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

Leading the News

Entrepreneurs Create New Toys To Teach Kids How To Code.

The AP  (12/16) reports entrepreneurs have created lots of new toys, robots, and video games designed to teach kids how to code as young as six years old as part of a national effort to get more children interested in computer science and other STEM fields. Some have criticized the movement suggesting that pushing computers on young children could interfere with their natural development or make them frustrated with technology, but proponents say children form interests early on so they should be exposed to STEM fields as soon as possible. The article describes some of the new devices that have been made to teach kids how to code at a young age.

Indiana Library Holds Event Introducing Kids To Programming With Robots. The AP  (12/17, Slagter) reports children in Kokomo-Howard County Public Library in Indiana played with Dash and Dot, two robots that can be programmed to find each other and navigate obstacle courses. Lots of the children had their first experience with coding by playing with the robots. The event was co-sponsored by SHAK Makerspace, which plans to open in January as a space for people to experiment building things with different materials. SHAK Makerspace and the library plan to offer more opportunities for children to learn about technology like 3-D printers and robots.

Opinion: Girls Should Have Gender Neutral STEM Toys. In an opinion piece in US News & World Report  (12/16, Fleischer) Villanova University engineering professor Dr. Amy Fleischer questions the wisdom of STEM toys designed specifically for girls and argues for gender neutral toys. Fleischer applauds the efforts of GoldieBlox and other companies to make products that get girls interested in STEM, but argues that gendering the toys might also be a set back for gender equality. Fleischer identifies a larger problem by asking, “How did we as a society reach the point where stores became segregationist bastions of pink and blue?” Fleischer says, “The intent behind these toys might be solid, but genderization of building toys is neither necessary nor helpful.”

Higher Education

University Of Michigan Engineering Dean Creates Star Wars-Themed Music Video.

MLive (MI)  (12/17) reports University of Michigan’s engineering dean Dave Munson “rapped and starred in a Star-Wars-themed music video.” In the video, Munson raps about his accomplishments serving as dean for two terms with lyrics like, “Innovation arises from collaboration. Different disciplines do more in combination. Which is why I devoted my time to finding ways to align bright minds for ideas that blaze.”

Maryland Governor Appoints New Higher Education Secretary.

The AP  (12/16) reports that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed James Fielder, who has served as the governor’s secretary of appointments and held several positions in higher education, as new secretary for the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Fielder will reportedly assume the position on Thursday.

The Baltimore Sun  (12/16, Cox) also reports.

USA Today Explores Reasons Dampening Four-Year Graduation Rates At Public Institutions.

Writing in USA Today  (12/16), Nika Anschuetz, student at Waynesburg University and a fall 2015 USA Today Collegiate Correspondent, cites a 2014 study by Complete College America that found that most public students at public universities complete their bachelor’s degree in six years and cites the following four reasons dampening graduation rates: a lack of a clear plan or advising, change of majors, change of universities, and unnecessary courses taken.

Department Of Education Loans To Be Allocated Based On Service-Provider Quality.

The Washington Post  (12/16, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that, as a condition of a $155 million increase in Department of Education funding, lawmakers are requiring that the department allocate new loans based solely on the quality of service-providers, a measure that may shift a share of business to smaller, nonprofit companies. Department of Education spokeswoman Denise Horn stated that, “We appreciate that Congress also wants to ensure borrowers receive the highest quality service and are currently reviewing the appropriations language and its implications for borrowers.” Michele Streeter of the Education Finance Council stated that, “This provision is a win for student loan borrowers, ensuring that they receive effective, personalized loan servicing that guides them through their repayment period successfully, and for taxpayers, who deserve a system that maximizes existing and proven resources.”

RIT Wins NSF Award To Establish Alliance Of National STEM Programs.

The Henrietta (NY) Post  (12/16) reports that the Rochester Institute of Technology was recently awarded a $270,225 grant from the National Science Foundation to establish an alliance among independent diversity science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs at universities nationwide. The alliance, called the Access Network, reportedly “aims to improve equity and community in physics education and increase the graduation rate of traditionally underrepresented physics majors.”

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Research and Development

SpaceX Selects 124 Teams For Competition Designing Hyperloop Pods.

