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

Leading the News

FBI Joins Probe Of Flint Contamination Ahead Of House Committee Hearing.

Reuters  (2/2, Shepardson) reports the FBI joined the criminal investigation into lead contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan on Tuesday, with a bureau spokeswoman saying the agency is looking into whether federal laws were broken. Former federal prosecutor Peter Henning, now a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, said it will be difficult to find criminal charges under US environmental laws unless prosecutors can find something like a knowingly false statement. The Wall Street Journal  (2/2, Maher, Subscription Publication) adds that the FBI joins the US Postal Inspection Service and two divisions of the EPA among agencies working on the investigation with the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. The Journal says the crisis has led to several resignations of city, state, and federal officials. On Tuesday, Darnell Earley, the emergency manager of Detroit’s public schools, announced his resignation. Earley was emergency manager for Flint until Jan. 2015.

The Detroit News  (2/2, Carah, Lynch) reports EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, in her first visit to Flint, blamed the crisis on Snyder’s administration and his appointed emergency managers, saying their decision to switch water systems was all in effort to save money. However, Keith Creagh, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, “fired back,” in written testimony submitted ahead of Wednesday’s committee hearing, saying that from the time of the water switch until last month, “my observation is that the EPA did not display the sense of urgency that the situation demanded.” Meanwhile, Snyder spokesman David Murray responded that the governor “has said the crisis in Flint is a result of the failure of government at all levels — including the federal government.”

The Huffington Post  (2/2, Barron-Lopez) reports House Democrats “shamed” Republicans for scheduling a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the Flint crisis without calling in Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to testify. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA) said he hopes “heads will roll” and that those responsible will be prosecuted. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) added that there is “no doubt” Snyder is “culpable.” Meanwhile, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) criticized Republicans for creating special committees to investigate the Benghazi and Planned Parenthood scandals but not for the Flint crisis. While a spokesman for the oversight committee said Snyder wasn’t asked to testify because Michigan is “conducting its own investigation,” Crowley said Michigan officials have “bankrupted their ability to investigate themselves.”

Two congressional staff members told the Detroit Free Press  (2/2, Spangler) that the House Oversight Committee voted to subpoena Earley to testify on Flint’s water crisis, but that he has refused to attend. Earley’s lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, confirmed the subpoena, but said it was issued Tuesday night and required Earley to testify at 9am Wednesday, a timeline Bolden said “borders on the nonsensical” and is “completely unenforceable.” Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Earley “has a right to assert the Fifth Amendment” and not testify “but his abrupt resignation earlier today and his refusal to testify … make it even more urgent that we hear directly from the governor.”

Higher Education

Prominent Public Universities Accepting More Out-Of-State Students.

The Washington Post  (2/2, Anderson) reports many prominent public universities are recruiting more out-of-state students because of changes in demographics and financial pressure to bring in more revenue through out-of-state tuition. In 2004, only four state flagship universities had more out-of-state than in-state freshmen students, but in 2014, there are now 10. The article includes lists of universities organized by the percentage of freshmen students who are in-state and the change in percentage of in-state students.

Report: College Metrics Need To Be Redesigned To Help Today’s Students.

US News & World Report  (2/2, Camera) reports a new research paper concluded that many traditional metrics of college success are outdated and need to be updated to better serve the need of so-called non-traditional students. The paper’s authors argue that many of the college metrics, including ED’s College Scorecard, assume college students went straight from high school to a four-year institution and are not the first generation of their family to attend college, but many college students today do not fit this mold. The report recommends that new metrics be developed to help prospective and current students discover, which institutions provide the best returns and outcomes so students can make better financial choices.

Opinion: College Students Need Humanities And Sciences To Succeed In Today’s World.

In an opinion piece on the NPR  (2/2, Frank) website, University of Rochester professor of astrophysics Adam Frank argues that “the old barriers between the humanities and technology are falling” and that today’s college students should study both instead of just focusing on one side of the humanities versus sciences divide. Frank says, “a kid who wants to write screenplays may find she must learn how to build web content for a movie related app” and “a kid who started out in programming may find himself working for a video game company that puts a high value on storytelling.”

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 Tennessee Added To NNSA’s Nuclear Research Consortium.

Tennessee Today  (2/2, Goddard) reports the University of Tennessee has been “named a major player” in the Nuclear Science and Engineering Nonproliferation Research Consortium, with the university receiving $4.25 million over five years to assist the NNSA-backed Consortium with issues concerning “nuclear instrumentation, radiation detection materials, radiochemistry, and forensics.” The article states the Consortium “is aiming to create a pipeline of new talent and generate new concepts and technologies in basic and applied nuclear science that can be transferred to the national laboratories.” The Consortium’s deputy executive director, UCOR Fellow and Associate Professor Jason Hayward “said that the research will help build upon already-strong collaborations with Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Laboratories.”

