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

Leading the News

USGS Research Shows Uranium Contaminates Western Water.

In a 2,115 word piece, the AP  (12/8, Knickmeyer, Smith) investigates the problem of uranium-contaminated water in California’s central farm valleys and in the Midwest, where the US Geological Survey has found “up to one in 10 public water systems have raw drinking water with uranium levels that exceed federal and state safety standards.” Although authorities are not currently working to prevent uranium contamination, USGS researcher Bryant Jurgens predicted that if they start, “it’s going to take many decades to reverse” the current levels of contamination, which he said are the result of decades of contamination.

In an accompanying piece entitled “5 Things To Know About Uranium Found In Drinking Water,” the AP  (12/8, Knickmeyer, Smith) explained the cancer risks from long-term exposure to uranium, how farming methods and irrigation can lead to uranium’s presence in drinking water, and the geographical regions affected by the contamination. The AP laments, “officials are unable to point to any public health campaigns in the most-affected areas or any help with testing or dealing with wells that test for high levels,” while noting some schools and communities that are addressing the issue. The article adds that public water systems are tested for uranium and treated, but points out that private water systems are not.

Higher Education

Maryland County Considering Student Loan Refinancing Program.

On its website, WAMU-FM  Washington (12/8, Bush) reports Montgomery County in Maryland is considering creating their own “student-loan refinancing authority” in order to attract more young college graduates to the county, which has the lowest percentage of millennials of any county in the Washington DC metropolitan area. The program would be self-sustaining by financing loans through tax-exempt bonds. Montgomery County Council Member Tom Hucker says the program is “a fantastic opportunity to brand Montgomery County as a welcoming jurisdiction for young families and professionals.” Jerry Garson of the county’s civic federation says, “Montgomery County should not be a loan-shark county.” Garson says the county cannot even maintain their roads right now, so they should not take on any new costs.

Louisiana BOE Approves New Policy Requiring Financial Aid Applications Or Waiver For High School Graduation.

The AP  (12/8) reports the Louisiana BOE approved a new policy that will require high school seniors to apply for financial aid for post-secondary education or have a parent sign a form stating that the student will not apply for such aid. Louisiana Superintendent John White explains the rationale for the policy, “We are leaving tens of millions of dollars every year because we are not applying for financial aid that will fund not just universities but community colleges and technical training. That problem is compounded by the fact that it is really the kids that need the aid the most that are applying the least.” The new policy will take effect in 2018.

Student Debt Crisis May Have Wide Reaching Effects For Work, Entrepreneurship, Major Life Events, Wealth Inequality.

In an almost 2,000 word article, Rolling Stone  (12/7, Goodell) details how the public discussion about the student debt crisis has changed recently in that many people used to attribute complaints about student debt to laziness, but now more are coming to believe that there is cause for concern. The article outlines how many students have declined to pursue public service careers because the low pay is insufficient to cover their student loan payments. Studies from the Federal Reserve Banks in Philadelphia and St. Louis suggest that the increase in student loan debt may be connected to the decline in small businesses in 2000, the delay of major life events, and perhaps an increase in wealth inequality.

Democratic Legislators Announce Coordinated Effort To Introduce Resolutions For “Debt-Free Public College.”

The AP  (12/8, Smyth) reports Democratic legislators in 10 states announced a coordinated effort to make “debt-free public college” a priority during the 2016 election. Democratic lawmakers from Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wisconsin all participated in a teleconference where they announced plans to introduce resolutions to address “rising college debt near crisis levels.” TIME  (12/7, Frizell) adds that the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is leading the effort to make college debt-free and the campaign director Kayla Wingbermuehle said, “From New Hampshire to Iowa, and all across the nation, voters wants students to be able to graduate from college without debt.” The article notes that presidential candidates from both parties have talked about college affordability and changing our higher education system during their campaigns. The article also lists the state legislators who are planning to introduce the legislation in their respective states.

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Research and Development

Researchers Explore Teaching Robots To Learn Like Human Babies.

