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

Leading the News

Administration Abandons Plan To Allow Drilling Off Atlantic Coast.

In a move the New York Times  (3/15, Davenport, Subscription Publication) says “surprised many,” the Interior Department on Tuesday withdrew its plan to allow oil and gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast. According to Interior Secretary Jewell, the decision “was chiefly driven by the widespread concerns of coastal communities, as well as the military’s reservations about permitting drilling near some of its largest installations.” The Times notes “some of the political backlash” may be eased by current near-record low oil prices. The AP  (3/15, Daly) similarly says the decision is a “major reversal” as the President works “to build an environmental legacy that includes a global agreement to curb climate change and an ambitious plan to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.”

McClatchy  (3/15, Bergengruen) also calls the move a “significant reversal” by the Administration and a “major victory” for the “coastal communities and environmental activists who fought the proposal,” while USA Today  (3/15, Bomey) calls it “a blow to petroleum companies that had hopes of tapping new reserves.” However, Notre Dame law professor Bruce Huber said it is “unlikely to be a serious limitation on industry growth.”

The Washington Times  (3/15, Boyer) says the move was “immediately criticized by industry as caving in to environmental ‘extremists.’” API CEO Jack Gerard “said the decision ‘appeases extremists,’” and Independent Petroleum Association of America President Barry Russell said it “closes the door to more American jobs and opportunities for our economy.” An editorial in the Wall Street Journal  (3/15, Subscription Publication) decries the Administration’s decision, arguing it highlights the radical energy agenda which is now dominant in the Democratic Party, whose activists want the US to produce no oil and gas.

Higher Education

Report Points To Rising Popularity Of College Savings Plans.

The Washington Post  (3/15, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that according to a report from the College Savings Plans Network, “families are socking away more money in 529 college savings plans than ever, investing a record $253 billion last year in preparation for the sky-high cost of higher education.” The article says government data show that “less than 3 percent of U.S. families make use of tax-advantaged college accounts,” but reports that the new study seems to indicate that “that’s starting to change, albeit slowly.”

Partisan Approval Of Wisconsin Governor’s Proposals To Address College Affordability.

The AP  (3/15) reports that the Wisconsin Senate has approved the majority of Governor Scott Walkers’ bills on “college affordability.” The vote was split on party lines with all the Senate Democrats “voting against each measure” calling the bill package “crumbs for students” and saying the bills are “really about campaign talking points.” The bills “create grants” for students in two-year programs, require the establishment of internship related efforts, and require schools “keep students apprised of debt levels.” The bill is pending Walker’s signature

Maryland House Approves Bill To Ban Guns From Public Colleges, University Campuses.

The Washington Times  (3/15, Shastry) reports that on Tuesday Maryland’s House of Delegates “approved a bill to ban guns from public college and university campuses.” The approval comes after weeks of partisan debate on the issue, and the bill would set a statewide standard as now colleges “set their own firearms polices” in abidance with state laws. The bill moves to the Senate.

I-Corps for Learning Webinar
Are you an engineering educator with an entrepreneurial mindset (or you’d like to be one)? The ASEE-managed I-Corps for Learning is seeking participants for the next cohort of this exciting project. NSF is holding a webinar this Friday to explain how you can join.

Safe Zone Ally Workhsops
With funding from NSF, ASEE is offering online workshops to become a Safe Zone Ally.

$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

MIT Engineers Developing Nontoxic Battery.

Christian Science Monitor  (3/15, Shekhtman) reports according to a recent paper published in the January edition of Energy & Environmental Science, MIT Engineers “have produced a new type of battery that converts chemical energy to electrical energy without” the resulting toxic chemicals generated with traditional batteries. Michael Strano, a chemical engineering professor and co-author on the paper highlighted how the technology is “safer” than lithium-ion batteries, is “made of a renewable resource…and has the potential to reduce battery sizes by 20 times.”

