electronic warfare technology to disable the devices, which the company’s senior engineering manager Lee Tang “says…more easily avoids collateral damage compared to its laser-based competitor.”

Battelle Develops Anti-Drone Radio Rifle With Civilian Market Potential. “While the US military continues to develop new and awesome ways of blowing aerial drones to smithereens,” Engadget  (10/14, Tarantola) reports Battelle has developed a an anti-drone option for the civilian market called the “DroneDefender, a shoulder-mounted rifle that knocks UAVs offline with a barrage of radio waves.” The unit “can help us in numerous settings, from the White House lawn to bases and embassies overseas; from prisons and schools to historic sites,” Alex Morrow, technical director on the project. The rifle “can target drones up to 400 meters,” using “electromagnetic energy tuned to the most common GPS and ISM frequencies” to safely disable a drone by “preventing it from accepting any additional commands from its operator.”

Raytheon Continues To Add Gallium Nitride-Based Patriot Missile Parts.

The ExecutiveBiz  (10/14, Forrester) blog reports that Raytheon said Tuesday its Patriot missile system continues to be upgraded to include Gallium Nitride-Based AESA radar components. Raytheon VP of integrated air and missile defense Ralph Acaba said that the upgraded radar “builds on the more than $150 million invested in GaN technology and will be a simple upgrade for the more than 220 Patriot fire units” used by 13 countries.

Airforce Technology  (10/14) adds that Raytheon “has achieved a series of engineering milestones in the upgrading program.”

Fracking Chemical Exposure Tied To Reproductive Health Consequences.

The New York Times  (10/15, Bakalar) “Well” blog reported that “living near hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations” may be tied to “premature births,” according to research  published Sept. 30 in the journal Epidemiology. The study of “10,496 singleton births by 9,384 mothers from 2009 to 2013 in Pennsylvania” revealed that “the 25 percent of mothers most exposed to fracking were 40 percent more likely to give birth preterm…than the quarter least exposed.”

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post  (10/15, Peeples) reports that “prenatal exposure to a cocktail of chemicals commonly used in the various phases of oil and natural gas production, including fracking, could carry long-term reproductive health consequences,” a study  published online Oct. 14 in the journal Endocrinology indicates. After testing “24 fracking chemicals” on male mice, researchers “found that 23…could mimic and mess with the natural signaling of estrogens, androgens and other human hormones, including functions critical for the healthy development of sex organs and future fertility.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Critical Infrastructure Cyberattacks Discussed.

The New York Times  (10/14) “Bits” blog discusses cyberattacks on critical infrastructure, saying, “The number of attacks against industrial control systems more than doubled to 675,186 in January 2014 from 163,228 in January 2013,” mostly in the US, the UK, and Finland, according to Dell Security. Former NSA head Michael V. Hayden is quoted saying, “Despite all the talks of a cyber-Pearl Harbor, I am not really worried about a state competitor like China doing catastrophic damage to infrastructure. … It’s the attack from renegade, lower-tier nation-states that have nothing to lose.” Bits says “the attacks that have rattled American government officials the most were similar attacks at Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, and RasGas, the Qatari oil giant, in 2012.” Furthermore, an attack on a German steel mill “suggests that hackers are increasingly finding ways to cross” the “threshold” between corporate and production networks. The blog mentions the Energy Department’s networks have been “infiltrated” 150 times over the last four years.

DOE Considering Pool Pump Efficiency Rules.

The Hill  (10/15, Devaney) reports the Energy Department “is considering new efficiency rules for pool pumps.” The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the DOE “will host a series of meetings to negotiate new rules for pool pumps” which “will be hosted by the Dedicated Purpose Pool Pumps working group.” The agency “will host six public meetings between Oct. 19 and Dec. 8.”

States Seek To Validate Efficiency Projects For Carbon Rule Compliance.

EnergyWire  (10/15, Behr, Subscription Publication) reports that the state of Tennessee will lead “a multistate effort to streamline the evaluation of energy efficiency investments, which could help these projects qualify for compliance” with the Clean Power Plan. The project was discussed at an Association for Demand Response and Smart Grid conference on Tuesday as “an example of new regulatory strategies that are urgently needed to help states meet the challenges” of compliance with the CPP. According to the article, Southern Company vice president Jeff Burleson “said policymakers need to understand the requirement for balancing objectives of grid operators.” He explained that regulators need to “balance clean, safe, reliable and affordable,” because “if you get any one of those out of balance and put too much emphasis on any one, it creates problems.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Study: Math Test Results Show Unequal Access To Math Education.

According to a Michigan State University study, The Diverse Education  (10/15, Lum) reports that “unequal access to rigorous mathematics content is widening the performance gap on a prominent international math literacy test between socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged students.” One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. William H. Schmidt, said, “The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth.” The study used data from the OECD’s 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, which is administered in the US by the National Center for Education Statistics, to compare the math test results of students from different backgrounds.

Texas Middle School Learns STEM Skills From Lego Robotics.

The Rio Grande Valley (TX) Morning Star  (10/15, Whitehead) reports Gutierrez Middle School in Harlingen, Texas has had a FIRST Lego League team for two years. The program teaches students STEM skills through challenges that require teams to program EV3 Bricks that can then be attached to Lego cars to complete obstacle courses and other challenges. The team is part of the district’s Competitive Edge Initiative that aims to boost interest in STEM fields among students.

Female High School Students From Buffalo Travelling To Detroit For Success Looks Like Me Program.

WIVB-TV  Buffalo, NY (10/14, Alexander) reports 14 high school girls from Buffalo Public Schools are headed to Detroit as part of the Success Looks Like Me program, which aims to show girls and minorities that they can have successful careers in STEM fields. The students will visit General Motors headquarters in Detroit and other facilities to meet with people who work in STEM fields. Success Looks Like Me chair person Jennifer Parker said, “We want the students of color to see other people look like them, whether they’re female, people of color, that are successful so they can know they can be successful also.”

Oklahoma STEM Schools Triple Enrollment.

The Muskogee (OK) Phoenix  (10/15) reports CareerTech STEM academies in Oklahoma have tripled their enrollment from 5,000 to almost 15,000 during the past five years. The state program drew lots of attention this summer after three teams competing in the At Project Lead The Way Engineering and Development State Competition and Showcase this summer, when the top three teams all had members that attended Tulsa Technology Center’s STEM Academy. Sara Wright, the manager of the program, says the schools teach students STEM skills in “an environment that allows them to focus on their dreams.”

Bipartisan Senate Bill Would Create New Grants To Increase Career And Technical Education Teachers.

The Newport News (VA) Daily Press  (10/15, Subscription Publication) reports a bipartisan group of Senators have introduced legislation that would create a new grant program to increase the number of career and technical education teachers. Senate Bill 2174 would allow “recent college graduates, military veterans and career professionals in technical areas to apply for three-year grants to teach career and technical courses at high schools that are in need of such instructors.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

ED To Offer Aid To Colleges Offering “Boot Camps” For Marketable Skills.
NRC Grant To UTEP Will Allow It To Offer Two Or Three New Engineering Courses.
NSF Gives University Of Rhode Island Researchers Grant For Emergency Evacuation Robots.
Japan Establishing “IoT Promotion Consortium.”
Democratic Candidates Vow To Do More On Climate Change Than Obama.
USC Engineering Dean Encourages Girls To Study Engineering, Science.

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