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

Leading the News

Senate Democrats Block Energy Bill Over Flint Amendment.

After “lawmakers failed to agree on a $600 million amendment” to address the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, the New York Times  (2/5, A17, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports, Senate Democrats “blocked action on a comprehensive energy bill that had drawn broad bipartisan support,” beating back two attempts to end debate on the bill. The votes “will delay, but not derail, the legislation,” the Times notes, adding that immediately following the votes, Senate Majority Leader McConnell said the bill’s authors “would work through the weekend to find a path forward on both the energy bill and the Flint aid amendment.” Similarly, Reuters  (2/4, Gardner) says negotiators are still hoping a compromise can be reached on the amendment, and Roll Call  (2/4, Lesniewski) reported in its “#WGDB” blog McConnell has “entered a motion to reconsider the vote, meaning it could be called again if an agreement is reached.”

Before the votes, the Huffington Post  (2/4, Barron-Lopez) reported that Senate Minority Leader Reid “delivered scathing remarks on the floor, accusing Republicans of abandoning the people of Flint.” The Washington Times  (2/4, Howell) says energy bill author Sen. Lisa Murkowski “said she tried to offer an amendment that provided $550 million to Flint – $50 million up front – but that it was spurned by Democrats.” Senate Majority Whip Cornyn said, “Our colleagues from Michigan refused to take yes for an answer,” arguing Democrats “were using ‘gamesmanship’ to make the GOP look heartless.”

EPA Targets Homes With High Lead Levels. The CBS Evening News (2/4, story 6, 2:10, Pelley) reported while the EPA said Thursday “that lead levels are dropping and home filters appear to be working,” that “isn’t true everywhere.” CBS (Diaz) added EPA agents are “targeting homes where lead levels remain stubbornly high.” Concern over “lead levels in children’s blood” remains high as state officials released data Thursday showing “2.5% of children have elevated blood lead levels,” compared to 2.1% last year at this time. EPA agents are “conducting tests at homes with the highest lead levels,” and officials said Thursday “they want every child in Flint under six years old tested for lead by April 1.”

Flint Crisis Prompts Calls To Overhaul Federal Lead And Copper Rule. The Wall Street Journal  (2/4, Mcwhirter, Maher, Calvert, Subscription Publication) says the Flint crisis is promoting calls to overhaul the Federal Lead and Copper Rule, which controls how utilities sample water for lead contamination. According to the Journal, an increasing number of experts say the rule underestimates the lead in many cities.

Higher Education

Chopra’s Appointment To ED May Signal Improved Protections For Student Loan Borrowers.

The Street  (2/4) reports that the lame-duck status of the Obama Administration means that “initiatives affecting federal student loans that require Congressional ascent may grind to a halt in 2016.” However, “the appointment of Rohit Chopra to the Department of Education (ED) may make a difference if he can bolster borrower protections in the current year.” The Street says Chopra “unexpectedly” left his position as student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year, saying he “was a vocal critic of for-profit colleges and the companies ED hired to service and collect federal student loans.” The piece speculates on how he will “shake up” ED, an “agency that he made the object of pointed criticism.” Under Secretary Ted Mitchell told ED employees in January that Chopra “had joined the Department in an undisclosed capacity.”

ED Rolls Out New Requirements For Accreditors.

Inside Higher Ed  (2/5) reports ED this week added to the new requirements for accreditors that it rolled out in November, saying the agency “has pushed more aggressive reforms to the accreditation process” and called on Congress “to drop its ban on imposing specific standards on accreditors.” The new requirements have to do with transparency regarding “sanctions the agencies slap on colleges, including the reason for those sanctions.” Moreover, ED “will require accreditors to separate their reporting of punitive actions against colleges from the other information they submit to the federal government.” The article quotes Under Secretary Ted Mitchell saying, “Agencies need to do more than certify that institutions make quality offerings available; they must gauge the extent to which the institutions actually help more students achieve their goals. And because of our belief in the importance of equal opportunity to learn and achieve, that means strong outcomes for all students, not just some.”

Georgia House Passes Bill That Gives More Credit For STEM Courses.