The Atlantic  (12/8) reports that Andrew Meltzoff, a psychology professor at the University of Washington and a co-director of the school’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, “recently worked with a team of roboticists and machine-learning experts to explore” whether robots could be built to learn the way human infants do. Children as young as 18 months “can infer intent, and even develop their own alternate strategies of achieving a goal.” The researchers’ findings were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Fire Extinguishers Designed By Colorado School Of Mines To Go To ISS.

The Denver Post  (12/8, Wallace) reports that two fire extinguishers designed by researchers at the Colorado School of Mines “that have been 18 years in the making will hitch a ride to the International Space Station on Thursday afternoon.” The water-mist fire extinguishers “were designed to replace the carbon dioxide-based units on board,” which carry “some operational risks in that the gases discharged during a fire could be hazardous to the human crew.”

Researchers Develop Method For Reversible Color Change For Displays.

Photonics  (12/7) reports that researchers from Rice University’s Smalley-Curl Institute have developed a method for building tiny “drawbridges” using voltages “to produce dramatic, reversible color changes for devices built from light-activated nanoparticles.” The color switching method uses pairs of metal nanoparticles that convert light energy into plasmons, which scatter and absorb characteristic frequencies of light. By changing the plasmonic frequency, scientists can increase the difference between colors observed. The researchers say the method is a valuable tool for plasmonic researchers and for other scientists interested in quantum plasmonics.

Researchers Launch Photonics Workforce Development Study.

The Henrietta (NY) Post  (12/7) reports that Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology are launching a three-year study on workforce development trends in STEM fields, funded by a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant. The study aims to help educators better understand how to prepare students for careers in photonics and optics, identifying the most important skills used in the industry.

Kentucky Universities At Forefront Of NSF Nanotechnology Project.

TechRepublic  (12/7, Reese) profiles the joint project on Multi-scale Manufacturing and Nano Integration Node (MMNIN), funded by a $81 million National Science Foundation grant. The University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky work to “integrate things across the various length scales of manufacturing, from nano-micro to the 3D-printed world,” according to Kevin Walsh, the founding director of the Micro/Nanotechnology Center at the University of Louisville.

Engineers Design “Band-Aid Of The Future.”

The Washington Times  (12/8, Harper) reports that engineers have designed the “band-aid of the future,” called a “smart wound dressing.” It contains “temperature sensors, semiconductor chips and tiny reservoirs of medicine embedded in a super-thin, flexible, almost rubbery hydrogel which stretches over even tricky areas like elbows or knees.” The engineers also envision it being used “inside the body – employed as a ‘biocompatible’ monitor for the levels of glucose or other vital indicators, without risk of rejection by the body.” The research  was published in the journal Advanced Materials.


Machines Create More Jobs, Require More STEM Knowledge.

US News & World Report  (12/7, Risen) reports that a new study by James Bessen of the Boston University School of Law predicts that increased automation and the use of computerized workers will reshape more jobs than they destroy. The study found that using machines makes work more efficient and that employers using computers to complete or assist job tasks are more likely to increase demand for their services and create new jobs. Bessen said, “The problem is not that a computer will steal your job – it’s that another person who has more advanced skills could steal your job,” as automation requires workers to learn new skills in math, science, and computer engineering.

Tennessee Implements Programs Addressing STEM Worker Shortage.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (12/8, Kimel) reports that Tennessee is implementing new programs to address worker shortages in STEM fields and increase the share of state residents with college degrees. The Labor and Education Alignment Program “provides funding to programs designed to match employers’ needs with educational resources.” A recent program report reveals that all of the top five fastest-growing jobs are STEM or IT-related. State funding is directed toward projects that aim to close the STEM training gap.

Global Developments

Chinese Researchers Developed Mind-Controlled Car.

Reuters  (12/7) reports that reachers at China’s Nankai University have developed the country’s first entirely mind-controlled car, which uses equipment that reads brain signals to allow the driver to move the car forward, reverse, stop, and activate the door locks. Associate Professor Duan Feng, from Nankai University’s College of Computer and Control Engineering and project leader, said the technology could eventually be combined with self-driving car technology.

