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

Leading the News

Musk Makes Autopilot A Top Priority For Tesla.

Adnan Farooqui writes for UberGizmo  (11/22) that Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that the Autopilot feature, first released in an update a few years back, is a “super high priority” for the company. Musk made the comment in a tweet announcing that the company is looking to hire new engineering talent. CNET News  (11/20) highlights the fact that Musk is recruiting new engineers himself on Twitter.

MarketWatch  (11/20, Reklaitas) reports that the Autopilot feature “has generated buzz but also drawn plenty of criticism. For example, Hong Kong regulators took the rare step of requiring Tesla to remove it from its cars, while Consumer Reports took exception to a video titled ‘Tesla autopilot saves the day,’ saying an older ‘autobrake’ feature is what prevented an ugly crash and not the newer software.”

CNBC  (11/23) runs a video on the announcement, while Engadget  (11/20, Moon) also has a report.

Higher Education

Virginia Tech Chemical Engineering Professor Wins Carnegie Award.

The Roanoke (VA) Times  (11/23, Moxley) reports, “Virginia Tech chemical engineering professor Y. A. Liu has been named a 2015 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Virginia Professor of the Year.” The Times explains that the award is sponsored by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation, and that Liu “focuses on undergraduate teaching grounded in real-world professional experience.”

Series Of Mentors Help Girl From Greek Island Become Successful Female Engineer And UC Davis Chancellor.

The Sacramento (CA) Bee  (11/21, Anderson) outlines how Linda P.B. Katehi, originally from a small Greek island, whose family had little formal education, became a successful engineering professor and later chancellor at University of California Davis. Katehi’s family, teachers, and mentors all encouraged her to overcome odds and sexism to become a successful engineer.

Kansas Working To Increase Engineering Graduates.

The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal  (11/22, Llopis) reports Kansas is working to increase the number of engineering graduates to 1,365 per year by 2021, up from 875 in 2008. The state legislature has approved more than $100 million in funding for Kansas State University, the University of Kansas, and Wichita State to improve engineering programs, attract faculty, and draw in more students. The Kansas Board of Regents says the state is on track to reach their goal.

Oklahoma Colleges Cutting Costs, Pulling Resources In Preparation Of Budget Shortfall.

The Oklahoman  (11/22, McNutt) reports officials at institutions of higher education across Oklahoma are preparing for a predicted budget shortfall by cutting costs and pooling resources together. Some institutions will be sharing faculty and are looking into creating joint-degree programs “where one institution provides the general education and the other the technical courses.” An ED report listed Oklahoma as having the third most affordable higher education after Utah and Wyoming.

Adrienne Minerick on Diversity in Chemical Engineering
ASEE’s Diversity Committee chair is interviewed by AIChE.

ASEE Membership Benefits
Our members say why ASEE membership is important to them professionally.

Research and Development

Pacific Northwest Lab Scientist Explains Potential Use For Cooling Via Lasers.

The Christian Science Monitor  (11/21) reports that new research at the University of Washington in Seattle is looking at ways that lasers can be used to cool temperatures. According to UW assistant professor of materials science and engineering and Pacific Northwest National Lab scientist Dr. Peter Pauzauskie, “There’s a lot of interest in how cells divide and how molecules and enzymes function, and it’s never been possible before to refrigerate them to study their properties. Using laser cooling, it may be possible to prepare slow-motion movies of life in action. And the advantage is that you don’t have to cool the entire cell, which could kill it or change its behavior.”

NASA Reveals Orion Conceptual Design Featuring Insular Coat.

Ars Technica  (11/19) reports that on Thursday, NASA published conceptual design images of its Orion spacecraft “featuring a new, metallic-based coating that will protect the vehicle both in orbit and during its fiery return to Earth.” According to Ars Technica, design engineer at the Kennedy Johnson Space Center “have decided to add a silver coating to the back shell panels of the spacecraft, which will help Orion regulate its temperature,” particularly when it faces away from the sun. Ars Technica notes, NASA “says the coating will help Orion’s back shell maintain a temperature on the exterior of the spacecraft from -100°C to 290°C while in space.”

Army Set To Test Fuel Cell-Powered Chevy Colorado.

CNET News  (11/20, Profis) reports that GM and the US Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center are “combining forces to create and test a Chevrolet Colorado mid-size pickup powered by a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain. It will undergo 12 months of extreme military testing to determine whether or not it can withstand such rigors.”

UMaine To Unveil Ocean Simulator; Offshore Wind Developers Said Show Interest.

The AP  (11/22, Whittle) reports that the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center “is ready to unveil a $13.8 million expansion that director Habib Dagher said will simulate a stormy ocean” to help innovators in areas such as oil rigs and offshore wind turbines “find out if their creations can withstand the sea’s fury.” The AP reports that the W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory “will test the strength and seaworthiness of structures such as boats; offshore wind, tidal and wave energy facilities; aquaculture ventures; oil and gas equipment and critical infrastructure such as ports and bridges, Dagher said.” Facility manager Anthony Viselli said, “We’re already getting calls from a lot of wind energy folks. There’s no facility that can do this right now.”


Science And Technical Jobless Numbers Contribute To New Mexico’s High Unemployment Rate.

The Taos (NM) News  (11/21, Krasnow) reports that New Mexico’s unemployment rate of 6.8 percent in October was the second highest in the US, and that the increase from 6.2 percent a year ago represents the biggest increase in joblessness in the country. According to Jeff Mitchell of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at The University of New Mexico, this is partially attributable to a loss in science and technical jobs, many of them from Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory; after a growth increase of 3.4 percent from 2001 to 2007, the sector has steadily declined in employment since 2010.