The AP  (2/3) reports the Georgia House passed a bill giving applicants to HOPE Scholarships applicants more credit for STEM courses. State representative Jan Jones says the bill, if passed, would encourage students to take more STEM class.

US News & World Report Rankings Declining In Influence.

The Washington Post  (2/4, Selingo) reports the US News & World Report’s college rankings are losing much of their past influence. The then-magazine created the rankings nearly 25 years ago and at their peak popularity were seen as an authoritative guide to American colleges, but in recent years their significance and importance to prospective college students has greatly declined. A recent survey of college freshmen found that the magazine’s rankings were not even a top 10 factor for the majority of students. Part of the decline is attributable to the proliferation of other rankings, such as the College Scorecard and those produced by many other news sources. The rankings’ importance have also declined because what college students are looking for in their institutions have changed as well.

George Washington University Applications Increase After Making Admissions Tests Optional.

The Washington Post  (2/4, Anderson) reports applications to George Washington University surged by 28% in their first admission cycle after they made college admissions test scores optional. George Washington has received over 25,000 applications for the class beginning college in 2016 compared to less than 20,000 last year, and about 20% of applicants did not submit test scores. With its new policy, the university says it received more applications from disadvantaged students, including applicants whose parents did not attend college and belong to racial minorities.

University Of Colorado Professor Changing The Way Science Is Taught.

On its website, NPR  (2/4, Kamenetz) reports University of Colorado Boulder is working to make science classes more interactive and more fun to improve the quality of instruction. The article highlights the work of Professor Steven Pollock whose research specialty is teaching science. In his research, Pollock has found that experiments and interactive lessons are more effective at teaching students science than traditional lectures. With his research in mind, Pollock created the Learning Assistant Program at the university, which trains college students in pedagogy so they can lead small groups of science class students using the methods that Pollock has found to be most effective. Some of the Learning Assistants in the program are now considering becoming science teachers.

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

Football Player May Wear 3D-Printed Brace On Game Day.

CNET News  (2/4, Kooser) reports that injured NFL player Thomas Davis may play in Sunday’s Super Bowl game wearing a custom arm brace made by 3D printing company Whiteclouds. The company used a scan of Davis’ arm to design and engineer the brace, which was printed and lined with Poron XRD to “absorb shocks” and “protect from impacts,” CNET News reports. If he plays, Davis will be the first to wear 3D printed equipment in an NFL game.

UC Berkeley Researchers Develop Solar Energy Storage Innovation.

Green Car Congress  (2/4) reports that a research team at Berkeley University has developed a technique for “using separate materials for light absorption and carrier transport” in solar water splitting cells. The innovation alleviates poor charge carrier transport properties of metal oxides.


Increased Reports Of Sexual Harassment In STEM Fields Attributed To Growing Comfort.

Vice  (2/4, Curry) reports that some women believe a recent “spate of sexual harassment allegations” made against prominent scientists is a sign that women are gaining more acceptance in STEM fields, so they feel more comfortable reporting such behavior. American Association of University Women Vice President of Government Relations Lisa Maatz says, “The culture is changing slowly as more women come into the field”, which allows more women to share incidents of inappropriate sexual harassment. The article also mentions efforts by the White House and ED’s Office of Civil Rights to crack down on sexual harassment.

Industry News

Side Mirrors Could Soon Be Replaced By Cameras.

The New York Times  (2/4, Quain, Subscription Publication) reports on efforts by engineers to eliminate side mirrors in cars in a bid to make them more aerodynamic and get rid of blind spots, using cameras.” Almost two years ago, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Tesla Motors petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow video cameras to replace side mirrors,” the article reports. “Continental, a major parts and systems supplier to automakers, calls them digital mirrors,” the article adds. Dean McConnell, director of customer programs for advanced driver assistance systems at Continental said, “There’s significant noise reduction, and there’s potential for CO2 reduction because of reduced drag and improved fuel economy,” adding, “There’s also the increased field of view.” The article explains that “thumb-size video cameras on the exterior of the car replace the side-mounted mirrors and use interior screens on the left and right side of the dashboard to deliver views of what is next to and behind the car.”

Experts Raise Concern About Hackers Targeting Aircraft.

