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

Leading the News

Apple VP: FBI, DOJ Want To “Turn Back The Clock” On Encryption Technology.

In the continuing legal dispute between the FBI and Apple over San Bernardino Shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone, Apple Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi penned and op-ed on Sunday arguing that the FBI and Justice Department want to “turn back the clock to a less-secure time and less-secure technologies” by weakening encryption. Earlier in the weekend, several major print and Internet sources covered continued reactions by officials to the FBI-Apple dispute and highlighted the amicus briefs filed in the case on Thursday. Levels of coverage varied from day to day, with coverage on Saturday being relatively light, as the media’s attention was overwhelmingly focused on the night’s presidential primaries and caucuses.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post  (3/6), Federighi says officials “have suggested that the safeguards of iOS 7 were good enough and that we should simply go back to the security standards of 2013. But the security of iOS 7, while cutting-edge at the time, has since been breached by hackers.” The FBI, Federighi says, wants Apple to create a backdoor to the iPhone’s encryption that “would become a weakness that hackers and criminals could use to wreak havoc on the privacy and personal safety of us all.”

UN Official Expresses Support For Apple In Dispute With FBI. The Washington Post  (3/4, Berman) reports UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein issued a statement saying, “In order to address a security-related issue related to encryption in one case, the authorities risk unlocking a Pandora’s Box that could have extremely damaging implications for the human rights of many millions of people, including their physical and financial security.” Hussein added, “Encryption tools are widely used around the world, including by human rights defenders, civil society, journalists, whistle-blowers and political dissidents facing persecution and harassment.” According to the New York Times  (3/4, Cumming-Bruce, Subscription Publication), Hussein also said, “A successful case against Apple in the US will set a precedent that may make it impossible for Apple or any other major international I.T. company to safeguard their clients’ privacy anywhere in the world. It is potentially a gift to authoritarian regimes, as well as to criminal hackers.” The Christian Science Monitor  (3/4, Lowenberg) also reports on this story.

Issa: Congress Shouldn’t Step In To Solve FBI/Apple Dispute Yet. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), appearing on Fox News Sunday Morning Futures (3/6, Bartiromo), said that Congress shouldn’t step in to solve the privacy dispute between FBI and Apple and believes “that the court should be allowed to go forward with a process for a period of time.” Issa said, “Right now if we [Congress] were to change, if you will, the All Writs Act of 1789, how would we change it? Has it been defined where there are limitations could or should be or whether there’s an expansion? I certainly don’t want to expand the powers of our government, if you will, after 200-plus years unless there’s a full vetting of where that would be. So I’m of the opinion that with a California case going one way and New York case going another way, this really needs to go through a process.”

Higher Education

Surviving For-Profit Colleges Working To Recover From Enrollment Crash.

The Hechinger Report  (3/6, Marcus) reports that there is a fast-growing niche of non-traditional college students seeking “credentials that will get them new or better jobs” who can be served by for-profit colleges. However, the for-profit sector has seen “deep enrollment and revenue declines and even bankruptcies driven by economic changes and terrible publicity about students taking out huge loans and never graduating.” The piece reports that such students are “the best hope once-high-flying providers like the University of Phoenix have to rise again.” The lengthy article deals with a number of challenges facing for-profit colleges, and notes deep within that ED this spring is “scheduled to publish the prospective earnings payoffs of degrees, compared with what they cost to get. This is the first stage of what’s called the gainful employment rule, which the industry sued for years to block.”

ED Pushing State Regulators To Crack Down On For-Profits.

Inside Higher Ed  (3/4) reports that ED “has been prodding state regulators to tighten up their oversight of for-profit colleges, in part to prevent another fiasco like the collapse of Corinthian Colleges.” Focusing on job placement claims, ED “wrote regulators in Arizona and several other states last November to gather information on job-placement rate reporting and verification.” The piece notes that Education Secretary John King and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell recently spoke “about a newly created department enforcement unit that will investigate misconduct at colleges – nonprofit and for-profit alike – and seek to resolve student loan debt relief claims that are linked to fraud.” The article quotes Mitchell saying, “We do think that a key to making the accrediting system more effective is a better sharing of information. We would include state authorizing agencies in that information loop as well.”

Accreditor Blocks Grand Canyon University’s Bid To Turn Non-Profit.