Industry News

Ivanpah Shows The Risk Solar Thermal Poses To Birds.

Judith Lewis Mernit writes in a 5,039-word story for the Denver Post  (11/21, Mernit) about the impacts of the Ivanpah solar thermal project on birds in the Mojave Desert. Ecologist Shawn Smallwood said Ivanpah “was the first time people really understood the magnitude of the issue.” Mermit writes that NextEra, BrightSource and NRG “all claim to be monitoring their plants to assess their impact on birds,” adding that NextEra and Brightsource have enlisted help from Sandia National Laboratory engineer Clifford Ho “to argue that it’s physically impossible for flux to vaporize birds.” Mermits adds that Ho’s point conflicts with observations by BLM personnel and biologists.

Volkswagen Presents Plan To Correct Emissions In US Cars.

The New York Times  (11/21, Ewing, Mouawad, Subscription Publication) reports on the initial proposal submitted Friday by Volkswagen to the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board on how the automaker plans to correct its emissions-cheating devices illegally installed in hundreds of thousands of cars in the US.

Bloomberg News  (11/21, Hull), the Telegraph (UK)  (11/21, Tovey), and Automotive News  (11/20) also reports.

Engineering and Public Policy

USA Today: Exxon’s Climate Change Denial Not Reason For Prosecution.

In an editorial, USA Today  (11/23) argues that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation into whether ExxonMobil lied to shareholders about the risks of climate change raises “serious First Amendment concerns.” USA Today says Exxon didn’t hide the climate research it funded, and didn’t interfere with scientists’ independent conclusions. The board concludes that Exxon’s history of climate denial “is not a reason for prosecution,” because the fact that “self-interested views of multibillion dollar companies are not a great source for unbiased information on complex scientific issues or widely disputed public policy debates is not news to any investor.”

McKibben: Exxon’s Climate Denial A Crime Against The Future. In a contrasting op-ed for USA Today  (11/23), Bill McKibben, an environmental activist, says that Exxon’s denial of climate change is possibly the “biggest corporate scandal of all time,” because the company “helped found and fund the front groups that worked to impede action that would have let the planet react in time to this growing crisis.” McKibben argues that telling shareholders “one thing when you know another to be true is illegal,” and so is “failing to disclose information on official reports to the government.” McKibben says the result of Exxon’s decisions “has been a crime against the future.”

Administration Seeks Collaboration With Technology Industry On Fighting Terrorism.

TIME  (11/19, Edwards) reports on the challenges that encryption technology and other advancements have presented law enforcement and intelligence officials in their fight against terrorism. Observing the opposition to efforts that would compel technology companies to create a back door into their encrypted systems, the article highlighted Attorney General Lynch’s statement that “we’re in discussions with industry looking for ways in which they can lawfully provide us information while still preserving privacy.” The article concluded: “the hope…is that Silicon Valley, having engineered a problem, might just engineer a solution too.”

New York’s Cuomo Seeks To Mandate Shift Toward Renewables.

The New York Times  (11/23, McGeehan, Subscription Publication) reports that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans to order the state’s Public Service Commission to “codify” his goal of having half of New York’s energy portfolio come from renewable sources by 2030, according to sources familiar with the matter. The requirement “would give utilities an incentive to use power generated by nuclear plants,” according to the Times, which also illustrates New York officials’ efforts to delay the planned shutdowns of the Fitzpatrick and Ginna nuclear plants.

FAA Task Force Wants Registration Of Small Drones.

The AP  (11/21, Lowy) cites drone industry officials who are claiming a 25-member FAA task force will recommend on Saturday that “operators be required to register drones weighing as little as a half a pound, a threshold that could include some remote-controlled toys,” even though FAA officials on the panel had previously “said they want to avoid requiring the registration of toys.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Indiana Elementary School Receives STEM School Award.

La Porte County (IN) Life  (11/23) reports Indiana Superintendent Glenda Ritz presented Lake Hills Elementary School Principal Connie Bachmann and STEM Coordinator Shelley Deutscher with an award for obtaining certification as a STEM school in the state during the 2015 Indiana STEM Symposium. The elementary school in Michigan City, Indiana is one of only nine schools in the state to receive the certification based on a commitment to strong STEM education using “inquiry, project based learning, community engagement, entrepreneurship, student centered classrooms, and out-of-school STEM activities.”

Purdue University Hosts FIRST Robotics Competition.

The Lafayette (IN) Journal and Courier  (11/21, Paul) reports about 300 students participated in a “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST) Legos Robotics competition at Purdue University. Students from fourth-grade to eighth grade used Legos to build robots to complete specific tasks. One previous participant in the program, now a college student at Purdue, said the program inspired her to pursue a STEM education and career and she hopes it will do the same for others.

Texas Schools Preparing Students For Oil Industry Careers Despite Recent Downturn.

The AP  (11/23, Weissert) reports Texas schools are still preparing students for jobs in the oil industry despite the recent downturn in oil prices. Houston is planning to expand their Energy Institute High School, which specialized in energy sector careers, with a $37 million new facility. Other schools have begun “petroleum academies” that teach students about the industry. Many are confident the oil industry will turn around again as it has done in the past.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Senators Introduce Resolution In Opposition To UN Climate Talks.
Sudden Closure Of Florida For-Profit College May Have Violated Federal, State Law.
Two Virginia Tech Professors Leading International Research Project to Improve Wireless Networks In Dense Venues.
Boeing Provides Virtual Tour Of JStars Proposal.
Rail Interests Defend Bridge Maintenance Record.
Northern California First Lego League Running Short On Funds, Volunteers.

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