The Albany (NY) Daily Star  (3/16, Courtney) reports that since discovering the “environment-friendly way to generate electricity” in 2010, Stano and fellow researchers “have increased the efficiency of the process more than a thousandfold and have produced devices that can put out power that can be produced by today’s best batteries.” However, researchers are continuing to develop the technology and “think that it could take several years to introduce the product in the market and to use it for commercial purposes.”

Harvard Engineers Developing 3-D Printing “Ink” To Replicate Living Material.

The Boston Globe  (3/15, Subbaraman) reports on the research at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Science, where Professor Jennifer Lewis and others are “among a generation of engineers who are radically expanding the capabilities of 3-D printing.” The Globe discusses how the Lewis lab is creating “ink” for 3-D printers out of “functional objects made of a variety materials” beyond plastics, including “inks made of living cells and devising printing tools that can use them.” The article delves in to the possible uses of such technology.

Cisco VP: Policy Must Address, Support Benefits Of Wearable Tech.

Cisco Vice President of Global Marketing and Corporate Communications, Doug Webster states in The Hill (DC)  (3/15) “Congress Blog” that “wearables,” such as shirts, watches, and other connected devices, are “improving our health and wellness by tracking our daily activities” and even helping “to save lives and improve patient outcomes.” However, Webster states that with the rapid increase in use of wearables, policymakers must understand the technology’s impact and the transmissions used to connect the devices with those seeking to monitor them. Consequently, Webster argues lawmakers must “ensure that radio spectrum is available with the right set of rules to make sure these devices can connect to the network.”

Motherboard Analysis: Joke-Compatible Represents “Final Frontier” In Artificial Intelligence.

A nearly 1,800-word article in Motherboard  (3/15) discusses efforts by scientist to develop a funny robot, one that is “in on the joke, able to detect various shades of wit from their human companions, and to fire back in turn with their own wisecracks.” Motherboards states the “mastery of sophisticated functions like self-awareness, empathy, spontaneity, and linguistic subtlety” that are required for a robot to be “joke-compatible” lead some to believe it is the “final frontier for artificial intelligence.”

Lockheed Martin Researchers Discuss Manned-Unmanned Teaming.

National Defense Magazine  (3/16, Tadjdeh) reports in its blog that Lockheed Martin executives said Tuesday at its annual media day in Arlington, Virginia that “manned/unmanned teaming between humans and advanced robots will play a key role in the future of warfare,” and quotes senior research scientist for human systems optimization Bartlett Russell, who said that “Ultimately the human is our best asset in the field.” A research case manager said that robot development plays into DoD’s third offset strategy for reducing costs and increasing capabilities.

Engineering and Public Policy

Chaffetz Blasts EPA’s Handling Of Flint Water Crisis.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz criticized the EPA’s handling over the Flint water crisis, the Detroit Free Press  (3/15, Spangler) reports. Chaffetz, whose panel held its second hearing on the matter Tuesday, said the agency failed to act on information that could have resolved the problem soon. Said Chaffetz, “What’s sickening about this is it was totally avoidable. It’s almost unbelievable how many bad decisions were made. … The EPA had every opportunity to make the right move here and they didn’t.” The Detroit News  (3/15, Burke) says the EPA faced “withering criticism” during the hearing, noting Chaffetz “took aim at EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who is scheduled to testify Thursday, saying she continues to ‘shift blame’ and accept ‘no culpability whatsoever.’”

The New York Times  (3/15, Goodnough, Subscription Publication) says former EPA official Susan Hedman was “excoriated” by the panel “for not responding more forcefully” when she learned Flint “was not adding a chemical to its new water supply that would have prevented the city’s pipes from corroding and leaching lead.” Hedman, “testified that limited enforcement options had kept her from acting more aggressively to order corrosion control, saying, ‘I don’t think E.P.A. did anything wrong.’” Roll Call  (3/15, Akin) reported former Flint Mayor Dayne Walling and Flint’s former emergency financial administrator Darnell Early told the committee “state officials never told them that the water running through their pipes was contaminated with lead.” Early said, “We relied on the experts to verify that the water would not pose any threat to the community. … The experts failed all of us.”