Industry News

IBM Apologizes After #HackAHairDryer Campaign Sparks Backlash.

The Huffington Post  (12/8) reports that IBM apologized Monday for its #HackAHairDryer campaign, which attempted to “appeal to women in tech by asking them to hack hair dryers.” After the move generated “blowback on Twitter and elsewhere,” IBM canceled the “ad campaign that unintentionally delivered the unfortunate message that if you want women to be interested in tech you need to make it all about ‘girl stuff.’”

NBC News  (12/8) reports that after the campaign was launched a couple of months ago, “a multitude of women complained that it fed off sexist stereotypes,” saying “they’d rather be working on more important things like building robots.” CBS News  (12/8) also covers this story.

Engineering and Public Policy

Officials Say Transportation Bill Will Benefit Hudson River Rail Tunnel.

The New York Times  (12/8, Fitzsimmons, Subscription Publication) reports that speaking at a news conference on Monday, Sens. Cory Booker and Charles Schumer, Amtrak chairman Anthony R. Coscia, and Patrick J. Foye, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, praised the recently-passed federal transportation bill, saying it “would make it easier to secure funding for the long-awaited” Hudson River rail tunnel project. According to the officials, the bill “had several measures that would benefit the project, including one allowing profits from Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor to be reinvested in plans like the new tunnel.”

Bipartisan House Measure Would Advance Next-Generation Nuclear Power.

The Hill  (12/8, Gandhi, Holland) reports in its “Congress Blog” blog that as the United Nations Climate Change Conference wraps up in Paris, much attention has “focused on wind and solar,” but nuclear power has “recently garnered more attention despite increased skepticism after the Fukushima disaster.” Now, the “leaders of the House Committee on Science, Space, & Technology have introduced HR4084, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act.” This bipartisan bill “directs the DOE to prioritize research and development (R&D) infrastructure in a way that benefits private sector investment into advanced reactor technologies.” The legislation “provides the opportunity to bolster public-private partnership among nuclear scientists.”

Norwegian Wind Turbine Developer Assumes Lake Erie Turbine Project.

In the Cleveland Plain Dealer  (12/7, Funk) blog, John Funk writes that Lake Erie Energy Department Co. (LEEDCo.) agreed to sell its research assets to Norwegian wind turbine developer Fred. Olsen Renewables in early 2016. Fred. Olsen’s US subsidiary, Fred. Olsen Renewables USA, will manage and fund the development of a Lake Erie six-turbine pilot project, initially planned by LEEDCo, that is expected to generate $80 million for the region. LEEDCo. president Lorry Wagner stated that the Department of Energy is granting up to $440 million for the project next summer, and confidently stated that the project will deliver the DOE a needed success.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Florida College Received Bomb Threat Causing Evacuation, Cancelled Classes.

Reuters  (12/8, Stein, Books, and Dobuzinskis) reports on Monday, Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Florida evacuated several buildings on campus, cancelled classes, and alerted students after receiving a bomb threat, which was left on a blackboard. The evacuation and alert continued for three hours until officials cleared the area for re-entry.

New York City Council Approves Funding For Security At Private, Religious Schools.

Reuters  (12/8, Ax) reports the New York City Council voted 41-4 in favor of spending almost $20 million for unarmed security guards for private and religious schools in the city with more than 300 students. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “Students across our city deserve a safe learning environment, no matter what community they come from or where they attend school.” The New York Civil Liberties Union Advocacy Director Johanna Miller criticized the decision as “unconstitutional government support for religious institutions.”

Monday’s Lead Stories

Climate Scientists Call For Nuclear Power To Help Fight Climate Change.
SMU Engineering School Enrolls More Than 30% Female Students For A Decade.
Researchers Developing New Technologies To Aid Aging Population.
Report: LG Chem, Samsung SDI Dominate Global EV Battery Market.
GOP Seeks To Phase Out Tax Breaks For Wind, Solar Industries.
Massachusetts Increasing Funding For Program To Train Advanced Manufacturers.
First Woman Certified As US Army Combat Engineer.

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