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

Leading the News

Michigan Lays Out Plan To Determine If Flint Water Is Safe To Drink.

The AP  (2/1) reports that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) “has undertaken a five-part strategy to determine whether Flint’s water, which has become contaminated with lead, is safe to drink.” The DEQ “said the plan to try to ensure that drinking water no longer is tainted with lead includes residential water testing, school testing, food service and restaurant provider testing, blood testing and overall testing of Flint’s water distribution system.”

Reuters  (2/1, Pierog) reports that according to Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, the Flint water crisis could pressure Michigan’s finances and could thwart efforts to build up budget reserves. S&P said in a report that replacing the infrastructure, social services, and potential legal settlements could add to the financial pressures on the state. S&P estimated that the cost of replacing the pipes could be as much as $1.5 billion and they expect that the state and local governments will be responsible for paying a majority of the costs to fix the crisis.

NPR  (2/1, Shapiro) reports on its website and on its program “All Things Considered” about the long-term process of fixing the water infrastructure in Flint. Laura Sullivan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint and appointee to the state committee that is trying to fix the water, says that the reality is that all the pipes in Flint will need to be replaced, which “she says, is a process that shouldn’t be rushed.” Sullivan added that over time, a protective film will rebuild inside the corroded pipes, but that is not a long-term solution. NPR also reports that the state is facing problems determining exactly which pipes are lead because of deficiencies with the records and maps.

Higher Education

ED Cuts Student Aid Access To Several Trade Schools.

The Washington Post  (2/1, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED has cut off access to Federal student aid to “dozens of beauty schools and three technical trade schools for falsifying a wide range of records.” The piece quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “Our students depend on higher education institutions to prepare them for careers through a quality education. Unfortunately, some schools violate their trust through deceptive marketing practices and defraud taxpayers by giving out student aid inappropriately. These unscrupulous institutions use questionable business practices or outright lie to both students and the federal government.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (2/1) reports the schools in question are located in California, Illinois, and Nevada, saying ED said 23 Marinello Schools of Beauty campuses “knowingly requested federal aid for students based on invalid high-school diplomas and underawarded Title IV aid to students.” Meanwhile, Computer Systems Institute “provided false job-placement rates to its would-be students.”

Professor: Competency-Based Education Will Stratify Higher Education.

In commentary for Inside Higher Ed  (2/1) Steven C. Ward, professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University, writes that the notion of competency-based education has been “resurrected from the archive of failed education experiments,” owing to support from such sources as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and “a somewhat hesitant thumbs-up from” ED. Ward writes that the “rush to emphasize marketable skills over a deeper liberal knowledge content” is “forging new barriers and strata in an already highly stratified higher education system.”

Computer Coding Academies Offer Different Student Financing Model Than Colleges.

The Street  (2/1, Sandman) reports computer coding academies are attractive to many young people as a way to learn valuable skills without going into as much debt. The article highlights one of the academies, Holberton School, which is scheduled to open this May and does not require students to pay tuition upfront. Instead, students and graduates pay 17% of their earnings to the school for three years.

Colleges Under Scrutiny For How They Set Tuition Prices.

In a nearly 1,300 word article, The Hechinger Report  (2/1, Skibell) outlines how the way colleges set their tuition prices is coming under the spotlight with the public calling for college affordability measures, presidential candidates talking about how they will help families pay for college, and more people are questioning what the true value of a college degree is. The article notes that college tuition has risen dramatically over the past few decades and also mentions there are controversial studies and theories that part of the rise is attributable to the increase in student loans as well as the psychological “Chivas Regal effect”, in which people wrongfully presume the price of a product or service is reflective of its true value or quality. The article quotes education experts and economists talking about the ongoing debate.

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

California Firm Marketing Less-Expensive Exoskeleton To Let Paralyzed Walk.

The Washington Times  (2/1, Blake) reports that California robotics company suitX says “a new exoskeleton unveiled on Monday is making it possible for paraplegics and others with mobility disorders to regain their ability to walk.” The company “started out of the Human Engineering and Robotics Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley by Dr. Homayoon Kazeroon in 2013.” The Times reports this exoskeleton is “a fraction of the cost” of competing models.

Wearable Tech Offerings Expanding.

The Washington Post  (2/1, Basulto) reports on the growing field of wearable technology, describing a range of devices available on the market or in development. The Post describes exoskeletons that help the disabled or improve human performance, portable brain monitoring devices, stealth clothing designed to spoof surveillance cameras, and “smart textiles.”

University Of Massachusetts-Amherst Researchers Design Retrofit Seat Belts For Buses.

The Greenfield (MA) Recorder  (2/2) reports University of Massachusetts-Amherst researchers “have designed a Retrofit Seat Belt System that makes it possible for an estimated 30,000 motor coaches and intercity buses nationwide that currently don’t have safety belts” to have them installed. The new belts are roughly a third of the cost of current models.

DARPA Seeks To Link Brain Neurons With “Digital World.”

C4ISR & Networks  (2/1, Peck) reports on DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) project, which aims to develop “a neural interface that will allow data to be transferred between the brain and digital world.” DARPA explained that the interface “would serve as a translator, converting between the electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology.” The article adds that DARPA has described the four-year, $60 million project as “ambitious.”

US Military Develops Various Laser Weapon Technologies.