The Christian Science Monitor  (12/17, Ward-Bailey) reports SpaceX has selected 124 teams, most with student engineers, to participate in a competition to design the pods that will travel through a prototype Hyperloop, “an enclosed tube that would stretch for hundreds of miles between cities and allow people to travel at more than 700 miles per hour.” The competition will be held at the end of January at Texas A&M University and the winner will construct their designed pod to be tested at SpaceX’s headquarters in California. SpaceX co-founder Elon Musk shared his idea for a Hyperloop back in 2013, which was at first dismissed as impractical, but is now generating more interest.

University Of Delaware Researchers Developing New Materials For Better Solar Panels.

The Philadelphia Inquirer  (12/17, Avril) reports researchers at the University of Delaware are “developing materials to harness portions of the sun’s spectrum that in today’s conventional solar panels are largely wasted” in order to increase the efficiency of solar panels. The research is being funded by a $1 million grant from The W.M. Keck Foundation.

US Army Makes Progress With ARL-E Program.

Defense Aerospace (FRA)  (12/17) reports that Leidos was awarded a $661.84 million contract to support the US Army’s Airborne Reconnaissance Low-Enhanced project in early November. The article adds that under the contract, Leidos will provide “ARL-E design, architecture engineering, configuration management, system integration, testing, and technical and logistics support.” The article mentions that this is the first ARL-E procurement by the Army. The article adds that Northrop Grumman was also selected by the Army to develop a Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) system for the ARL-E.

Louisiana Research Summit To Focus On Driving Federal Research Dollars To State.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Business Report  (12/17, Riegel) reports that Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) is organizing the Louisiana Research Summit, which will bring together leaders from the business, political, academic and philanthropic sectors early next year to discuss “ways to increase the flow of federal research dollars to Louisiana.” Among the speakers at the event are National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Director Janet Woodcock.

LLNL Physicists Find First Experimental Evidence For Helium “Rain” On Saturn.

Science Magazine  (12/17) reports that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) extreme matter physicist Gilbert Collins said scientists found “the first experimental evidence at conditions relevant to Jupiter and Saturn,” which the article says shows “Saturn’s helium ‘rain,’ a phenomenon in which a mixture of liquid hydrogen and helium separates like oil and water, sending droplets of helium deep in the planet’s atmosphere.” LLNL physicist Marius Millot described how the research team began to consider the possibility, noticing “something strange is happening with the conductivity.” The article points out the conclusions of the team are not final, as they conflict with those of Sandia National Laboratory’s.

Industry News

Corning, Ford Introduce Gorilla Glass Hybrid For GT Supercar.

Coverage of Corning’s announcement that it has joined Ford Motor Co in creating a Gorilla Glass hybrid for use in the automotive industry continues to receive significant positive coverage. Most outlets highlight the prevalence of Gorilla Glass in smartphones and report the specifications of the new Gorilla Glass hybrid. “After years of overwhelming success in the handheld touch device market,” Automobile Magazine  (12/16, Golden) reports, Corning has moved beyond electronics to adapt its Gorilla Glass, which “is renowned for its scratch and shatter resistance, along with its remarkable strength,” for use in a structural automotive capacity. The New York Daily News  (12/16, Powers) reports that Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which is “used on over 4 billion devices,” will soon be appearing in the “windshield and rear window” of Ford’s GT sports car, making “the windshield a whopping 32% lighter” to improve fuel efficiency and handling. According to the Daily News, “the glass meets all U.S. safety standards” and has passed “tests on rough roads and in wind tunnels.” According to Forbes  (12/16, Abuelsamid), Corning says the product is five times stronger than standard automotive glass and “25 to 50 percent thinner.” The article reports that the Gorilla Glass hybrid “has shaved 12 pounds from the GT” and made “an important contribution” to reducing the GT’s mass – “[lowering] the center of gravity by 3 millimeters.” According to Paul Linden, Ford body exteriors engineer, the laser-cut Corning product has a smoother edge than traditional glass, which “is cut to shape using the long-standing score and break method” and more prone to imperfections. Similarly, Engadget’s  (12/16, Cooper) Dan Cooper explains that the Gorilla Glass hybrid “promises to be thinner, lighter and tougher than anything that’s gone before.” Cooper adds that the product will initially “only be available on the most expensive of Ford’s sports cars” but will “eventually [trickle] down to the sort of whips that regular folks can afford” when proven successful. CNET News  (12/16, Krok) also reports, mentioning that Ford previously “used Gorilla Glass in its Fusion MMLV (Multi-Material Lightweight Vehicle) concept, but that was never offered to the public.”

