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

Leading the News

McCarthy Defends Handling Of Flint Water Crisis.

Reuters  (1/18) reports EPA Administrator McCarthy on Monday defended the Administration’s handling of the lead-contaminated drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, telling reporters, “EPA did its job but clearly the outcome was not what anyone would have wanted. So we’re going to work with the state, we’re going to work with Flint. We’re going to take care of the problem. … We know Flint is a situation that never should have happened.” McCarthy said her agency has created a task force of experts and is auditing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s water program “to make sure whatever improvements need to be made get made and get done quickly.”

As Anger Against Snyder Grows, Flint Mayor Requests Federal Disaster Declaration. The CBS Evening News (1/18, story 3, 2:00, Pelley) reported that Dayne Walling, mayor of Flint, Michigan, has requested for a federal disaster declaration. Gov. Rick Snyder said fixing damaged pipes will cost $55 million, but Adriana Diaz reported that so far federal aid “is limited to $5 million.” National Guardsmen and state troopers continue to hand out clean water and filters, but resident Elena Richardson asked CBS, “What happens after the water filter is gone? We’re still going to have the lead, the pipe, the poison, the disease.” Diaz added that 10 percent of Flint homes have more than double the amount of lead that researchers say is a cause for concern, while researchers found one home with lead levels “more than twice what the EPA considers toxic waste.”

NBC Nightly News (1/18, story 6, 0:25, Holt) mentioned that Snyder is set to deliver the State of the State address as protests and calls for his resignation grow. Many are even calling for his arrest, according to ABC World News (1/18, story 7, 1:20, Muir), which reported that Snyder responded to the calls on Monday, reportedly saying that “politicizing the issue doesn’t help matters. Let’s focus in on the solution.” Meanwhile, ABC added that dozens more National Guardsmen “are pouring into Flint” to help deliver water and filters.

The Detroit Free Press  (1/18, Bethencourt) reports that a day before Snyder’s State of the State address, 60 protesters marched from the University of Michigan campus “in 12-degree weather” to gather outside the governor’s apartment, chanting for his arrest. The article says the protesters rhetoric “was similar, though perhaps even more pointed, than protests in the past few days.” Another Detroit Free Press  (1/18, Egan) story indicates that Snyder said in an interview with the National Journal on Monday that he could have acted more quickly in what he calls “a disaster” in Flint, but he also blamed “people who had been in these jobs for years” for the lead poisoning, and said he won’t resign over the crisis. Meanwhile, though his office is exempt from Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act, Snyder said in the interview he is considering releasing all of his emails tied to the crisis.

The Detroit News  (1/18) reports that an adviser for Snyder familiar with his upcoming address says Snyder will dedicate most of it to the crisis in Flint, and will begin the speech with a direct message to the city’s residents, in which he will reportedly tell them that “he’s asking lawmakers for immediate financial assistance to pay for recovery efforts.” The article adds that Snyder on Monday said he was disappointed that FEMA denied his request for $96 million to buy filters, 90 days worth of bottled water, and $54.6 million to replace lead-leaching water service lines on private property.

Higher Education

WSJournal: For-Profit Colleges Unfairly Targeted By Administration.

In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal  (1/18, Subscription Publication) criticizes what it sees as the unfair probation that the Defense Department placed on the University of Phoenix, arguing that if allegations and investigative requests cited as the for-profit’s infractions are cause for probation, then every other college investigated for Title IX violations should face similar sanctions. The Journal says Phoenix is fortunate that Sen. John McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, took the time to write Defense Secretary Ash Carter about the situation to end the probation, because most for-profit colleges targeted by the Obama Administration aren’t as lucky.

College President Criticizes ED’s Plans To Regulate Accreditors.

In commentary for The Hill  (1/19) “Congress Blog,” Misericordia University President Thomas J. Botzman writes about the evolution of the US higher education system in the face of technological and economic changes, and says that ED “is making plans to further increase federal oversight and control of higher education” by pushing for “increased transparency in the accreditation process.” He writes that ED “wants to move to more metrics that focus on imperfect measurements that penalize institutions that do not follow the DOE scheme for performance.” He singles out ED’s focus on graduates’ salaries as unfair to schools whose graduates enter into lower-paid professions such as teaching or social work.

