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

Leading the News

Climate Scientists Call For Nuclear Power To Help Fight Climate Change.

Scientific American  (12/4, Vaidyanathan) reports that during the ongoing Paris climate negotiations, former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, “and three other prominent climate scientists” called for an “enlarged focus on nuclear energy.” Hansen said that “Nuclear, especially next-generation nuclear, has tremendous potential to be part of the solution to climate change.” During a panel discussion Hansen said, “The dangers of fossil fuels are staring us in the face. So for us to say we won’t use all the tools [such as nuclear energy] to solve the problem is crazy.” Hansen and climate scientists Tom Wigley, of the University of Adelaide; Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution for Science; and MIT professor Kerry Emanuel occupy a position that “clashes with those of environmental groups such as Greenpeace that advocate against nuclear energy.”

In his “Dot Earth” blog for the New York Times  (12/7), Andrew Revkin reported that during the Paris talks aimed at crafting a new global climate agreement, “four veteran climate scientists drew a crowd at a news conference focused on one of many daunting paths to a low-carbon energy future — boosted use of nuclear power (video).” The scientists “used a news conference to build on an argument” first made in a 2013 “open letter to environmentalists.” Revkin says he believes that “nuclear, particularly new generations of plants, has to be part of the global energy mix, but don’t count on its deployment at a scale and pace relevant to global warming being any easier than that for solar or wind or the like.”

World Nuclear News  (12/7) adds that the “scientists outlined how only a combined strategy employing all the major sustainable clean energy options – including renewables and nuclear power – can prevent the worst effects of climate change by 2100.” They “stressed their assessment was based not on ideology but on observations from the latest climate research, including rises in sea levels, ocean acidification and ice sheet collapse.”

Public Radio International  (12/7, Margolis) reports that to reduce “greenhouse gases by 10 or 15 percent by mid-century, assuming business as usual growth, we might need to triple the amount of nuclear reactors worldwide.” But “building that much nuclear presents a big challenge.” Kelly Sims Gallagher, director of the Center for International Environment & Resource Policy at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University said that nuclear power is expensive. “If you’re an independent power producer and you’re trying to decide what kind of power plant should I build, nuclear simply isn’t competitive.”

Higher Education

SMU Engineering School Enrolls More Than 30% Female Students For A Decade.

The Plant Engineering  (12/2, Cobb) reports for 10 consecutive years more than 30% of the incoming undergraduates at Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering were women, well above the 20% average of female students at engineering schools in the US. Dean Marc Christensen said, “Not only are we recruiting strong women, we are accomplishing the more difficult challenge of retaining these students. But we’ve got to do more.” Christensen added that part of the school’s focus is building up an inclusive culture focused on meaningful work on top of a strong program.

Philadelphia Area Employers Back A New Programming School To Train New Software Engineers.

Philly (PA)  (12/6, DiStefano) reports a group of large employers in the Philadelphia area decided to launch a program to train new software engineers called Zip Code Wilmington, based in Wilmington, Delaware. The program aims to train people without programming experience in the basics of Java programming in just 90 days. Among the companies sponsoring the program are JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Corporation Service Co. (CSC) and five other regional employers. The article also highlights the difficulty of keeping “fresh skills” in the programming job market. Many veteran programmers complain that companies kick them out for not working long hours and learning new programming skills on their own time.

Washington State University Students Engineer Nuclear Security Equipment.

The Tri-City Herald (WA)  (12/7, Cary) reports that two groups of students at Washington State University studying mechanical engineering designed prototypes for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s research to safeguard nuclear materials. Friday the students unveiled their completed designs in this, the “13th semester that researchers at the Department of Energy national laboratory…have worked with mechanical engineering students in Pullman, piquing student interest in the field of nuclear safeguards.” One team developed ways to “detect tampering in containers, such as those holding stored nuclear weapons covered under treaty requirements.” The students created a way to “conveniently conduct” a laser scan using a portable cart. The “second group of students devised a cart to allow a gamma ray detector to scan used nuclear fuel assemblies to check for tampering.”

Groups Call On ED To Give College Accreditors More Flexibility.

Inside Higher Ed  (12/7) reports that on Friday, the American Council on Education, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Association of American Universities wrote to Education Secretary Arne Duncan calling for ED “to allow federally recognized accreditors to evaluate colleges differently based on the colleges’ performance.” The groups want “colleges with strong student outcomes to face a less intensive review process.”

Survey: College Presidents’ Salaries Continue To Rise.

The New York Times  (12/7, Saul, Subscription Publication) reports that a survey  by the Chronicle of Higher Education has found that despite pressure to cut costs at colleges and universities, “the compensation of private college presidents continues to climb,” growing 5.6 percent to a median of $436,000 between 2012 and 2013.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (12/7) reports that the presidents of 32 private colleges earned over $1 million in 2013, saying that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger and University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann topped the list.