Researchers Developing New Potentials For Electrochromic Polymers.

The Imperial Valley (CA) News  (2/2, Esser) reports that National Institute of Standards and Technology Fellow Henri Lezec and Alec Talin of Sandia National Laboratories have recently published a paper in Nature Communications on their research in “marrying state-of-the-art nanometer-scale gratings with a Space Age-era thin-film polymer” to develop “full-color video displays” that use less power than current video displays. The article details their research and notes their new efforts to adapt the principles they found to develop “sunlight-readable displays that do not require an energy-consuming backlight.”

Yahoo Struggles To Maintain Research Labs.

Business Insider  (2/2, Kim) reports on Yahoo’s struggle to find and maintain a “clear role” for its in-house research lab. Yahoo Labs was forced to abandon longer-term research projects as the company came under financial pressure to develop “product-related initiatives with immediate business potential,” writes Insider. However, Yahoo Labs would like not exist today without CEO Marissa Mayer, reports Insider, adding that the lab initially had the freedom to pursue science and theory research that “might advance Yahoo’s search, advertising, and personalization efforts.”

MediaPost  (2/2) also reports.

Two Texas Universities Added To Top Research Schools List.

The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram  (2/2, Walker) reports the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education named the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas in Denton as doctoral universities with the “highest” research activity placing them on a selective list of the 115 top research universities in the US, which includes Harvard and MIT. The Carnegie Classification analyses data from all colleges and “evaluates research activity for doctoral universities in making its assessments”, which are released every five years.

University Of Texas At Arlington Professor Receives Military Research Grant To Develop New Lasers.

Phys (UK)  (2/2) reports the US Army Research Office has awarded a three-year $600,000 grant to the University of Texas at Arlington engineering professor Weidong Zhou to continue development of “a new type of ultra-thin semiconductor laser.” Zhou says the new technology could be integrated with mainstream electronics to increase capacity and energy efficiency. Zhou has received other grants before to develop laser technology.

Industry News

Study: Battery-Powered Cars Beating Out Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles.

Business Insider  (2/2, Fierman) reports a new study from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute has found that “hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) are losing badly to battery-powered electric vehicles” (BEVs) largely due to “limited infrastructure.” According to the study, while the costs associated with hydrogen refueling stations can be several times that of conventional gasoline stations, the use of hydrogen rather than electric cars “may better mimic” consumers’ current transportation habits, as it has a quicker refueling time and better overall efficiency. However, the study authors also stated, “No alternative fuel sources have the energy density, ease of use, and ease of transport as current liquid fossil (i.e., hydrocarbon) fuels.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Johnson Defends EINSTEIN After Critical Audit.

The Washington Times  (2/2, Blake) reports after a GAO audit found the “nearly $6 billion National Cybersecurity Protection System” known as EINSTEIN “has lacked the ability to adequate[ly] prevent hackers from breaching government networks,” DHS Secretary Johnson defended the system, saying it “already assisted federal authorities in spotting hack attacks.” Johnson said in a statement, “The first two phases of the EINSTEIN program have been deployed across all federal civilian departments and agencies. This now allows us to detect cybersecurity threats, and EINSTEIN has in fact proven invaluable to identify significant incidents.” Nonetheless, GAO “called into question the capabilities of EINSTEIN after a review revealed that the program has only been properly implemented by five of 23 required federal agencies and lacks adequate intrusion and prevention capabilities.”

Shuster Expected To Unveil Bill To Break Up The FAA.

Politico  (2/2, Wolfe, Caygle) reports House Transportation Chairman Bill Shuster “is on the cusp of launching the biggest shakeup for air travel in four decades” in legislation he’s expected to unveil Wednesday, which would shift thousands of FAA air traffic controllers “to a quasi-government corporation or nonprofit,” according to Republican members briefed on the bill earlier in the week. The legislation is supported by all major airlines other than Delta Air Lines, and is also backed by “three former transportation secretaries and President Barack Obama’s first FAA administrator.” They say the legislation “would aid efficiency, modernize air traffic control technologies faster and insulate the aviation system from fiscal feuds in Congress.” Those against it, including consumers’ groups, small plane manufactures, trade organizations, and some House Democrats, say the bill could give airlines “disproportionate control” over the aviation system.

Sandia Working To Design Revolutionary Offshore Wind Turbine With 200-Meter Long Blades.

Canadian Manufacturing  (2/2) reports that Sandia National Laboratories is working on “an ambitious plan to transform the offshore wind energy industry” involving a “revolutionary new wind turbine” that would rise “hundreds of metres high” and generate enough electricity “to single-handedly power a small city.” According to Sandia’s Offshore Wind Energy Program’s technical lead Todd Griffith, “The U.S. has great offshore wind energy potential, but offshore installations are expensive, so larger turbines are needed to capture that energy at an affordable cost.” These issues spurred the team to design a turbine that “will dwarf even the largest turbines in operation,” featuring blades “twice the length of a football field” and capable of generating 50-megawatts. The article notes the research is funded by DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program and details some of the “novel features” that the enormous turbines would utilize.

