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

Leading the News

NASA Developing Scout Drones To Locate Shelter On Mars.

The Daily Mail  (12/30, Gray) reports that NASA is funding researchers in order to develop “a drone capable of descending into caves on the surface of Mars …and exploring the network of tunnels that exist beneath the surface.” According to the article, NASA “hopes it may be possible for astronauts to shelter in the subterranean world” of Mars, which could offer protection from the planet’s radiation. The article further highlights the efforts of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Wisconsin, as well as their respective industry partners at Astrobiotic Technology, and the Morgridge Institute for Research.

Popular Science  (12/31) reports that the Carnegie Mellon and Astrobotic team recently secured a $125,000 contract with the space agency to develop software for an autonomous drone to locate habitable spaces on Mars, and is currently planning “to build a robot that can fly and hop through steep passages.” William Whittaker, founder and chief science officer of Astrobotic, said, “Safe haven is a huge priority, right from the beginning,” adding, “And out of that diversity of caves, there are likely to be underground spaces that are incredibly amenable to habitation.” These could prove crucial to future manned missions to the red planet by providing shelter from the harmful radiation that scours the surface

Higher Education

New York Launches New Student Debt Forgiveness Plan.

On its website, WGRZ-TV  Buffalo, NY (12/30, Campbell) reports New York has launched the “Get On Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program” to aid recent college graduates with student debt. The state will begin accepting applications on Thursday. On its website, WTEN-TV  Albany, NY (12/31, Stewart) adds that to be eligible for the program, debtors must have graduated from a New York college within the past two years with a bachelor’s degree, be living in New York making less than $50,000 per year, and be enrolled in an income-based repayment plan. Buffalo (NY) Business First  (12/30, Subscription Publication) quotes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, “Ensuring students are able pay for college and not saddled with debt is critical for both their individual success and the continued economic growth of New York State. With this program, we are telling recent graduates: if you invest in New York’s future, we will invest in yours.”

How To Fund Higher Education Institutions Is An Ongoing Debate.

The West Hartford (CT) News  (12/30, Kane) reports there is an ongoing debate about the efficacy of “performance funding” for institutions of higher education. The Connecticut Policy Institute published a recent paper urging the state to split higher education funding into a “core funding payment” and a “performance payment.” A Columbia University study found that such funding programs can have “unintended consequences” such as heightening admissions standards to exclude low-income students and lowered faculty morale. Many states have tried funding systems in the past that rewarded colleges based on how many of their students completed degrees, but many of those states later repealed those systems. Now some states are experimenting with funding systems that reward colleges based on “progress”, so conflicting studies like those from the Connecticut Policy Institute and Columbia University are cited in the ongoing debate.

Higher Education Experts Talk About The Future.

The Atlantic  (12/31) features a 2,500 word article with paragraph statements from education experts about the current state and future of higher education in the US. For example, The Institute for College Access and Success President Lauren Asher says she is discouraged by how difficult it is for poor students to attend college, but that she is hopeful that the growing concern about student debt in the country will lead to a broader push to make college more affordable again. Others quoted in the article include University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, American Enterprise Institute Director of Education Policy Studies Federick M. Hess, and others.

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Research and Development

New Hampshire Aviation Students Working To Prevent Bird Strikes.

The Nashua (NH) Telegraph  (12/31) reports that a group of aviation students at New Hampshire’s Nashua Community College are developing “a prototype to divert birds away from aircraft collisions using a light-emitting device” in a partnership with Lite Enterprise, a firm which “aims to protect animals from sustaining injuries from vehicles and equipment such as aircraft, windmills, solar panels and cellphone towers.”

Military, Defense Contractor Building Prototype Of Drone That Can Land On Small Ships.

Engadget  (12/30, Summers) reports the Office of Naval Research and DARPA are ready to build a prototype of a reconnaissance drone that can land on small ships. Defense contractor Northrop Grumman will develop the prototype for $93 million. Yahoo! News  (12/31, Stella) reports the prototype was designed by the Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), which was created in 2014 to meet the military need for a drone that could take off and land on a small ship in rough seas.

Scientists Push Supercapacitors Closer To Batteries.

Ars Technica  (12/30, Saxena) reports that scientists are working on ways to increase the utility of supercapacitors by “[altering] the surface of the mesoporous carbon plates by the addition of nitrogen,” which gives the system a higher capacitance than graphene based materials and allows rapid charge and discharge. Though the systems are still not efficient enough to compete with batteries, the research shows “that significant improvements in supercapacitor energy storage are still possible.”