ED’s OIG Auditing Western Governors University.

Inside Higher Ed  (1/15) reports that after having “asked tough questions about the faculty role in competency-based education” in recent years, ED’s Office of Inspector General “has turned its scrutiny to Western Governors University, the largest and most-established competency-based provider, which has long been a darling of the Obama administration and top department officials.” As statement from OIG said the office “would ‘continue our work to determine whether Western Governors University complied with the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, and selected regulations governing institutional eligibility, program eligibility, disbursements and return of Title IV aid.’”

University Of New Mexico Piloting Program To Help Students Track Degree Progress.

The Farmington (NM) Daily Times  (1/19, Kellogg) reports the University of New Mexico is piloting a program at six colleges and universities where students can use a website to track their required courses and see how their credits transfer statewide. The program aims to make it easier for students at the state’s colleges to track their progress towards earning their degree and improve higher education in the state. The article lists the six colleges currently participating in the pilot program and mentions that the program’s creator is working toward expanding the website to students at all of the state’s colleges and universities.

From ASEE
International Association of Continuing Engineering Education
Call for papers for May 17-20 conference in Porto, Portugal. January 31 deadline.

Surmounting the Barriers
The joint NAE-ASEE report makes recommendations for breaking down long-identified barriers to diversity in higher education.

Research and Development

University Of Arizona To Work On Tracking Space Junk.

The Arizona Daily Star  (1/19, Beal) reports in its “Scientific Bent” blog that former NASA navigator Moriba Jah “plans to use his new post at the University of Arizona to help find, characterize and predict the movement of space junk.” Jah said that there are few resources available to track space junk and defend orbital facilities from it, and that the NASA orbital Debris Program Office has “no mandate to do the scientific research needed to understand how debris acts and interacts.” Jah was recently given “a joint appointment with the College of Engineering and the Office for Research and Discovery to put together a program in ‘space object behavioral sciences.’”

Experts Say Perovskite Solar Cell May Be The Future Of Solar Energy.

The Washington Post  (1/15, Harvey) reported “many experts are arguing that an emerging type of technology, known as the ‘perovskite’ solar cell, is the face of the future.” Recent research indicates “the perovskite solar cell, a cheaper product with the potential to be just as efficient – if not more so – than traditional silicon cells.” The Post reports science professors Michael McGehee and Nitin Padture believe this technology “is at least five years away from commercialization,” but Padture hopes “the federal government will invest more resources into its study, as research into the improvement of silicon solar cells is already well-covered by private companies.”

Implantable, Dissolvable, Brain-Monitoring Sensor Tested In Rats.

CNN  (1/19, LaMotte) reports that scientists “have implanted chips holding tiny electronic sensors and wires in the brains of rats that will melt away once they are no longer needed,” a research letter  published online Jan. 18 in Nature reveals. Investigators hope “someday the use of these dissolving sensors could eliminate the need for large, bulky externally hardwired systems that leave human patients open to infection, bleeding and allergic reactions.”

HealthDay  (1/19, Dotinga) reports that the sensor is made of silicon and is “the size of a pencil tip.” It can help monitor “intracranial pressure” and brain temperature during or after brain surgery. Investigators are now seeking “funding from the US Department of Defense, which studies brain injury, to launch the next stages of laboratory testing.” Medical Daily  (1/19, Scutti) also covers the story.

Energy Department Awards $80 Million To Two Companies For Advanced Reactor Research.

The Hill  (1/19, Henry) reported Friday on the Department of Energy’s announcement of $80 million in new funding for advanced nuclear reactor research, $40 million each awarded to Southern Company and X-energy. In a statement Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “In order to ensure that nuclear energy remains a key source for U.S. electricity generation well into the future, it is critically important that we invest in these technologies today. … Public-private partnerships to develop advanced nuclear capabilities will enable low-carbon nuclear energy to power America for years to come.”

