Leading the News
Senate Approves First Amendments To Wide-Ranging Energy Legislation.
The Hill (1/29, Henry) reports senators yesterday “approved four amendments to an energy overhaul bill, the first of what will likely be several amendment votes while the energy bill is on the floor.” The bill “would change a host of policies, including provisions to speed up the export of liquefied natural gas, indefinitely expand a conservation fund, update the electricity grid and reform and update other energy policies.” As of Thursday morning, “senators had offered 89 amendments to the legislation…Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said.” Murkowski, who co-sponsored the bill, said, “It is the beginning of a series of steps that we will take to modernize our nation’s energy, as well as our mineral policies.”
E&E Publishing (1/28) reports the Senate approved an “amendment by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on a 55-37 vote” to increase “the authorized funding for DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, in the underlying bill to $325 million annually from fiscal 2016 to 2018, with that amount climbing to $375 million annually in fiscal 2019 and 2020.”
E&E Publishing (1/28, Koss, Hess) says that “despite desire to pass a bill that President Obama will sign,” Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota “said amendments to rescind U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Act jurisdiction rules are likely, with proposals to hand states primacy in regulating fracking and overhauling the permitting process for energy infrastructure projects that cross the United States, Mexican and Canadian borders coming, as well.” The Hill (1/28, Cama) reports that a group of Democrats in the Senate is sponsoring an amendment that seeks “up to $600 million for the federal response to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Mich.”
Oil Industry Expresses Support Of Senate Bill. Fuel Fix (TX) (1/28) reports the Senate bill received a “thumbs up from the oil industry” yesterday. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that his group “strongly supports” the bill. He wrote that the legislation “provides a streamlined process for natural gas export projects before the Department of Energy which will accelerate America’s rise as a world-class exporter of natural gas, create U.S. jobs, grow our economy, and significantly strengthen the global energy market.”
National Science Foundation Gives University $4.2 Million To Adopt CyberCorps Scholarships For Service Program.
The Daily Hampshire (MA) Gazette (1/28, Eisenstadter) reports that University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers “received a $4.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to bring a CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program to campus.” Under the program, students will learn about cybersecurity and spend two years working in government to counter cyberattacks.
Wisconsin State Assembly Committee Passes College Affordability Bills.
The AP (1/28, Richmond) reports the Wisconsin State Assembly passed Governor Scott Walker’s college affordability bills out of committee. The bills would “lift the cap on tax-deductible student loan interest, boost grants for students and create internship coordinators” and are now headed to a floor vote. The bills were passed along party lines within the committee with Republicans supporting the bills, and Democratic legislators opposing them.
NSF Grant Funds Cybersecurity Scholarships At University Of Kansas.
KSNT-TV Topeka, KS (1/28, Broyles) reports the National Science Foundation has awarded a $4.7 million five-year grant to the University of Kansas School of Engineering to educate cyberdefense experts dedicated to public service. The grant will fund scholarships for students to study cybersecurity on the condition that they work for the government after graduation.
Stanford University’s “CS+X” Major Lets Students Combine Technology With Humanities.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (1/28, Ruff) reports Stanford University has created a new major called “CS+X”, which allows students to study computer science and one of several fields in the humanities. The article shares the story of Hannah Pho who wanted to continue studying piano and technology at college, so she became a “CS+Music” major at Stanford University. Pho says she enjoyed her major at first and the people who shared her combination of interests, but is now having doubts as a sophomore whether she wants to pursue a career that combines these two interests. The article also shares the views of some Stanford faculty who support humanities students learning more about technology during their college studies, but worry that the university has rushed to create new majors without spending more time to design a stronger curriculum for them.
Oakland Mayor Unveils New Initiative To Triple College Graduation Rates For Poor Students.
The Contra Costa (CA) Times (1/29, Tsai) reports Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff unveiled the Oakland Promise initiative, a plan to “triple the number of low-income students who graduate college” by providing more financial support to students and colleges. Schaff announced the initiative at Oakland High School at an event attended by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, ED’s Ted Mitchell, and University of California President Janet Napolitano. Schaffy said, “We are making this promise today, the Oakland Promise. It’s time to end the tyranny of low expectations. It’s time we break down the barriers to hope that have been keeping down our kids for too long.” The new plan will “open 55,000 college savings accounts for Oakland children, invest $100 million in college scholarships and serve nearly 200,000 students and families across Oakland.”