SIGNAL Magazine  (2/1, Seffers) reports that US military services are in the process of developing various laser weapon technologies, which will “serve multiple purposes, from shooting down unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles, mortars and rockets to interfering with electronics and sensors.” The article highlights that the US Army plans to demonstrate its High Energy Laser Mobile Demonstrator on a vehicle by 2022, while the Marine Corps plans to develop a similar system. Meanwhile, the US Air Force is looking to also demonstrate a laser weapon on its fighter jets “in the same time frame.” The article mentions that the Air Force Research Laboratory is partnering with DARPA “to develop the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, which is touted as being smaller and lighter than similar tactical lasers.”

Global Developments

Israeli Builds Cybersecurity Complex In Desert City.

Motherboard  (2/1, Stuart) reports that Israel is building a military-industrial cybersecurity complex in the desert city of Beersheba, which is “said to be the biggest infrastructure project in Israeli history.” According to the article, the complex will include “a multibillion-dollar compound of army bases, academic research centers and high-tech startups finding innovative new ways to keep people safe from criminal hackers, foreign and domestic.” The article adds that two corporate buildings in Beersheba already house “30 companies, like IBM, EMC, Cisco, PayPal, Deutsche Telekom and Lockheed Martin.”

Industry News

Rolls-Royce, Norwegian Agree To $2.7 Billion Engine Deal.

The Guardian (UK)  (2/1, Ruddick) reports Rolls-Royce concluded a $2.7 billion agreement with Norwegian for the company’s Trent 1000 engines for 19 Boeing 787 Dreamliners. The order, which the article deems a “significant boost,” is the largest for the company since Warren East became CEO in July. The deal also proceeds East’s planned release of a company revitalization strategy by two weeks, when it is expected to be released alongside the company’s annual results.

The International Business Times  (2/1, Harress) reports the contract is a “rare win for the beleaguered engineering company,” which has lost over one-third of its share price value in the past year.

Ford Gradually Advancing Electric Cars.

USA Today  (2/1, Woodyard) reports that Ford hopes a $4.5 billion investment will launch it into the EV market, but high costs, slow progress, and weak stock performance pose challenges. “Battery costs are not coming down fast enough to democratize it,” says Kevin Layden, director of Ford’s electrification programs, forcing scientists and engineers to find ways to gradually cut costs by up to 20 percent between generations. CEO Mark Fields plans to build 13 new hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric models by 2020.

Volkswagen Faces California Deadline For SUV Emission Repair Plan.

Reuters  (2/2, Shepardson) reports that Volkswagen faces a February 2 deadline to submit a repair plan to the California Air Resources Board for 80,000 diesel SUVs and larger cars that emit excess pollution. Volkswagen has not announced any timetable for winning approval from U.S. and California regulators.

Engineering and Public Policy

Amendments Pose Challenges For Energy Reform Bill.

The Hill  (2/2, Wheeler, Devaney) reports Senators working on the large “energy reform bill will face a vote-a-rama on more than 100 potential amendments.” The bill “would enact the most comprehensive changes to the nation’s energy policies in years.” Provisions in the bill include easing liquefied natural gas exports, expanding energy efficiency investments and updating the nation’s electrical grid. Legislators “hope to pass the bill by the end of the week, but there could be several contentious amendments in the works.” Republicans are hoping “to use the bill to oppose President Obama’s move to halt coal leases on federal lands” while “Democrats are pushing a measure that would seek $600 million to respond to the water crisis in Flint, Mich.”

Bloomberg Politics  (2/1) reports that Senate Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid has called it “a good bill” and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the bill was “the latest reminder of what’s possible with cooperation in this Senate.” Sen. Dick Durbin believes that the amendments “could” derail the bill. The “Floor Action” blog of The Hill  (2/1, Marcos, Carney) reports that “senators are expected to vote on the next group of amendments after weekly policy lunches on Tuesday afternoon.”

An analysis piece by the Christian Science Monitor  (2/1, Kiefer) reports the bill may succeed “in large part because of the efforts of the bipartisan bill’s managers, energy committee chairman Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) of Alaska and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.” The article says that it is “a picture of how bipartisanship works – through their reliance on close communication, regular meetings, and a willingness to compromise.” E&E Publishing  (2/1) also provides coverage of the many amendments being proposed.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Connecticut STEM Foundation Announces Increases Prizes At This Year’s STEM Fair.

The Greenwich (CT) Post  (2/1) reports the Connecticut STEM Foundation Inc. announced they are increasing the amount of prizes and scholarships awarded at this year’s CT STEM Fair from $4,000 to $10,000. Cash awards are given to first, second, and third place as well as honorable mention in four different areas of focus: health, behavioral, environmental, and physical science. The fair will be held at Darien High School on Saturday.

New Mexico Elementary School Lego Team Needs Funds To Attend Tournament.

On its website, KOAT-TV  Albuquerque, NM (2/1, Cruz) reports six students at Yucca Elementary School in Alamogordo, New Mexico have won the opportunity to compete in the first Lego Junior League World Festival, but they need to raise $8,000 to attend the competition in St. Louis in April. The Yucca Cool Cats are one of 60 teams selected to compete in the tournament.

Monday’s Lead Stories

Obama Proposes $4 Billion For Computer Science Education.
WPost A1: Top US Public Universities Accept Larger Numbers Of Out-Of-State Students.
Ohio State Professor: Gender Disparities In Spatial Cognition Can Be Overcome.
MIT Students Take Top Marks In Hyperloop Design Competition.
Court Orders EPA To “Begin Rulemaking” On Mining Cleanups.
Obama Invites Student With Perfect AP Calculus Score To White House.

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