Typical of broadcast coverage, WMUR-TV Manchester, NH (12/16, 5:40 p.m. EST) and WZZM-TV Grand Rapids, MI (12/16, 12:13 p.m. EST) reported on the weight-saving properties and explained that the product will be used in the GT’s windshield, rear engine cover, and bulkhead.

Ford also released an unlisted video  on YouTube highlighting the benefits of using the new glass.

Car and Driver  (12/16, Wendler) covers the “innovative technology” as it relates to increasing “the 2017 Ford GT’s already impressive list of stats,” while Glass Bytes  (12/16, Reed) reports that Pittsburgh Glass Works (PGW) will serve as Ford’s “Tier 1 supplier for this glass,” manufacturing the product at its Berea, Ky. plant.

AutoWeek  (12/16) shares pictures of the GT and MLive (MI)  (12/16, Muller) offers video of an engineer testing the strength of Gorilla Glass, in comparison to standard auto glass, by firing chunks of ice at both. The standard glass shatters, while the hybrid glass is unmarred.

Android Authority  (12/16, Dye), Automotive World  (12/16, Boucherat), Digital Trends  (12/16, Edelstein), Fox News  (12/16), MobileSyrup (CAN)  (12/16, O’Rourke), SlashGear  (12/16, McGlaun) provided similar coverage of the announcement and the specifications of the Gorilla Glass hybrid.

Engineering and Public Policy

Renewable Energy Industry Applauds Federal Budget Deal.

Fuel Fix (TX)  (12/16, Blum) reports that advocates for wind and solar power praised “the federal budget deal awaiting congressional approval that would extend federal tax credits for renewable power by five years.” While the ending of the crude oil export ban “received the lion’s share of the attention in the budget compromise,” the legislation “also renews the federal production tax credit, or PTC, that benefits the growth of wind farms, and the investment tax credit, or ITC, that discounts the expansion of solar power.” If approved, “the American Wind Energy Association said the deal…would provide several years of predictability to encourage more renewable power growth, especially with the nation’s electric grid soon requiring additional renewable power generation as more coal-fired power plants are retired.”

The Wall Street Journal  (12/17, Sweet, Subscription Publication) reports renewable energy industry leaders praised the deal and shares in renewable companies were boosted by the news.

Solar Companies Rise On Tax Credit Extension. Bloomberg News  (12/16, Martin) reports that solar companies’ stocks, and SolarCity’s in particular, climbed Wednesday after lawmakers agreed to extend a Federal tax credit an additional five years. “Extending the ITC has been one of the solar industry’s top lobbying goals this year and uncertainty over its future has been a drag on development,” Bloomberg reports. Both the tax-credit extension and a California Public Utilities Commission proposal to maintain net-metering rates for rooftop solar customers “will help attract new investment and carry the industry until solar can compete without subsidies.”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal  (12/17, Whaley) reports Bryan Miller, senior vice president of public policy and power markets at Sunrun and president of The Alliance for Solar Choice, said the extension of the tax credit is due in large part to the work by Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, adding that “the key bricks in the foundation for solar are the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and stable net metering policies.”

Wind Industry “Delighted” Over Tax Credit Extension. The Denver Business Journal  (12/17, Proctor, Subscription Publication) reports that the omnibus spending and tax bill also extended the Federal production tax credit for wind projects, which industry leaders said “would lend an air of certainty to their industry and eliminate boom-and-bust cycles that have occurred whenever the deadline for the credits has loomed in the past.” Rebecca Cantwell, executive director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, said, “We are delighted a five-year extension of the Investment Tax Credit has been included in the omnibus bill.” According to the American Wind Energy Association, the Production Tax Credit would be extended through 2016 and at declining rates through 2019.