Student Loan Limits Considered As Defaults Increase.

The Wall Street Journal  (12/7, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that as the delinquency rate for student loans has climbed to roughly 12%, about twice what it was prior to the recession, the idea of establishing restrictions and standards for student loan borrowing is gaining support among some economists. A study by Adam Looney of the Treasury Department and Constantine Yannelis of Stanford concluded that the increase in borrowing and default is largely due to nontraditional students at community or for-profit colleges, with no academic standards; Neil McCluskey of the Cato Institute said the government should only lend to students likely to complete a degree and pay off the loan, specifically higher-achieving students.

Supreme Court To Look Anew At Affirmative Action At University Of Texas.

The AP  (12/7, Sherman) reports that “basketball coaches, leading military officers and many of the country’s biggest businesses agree that the Supreme Court should preserve the use of race as a factor in college admissions,” but “they may be in a fight they cannot win as the justices take up a case that presages tighter limits on affirmative action in higher education.” The court will hear arguments on Wednesday “for the second time in three years in the case of a white Texas woman who was rejected for admission at the University of Texas.” The Wall Street Journal  (12/7, Bravin, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports that the court will hear the contentious issue at a time of student unrest at several schools across the US over racial issues.

Debate About Future Of For-Profit Colleges, Alternative Higher Education Continues.

USA Today  (12/5, King) reports there is an ongoing debate about whether students at “alternative higher-education programs”, including for-profit colleges, should continue to receive federal student aid. Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio has often supported for-profit colleges and has called for changing accreditation rules to allow more technical schools and for-profit schools to compete with traditional colleges on a more level playing field. Rubio supports students being eligible for federal aid so long as their schools achieve “high student outcomes, including student learning, completion, and return on investment.” According to ED, for-profit schools account for only 11% of higher education students, but 44% of federal student loan defaults, so the Center for Responsible Lending legislative policy counsel Whitney Barkley says the US should be reducing federal aid to for-profit schools, not increasing it.

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Cover story: Industrial RX for Healthcare. Systems engineers are out to show they can make medical practice cheaper while improving quality.

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Research and Development

Researchers Developing New Technologies To Aid Aging Population.

In a nearly 1,400-word article, the New York Times  (12/4, Markoff, Subscription Publication) reported that the National Science Foundation has awarded roboticist Dr. Naira Hovakimyan a $1.5 million grant to “to explore the idea of designing small autonomous drones to perform simple household chores, like retrieving a bottle of medicine from another room,” for the aging population. The Times adds that Dr. Hovakimyan’s research is “just one example of many approaches being studied to use technology to help aging people.”

Study: Twitter Could Help Officials Monitoring Weather, Road Conditions.

The Washington Post  (12/4, Kunkle) reports University of Buffalo researchers found that Twitter “can provide fairly sensitive data” about current weather conditions and how they are affecting the roads. The researchers suggest that Twitter might one day be used to direct traffic and help officials decide where to dispatch snowplows or other equipment.

Indiana Schools Form UAV Partnership.

The Dayton (OH) Business Journal  (12/7, Subscription Publication) reported Sinclair Community College and Indiana State University on Friday signed a partnership to “research and train students on drones to be used in the agriculture business.” The schools “will share resources for flight facilities, vehicles, crews and curriculum. Each school also hopes to let the other use airspace it has been approved to fly through the Federal Aviation Administration.”

NASA Planning To Test “Nanosatellites” As Part Of Next Launch to International Space Station.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News  (12/7, Skibba) reports that “if the weather cooperates” NASA is scheduled to launch two nanosatellites this week attached to an Atlas V rocket headed towards the International Space Station. The nanosatellites are about the size of a Rubik’s cube and are also known as CubeSats. NASA will be testing the effectiveness of the nanosatellites comparing their performance to the larger satellites that have traditionally been used for communications, weather forecasting, spying, and other tasks. Nanosatellites are cheaper to develop, so if they perform well then they could potentially take the place of many larger satellites.

Industry News

Report: LG Chem, Samsung SDI Dominate Global EV Battery Market.

Yonhap (KOR)  (12/7) reports that a corporate assessment survey by Navigant Research found that LG Chem Co. and “local rival Samsung SDI Co.” lead “global players in terms of strategy and execution in the electric vehicle (EV) battery industry.” According to the report, LG Chem scored 93.6, Panasonic Corp. of Japan scored 90.2, and Samsung SDI scored 87, making LG Chem “the top player as it can meet car manufacturers’ demands for ‘less room and high power.’” Yonhap adds that LG Chem recently signed a deal to supply batteries for Chery Automobile Co. of China next-generation EVs and has made “similar deals with other Chinese automakers – Changan Automobile Co., Great Wall Motor Co. and Dongfeng Motor Corp.”

