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

Leading the News

Las Vegas Paper Discovers Area 6 Is Secret US Drone Testing Ground.

Popular Mechanics  (3/8, Mizokami) reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal just got a “scoop” about the NNSA operated facility Area 6 after a NNSA spokesperson revealed “that Area 6 is a place government agencies use to test the sensors onboard unmanned aerial vehicles. In other words, it’s a drone proving ground.” A document filed by multinational engineering corporation Bechtel also stated the facility is used to “construct, operate, and test a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles,” noting the types of tests conducted.

Homeland Security News Wire  (3/8) also highlights the Review-Journal’s report, noting that Area 6 “once served for underground nuclear testing” according to DOE records. NNSA spokesman Darwin Morgan’s “told the Review-Journal that the federal agencies use Area 6 to test drones equipped with sensors and away from the public eye – and to avoid being spied on in space.” He added, “We do a wide variety of work for others – supporting people with sensor development activities. It evolved from the nuclear testing program. We had to have very good sensors to collect data in a split second before they were obliterated.”

Higher Education

Court Of Appeals Panel Upholds Gainful Employment Rule.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/8) reports that a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals on Tuesday ruled that ED’s gainful employment rule can stand, dealing yet another blow to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, which had challenged the rule. The APSCU “had argued that the department had overstepped its authority in issuing the rule, and that the rule represented an unreasonable interpretation of the federal student-loan program,” but “the panel rejected that argument.”

California Community Colleges Breaking Away From Controversial Accreditor.

Inside Higher Ed  (3/8) reports that California’s community colleges are “breaking with” accreditor the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, “in an effort to reform the system of checks and balances that determines the institutions’ quality.” Starting this summer, the state’s 113 community colleges “will begin formally pushing away from” the commission, “while also attempting to change that agency.” The piece notes that the Obama Administration recently “rejected ACCJC’s appeal of two of the U.S. Department of Education’s 2014 findings against the accreditor. Education Secretary John King confirmed the department’s view that ACCJC is not widely accepted by educators and doesn’t assign enough academics to evaluation teams.”

University Of Phoenix President: Career-Relevant Higher Ed Important For Working Adults.

University of Phoenix President Tim Slottow writes in The Hill’s  (3/9, Slottow) “Congress Blog” that four decades after the founding of the University of Phoenix, the institution is still “called on to help diverse, working adults who are raising families while they finish their degrees, balance their time, cost of college and personal realities.” Slottow notes that “many other institutions” are now similarly focused on working adults and “‘nontraditional students,’ who today comprise the majority of Americans pursuing a higher education.” He says the White House and ED last year released College Scorecard data showing the University of Phoenix’s tuition and fees “were below the national average for private universities with more than 15,000 students, and the median earnings of our students, measured ten years after they entered University of Phoenix, were above the national average for public and private universities with more than 15,000 students.”

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.

$25K E4U3 Video Contest
The National Academy of Engineering has announced a video contest on Mega Engineering! Most of humankind’s biggest endeavors are mega engineering projects that provide solutions that span disciplines, geographies, and cultural boundaries.

Research and Development

Pentagon Tests Secret “Micro-Drones.”

The Washington Post  (3/8, Lamothe) reports the Pentagon spent last summer testing “new, secret prototypes” of “micro-drones,” which are launched from the flare dispensers of F-16As and F/A-18s fighters and which later use parachutes to slow down before emerging to create a swarm. The 3-D printed UAS systems can also be launched from the ground. The “shroud of secrecy” regarding the Strategic Capabilities Office, which oversees the project, “was lifted partially in recent weeks” when Defense Secretary Ash Carter “disclosed last month the existence of some of the office’s projects while previewing his proposed 2017 budget.” While “many details about the organization remain classified,” “it receives technical support from several contractors who specialize in part on simulation and modeling, including Modern Technology Solutions Inc., in Alexandria, Va., and Science Applications International Corp. in McLean, Va.” The mini-UAS units are part of a program called “Perdix,” which costs around $20 million.

Clemson Professors Win National Honors For Young Researchers.

The Greenville (SC) News  (3/8) reports that five researchers at Clemson University have “brought home some of the nation’s top awards for junior faculty members and are helping make robots fly, develop new medicines, save buildings from the wrecking ball and create new ways to make fertilizer.” The professors have won awards from the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

IARPA Launches Effort To Reverse-Engineer Human Brain To Improve AI.

Scientific American  (3/8, Cepelewicz) reports IARPA “has dedicated $100 million to a similarly ambitious project. The Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks program, or MICrONS, aims to reverse-engineer one cubic millimeter of the brain, study the way it makes computations, and use those findings to better inform algorithms in machine learning and artificial intelligence.” IARPA has recruited three teams for the effort.

North Dakota Borehole Waste Test Project Abandoned.

The AP  (3/8) reports that researchers at the University of North Dakota have “formally abandoned an effort to drill holes” on state-owned land in Pierce County to “test whether deep rock is suitable for nuclear waste disposal.” County commissioners voted last week to “oppose the proposed $80 million federal effort and work on a permanent ban on drilling holes for such projects.” John Harju, vice president for strategic partnerships for UND’s Energy and Environmental Research Center, sent a letter to the commission “saying the EERC is disappointed but understands the county’s position.”

Industry News

US Companies Taking Initiative In Shift Toward Clean Energy.

The Wall Street Journal  (3/8, Sweet, Subscription Publication) reports that US firms are cutting emissions voluntarily and buying clean energy at the fastest pace ever as the economics of renewables improve and social pressures mount. Companies such as Whole Foods, GM, and Salesforce have double renewable energy use as US companies agreed to buy 3,440 megawatts of wind and solar under long-term contracts in 2015, triple the amount bought in 2014, according to Herve Touati at the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Engineering and Public Policy

Future Of Ethanol Remains Uncertain.