Study: San Antonio Facing Shortage Of Manufacturing Labor.

The San Antonio Express-News  (12/31, Webner) reports the San Antonio Manufacturers Association released a study that found at least 837 local manufacturing jobs are unfilled and thousands more will open up over the next decade. The study attributes the growing vacancies to the “workforce problems” of baby boomers retiring, low unemployment rates in the area, and the “skill gap” in local workers. San Antonio has created programs to try to address the skills gap, such as the Alamo Academies at Alamo Colleges, which prepares students for STEM jobs, and the Just in Time program, which prepares students for manufacturing jobs.

Petroleum Engineering Graduates’ Job Prospects Hurt By Oil Slump.

The Dallas Morning News  (12/29, Hervey) reports recent college graduates who studied petroleum engineering are struggling to enter the field due to the large downturn of oil prices, which is hurting the oil industry. The article says the boom-and-bust cycle in the industry “can be brutal for those wanting to make it a career.” Last year, almost 80% of Texas A&M petroleum engineering graduates were placed in full-time positions or graduate school programs, but a December poll found that only 60% have job offers or plans to go to graduate school. Despite the downturn, the next two graduating classes of petroleum engineers will be the largest in history.

Industry News

Analyst Says Tesla Is Seeing “Extremely High Delivery Activity.”

Investor’s Business Daily  (12/30, Howell) reports that Tesla may meet the “high end of its anticipated [sales] range of 50,000 to 52,000” for Model S sedans and Model X crossovers in 2015. According to Global Equities Research managing director Trip Chowdhry, the company is “rushing to deliver the cars to their customers” and the general activity level appears to be “at least three times” what it was last year.

Tech To Expand, Traditional Industries To Shrink In 2016.

The Economist  (12/30) reports that “energy, mining and chemicals firms are expected to slash their capital-investment budgets by 20-50%,” while “internet, software and other tech firms are on a high, with their budgets expected to expand by a quarter or more,” suggesting a possible “step change in the way the economy works.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Congress Again Pushes Back Deadline For New Rail Safety System.

The New York Times  (12/31, Nixon, Subscription Publication) reports that Congress has given the Federal Railroad Administration more time to ensure that railroads “install a badly needed speed-control system.” In October, the deadline – originally this year – was moved to 2018, and earlier this month, the new transportation law moved the date again, to 2020.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Illinois Principal Envisions “Green Lab” Where Students Can Learn About Food And Science.

The Chicago Tribune  (12/30) reports Principal Angi Rowley of Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy in Aurora, Illinois envisions building a “Green Lab”, where students could experiment with growing plants and learn about science in the process. The local school board has approved the project, but it is still early stages. Rowley imagines a facility that is half-greenhouse, and half-science lab.

New Jersey School District Launching New Interactive Program To Teach Math.

The North Jersey (NJ) Media Group  (12/31, Candido) reports Cedar Grove School District in New Jersey is launching a new innovative and hands-on program called “Go Math!” to support Common Core math standards. Cedar Grove Superintendent Michael Fetherman says, “We are thrilled that it’s so interactive with the kids.” Elementary school teachers in the district have been attending workshops at a nearby facility to learn new ways to teach math to their students.

Also in the News

Scientific Papers Examining The Feasibility Of Events In Fictional Works.

The Huffington Post  (12/31) highlights a trend of recent scientific paper that seek to prove or disprove the possibility of certain events or ideas in fictional works. One such study showed that Cinderella’s glass slippers with high heels would have shattered when she tried to run away from Prince Charming. Another paper found that the Earth’s spin could be reversed as in the 1978 film Superman, but that doing so would require an object of far greater mass than a single human being traveling extremely close to the speed of light. The article explains other studies examining the possibility of Santa Claus traveling to all the houses in the world in a single night, owls carrying packages as in the Harry Potter book series, and other ideas from popular books and movies.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Tesla Seeking To Fill Thousands Of Positions In Autonomous Electric Cars Unit.
College Activists Band Together In Calling For Divestments.
NSF Awards Grant To University Of Washington Research Center To Develop Device To Help Paralyzed Move Limbs Again.
Petroleum Engineering Graduates’ Job Prospects Hurt By Oil Slump.
Russia, India Agree To Increase Collaboration On Space Exploration.
Boeing Ramping Up Production Of Starliner Spacecraft At KSC.
Scientists Say World’s Freshwater Lakes Are Getting Warmer.


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