The Arizona Republic  (3/4) reports that the Higher Learning Commission has rejected a bid by Grand Canyon University to “revert to a non-profit organization…in a decision that blindsided Grand Canyon executives.” Grand Canyon President Brian Mueller “ruled out challenging the Higher Learning Commission’s decision.” Mueller said “the accrediting commission believed under GCU’s plan academic control still would rest with the for-profit company,” a view rejected by Mueller. Several paragraphs down, the article says Credit Suisse analyst Trace Urdan “said pressure from the U.S. Department of Education may have played a role in the decision.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/6) reports that the firm “is giving up its 18-month effort to become a nonprofit institution.” The piece notes that the HLC released a statement on Friday saying it “made its decision because the university had not met the requirements for the transition,” which “do not allow ‘for the separate school-corporation and service-corporation model.’”

‘Hacker’ Students Face Off In Friendly Competition.

AP  (3/6) reports a group of students from MIT and Britain’s University of Cambridge will compete for a prize of more than $20,000 in a friendly hacking competition. The AP adds that the joint cybersecurity project is part of a new collaboration between the US and UK to highlight the need for cyber training and cooperation.

The Denver Post  (3/7, Canada) reports on another student hacking competition called the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. The Post points out that the students built a commercial network and teams from the schools “were responsible for protecting and maintaining Internet services for their respective companies.” The Post adds that the team from Brigham Young University won the competition on Friday and will send a team to the national competition in San Antonio on April 22-24.

USC Tuition Set To Top $50,000 Per Year.

The Los Angeles Times  (3/4, Song) reports that USC’s tuition will “surpass $50,000 for the first time” in the 2016-17 school year, saying that the $51,442 tuition and $841 in fees may garner the school “the unofficial title of most expensive place in the country to get a college degree.” The article notes that USC is “rising both in academic reputation and as a financial powerhouse.” The latest rate is a nearly $2,000 jump over current tuition.

Universities Increasingly Partnering With Coding Bootcamps.

In a 1,200-word post on its “Crunch Network” blog, TechCrunch  (3/5, Sing) reported on the increasing popularity of traditional college alternative “coding bootcamp,” described as “the fast-track education option for those interested in becoming a web developer.” The article outlined “3 signs” the trend will continue to grow: the prevalence of partnerships between coding bootcamps and universities, colleges starting their own bootcamps, and the Obama Administration’s 2015 Educational Quality through Innovative Partnerships (EQUIP) pilot program. Through EQUIP, “if a college applies and is approved for participation…they will be granted the opportunity to partner with a coding bootcamp.”

Rowan University Engineers To Study Memristors In Outer Space.

In a 1,000-word article, Philly (PA)  (3/5, Lai) profiled Rowan University engineers’ planned participation in the NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative, which helps programs conduct research on objects that enter outer space. The university’s electrical and computer engineering department aims to develop memory technology memristors to offer greater “stability, speed, and energy efficiency compared with current memory systems.” Drexel University professor Jonathan E Spanier explained, “If you can move away from something that’s charge-based, especially if you work in a pretty tough environment like space…that would be an advantage.”

Professor Attributes Gender Disparity In STEM Fields To Treatment Of Women At Colleges.

University of Hawaii geobiology professor A. Hope Jahren writes in a 1,700-word op-ed for the “Sunday Review” of the New York Times  (3/6, SR4, Jahren, Subscription Publication) to provide analysis of the relative absence of women in STEM fields at colleges. Jahren posits the cause for the disparity is not a difference in performance, but is “isolation and intimidation as barriers blocking [women’s] scholarly path.” Jahren cites increasing “reports of sexual harassment and assault within science departments.”

Despite Achievements, MIT’s Undergraduate Females More Likely To Feel “They Don’t Belong,” Study Finds.

A 1,000-word piece in Boston  (3/4, Hoover) summarized a study  released last week by two undergraduate students at MIT that found undergraduate “women are significantly more likely to believe they don’t belong at” MIT, regardless of achievement level. The report, “Status of Undergraduate Women at MIT,” surveyed 1,219 students in 2014 and found that while “female freshmen might have less high school experience with computer programming, entrepreneurship, and engineering…they catch up with or even surpass male students by graduation,” which Boston said “shatter[s] stereotypes that have long suggested women don’t perform as well as men in STEM-based academics and careers.”

I-Corps for Learning Dear Colleague Letter
The I-Corps for Learning program recognizes recent discoveries and promising practices from STEM education research and development and promotes opportunities for their widespread adoption, adaptation, and utilization.

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

Research and Development

OpenWorks Engineering Releases Counter-Drone Net Launching Device.