Emails Show EPA Officials Questioning Whether To “Go Out On a Limb” For Flint. Politico  (3/15, Snider) cited internal emails obtained by the committee which show “EPA officials questioned whether to press for state funding given concerns about the city diverting money from its water utility to cover other expenses.” In a Sept. 24 email, Region 5 Water Division Branch Chief Debbie Baltazar wrote, “Perhaps she already knows all this, but I’m not so sure Flint is the community we want to go out on a limb for. … At least without a better understanding of where all that money went.” That email came as Hedman “was considering asking state officials to spend federal drinking water funds on water filters for Flint residents.” Chaffetz, Politico noted, “unveiled the email during a hearing this morning in the context of questions about whether Flint’s poverty and preponderance of minority residents had contributed to the disaster.”

NRC Considers How To Advance Nuclear Reactor Decommissioning.

Politico  (3/15, Reis) reports that the leadership of the NRC was set to “get an earful” Tuesday morning “on how to forge ahead with a rule on reactor decommissioning.” The current process, “which requires plant owners to request a series of emergency and security exemptions from the rules that govern operating reactors, has complicated the agency’s relationship with the communities near retiring nuclear plants — and their representatives in Congress.” NRC staff “note in their presentation that there’s been an ‘experience gap’ for both the NRC and plant operators when it comes to decommissioning procedures.”

Politico  (3/15, Dezenski) reported that Massachusetts state Sen. Dan Wolf participated in the NRC meeting in Rockville, Maryland on rulemaking for nuclear power decommissioning.

Lawmakers Call For NRC To Give Local Stakeholders More Say In Nuclear Plant Decommissioning. Vermont Business Magazine  (3/15) reports that as Entergy Vermont Yankee is decommissioned, “Vermont’s congressional delegation is working to ensure a transparent process and prompt return to local use.” Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Rep. Peter Welch, “joined by 12 House and Senate colleagues,” asked the NRC to “give local stakeholders a seat at the table in the decommissioning of nuclear power plants.” The legislators “sent a letter…to NRC Chairman Stephen Burns outlining their proposal as part of his agency’s ongoing multiyear rulemaking process to develop new rules and clear standards that guide the decommissioning of nuclear reactors across the country.” The lawmakers “called for a revised rule that ensures prompt decommissioning of nuclear sites and provides meaningful opportunities for local input, particularly in how the decommissioning funds are used and the speed at which nuclear fuel is transferred to dry cask storage.”

No-fracking Zone Expanded Around Dam Amid Safety Concerns.

The Dallas Morning News  (3/15) reports that the “Army Corps of Engineers has extended its no-fracking zone around the Joe Pool Lake dam to protect it from possible damage.” After a multiyear engineering study, the corps concluded that the existing 20-year-old standard “does not sufficiently meet our minimal tolerable risk guidelines and therefore, poses a risk to the dam, the lake, and the public.”

Report: UAVs Only Pose Small Risk To Aircraft.

Popular Science  (3/15) highlights that a report published on Monday by the Mercator Institute at George Mason University indicates that “actual bird strikes,” rather than “near misses or simple sightings,” pose a much greater risk to flight safety than do similarly-sized UAVs. In their report, researchers Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond state that UAVs that weigh less than two kilograms “pose a negligible risk to the safety of the national airspace,” and “call into question the numbers of drone near-misses provided by the FAA, noting that ‘the FAA had been counting simple sightings as near misses.’” Meanwhile, Digital Trends  (3/15, Stella) reports that in describing the basis for their analysis, the researchers wrote, “Bird strikes provide an excellent parallel phenomenon for estimating the magnitude of damage a small UAS could cause my colliding with a manned aircraft,” noting that thus far, “a UAS has never collided with an aircraft in U.S. airspace.”