NSF Awards $5 Million Grant To Multiple Institutions To Study Cybersecurity.

The AP  (1/19) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to Indiana University in Bloomington, the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the Pittsburgh Supercomputer Center, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications to solve cybersecurity problems. Indiana University’s Center for Trustworthy Scientific Cyberinfrastructure will lead the coalition of universities and research centers that received the grant.

Algorithm Developed By MIT Researchers Could Reduce Time Between Boarding And Takeoff.

The Huffington Post  (1/19, Moran) reports a group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed an algorithm to minimize the wait time between airplane boarding and takeoff. The algorithm takes many factors into account to predict how long an airplane will have to wait before takeoff, so airline employees at the gate can adjust boarding times accordingly. If successful, the algorithm could help airlines save fuel by reduce the amount of time engines run while waiting to takeoff and help passengers by minimizing the time they have to wait on board before takeoff. The algorithm may also help air traffic controllers by reducing congestion.

Michigan Professor Working To Reduce Cost Of 3D Printer Plastic Filament.

The AP  (1/18, Hauglie) reports Michigan Technological University Professor Joshua Pearce is working to reduce the cost of the plastic filament used by 3D printers by developing a process to create it from recycled materials. Pearce’s students are developing a “recyclebot” to use plastic waste to make the filament. The research is being funded by a $25,000 grant from the Ford College Community Challenge.

Workforce

Report: World Economic Forum Predicts Robots Will Cause Net Loss Of 5.1 Million Jobs.

CBS News  (1/19, Picchi) highlights “The Future of Jobs” report released by the World Economic Forum currently being held in Davos. Based on surveys of international companies with large workforces, the report predicts that the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” led by advancements in robotics will result in the net loss of up to 5.1 million jobs over the next five years. The report predicts office and administrative roles will be affected the most, but increased automation will also replace jobs in manufacturing, construction, maintenance, and entertainment. The report says, “As entire industries adjust, most occupations are undergoing a fundamental transformation. While some jobs are threatened by redundancy and others grow rapidly, existing jobs are also going through a change in the skill sets required to do them.” The article mentions that the report’s predicted changes could increase income inequality and also have a disproportionate impact on women because they are overrepresented in some industries that would experience large job losses. Bloomberg News  (1/18, Ward) also covered the World Economic Forum report and explained that robotics and other technological developments are predicted to replace around 7 million jobs, but also create 2 million new ones. The report’s authors urge world leaders and employers to take action now to retrain the current workforce with new skills, rather than waiting for a new generation to replace them, because the changes have already started. World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab and managing board member Richard Samans co-authored the report and say, “It is simply not possible to weather the current technological revolution by waiting for the next generation’s workforce to become better prepared.”

Global Developments

Belgian Researchers Announce Quadcopter/Fixed-Wing Hybrid Delivery Drone.

Reuters  (1/18, Drury) reports researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven have announced the development of a new type of drone intended to deliver packages, like technology being developed by Amazon and Google. The drone combines the VTOL ability of quadcopter drones with the speed and lower power requirements of fixed-wing aircraft.

Khattak, US CG Launch Center For Advanced Studies In Energy.

The Associated Press of Pakistan  (1/19) reports that officials presided over the launching of the US-Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Energy Monday. The center, “housed at the University of Engineering and Technology (UET) Peshawar, aims to produce technical experts and to facilitate applied research to find innovative and practical solutions to Pakistan’s energy challenges.” The “five-year, $15 million initiative funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) enables UET Peshawar to partner with National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad and Arizona State University in the United States. “

Industry News

Volkswagen Emissions Scandal Fallout Continues.