USA Today  (3/5) posted a video about a counter-drone net-launching device released by OpenWorks Engineering that uses a scope to predict a drone’ flight path, and launches a compressed-air rocket to drop a net on the drone. There is also a drone that can shoot nets at other drones.

New England Ski Resorts Banning Consumer Drones. The AP  (3/5, Deforge) reported that “nearly all ski areas” in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts have banned drones, “unless the operator has written permission” from resort owners, and that operators at areas such as Mount Snow must show that “the drone is properly registered and the operator has the necessary training and credentials to operate them,” as well as hold insurance.

UAV Companies Pivot To Asia. The Wall Street Journal  (3/6, Osawa, Subscription Publication) reports drone manufacturers are “vying for new customers” in Asia as competition increases in the US, and are “racing” to increase staff to “build sales channels and educate consumers” on drone technology, offering drone-flying lessons and renting drones to tourists. The Walls Street Journal reports that Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co., the maker of the new Phantom 4 drone, has opened a flagship store in Shenzhen and is opening a flagship store in Seoul, and calls the company “one of the world’s most valuable tech startups” with a value of about $8 billion.

UAV Shop Opens In Brooklyn, New York. The Wall Street Journal  (3/4, Weiss, Subscription Publication) reports on the newest UAS store in Brooklyn, New York, which opened this weekend to coincide with the second annual New York City Drone Film Festival. The article also highlighted some of the current Federal rules for UAS operation.

Tech Companies Continue Advances In Artificial Intelligence, Albeit Slowly.

The New York Times  (3/6, Markoff, Subscription Publication) highlights recent advances in artificial intelligence, noting that although “generalized systems that approach human levels of understanding and reasoning” still remain a distant goal, “steady progress is being made” toward developing software that can solve discrete problems. As an example of this progress, the article notes that the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Seattle has focused on “creating software that can answer questions taken from standardized elementary school science tests.”

NYTimes Analysis: Biotechnology Company Plays Key Role In Fighting Zika Virus.

In a nearly 2,700-word analysis, the New York Times  (3/5, Pollack, Subscription Publication) explains how Randal Kirk, the Chairman and CEO of the biotechnology company Intrexon, has been “thrust…into the forefront of a scramble to control the Zika virus” due to the company’s acquisition last year of Oxitec. According to the Times, Kirk “appears to be the prescient owner of a potential bioweapon – Oxitec’s genetically engineered mosquitoes, which he says could save millions of people from Zika by causing the population of wild disease-transmitting mosquitoes to self-destruct.” In an interview, Kirk insisted, “I think that we have the only safe, effective, field-proven and ready-to-deploy solution” to combat Zika. The Times adds if Kirk is successful, he “will fortify his near cultlike status” and also help “weaken opposition to genetically engineered organisms of all sorts, propelling many others out of the lab, onto the dinner table or into the environment.”

Prototype Connects Medical Devices To WiFi Network.

The AP  (3/6, Ramer) reports that researchers at Dartmouth College are developing a “prototype called ‘wanda’ that can connect a medical device to a WiFi network.” The prototype device “is part of a multi-university project to develop ways to protect patient confidentiality as health care increasingly moves out of hospitals and doctors’ offices and into the home.”

NIH Awards University Of Missouri Researchers $1.3 Million To Study Protein Structures.

The Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune  (3/3, Jones) reported that the National Institutes of Health has awarded University of Missouri researchers a $1.3 million grant to study “the structures of proteins and how they change as a result of genetic mutations, work that could help with the detection and treatment of cancer and other diseases.”

New Technology “Aimed At Heading Off Climate Change.”

The Washington Post  (3/4, Mooney) reports a new technology created by Klaus Lackner of Arizona State University is “aimed at heading off climate change” by “captur[ing] carbon dioxide.” Scientists have indicated that achieving the Paris goals simply through “solar power and electric cars won’t be enough” and “humans have to engineer ways to draw carbon out of the air, the way trees do naturally, and on a gigantic scale.” Lackner’s device, which contains “a sorbent, or absorptive material, a hard plastic resin that has been crushed into tiny pieces and embedded in strips of softer plastic … act[s] as a kind of sponge” to pull carbon from the atmosphere.

Engineering and Public Policy

Nationwide Debate Over Net Metering Threatens Future Of US Solar.

Reuters  (3/4, Groom) reports that, according to North Carolina State University’s North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, the debate over net metering is taking place in more than 25 of the 40 US states with those policies. Solar industry advocates argue that, without those policies in place, the industry will cease to exist.