Research and Development
Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program Develops “Gigantic” Turbine Blades.
Windpower Engineering & Development (1/29, Dvorak) reports on a development project conducted by Sandia National Laboratories and funded by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program to design “a low-cost offshore 50-MW turbine requiring a rotor blade more than 650 feet” long, which the article describes as “gigantic.” Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program technical lead Todd Griffith said, “Exascale turbines take advantage of economies of scale.” The project is being led by the University of Virginia and corporate partners include Dominion Resources, General Electric, and Siemens.
Network World (1/28, Cooney) further quotes Griffith explaining, “At dangerous wind speeds, the blades are stowed and aligned with the wind direction, reducing the risk of damage. At lower wind speeds, the blades spread out more to maximize energy production.” Product Design and Development (1/29) carries Sandia’s press release on the project.
DARPA To Develop Utility Cyber Threat Detection And Recover Capabilities.
The Christian Science Monitor (1/25, Maza) reports that Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is “planning to invest $77 million over the next four years to develop methods to help utilities detect and recover from cyberattacks.” Experts say such threats are growing for small and large power operators alike. “What we’re really looking at is a high-impact, low probability event,” says John Everett, program manager at the Information and Innovation Office at DARPA, adding that “DARPA’s mission is to create and prevent technological surprises.” A recent study by Tripwire revealed that 82 percent of the oil and gas companies surveyed said they saw an increase in successful cyberattacks over the past year, more than half of those same respondents said cyberattacks increased between 50 to 100 percent over the past month.
US Utilities Consider Insurance Coverage For Cyber Attacks. Reuters (1/28, Finkle) reports that in the wake of last month’s cyber attack which interrupted electric power to thousands of Ukrainians, US utilities are examining their own vulnerabilities and whether losses from such an attack can be covered by insurance.
Drexel Team Named Finalist In Hyperloop Design Competition.
WHYY-FM Philadelphia (1/29) reports on SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s call for proposals for building his hyperloop transportation concept, which he envisioned “reaching speeds in excess of 700 mph, propelling passengers in a solar-powered trainlike pod from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 35 minutes.” The piece quotes Oliver Tillman, an engineering senior at Drexel, saying, “The transportation industry is actually one of those industries that hasn’t been revolutionized in a long time. And I think that is a little overdue.” The team of some 80 students from various disciplines “spent six months or so working up a vision for the hyperloop pod, designing out every element of a prototype, including an air-suspension system.”
Elimination Of HEU In Research Reactors Will Take Decades Longer Than Expected, Study Finds.
Science Magazine (1/28, Cho) reports a new study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that elimination of the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in research reactors cannot occur until 2035 at the earliest, far longer than previous estimates of 2018. In the interim Science Magazine says the NRC “validated” a fuel design that dilutes supply to 45 percent enrichment. Committee member Paul Wilson said this recommendation “is not instead of, but complementary to the ultimate goal of using low enrichment uranium in all reactors.”
The Economist Takes A Look At Touchscreen Technology.
The Economist (1/28) reports on touchscreen technologies, highlighting a new Robert Bosch product with haptic feedback that comes from “a conventional touch sensor coupled with a sensor that measures the amount of pressure from fingers,” before moving on to the ways in “which capacitive touch screens can be made.” The Economist notes that newer research on touchscreens is in “integrating the conducting layers into the screen to make thinner displays,” as well as pressure sensitivity such as that found in the iPhone 6s. The Economist also reports that other advances have come from Dimos Poulikakos and his colleagues at ETH Zurich who 3D print “nanowalls” of gold and silver, before noting that graphene could also be integrated into touch screens. The article closes by noting that touchscreens may eventually give way to gesture recognition devices.
NNSA Grants $25 Million To Universities, Labs For Nuclear R&D.
