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

Leading the News

Hudson Rail Tunnel Project To Get Funding, Fast-Track Status.

Several news sources report the Gateway project, which will build new rail tunnels under the Hudson River, will receive $70 million to start preliminary work. Amtrak and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey have each pledged $35 million for engineering studies. Aside from the funding boost, news sources including Bloomberg News  (3/23, Young), report that for the “tunnel portion” of the Gateway project, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx “has agreed to seek expedited environmental reviews and permitting.” According to the article, Amtrak CEO Joseph Boardman warned that the current Hudson River rail tunnels will be out of service in less than two decades. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) told Bloomberg News that he’s focused on expediting the project “because of the urgency.” New Jersey Local News  (3/23, Higgs) says the announcement of the “$70 million boost” from the Port Authority and Amtrak “marks the first major progress” on the project since “Govs. Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo announced a funding agreement between the states and federal government.” The AP  (3/23, Porter) says other partners in the project are the DOT and New Jersey Transit. The report mentions the tunnel project is part of the “larger Gateway project that encompasses other large-scale infrastructure improvements,” including “an expanded Penn Station in New York.”

Several other sources report, including the Asbury Park (NJ) Press  (3/23, Davis), the Bergen (NJ) Dispatch  (3/23, Nichols), and the Camden (NJ) Courier Post  (3/23, Davis), the Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record  (3/23), the North Jersey (NJ) Media Group  (3/23, Maag).

Higher Education

New Mexico AG Supports ED Efforts To Clarify Student Loan Forgiveness Rules.

The AP  (3/23) reports New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas says he is supporting Education Department efforts “to clarify rules for forgiving student loans in cases where the borrowers are defrauded.” Balderas and several other state attorneys general “say they’re familiar with the fraud and abuse committed by certain schools in an effort to secure federal loan funds and the devastation that follows for borrowers.”

McCaskill Pushes For College Affordability.

The Columbia (MO) Missourian  (3/24) reports that Sen. Claire McCaskill is “traveling across Missouri as part of her ‘College Affordability Tour,’” taking part in roundtable discussions and drawing attention to the need for “the refinancing of student loans and for increased financial transparency by higher education institutions.” McCaskill says schools “should disclose how they’re spending their money.” The Springfield (MO) News-Leader  (3/23) also covers this story.

Report Points To Colleges’ Different Success Rates In Helping Black Students Graduate.

The Washington Post  (3/23, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that Education Trust has released a new report suggesting that different graduation rates for black students “at comparable universities prove that what schools do to serve black students plays a pivotal role in their achievement.” The report says that schools “that make a concerted effort to provide academic and financial support, as well as create a welcoming environment for African Americans,” graduate more black students.

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

Researchers Examine Possible Link Between Terrorism And Engineering Studies.

The Chronicle of Higher Education  (3/23, Berrett) writes, “Researchers have long noticed that an oddly large number of jihadists have engineering backgrounds.” Two social scientists recently “scrutinized the numbers and concluded that, yes, the proportion of terrorists who are engineers far outpaces expectations. Why is that? … Central to the debates are questions of causality: Do engineering programs select a certain kind of person, one who arrives on campus already predisposed toward acts of terror? Does something in these programs worsen some students’ tendency toward extremism? Or is the relationship between terrorism and engineering simply an intriguing correlation with no deeper meaning?”

MIT Researchers Develop Non-Toxic Alternative To Batteries.

Space Daily  (3/23) reports MIT researchers have developed a non-toxic alternative to batteries. The “new approach is based on a discovery announced in 2010 by Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor in Chemical Engineering at MIT, and his co-workers: A wire made from tiny cylinders of carbon known as carbon nanotubes can produce an electrical current when it is progressively heated from one end to the other.” Strano and several doctoral students have now “increased the efficiency of the process more than a thousandfold and have produced devices that can put out power” on a par with “today’s best batteries.”

Facebook Developing Software To Provide Automatic Photo Captioning For Blind Users.

USA Today  (3/23, Guynn) reports on the work of Facebook’s Matt King to make web sites and mobile apps more accessible for individuals with disabilities. King is a software engineer who came from IBM, and who has been “blind since college,” and is working on initiatives such as an automatic captioning tool that provide information on posted photographs to blind web surfers.

Growth In Wearable Payment Technology Expands Security Vulnerabilities.

Bloomberg News  (3/23, Kharif) reports there is still little consensus about wearable payment technology security methods, as companies test “a variety of tools, from pairing devices with phones to measuring a user’s heart rate for verification.” Research firm IDC is predicting 237 million wearable devices by 2020, 30 to 40 percent of which will have payment functions, compared with just two percent today, according to Endpoint Technologies Associates president Roger Kay. The article suggests security vulnerabilities will grow accordingly, particularly since “wearables are among the least secure of all smart devices.” Although many mobile phones use fingerprints to authenticate payment, a survey released in March by identify management firm Centrify found 69 percent of wearable device owners never took the time to even set up a password.


Apprenticeships On The Rise As Industry Combats Skills Gap.

A 1,570-word analysis in USA Today  (3/23, Davidson) states that “Apprenticeships are blossoming again in manufacturing and construction” and other industries as a means to combat the “skills gap” now facing multiple business sectors. According to USA Today, registered apprenticeships have risen “by 27,000 to nearly 450,000 in the fiscal year ending last September” and supporters of such programs, which are common in European high schools, say they “can serve as new gateways to middle-class jobs, supplanting many of those erased by offshoring or the recession.”