Tax Bill Could Cause “Scramble” For New Wind Energy Projects In 2016. The Washington Examiner  (12/17) reports a new tax extenders bill released Wednesday “is bound to create a frenzy among wind energy firms to get steel in the ground and begin new construction before the end of 2016,” as the bill contains a “commence construction” clause that could allow benefits to last beyond 2016.

Critics Say EPA Report Shows Backsliding On Fuel Economy, Emissions.

An EPA report shows that US automakers’ “progress toward better fuel economy and emissions standards is slowing,” the Los Angeles Times  (12/17, Fleming) reports. The study, which shows “scant improvement in either area,” found that “average fuel economy for US passenger vehicles in 2014 remained unchanged from the previous year: 24.3 miles per gallon – while average carbon dioxide emissions were also the same: 366 grams per mile.” Critics “said the report represented backsliding on the part of automakers and auto consumers.” Bloomberg News  (12/16, Plungis) reports that as gasoline prices have declined, “Americans have flocked back to pickups and SUVs” and that is having an impact on “U.S. automakers’ progress on fuel economy targets.” However, USA Today  (12/16, Woodyard) reports that average fuel economy now is at an all-time high.

The AP  (12/17, Biesecker) and Reuters  (12/16, Shepardson, Lienert) also provides coverage of this story.

Think Tank Says Florida’s Solar Choice Amendment Could Cost $1.1 Billion.

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times  (12/17, Auslen) reports in its “The Buzz Florida Politics” blog that according to the conservative think tank James Madison Institute, the proposed solar power constitutional amendment by Floridians for Solar Choice could cost ratepayers as much as $1.1 billion per year. According to group vice-president Sal Nuzzo, solar customers would be “free-riding…on the rest of the traditional utility ratepayers.” The Times highlights close ties between the institute and Florida utilities, reporting that board member Stan Connaly is the CEO of Gulf Power, which gave $640,000 to a group pushing a competing utility-backed amendment.

Elementary/Secondary Education

University Of Oklahoma Planned Computer Science Education Week Events.

The Norman (OK) Transcript  (12/7, Lee) reports the University of Oklahoma’s Computer Science Department planned several events during last week’s Computer Science Education Week. The week began with computer science students teaching the university’s vice-president and engineering dean about coding. On Tuesday, the university planned to show children from local elementary schools and middle schools how to code. The department planned to demystify coding during the week and make the field more accessible to people of different backgrounds.

Massachusetts School Teaches Kids STEM Skills Incorporating Literature.

Slate  (12/17, Berdik) reports the Linden STEAM Academy in Malden Massachusetts teaches students how to solve problems using STEM skills with projects based on stories they read in class. The students in one third grade class read a story about a dog that accidentally swallowed a turtle while drinking water, and then created a computer program to protect a baby turtle from a dog. The school is part of the Novel Engineering initiative, a STEAM curriculum, that was developed at Tuft’s Center for Engineering Education and Outreach and is backed by the National Science Foundation.

Growing STEAM Movement Could Help Minority Students Learn STEM Skills.

The Christian Science Monitor  (12/16, Lewontin) reports the national effort to incorporate the arts into STEM education, called STEAM, could help more children get interested in STEM fields by allowing them to exercise their creativity in STEM projects. The Boston Arts Academy has opened a STEAM Lab to help arts-focused students learn STEM skills to complete creative projects. The lab’s director Nettrice Gaskins spoke to Harvard Law School about her work to get more minority students interested in STEM and praised STEAM as a possible solution. Gaskins cited several hip-hop artists as examples of people who solved STEM problems, related to sound engineering and recording, in order to complete creative projects.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Appeals Court Allows EPA Mercury Pollution Rules To Stay In Effect.
Senators Reach Deal To Revive Perkins Loan Program With New Restrictions.
US Army Awards Contract To Utah University To Provide And Advance Spider Silk Technology.
Arab Universities Growing Aerospace Engineering Programs, Forming Connections With US Universities And Companies.
FedEx Engineers Design Better Boxes For Shipping.
White House Launches Water Conservation Effort.
New Technology High School Set To Open Next Year In Phoenix.

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