Ars Technica  (3/15) explains that Dourado and Hammond examined 25 years of “wildlife strike” data from the FAA, and determined that on average, “only 3 percent of reported small-bird strikes ever result in damage, compared to 39 percent of large-bird strikes,” while also suggesting that the true strike rate may in fact be lower due to under-reporting. Noting that in 2014, “there were 13,414 reported collisions with birds and flying mammals,” the researchers postulate that since “there are on the order of 10 billion birds in US airspace, this means that plausibly 1 bird in 1 million collides with an aircraft every year.” The researchers compared UAV usage statistics to bird behavior, to determine that for UAVs “one damaging incident will occur no more than every 1.87 million years of 2 kg UAS flight time.”

Drone Industry Concerned About Upcoming Drone Regulation.

The Washington Post  (3/15, Halsey) reports that on Wednesday, the Senate will consider “how much regulation is needed for a burgeoning industry that is projected to supply 2.8 million drones this year, with a bottom line rapidly approaching $1 billion in annual sales.” The Post adds that the FAA is expected to introduce regulations on drones weighing up to 55 pounds this spring. The Post also mentions that the drone industry is concerned about these new regulations, which may limit the development and use of newer drone technologies.

FAA Administrator Leads Panel At SXSW On Drones. Government Security News  (3/15, Bittenbender) reports that FAA Administrator Michael Huerta led a panel about the future of drones at SXSW this week. At the conference, Huerta “noted that the federal drone registry now has more than 400,000 registrants, and a committee will deliver recommendations on rules regarding smaller drone aircraft by the end of this month.” The article adds that Huerta’s panel included representatives from NASA, Amazon, Intel and other key stakeholders. At the panel, Huerta also presented FAA’s mobile app, B4UFLY, which “lets drone operators know whether they can safely and legally operate their unmanned aircraft at their location.”

Flying Magazine  (3/15, Pope) adds that the panel discussions included “steps to speed integration while maintaining today’s high levels of safety, future uses for UAS, research on how to safely expand UAS operations, and ways to spread the FAA’s safety message to even more UAS pilots.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

New Journal For STEM Educators Launches.

THE Journal  (3/15) reports that a new digital publication called Connected Science Learning is that has launched for STEM educators. The journal produced “jointly by the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science-Technology Centers” “will highlight effective programs, practices and partnerships that educators… can use to enhance STEM learning.” The first two issues will be free, and the first issue was released March 14 with the second issue set for a Fall 2016 release. The first issue focused on “Successful In-School and Out-of-School Science Education Collaborations,” and the second issue will focus “on professional development.”

Five Schools In Auburn District Are Integrating STEAM Into Curriculum.

The Auburn (CA) Journal  (3/15, Caspers) reports that Auburn Union School District has added art or agriculture to it’s curriculum, adding the “A” to STEM changing it to STEAM. Once a week students at Auburn Elementary School work in teams “on a self-directed technology project” in a multi-age classroom setting, which principal Aurora Thompson calls “peer scaffolding” as “students teach each other.” A total of five schools in AUSD are integrating a STEAM curriculum.

Russian Approach To Math Learning Aims To Exercise Mind To Stimulate Development.

The Boston Globe  (3/15, Teitell) reports on a K-12 math “enrichment program,” called Russian math which is a Russian approach to teaching math that aims to “stimulate intellectual development.” The article says parents send their children to the program to increase college opportunities, the program “has a reputation for intensity,” and there are many program drop-outs, but upon visiting a Russian math teaching facility the author found students “infomercial” excited about learning.

Students From Public Schools Nationwide Pitch STEM Innovations In New York City.

The AP  (3/14) reports that on Tuesday “students from 15 public schools” across the country were in New York City to participate in a “Samsung-sponsored competition” using “STEM-driven projects…to offer a solution to a community problem.” The winners of the competition “will be announced next week.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Castro Pledges HUD’s Support For Flint; McCarthy Says Michigan Misled EPA.
ED Fires Law Firm In Charge Of Monitoring Turnaround Of Former Corinthian Schools.
UT Arlington Team Creates Synthetic Fuel Out Of CO2, Water.
FireEye Research Shows Common Origins For Several Android Malware Programs.
Study: Rising Methane Levels Caused By Farming, Not Fracking.
UC Santa Barbara Creates Computer Science Curriculum Used By Various Schools.

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