Coverage of the ongoing fallout from Volkswagen’s emissions scandal continues in the aftermath of CEO Matthias Müller’s comments in Detroit last week, though Reuters  (1/17, Schwartz) reports that inside sources say the Porsche-Piech family has reaffirmed its support for Müller, in spite of criticism stemming from his latest comments – in which he seemingly downplayed the seriousness of the company’s cheating. The article added that senior members of the VW supervisory board are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss an ongoing internal probe of the scandal. In the “Congress Blog” of The Hill  (1/18), Andreas Geiger criticizes Müller for “[delivering] one of the most embarrassing lobbying actions seen in DC for ages,” in which the VW CEO minimized the company’s role in the emissions scandal. Autoblog  (1/15, Ramsey) offered continuing coverage of Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche’s unusual jab at VW. Zetsche said, “I am very confident that if anyone had this kind of idea with us, this person would very quickly find someone else who would say ‘we don’t want it like that, and we will not do it like that.’”

In a separate piece, Reuters  (1/18, Taylor) draws from a Sueddeutsche Zeitung artice reporting that inside sources say VW intends to hire former head of the FBI Louis Freeh to help the company navigate legal challenges in the US, and will discuss the appointment at Tuesday’s meeting. The company declined to comment on “speculation.”

Reuters  (1/19, Jin) reports that the environment ministry in South Korea announced plans to file a criminal complaint on Tuesday alleging that Johannes Thammer, managing director of Audi Volkswagen Korea, and the company failed to address Korean legal requirements in a recall plan for vehicles affected by the emissions cheat scandal. Reuters adds that South Korean officials in November fined VW 14.1 billion won and ordered that 125,522 vehicles be recalled.

DoD Awards ManTech $200 Million IT Modernization Contract.

The Washington Exec  (1/18, Thompson) reports that the DoD awarded ManTech International a $200 million contract to “support the defense and intelligence community’s growing needs for modernization in the areas of integration, systems engineering, sustainment, and worldwide deployment support.” ManTech’s President of Mission, Cyber & Intelligence Solutions Group L. William Varner said, “ManTech is proud to support critical missions around the globe. Our experts have modernized some of our nation’s most critical infrastructure and look forward to enhancing our technical and security posture.”

DHS: 2015 Saw Nearly Twice As Many Cyberattacks Against Critical Manufacturers.

The Washington Times  (1/18, Blake) reports the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cybersecurity Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT) released a report last week that its investigators found 295 cyber incidents in the year ending Sept. 30 2015, a 20 percent increase over 2014. Furthermore, ICS-CERT found 97 attacks against the critical manufacturing sector, nearly doubling the amount in 2014. The increase was attributed to “insufficiently architected networks,” and poor security practices by computer users employed within the critical manufacturing industry. ICS-CERT said, “Regardless of cause, this reinforces the need for asset owners/operators to focus on security fundamentals” and best practices.

Increasingly Targeted By Hackers, Routers Show Many Vulnerabilities. In a front-page, 2,300-word article, the Wall Street Journal  (1/18, A1, Valentino-Devries, Subscription Publication) reports on security problems in 20 popular Internet routers that the Journal commissioned Tod Beardsley, a researcher at security company Rapid7 Inc., to test. Ten arrived with outdated “firmware” that make them vulnerable to security breaches, while another four had old firmware with updates that may contain undocumented security issues. All but two routers used insecure passwords, and all 20 used network settings that can easily be hacked, according to security researchers.

Engineering and Public Policy

Researchers In Iowa Aim To Transform Nation’s Energy Landscape.

The AP  (1/19, Eller) reports that in the state of Iowa “a diverse group of Iowa engineers, scientists and researchers…are developing technology that could help transform the nation’s energy landscape.” Vice president of research at Iowa State University Sarah Nusser said that significant breakthrough could be a boon to the economies of Iowa and the world. Nusser said, “We have research that can create products that help our economy and can provide solutions to our most vexing grand challenges.” According to Mark Petri, the director of the Iowa Energy Center, researchers in the state regularly collaborate with Energy Department scientists at Ames Laboratory, which is located at ISU.

Emails Reveal Deliberations Over FCC’s Internet Rules.