Korean Battery Makers Offer Cheap Stock Alternative To Tesla. Barron’s  (12/4, Ren), Shuli Ren asserted that electric cars have a bright future, advocating that “electric-vehicle bulls who find Tesla Motors’ (ticker: TSLA) stock too volatile” should consider “Korean battery makers LG Chem (051910. Korea) and Samsung SDI (006400. Korea) at much cheaper prices.” According to Ren, Chinese regulators have made license plates for electric cars free to combat pollution, causing the Chinese market for electric vehicles to exhibit the most growth. The article added that “LG Chem supplies 13 of the top 20 global auto makers and six of China’s top 10” and its shares “have risen about 20% since the Volkswagen (VLKAY) diesel emissions scandal refocused attention on electric vehicles.”

Engineering and Public Policy

GOP Seeks To Phase Out Tax Breaks For Wind, Solar Industries.

The Hill  (12/5, Cama) reported Congressional conservatives will be looking to implement a phase-out timeline over the next five years for current tax breaks for the wind and solar industries. According to the Hill, “A phase-out would provide a certain amount of stability for the industries,” yet environmental activists have argued how critical they are, particularly in light of President Obama’s recent support “sweeping climate change regulation for the power sector that’s expected to increase demand for renewable power like never before.”

Lawmakers Aim To Regulate Railroad Maintenance Despite Industry Resistance.

The AP  (12/6, Brown, Kunzelman) reports attempts to establish “universal standards” for when railroads are replaced or repaired were killed by railroad companies who resisted the measures. However, lawmakers are looking to revive “the prospect of new rules for worn rails” following the West Virginia train derailment of earlier this year that caused the explosion of 27 tankers carrying crude oil. Lawmakers are also “vowing they won’t allow the industry to sideline their efforts.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Massachusetts Increasing Funding For Program To Train Advanced Manufacturers.

The Worcester (MA) Business Journal  (12/4) reports Massachusetts Education Secretary James Peyser announced the state will be offering $1.5 million in grants for advanced manufacturing training programs aimed at preparing high school students and out-of-work adults for new careers in manufacturing. Funding for the program almost doubled from last year’s $860,000.

Ohio School District Increasing Coding Opportunities For Students During National Computer Science Education Week.

The Springfield (OH) News Sun  (12/7, Wedell) reports Springfield City School District in Ohio is introducing a number of activities to increase opportunities for students to learn about computer programming during “National Computer Science Education Week”, which begins today. One teacher is instructing his students on how to program video games. Parents of students in fourth-grade to eighth-grade are invited to attend a Family Night event in the district’s computer lab where they can work with their children on learning how to code or playing Minecraft.

Parents Can Help Their Daughters Pursue STEM Careers With Encouragement.

NBC News  (12/5) outlines what parents can do to encourage their daughters to pursue STEM education and careers. First, parents should take the focus off of grades allowing their daughters to struggle through difficult classes. Research shows that many girls and women stop pursuing STEM opportunities because of a fear of failure, but if parents are encouraging even with lower grades, then female students will feel more comfortable and confident continuing in their fields of interest. Second, parents should remind their daughters that STEM is hard for male and female students. Third, parents should encourage their daughters to make connections with other female students.

Wisconsin School District Wants Science Teachers To Focus On “Big Picture” With Adoption Of Next Generation Science Standards.

The Green Bay (WI) Press-Gazette  (12/6, Zarling) reports science teachers in De Pere School District in Wisconsin are working to help students “see the big picture” rather than just memorizing small details as the district prepares to adopt Next Generation Science Standards. Science teacher Jim Schmidt asked, “Do they [students] really need to memorize every part of a cell, or is it more important for them to understand how cells work within the body?”

Children Build Spinal Cord Replicas Out Of Legos At Stanford As Part Of STEM Education Project.

The San Francisco Chronicle  (12/7, Johnson, Subscription Publication) reports children participating in the “Legos at Stanford” project learn about tech education by completing challenges using Legos. Students built replicas of the spinal cord using 677 Lego pieces. The project aims to teach children about STEM in an enjoyable way that gets them excited about the topic.

Also in the News

First Woman Certified As US Army Combat Engineer.

Army Times  (12/5) reports Vermont National Guard Spc. Skylar Anderson became the first woman certified as a combat engineer. Anderson, a University of Vermont student, did not know at the time that she would be the first when she received her certification. The US Army’s combat engineer school in North Dakota opened to women on August 1 as part of a broader effort to open more combat positions to women.

Friday’s Lead Stories

House Approves Energy Bill.
ED To Forgive $28 Million In Corinthian Student Loans.
More Young People Could Drive With Advent Of Autonomous Cars, Researchers Say.
Dutch Engineering Firm Sees Climate Change Opportunities In Cities.
Google Announces Large Clean Energy Purchase.
WSJournal: FCC’s Internet Rule Over-Reaches.
STEM Advocates Hail NCLB Replacement.

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