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

Leading the News

Obama Seeking Big Increases In Medical Research.

STAT  (2/9, Nather) reports President Obama is asking Congress for “big increases across the board in medical research and public health” in his final budget proposal. The increases come on top of the already announced “big health funding proposal” calling for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to fight Zika virus, $755 million for the cancer moonshot initiative, and $1.1 billion to help combat opioid abuse. The Republican-controlled Congress is “unlikely to give Obama everything he wants,” but NIH Director Francis Collins “said he was optimistic, especially on the cancer research funds.”

Congressional Quarterly  (2/9, Zanona, Subscription Publication) says the spending proposal released Tuesday “proposes $33.1 billion for NIH,” which the Administration says could provide for nearly “10,000 new grants in areas including brain research and precision medicine.”

The Hill  (2/9, Sullivan) reports the Senate health committee advanced “seven relatively narrow bipartisan” medical innovation bills, but the “splintered approach came after lawmakers failed to forge” a larger bipartisan proposal after months of work.

Higher Education

Obama’s Budget Plans For Higher Education Not Expected To Be Approved.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (2/10, Field) reports on the President’s proposed budget which includes “an expansion of the Pell Grant program and a shot in the arm for community colleges.” The Chronicle says that neither is likely to be approved by Congress.

Inside Higher Ed  (2/10, Lederman) calls the budget “a largely symbolic document that is unlikely to significantly influence federal policy.”

University Of California At Berkeley To Address Growing Deficit.

The Washington Post  (2/10, Anderson) reports the University of California at Berkeley has a “substantial and growing” deficit. In response, University Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said that the university must “review almost every aspect of the school’s finances” to address the deficit projected to be “about $150 million, or 6 percent of its operating budget.” The Post explains that the university had received around 50 percent of its operating budget from the state in the 1980s, but more recently has received only “about 13 percent” of its annual budget in state support.

ASEE ED on NPR’s Air Talk
Norman Fortenberry discussed the efforts to make STEAM from STEM

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

Research and Development

GSK Center To Use Advanced Molecular Imaging To Study Effects Of Treatments On Skin.

The Urbana/Champaign (IL) News-Gazette  (2/10, Wurth) reports on “the new GSK Center for Optical Molecular Imaging, a partnership between the British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline and the Biophotonics Imaging Laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.” The center is focused on using “images of molecules, live cells and tissues in the body before, during and after drug treatment to see how the medicines work and how the body responds to treatments.” The center will be led by Stephen Boppart, University of Illinois professor of electrical and computer engineering, bioengineering, medicine and head of the Biophotonics Imaging Lab. The center will begin with a focus on “skin disorders and treatment” using “advanced optical molecular imaging technologies to study the skin.”

Drexel Students Compete In Hyperloop Competition.

Philly (PA)  (2/10, Laughlin) reports that a team of Drexel University engineering students are building a working model of a hyperloop pod. Philly explains “the Drexel team is in an international contest to design the best pod, and less than two weeks ago its proposal made it through the first major elimination round.” Philly says “SpaceX is hosting the competition, and in June Drexel’s pod will race on a mile-long track next to the business’ headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.”

Scientists Expected To Announce Discovery Of Gravitational Waves.

Reuters  (2/11, Dunham) reports that at a US National Science Foundation press conference on Tuesday, scientists from CalTech, MIT and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration may announce the first-ever direct observations of gravitational waves. According to Reuters, such a the finding would constitute a scientific milestone, opening a new gateway for observing the universe, which could provide insights into the secrets of the early cosmos and the mysteries surrounding phenomenon such as black holes and neutron stars.

In a piece for SPACE  (2/11), Ohio State University astrophysicist Paul Sutter explains that to be able to directly observe gravitational waves “would take the blinders off one of the last great windows into the universe, allowing us to study the fundamentals of gravity in some of the most extreme corners of the cosmos.”

Moore’s Law May No Longer Hold True.

Fast Company  (2/10, Grothaus) discusses an article first appearing in the science journal Nature indicating that Moore’s Law, the 1965 prediction by Intel-co founder Gordon Moore that “the number of transistors on a microprocessor will double roughly every two years,” will no longer hold true. The global semiconductor industry will reportedly “formally acknowledge” next month that it can longer keep pace with Moore’s prediction, which has become a self-fulfilling prophecy over the decades as chipmakers “deliberately chose to match what the law said by agreeing to produce microprocessors on a roadmap that synced with Moore’s prediction.” The piece discusses the physical and economic factors making it increasingly difficult to make pack more transistors into microprocessors.