The Hill  (1/18, Trujillo) reported 162 pages of unredacted FCC emails made public this week “reveal the internal wrangling between Congress and the Federal Communications Commission in 2014 over the agency’s controversial Internet regulations.” In the emails, FCC Chairman Wheeler “complain[s] that the agency’s ‘own words are being used against us’ in meetings with congressional allies.” Although there do not “appear to be any bombshells,” the emails, which were released by the House Oversight Committee “as part of a broader report criticizing the federal government’s open records process,” provide “a rare inside look at the agency and the pressure it was under as it developed controversial rules to ensure all Internet traffic is treated equally.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Opinion: Some Minority Communities Lack Exposure To STEM Careers.

In an opinion piece in Forbes  (1/18, Shepherd) African-American meteorology professor Dr. Marshall Shepherd notes that few African-Americans enter STEM professions and quotes several of his peers with their proposed solutions to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields. Shepherd argues that African-American children who do well in school are pressured by their families and others to become doctors, lawyers, or business owners instead of exploring other possible career fields. Shepherd says, “The solution is that we have to convey to our communities that environmental sciences, information technology, bioengineering are valuable too.” Shepherd’s peers argue that schools need to spend more time on STEM education and that scientists who come from underrepresented minority communities need to do more to reach out to the communities they grew up in to improve diversity in STEM fields.

DOT Awards Grant To University Of New Mexico To Promote STEM Careers To Youth.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (1/19, Galvan) reports the US Department of Transportation has awarded an almost $50,000 grant to the University of New Mexico’s School of Engineering to encourage more at-risk students in middle school and high school to consider careers in engineering and transportation.

NSF Funds STEM Program That Pairs University Professors With Elementary School Students.

The Bryan College Station (TX) Eagle  (1/19, Fiedler) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $1.3 million “Making the Makers” grant to Texas A&M University to fund a program where university professors help local elementary school students with their science fair projects. Since September, professors have helped 124 students in six classes at Neal Elementary School complete science projects studying LED lights, circuits, robots, ice, and other science topics. The article quotes ED’s website highlight the importance of STEM, “Today, few American students pursue expertise in STEM fields – and we have an inadequate pipeline of teachers skilled in those subjects. That’s why President Obama has set a priority of increasing the number of students and teachers who are proficient in these vital fields.”

New York City Students Learn About STEM Visiting Pinball Arcade.

The Wall Street Journal  (1/18, Gardner, Subscription Publication) reports students at P.S. 145 in Brooklyn visited Modern Pinball NYC in Manhattan to learn about STEM. Steve Zahler, one of the arcade’s owners, talked to the students about how the pinball machines depend on electricity and circuitry to run, and Steven P. Marsh, a former Navy researcher, showed the students how one of the machines works from the inside after the students had a chance to play a few games.

Connecticut Advanced Manufacturing Program Helps Students Prepare For Future Careers.

The Greenwich (CT) Post  (1/19) reports the Connecticut Technical High School System’s Precision Machining Program prepares students for jobs in the advanced manufacturing industry. The program began almost 80 years ago, but Sen. Chris Murphy praises the program for staying current and preparing students for 21st century careers. Enrollment in the program has increased since 2009 as demand for advanced manufacturers has risen in the state.

Also in the News

WSJournal: Humans The Critical Vulnerability In Computer Systems.

The Wall Street Journal  (1/18, Mims, Subscription Publication) says that the humans who use computer systems are those systems’ critical weakness, as humans are vulnerable to fraud, confidence schemes, and social engineering. Teaching people to be more suspicious of possible schemes will not work, and CrowdStrike president Shawn Henry is cited saying the solution is build systems that assume human fallibility and preclude the possibility of mistakes.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Foxx Announces $4 Billion Plan For Autonomous Cars.
Former CFPB Ombudsman To Work On Student Loan Protections For ED.
University Of Texas Researchers Devising “Self-Healing” Gel For Electronics.
Percentage Of Immigrants Working In Science, Engineering Rising.
Advisory Panel Criticizes NASA Safety Practices.
California School District Wants To Expand Career And Technical Education.

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