The Santa Fe New Mexican (1/28) reports that on Thursday the Department of Energy announced the NNSA “awarded a $25 million grant to a consortium of universities and national laboratories, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, for research and development of nuclear science and security.” NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington said in a statement, “Innovation and research in the fundamental sciences is needed to adapt to this dynamic yet enduring nonproliferation and nuclear security mission,” adding, “I am confident that more basic research efforts in academia will complement the applied efforts of the national laboratories and industry in supporting the critically important national security goals of our country.”
Westinghouse Awarded Nuclear Decommissioning Contracts In The UK.
Power Engineering (1/28) reports Sellafield Ltd. awarded Westinghouse Electric 10-year contracts to perform decommissioning activities as part of two consortiums in the UK. One consortium of six companies, including Cumbria Nuclear Solutions Ltd., will work on Decommissioning Delivery Partnership (DDP) Lot 1. The second consortium of three companies, including the Decommissioning Alliance (TDA), will work on DDP Lot 2.
Commercial Spaceship Builders Learn From Challenger Accident.
Reuters (1/29, Klotz) reports that the commercial space transportation industry has learned from NASA’s mistakes to design better space crafts and implement better management practices. Mike Leinbach, a former NASA shuttle launch director said “I just hope that the new entrants into the market learn from the mistakes of the past.”
GM Establishes Dedicated Autonomous Vehicles Team.
The Detroit Free Press (1/28, Priddle) reports that General Motors is establishing a dedicated team that will focus on the company’s autonomous vehicle efforts, beginning on February 1. Vice president of global product programs Doug Parks will shift to vice president of autonomous technology and vehicle execution to oversee the team. According to the Free Press, the team “signals GM’s move from viewing autonomous driving as a research project to a product under development.” Reuters (1/29, White) and the Wall Street Journal (1/28, Nagesh, Subscription Publication) offer similar coverage.
Engineering and Public Policy
Kansas Court Hears Arguments On Coal Plant Emissions Limits.
The AP (1/28, Hanna) reports that the Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club in 2014 to “prevent Sunflower Electric Power Corp. from building the 895-megawatt [coal-fired] facility next to an existing coal-fired plant.” The Sierra Club argued that state Department of Health and Environment, which has twice approved the project without greenhouse gas emissions limits, must impose such restrictions because EPA rules target coal-fired power plants. Sunflower has sought to build the plant for nearly a decade.
Massachusetts High School Robotics Team Launches Initiative To Make Program Statewide.
The Nashoba Valley Voice (MA) (1/28, Jones) reports the Ayer Shirley Regional High School FIRST Robotics Team has launched the MASSFIRST initiative, which aims to introduce FIRST robotics programs to all of Massachusetts’ school districts so that every elementary school will have a Lego League. Ayer Shirley FIRST coach Christine Miska says the team now has a dual mission of competing in tournaments and promoting FIRST robotics programs in the state. FIRST is a nationwide movement that starts with Lego League Jr. and Lego Leagues in elementary school and then moves on to Tech Challenge and Robotics Competition in middle school and high school.
Google, Michigan Office Partner To Improve Computer Science Education.
The Lansing (MI) State Journal (1/28, Wolcott) reports a new partnership between Google and the Michigan Film and Digital Media Office aims to get more kids interested in technology early with the CS First curriculum. Lots of schools have already signed up to use the new curriculum. The program launched at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center with over 400 students and teachers trying out iPads, video games, virtual reality glasses, and Segways. The head of Google’s office in Ann Arbor, Mike Miller, says, “Only about 10% of schools in Michigan offer computer science education. We see schools as a conduit to introducing computer science and programming to students at an earlier age to feed that passion and show them the opportunities for them in the future.”
University Of San Diego Leading STEM Next Initiative To Increase Interest In STEM.
The Hechinger Report (1/28, Fox) reports the University of San Diego will be leading the STEM Next initiative by partnering with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the YMCA to create STEM education programs aimed at girls and poor students. The Noyce Foundation is funding the initiative with a $12 million gift. ED forecasts that STEM jobs will increase by up to 62% by 2020, but many students, especially black and Latino students, attend schools lacking the full range of math and science courses. The article mentions that ED’s Office of Education Technology leader Richard Culatta pleaded for more computer science courses aimed at women and minorities during his final remarks in the position.
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• FTC, ED Move Against For-Profit DeVry University.