Senate Rejects Six Amendments To Energy Reform Bill.

The Senate on Tuesday rejected six amendments to the energy reform bill that The Hill  (2/2, Cama) said “pursued partisan priorities on political spending and conservation.” By rejecting the amendments, which “included Republican ones…and Democratic ones,” the Senate “kept up the goals of leaders and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to keep a bipartisan bill that would avoid turning off either party.” According to Majority Whip Cornyn, Majority Leader McConnell “is likely to file for cloture on the bill later Tuesday, which would line it up for a final vote on Thursday.”

The “Floor Action” blog of The Hill  (2/3, Carney) reports Cornyn told reporters “they hope to finish work on the bill that day as well.” In order to have that happen “leadership will need to get a time agreement or consent from every senator to either speed up the votes or skip over procedural hurdles that could otherwise threaten to drag out consideration of the energy bill.”

US Power Grid Vulnerabilities Attracting Attention.

Fox Business  (2/2) reports that “with the hacks into the Ukraine power grid, and the latest cyberattack on Israel’s Electric Authority, attention has returned anew to the vulnerabilities of the US power grid.” Though “Washington is moving to fix the problem,” the estimated 90 percent private ownership of US utilities is “confounding the solution,” and the “rise of the ‘smart grid’” has “poked open more entry points for miscreants to hack the grid’s computer systems.” DHS is cited saying “the US power grid routinely gets hit with hacks or physical attacks, with an estimated 331 from fiscal 2011 to 2014, and now occurring once every four days.” Fox Business goes on to discuss an ICS-CERT warning from early 2014 about a cyberattack on a US public utility conducted via the Internet. Fox Business lists ICS-CERT and NCCIC, among other units, as part of the US government’s “countermeasures.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Indiana High School Student Organizes Event To Get Elementary School Girls Interested In STEM.

Current In Westfield (IN)  (2/2, Skinner) reports Emmalee Severson, a junior at Westfield High School in Indiana, has organized “Girls Rock STEM”, an event aimed at getting more elementary school girls interested in STEM fields. Severson says, “I am currently looking to study engineering when I go to college, and I always felt like I didn’t have the experience that some people had with computer science or programming or anything science related. I just felt everybody else got involved earlier, and I wanted to give girls an opportunity to get involved earlier.” The event will be held at Westfield Intermediate School on February 20 and will feature five different stations for participants to learn about different STEM concepts through experimentation by playing with robots, extracting DNA from fruit, making ice cream, and other activities.

Indiana Class Learning STEM Skills By Building Prosthetic Hands.

The AP  (2/2) reports students in Sue Gore’s fifth grade class at Liberty Intermediate School in Chesterton, Indiana are learning how to be scientists, engineers, and designers. Students built prosthetic hands at home with the help of their parents to learn how to tackle problems the way scientists and engineers do. Gore worked with other teachers at the school to create a “maker space” where students have access to equipment and tools to help them complete STEM projects.

Amazon Promotes “Growth Mindset” In New Campaign To Improve Student Attitudes To Math.

Education Week  (2/2, Cavanagh) reports on the idea of a “growth mindset” being promoted by Amazon Education and TenMarks, an “Amazon company focused on schools,” in an effort to “transform student attitudes about math.” The campaign is called “With Math I Can,” and hopes to improve attitudes in order to improve learning. The effort is focused on a website, It has been endorsed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), and Common Sense Education. Critics, have suggested that it may lead to “promoting vague-yet-positive attitudes” instead of “concrete-but-difficult classroom strategies.”

Also in the News

High School Student Working Full-Time Job As Lead Engineer At Mobile App Startup.

US News & World Report  (2/2, Cirincione) reports 16-year-old high school student Tejas Manohar in Nashville, Tennessee has a full-time job as the lead engineer at startup AutoLotto. The company is developing an app to let users purchase lottery tickets on their phone instead of having to travel to a convenience store. Manohar contacted the founders and impressed them with his technical knowledge and questions about the backend of the planned app. While he works as a full-time engineer during the day, Manohar is finishing up his high school education at home at night.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Michigan Lays Out Plan To Determine If Flint Water Is Safe To Drink.
ED Cuts Student Aid Access To Several Trade Schools.
California Firm Marketing Less-Expensive Exoskeleton To Let Paralyzed Walk.
Israeli Builds Cybersecurity Complex In Desert City.
Rolls-Royce, Norwegian Agree To $2.7 Billion Engine Deal.
Amendments Pose Challenges For Energy Reform Bill.
Connecticut STEM Foundation Announces Increases Prizes At This Year’s STEM Fair.

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