Flightglobal  (2/5, Hemmerdinger) reports that “though there have been no proven cases in which a passenger aircraft has been electronically commandeered by a hacker, experts note that at least one hacker claims to have done so.” Meanwhile, “other hackers have exposed security flaws in various aircraft systems, such as” aircraft communications addressing and reporting systems and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast. Flightglobal cites Marco Wolf, head of engineering and consulting at Escrypt, and colleagues Moritz Minzlaff and Martin Moser, who “co-wrote a 2015 paper about aviation cyber vulnerability, in which they highlight recent hackings and specific risks.” Meanwhile, the FAA and DOD have launched an 18-month study of aviation cybersecurity, and Susan Cabler, the FAA’s assistant manager of design, manufacturing, and airworthiness, has said the agencies are “seeking to acquire a passenger commercial aircraft, which they intend to ‘dissect’” in order “to see if there are cyber vulnerabilities that have not yet identified themselves.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Lugar Says Shutting Down MOX Project Would Be “Catastrophic.”

The Aiken (SC) Standard  (2/4, Asberry) reports former Sen. Richard Lugar said that shutting down the MOX facility at the Savannah River Site would be “catastrophic.” The former Republican senator spent yesterday “morning touring the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility – the main building in the MOX project that is expected to convert 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into commercial nuclear fuel.” The Standard says yesterday was also a “day of concern because of President Barack Obama’s budget rollout scheduled for Feb. 9.” Obama’s “proposal may include language to kill MOX and move forward with a downblending method that would dilute the plutonium and ship it to a repository.” The article adds that “plutonium disposition language in Obama’s Feb. 9 budget proposal will be influenced by a report spearheaded” by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The Augusta (GA) Chronicle  (2/4, Highfield) reports that last year Moniz “said it would require $1 billion annually to complete MOX, which, according to contractors, is about 70 percent finished.” Meanwhile, “others say life-cycle costs could reach $30 billion.” But Lugar said, “On a basis of my visit today and some research that I’ve done before, I think those figures are way out of line. … They really have no relationship to the actual cost that will be involved. But there really will be costs if we don’t get the job done.” The AP  (2/4, Kinnard) reports that Lugar warned that not completing MOX “gives the Russians an opportunity really to back out of the project.”

White House Tells SCOTUS Effort To Block Climate Rule Is “Unprecedented.”

The Hill  (2/5, Cama) reports officials in the Administration told the Supreme Court yesterday to deny an “extraordinary and unprecedented” request by Republican states to block the EPA’s new climate change rule. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli “accused the states…of trying to bypass the normal process for challenging the climate regulation, and said they haven’t demonstrated a strong case for why that should happen.” In a Thursday brief to the Supreme Court, Verrilli said, “Applicants seek a stay before any court has expressed a view about, let alone rendered a final decision concerning, the merits of their legal claims. … Applicants identify no case in which this court has granted a stay of a generally applicable regulation pending initial judicial review in the court of appeals.”

Krugman: Reductions In Greenhouse Gas Emissions Via Renewable Resources “Well Within Reach.”

Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times  (2/4) blog that his previous piece on the “prospects for a renewables revolution” turned out to be on target, citing a recent Bloomberg article reporting that solar and wind “accounted for two-thirds of the generation capacity added last year.” Krugman says, however, this is “not enough,” and the process of replacing coal-fired generation with renewable energy sources “needs to go much faster.” Replacing coal with natural gas could “in principle be a net positive” because it reduces carbon, but “in practice the leaks associated with fracking make that highly doubtful.” Nevertheless, Krugman says his point is that “dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are well within reach.”

California Legislative Leaders Question Proposal To Expand Electric Grid.

The Los Angeles Times  (2/4, Penn) reports California legislative leaders expressed concern in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown about a “proposal to expand the electric grid to include one of the largest users of coal-fired power plants in the west.” Senate President Kevin de Leon and House Speaker Anthony Rendon, both Democrats from Southern California, said in their letter that utility company PacifiCorp has a record of blocking clean energy innovation in favor of coal plants. The utility, owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, “recently forced hundreds and potentially thousands of Nevada workers out of a job by killing rooftop solar in the state.” The proposal to add the utility to California’s energy market, they state, could jeopardize the state’s efforts to address climate change and expand clean energy.