Arctic Ice Continues To Melt At An “Unprecedented” Rate. The CBS Evening News (3/4, story 9, 2:00, Pelley) reported that Columbia University Arctic researcher Robert Newton says the rate at which the ice in the Arctic is melting is “completely unprecedented.” Newton is shown saying, “People who work up there, you know, go up to the arctic, go out on boats and cruise around to measure these things are absolutely stunned.” CBS added that Newton indicated these changes could impact the weather in the US, “causing storms and droughts to last longer and be more extreme.”

New Technology “Aimed At Heading Off Climate Change.” The Washington Post  (3/4, Mooney) reports a new technology created by Klaus Lackner of Arizona State University is “aimed at heading off climate change” by “captur[ing] carbon dioxide.” Scientists have indicated that achieving the Paris goals simply through “solar power and electric cars won’t be enough” and “humans have to engineer ways to draw carbon out of the air, the way trees do naturally, and on a gigantic scale.” Lackner’s device, which contains “a sorbent, or absorptive material, a hard plastic resin that has been crushed into tiny pieces and embedded in strips of softer plastic … act[s] as a kind of sponge” to pull carbon from the atmosphere.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Raytheon Donates Artificial Intelligence Tutoring System To US Schools.

In an article sponsored by Raytheon, the Washington Post  (3/6) reports on the firm’s development of artificial intelligence technologies that, although mostly targeted for contracts with the Defense Department, have also been put toward other uses. Raytheon’s Learning Platform, for example, is an “electronic tutoring system [that] detects when students are having trouble and adjusts its teaching style.” Though the system was designed for the military, Raytheon has also donated it to high schools nationwide as a teaching aide.

Virginia Students Built Satellite Set To Deploy In Space.

CBS News  (3/6) reports online that students at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Virginia built a satellite that will be deployed in space. Four years ago St. Thomas More Cathedral School won a NASA competition “to build small, cube-shaped satellites called ‘CubeSats,’” and with the guidance of a school parent who is also a NASA engineer, students built a satellite that is now aboard the International Space Station and set to be deployed in space as early as Tuesday.

Kansas City High School Students Build Vehicle For Electrathon Competition.

KCUR-FM  Kansas City, MO (3/5, Palmer) reported that a team of 25 students from high schools in Kansas city crafted, designed and 3-D printed an electric car with nonprofit MINDDRIVE. The car will compete in the Electrathon America competition “to see which team’s car can drive the furthest in an hour,” KCUR-FM added. MINDDRIVE co-founder Steve Rees said, “The cars themselves are a vehicle to getting the kids engaged,” giving them “experiential hands-on learning,” and expanding futures.

Program Teaches Students In Texas Creative Writing, How To Create Video Games.

The Houston Chronicle  (3/5, White) reported that in Texas Histrionix Learning Company has teamed with non-profit Writers in the Schools to encourage students to develop a program called WITS Digita which both develops writing skills and teaches students to write code. WITS gives “students the tools” to turn creative writing into video games that are “published online for others to play.” According to the Houston Chronicle, “The game aims to turn students into creators of media rather than simply consumers of media.”

Also in the News

Opinion: Intellectual Curiosity, As Exhibited in “Mythbusters,” Will Fuel Innovation.

In a US News & World Report  (3/3) op-ed, James Conwell, president of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and Gary Gabriele, a professor at Villanova University’s College of Engineering, stressed the importance of instilling intellectual “curiosity” in younger generations, and praised “Mythbusters,” which aired its last episode on March 5, for “[embodying] curiosity in action.” Helping cultivate such curiosity, Conwell and Gabriele argued, “sets young people on their path to discovery and creativity,” even if not in the technological realm. They concluded, “It is now our responsibility as engineering educators to continue the show’s legacy by instilling within our students a mindset that inspires them to be the next generation of innovators that can create real value for the world they will inherit.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

Flint Water Crisis Continues With Federal Agencies, State Officials, Congress All Taking Different Actions.
Governments Partnering With Universities On Big Data Analysis.
Cornell Researchers Develop Artificial Glowing, Stretching Skin.
Samsung Display Invests In Flexible OLED Production Lines, Possibly To Supply iPhones.
Chief Justice Roberts Denies States’ Effort To Block EPA Power Plant Limit.
INL’s Peters Sees STEM Education As Key To Future Workforce.

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