Maryland Schools Host Youth Apprenticeship Event. The AP  (3/23) reports Frederick County, Maryland school officials invited area employers “to participate in the state’s first youth apprenticeship program” on Wednesday that is geared towards “meeting a need for workers trained in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” The program “is part of a pilot project authorized last year by the state legislature.”

Southern California Training Center To Combat Skills Gap With Free Training. The Southern California Public Radio  (3/23, Bergman) website reports that a Fontana, California training center is combating the “skills gap by offering free training to hundreds of locals who want to work in the area’s” manufacturing sector. The training, which is funded through a $15 million federal grant, will help the region that “leads the nation in manufacturing jobs.” The grant coordinator, Ann Marie Allen, stated, “Manufacturing has not gone away,” adding, “It is still here and thriving, but it has changed. It requires individuals who are trained in higher tech and higher skilled jobs.”

Industry News

BASF Leads Pest Forecasting Science.

AgriBusiness Global  (3/23, Pucci) reports on BASF’s effort to predict pest outbreaks for the 2016 crop season. Although senior researchers describe pest forecasting as an “inexact science,” BASF has analyzed potential risks for blight outbreaks for 2016 that propels concerns for disease and insect management that influence the prioritizing of genetic engineering to push yield limits. BASF representatives also use pest forecasting to strategically plan planting and harvest seasons, advancing them when appropriate.

Will: Technology May Redefine Automotive Industry.

The Washington Post  (3/23, Will) columnist George Will says that while the world’s “core vehicle business” is a $2.3 trillion industry, there’s a $5.4 trillion sector “of emerging opportunities for automakers to meld their businesses with other businesses.” In particular, Will says that customers who once were emotionally attached to the chrome on a vehicle “are now more emotional about technology add-ons that maintain drivers’ connectivity with their homes, offices and friends.” He says that while automakers’ technological developments won’t result in “sweeping effects on how life is lived,” like the smart phone, future innovations will “quickly change from unanticipated to indispensable.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Haley Asks Federal Government To Stop Sending Plutonium To South Carolina.

The AP  (3/24, Kinnard) reports that in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said that the Federal government must halt sending nuclear materials to her state and that it “should reroute a shipment of plutonium coming from Japan.” Haley’s “demand is part of a long-running dispute with the federal government over where the materials should be stored.” Haley wrote to Moniz, “It is imperative to the safety of our citizens and our environment that South Carolina not allow this to happen. … Therefore, stop shipment or re-route this defense plutonium. God bless.” According to Savannah River Site Watch, the shipment of 331 kilograms of plutonium was sent from Japan “earlier this week” and it is scheduled “to arrive in South Carolina in about two months.”

The Charleston (SC) Post and Courier  (3/23, Asberry) reports Haley expressed concerns that South Carolina is becoming a “permanent nuclear dumping ground.” In the letter, Haley “went on to remind Moniz that South Carolina has already sued him and others for missing a deadline at the SRS Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility.”

DOE Proposing New Standards For Boilers.

The Hill  (3/23, Devaney) reports the Energy Department “is proposing new efficiency rules for boilers.” The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at DOE yesterday proposed “new energy conservation standards for commercial packaged boilers.” The DOE says that the new standards may cost manufacturers more than “$27 million in conversion costs.” The public will have a chance to comment for the next 60 days.

Clean Line’s Renewable Energy Transmission Slowed By Local Resistance.

The New York Times  (3/24, Subscription Publication) reports on Clean Line’s difficulty developing transmission lines. Clean Line’s president and founder, Michael Skelly, said the exceptional winds of the Great Plains could go a long way toward reducing the country’s carbon emissions, but there is no comprehensive, national transmission-building program, so private companies must devise appropriate business models. Clean Line’s project through Missouri was rejected by one vote at the state’s PUC, but the company plans to reapply.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Ohio Eighth Graders Create Pull Toys In STEM Class.

ThisWeek Community Newspapers (OH)  (3/23, Noblit) reports that eighth grade STEM students at Karrer Middle School in Dublin, Ohio “finished up a pull-toy project last week and their work was tested” by local first graders. The project “wrapped up a unit that had students learning about mechanical gears and how they create motion.”

Frederick County, Maryland Schools Host Youth Apprenticeship Event.

The AP  (3/23) reports Frederick County, Maryland school officials invited area employers “to participate in the state’s first youth apprenticeship program” on Wednesday. The program “is part of a pilot project authorized last year by the state legislature.”

Advocates For Computer Coding To Count As A Foreign Language Press On.

NBC News  (3/23) reports on its website that though the Florida state House rejected a proposal “to get computer coding classes to count toward foreign language credits in school,” supporters “aren’t giving up. … Other states, including Washington and Georgia, are looking at similar measures, but the idea has yet to make it into law.” One Texas parent told NBC, “I do think for some kids this is a viable option. Sign language is taught, and I don’t think that this is any different. The majority of kids will never use the language they learn, nor will they ever become fluent in it. Giving them the option to learn a computer language instead could possibly open door to career in computer programming that might not have otherwise been an option for them.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

White House Holds First National Water Summit.
California Community College System Set To Begin Searching For New Accreditor.
Washington University In St Louis Researchers Design Microbes To Outperform Lazy Rivals.
Anid: Shortage Of Talent Leads To Failing Cybersecurity.
Brussels Attacks May Impact FBI-Apple Legal Battle.
IG Report: EPA Must Do More To Ensure Water Systems Stay In Compliance.
Tennessee Creates Career Forward Task Force.

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