Santa Fe’s Mayor Advocates For Extending New Mexico’s Solar Tax Credit.

Sante Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales advocates for New Mexico extending the solar tax credit to all state residents in an op-ed for the Albuquerque (NM) Journal  (2/5). Gonzalez writes that “local communities like Santa Fe are proud to be at the forefront of the solar industry’s growth in New Mexico,” and calls for aligning “state and federal policies with these local priorities.” Only by working in concert will help New Mexico reach its “renewable energy portfolio goals by 2020 and Santa Fe’s goal of being carbon neutral by 2040.” Gonzalez also boasts about how the solar energy industry is bringing more jobs to the state and how the solar tax credit has “helped 5,500 families across the state install solar panels” since 2009. Considering it has one of the worst unemployment rates in the nation, “New Mexico must position itself to bring more of these jobs to our state.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Texas High School Students Engineer Prosthesis For Dog Missing Leg.

WRC-TV  Washington (2/4, Scott) reports a group of high school engineering students at Career Center East in Lewisville, Texas are “working to create a prosthetic leg for a 5-year-old Labrador named Macey.” The dog is owned by a staff member at the school, and lost its leg to cancer. The students have “spent the school year working through various different designs created specifically for the Labrador using 3D printing, as well as other materials.”

Arizona Lawmakers Considering Bills To Restore Most Of the Funding For Career And Technical Education.

The Arizona Republic  (2/4, Cano and Sanchez) reports Arizona state lawmakers introduced legislation in the House and Senate that would repeal $28 million of the cuts in state spending on career and technical education programs. Educators, students, and business leaders all called for the programs’ funding to be restored after being cut by nearly $30 million in a budget deal last year.

Iowa Middle School Students Learn About Cybersecurity At School Club.

Daily Nonpareil (IA)  (2/5, Stewart) reports students at Kirn Middle School in Pottawattamie County, Iowa are learning about cybersecurity through a school club. Anthony Kava, a local IT professional that works for the county sheriff’s department, meets with students every week to teach them about cybersecurity. Kava says the club gives students practical skills and also teaches them about professional career opportunities in the field.

Students Competing In Robotics Tournaments Learn Valuable Team-Building And Technical Skills.

On its website, WCPO-TV  Cincinnati (2/4, Swift) reports that young students who participate in Lego robotics programs learn valuable STEM skills that can help them in future academic endeavors and their careers. Participants have to work together in teams to solve difficult problems by using technical skills to program Lego robots. The program has three levels for students of different ages: The Junior FIRST Lego League, the FIRST Lego League, and the FIRST Tech Challenge.

Massachusetts Will Be Represented At FIRST Lego League World Festival.

The Westborough (MA) Community Advocate  (2/4, Wambolt) reports the “Angry Owls” a Lego robotics team formed by students in Southborough and Westborough, Massachusetts will represent the state at the FIRST Lego League World Festival in St. Louis this year. The team won the regional qualifier back in December.

Also in the News

San Francisco 49ers Legend Representing Chevron’s STEM Zone At Super Bowl.

CNBC  (2/4, Wells) reports that former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark attended events at Super Bowl City “as part of Chevron’s ‘STEM zone.’” Chevron “is using the Super Bowl to promote education in science, technology, engineering and math” to explain the science of football, even dissecting Clark’s famous play, “The Catch,” a touchdown catch that sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl in 1982. Chevron engineer Stephanie Reeves said, “Chevron is very passionate about STEM education, and we know that STEM careers are going to grow by 17 percent in the next two years.” The San Francisco Chronicle  (2/3, Matier, Ross, Subscription Publication) and the Baltimore Sun  (2/4, Bracken) each featured pictures from Chevron’s STEM Zone in their galleries of pre-Super Bowl festivity photos.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Fight Over Flint Funding Threatens Energy Bill.
King, Donovan Tout Pell Grant Improvements To Foster College Completion.
EasyJet Releases Plans For Hydrogen Fuel Cell Jet.
Auto Hackers Will Go After Money, Data.
Some Ferguson Residents Denied Entrance To Public Hearing On DOJ Agreement.
Utah STEM Bill Advances, Arts Bill Dies.

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