The Houston Chronicle  (3/8, Osborne) reports that “a decade after Congress voted to expand ethanol production,” the program is surrounded by “uncertainty.” The renewable fuel standard “is set to expire in 2022” and “at that point the program would be taken over” by the EPA, “raising the specter of some mandates being frozen or eliminated.” According to Harvard economist James Stock, the uncertainty is already having an impact on the industry. The Chronicle adds “under the schedule set out by Congress in 2007, so-called cellulosic ethanol…was supposed to make up 19 percent of the biofuels supply this year.” But data from the EPA shows “that less than 1 percent of the more than 14 billion gallons of fuel produced under the fuel standard last year came from cellulosic ethanol.” In a recent interview Energy Secretary Moniz said, “A lot of progress had been made. But we still need a good factor of two on cost reduction. … Cellulosic has not proved as simple as some had hoped.”

Obama Administration Makes First Payment Into UN Climate Change Fund.

The Hill  (3/8, Cama) reports that the Obama Administration “has made the first of its promised payments to the United Nations’ controversial climate change fund.” An official with the State Department “said that the United States made the $500 million payment on Monday to the South Korea-based Green Climate Fund.” It is “the first of a series of payments President Obama has pledged.” The State official said, “With this announcement, which comes less than three months after the historic Paris climate agreement, the United States continues to demonstrate leadership in the international climate arena.”

Faison: “Conservative Clean Energy” Should Be “Priority” For GOP.

Bloomberg Politics  (3/8, Dlouhy) reports activist Jay Faison “says Republicans’ political survival depends on embracing clean energy – whether a candidate believes in climate change or not – and he’s backing that up with tens of millions of dollars.” Faison, who is opening a new Washington office for his environmental foundation ClearPath, said Tuesday, “Our mission is to make conservative clean energy a priority for the GOP.” Faison added, “It may take some time, but absolutely, we can do it. It’s critical for the longevity of the Republican party.” The Hill  (3/8, Henry) reports that ClearPath’s policy agenda “centers on more traditional energy sources” and opposes new EPA power sector pollution rules. ClearPath’s “four planks” include using cleaner-burning coal and natural gas, as well as expanding nuclear and hydroelectric power. Faison has said he is skeptical about the long-term costs of solar and wind power. McClatchy  (3/8, Gordon) reports that Faison has “recalibrated his campaign to focus on a ‘conservative clean-energy policy agenda’ that nonetheless is aimed at fighting global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.” Fuel Fix (TX)  (3/8, Osborne) also provides coverage.

Study: Solar Growth To More Than Double In 2016.

Bloomberg News  (3/9, Ryan) reports that “solar companies will add 16 gigawatts of panels in the U.S. in 2016, up from 7.3 gigawatts in 2015, according to a study released Wednesday by the Solar Energy Industries Association.” US News & World Report  (3/9, Neuhauser) reports that the “frenzy” appears to be fueled by hastened activity by utilities and companies as “congressional lawmakers last year bickered over the future of a lucrative tax credit scheduled” which they ultimately renewed.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Chicago Makes Computer Science Classes Mandatory For High School Graduation.

The Huffington Post  (3/8) reports that a new requirement in Chicago Public Schools is intended to discourage gender and ethnic disparities in the tech sector, noting that starting this fall, incoming high school students will have to take at least one computer science class to graduate. The Post says Chicago is the first district with such a requirement.

New Jersey STEM Summer Camp Seeks To Engage Student Engineering Explorations.

Tap Into New Jersey  (3/8) reports on a new STEM-focused camp at Madison High School in New Jersey called “Engineering Explorations” for children ages eight to fifteen. Camp Director Ryan DelGuercio says “This is a camp where students explore their interests in engineering and develop their skills through project based learning. Kids will leave with a strong background in design, problem solving, project fabrication, and STEM skills.” The camp is broken into levels that correspond with a student’s age.

Kansas Program Encourages Engineering Interest, Hosts Wind Car Race.

The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal  (3/8, Moore) reports on a wind car race held on Tuesday at Westar Energy for the Corporate Bigs program, which is “an initiative between Westar Energy, Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters serving Shawnee County and Topeka Public Schools.” The article says that every Tuesday students in the Corporate Bigs program “come to Westar Energy each Tuesday to learn basic concepts of STEM.” Tuesday’s race participants were ages 10 and 11, and each worked with a mentor to design and build their own wind powered car. The winner, Lilly Windsor, received a $500 scholarship for higher education.

STEM Competition For High Schoolers Reaches Regional Levels, Inspires Careers.

Current In Zionsville (IN)  (3/8, Skinner) reports on local involvement in the regional Bright Ideas Competition, a STEM contest for High School students. Two students from Zionsville Community High School made it to the event pitching an idea called “benefuel” that would collect excess food and turn it into ethanol to mix with fuel. The students did not progress past the regional phase of the competition, but both said they planned to pursue careers in STEM and attend Purdue University.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Rhode Island Governor Launches Public School Computer Science Initiative.
ED Taking Steps To Reimburse Overcharged Military Borrowers.
Livermore Physicist Among 2016 Presidential Science And Engineering Award Winners.
Raytheon Faces $1 Billion Whistleblower Suit For Overbilling.
Oklahoma Regulator Directs Reduction In Oil And Gas Waste From Well Operators.
Clarence Middle School Team Headed To National Science Bowl.

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