Autonomous Vehicles Have Difficulty Navigating In Snow.

Fortune  (2/10, Addady) reports while there has been much “hype” about autonomous cars recently, one problem that companies have yet to solve is snow, as “an overabundance of white flurries can inhibit a driverless car’s visibility.” According to University of Michigan associate engineering professor Ryan Eustice, an autonomous car that can “do nationwide, all-weather driving, under all conditions, that’s still a Holy Grail.” Fortune briefly touches on efforts to overcome problems encounters during snow, including adjusting camera positions and using 3D mapping to overcome visual problems.

Video Discusses Autonomous Car Tech And Its Progressions. A video and accompanying transcript by Newsy  (2/10, Becerra) discusses autonomous car technologies, such as using previously loaded maps with cameras, radar, and lidar technology to “help cars do the most important thing: driving.” The video touches on the rapid advances being made in autonomous vehicles, noting that while they were once projected to be consumer-ready in 10 years, new estimates from experts like Tesla’s Elon Musk now place the projection closer to two or three years. Newsy states if this happens, “regulators would likely still need another two or three years before giving the technology the green light.”

Engineering and Public Policy

NHTSA Says Autonomous Car’s Artificial Intelligence Can Qualify As Driver.

Several major news outlets continue coverage of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) letter to Google’s self-driving car unit; the letter indicated that Federal regulators would consider an autonomous vehicle’s artificial intelligence system as the driver. News sources, including the AP  (2/10, Krisher, Pritchard), report that the NHTSA’s interpretation is an important development for Google and other autonomous vehicle developers. Further, the Wall Street Journal  (2/10, Ramsey, Subscription Publication) and several other news outlets cite comments made by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who said in statement, “Our interpretation that the self-driving computer system of a car could, in fact, be a driver, is significant.” However, Foxx added that the “burden remains on self-driving car manufacturers to prove that their vehicles meet rigorous federal safety standards.”

The Christian Science Monitor  (2/10, Ward-Bailey) calls the NHTSA’s interpretation the “first step toward a set of federal rules governing” autonomous vehicles. According to the report, Foxx last month said the Federal government “would do everything it could to help get” autonomous vehicles “onto public roadways in a safe but timely manner.” Additionally, according to Reuters  (2/11, Shepardson, Lienert), Google said the NHTSA’s interpretation is very important to its development of autonomous cars.

Meanwhile, the New York Times  (2/10, B3, Markoff, Subscription Publication) says the NHTSA’s letter is “certain to sharpen the debate over regulation of” autonomous cars. The article adds that the letter is also at odds with California’s proposed self-driving car rules. In December, the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued draft regulations that “would require a human driver to remain ‘in the loop’ in a self-driving car,” according to the Times.

Elementary/Secondary Education

DOD Schools Implementing New Standards.

The Hechinger Report  (2/11, Richmond) reports on the implementation of the Department of Defense Education Activity’s College and Career-Ready Standards, described as “a mirror image of the Common Core – rebranded.” The department adopted the standards in part to provide for more “consistent grade-level expectations when they relocate.” The article describes some of the techniques used in the new standards and the difficulties that the schools face. One of the more important is that since the program is new, students in higher grades may not have the background which the new curriculum expects them to have.

US Ranks Near Average In OECD Education Report.

US News & World Report  (2/10, Camera) in its “Data Mine” blog covers a new “212-page report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development” based on the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment. The US is near the average in the percentage of “low performers” in math, reading and science. There have been few changes in the US results since the 2005 report according to the article.

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

Budget Would Boost Funds For Computer Science, Early Learning, Teacher Retention, College.
Alexander, Murray Working On HEA Reauthorization.
Researchers Develop New Liquid Crystal Mixes To Keep Car LCDs From Freezing, Overheating.
White House Proposes $2 Billion To Increase Apprenticeships.
Michigan Outlines Plans To Improve Schools.
Nation’s Job Openings Climbed To 5.61 Million In December.

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