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

Leading the News

Northeastern University Lands $3 Million State Grant For Nanotech Consortium.

The Boston Globe  (4/19, Chesto) reports that Massachusetts is giving the Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University a $3 million grant to launch a nanotech research consortium. The funding will be matched by nearly $11 million in private funding. Northeastern engineering professor Ahmed Busnaina “said the $3 million grant primarily will be used to buy and build more equipment for the institute.”

WBUR-FM  Boston (4/19) reports that Northeastern “will create a consortium of private companies and universities to develop smart sensors and other nanomaterials” constructed by nanoscale printing. Researchers “will use the Nanoscale Offset Printing System, developed at Northeastern, to print tiny sensors and devices as much as 1,000 times thinner than a human hair.” The Boston Business Journal  (4/20, Subscription Publication) also covers this story.

Higher Education

Tennessee Senate Committee Approves Bill Defunding Several UT Diversity Positions.

The Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel  (4/19, Locker) reports the Tennessee state Senate Finance Committee has approved a bill “to shift funding from salaries in the University of Tennessee’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion on the Knoxville campus into scholarships for minority students in engineering programs.” However, a version of the bill passed by the state House earlier “that would re-direct the salary money – about $437,000 – into a combination of minority scholarships (75 percent) and the manufacture and distribution of decals bearing the motto ‘In God We Trust’ for law enforcement vehicles (25 percent).”

The Tennessean  (4/19, Tamburin) says “both chambers will have to agree on one version of the bill for it to become law. … Republican lawmakers have threatened to defund the diversity office for months after two controversial posts on the office website that promoted the use of gender-neutral pronouns and ‘inclusive holiday celebrations.’”

Colleges Turning To Crowdsourcing.

The Washington Post  (4/19, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that more colleges are turning to crowdsourcing to raise funds rather than continuing to rely “on old-school approaches that land their pitches in voicemail or the garbage – or, even worse, end up annoying potential donors. … Direct donations are especially critical as public universities contend with dwindling state investment and small private colleges struggle with the revenue loss of sluggish enrollment.”

Tennessee Senate Approves Bill Allowing College Employees To Have Guns On Campus.

The Tennessean  (4/19, Ebert) reports the Tennessee State Senate voted 28-5 Tuesday to “allow full-time employees at public colleges and universities to have weapons. … Any faculty member interested in carrying a weapon on campus would be required to notify the law enforcement agency with jurisdiction over the property. Authorities would not be allowed to say which employees were carrying a weapon.”

From ASEE
SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Three ASEE Members Presented with Gordon Prize
Arthur Heinricher, Richard Vaz, and Kristin Wobbe of WPI join their colelague Diran Apelian in accpeting the prestigious award from the National Academy of Engineering. The Gordon Prize is awarded annually by the NAE to recognize new modalities and experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders.

Research and Development

Navy Scientists And Engineers Develop Dive Buddy To Aid Divers.

Seapower Magazine  (4/19) reports a collaboration between the Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division and the Naval Post Graduate School has “developed a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) as a tool to aid U.S. Navy divers in navigation, communication, search and transportation.” The vehicle, known as the Dive Buddy Remotely Operated Vehicle (DBROV) is capable of being “operated as a ROV, a diver propulsion vehicle, an autonomous underwater vehicle, or any combination of the three.” Lee Cofer, NSWC PCD electronics engineer and Dive Buddy project lead noted that despite how significant the DBROV’s development was, “DBROV is not a replacement for a diver, but a tool in their tool belt,” adding, “The DBROV/diver relationship is an example of human and machine symbiosis.”

Senate Committee Approves Funds For Three New Regional Research Vessels.

Science Magazine  (4/20) reports there is a “silver lining” in the “paltry $46 million budget increase” the National Science Foundation (NSF) will receive in the 2017 fiscal year, that being the Senate spending subcommittee’s approval for “funds to design and construct” three “new regional class research vessels (RCRVs)” rather than the two that had been requested. According to the Senate panel, by approving funds for three vessels, “each major coastal region of the United States – the East and West coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico” – would have its “own dedicated vessel.”

Purdue Researchers Create Toy Kit For Children To Build Robots And Control Them Remotely.

Phys (UK)  (4/19) reports through funds from a National Science Foundation grant, Purdue University researchers have developed “a new kind of toy-building kit that allows children to create robots and control them remotely like a puppeteer.” The lead researcher, Karthik Ramani, “the Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering and co-founder and chief scientist of the company ZeroUI,” developed the kit, called Ziro through the “first commercial application of ZeroUI’s gesture-based Natural User Interface technology platform” that enables users to were a “smart glove” equipped with sensors to “communicate with wireless motorized modules” and direct robot action “in real time.”

University of Illinois To Collaborate With IBM To Make Watson Smarter.

The Chicago Tribune  (4/19, Marotti) reports researchers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus will be collaborating with IBM Research “to make IBM’s Watson technology smarter.” Officials announced on Friday that the entities’ partnership will create the Center for Cognitive Computing Systems Research at UIUC this summer, at which point “Researchers will try to create algorithms and technologies that will allow computers to learn more like humans.”

MSU Researchers Turn Subaru BRZ Into Hybrid With 50 Mile Range.

Jalopnik’s  (4/19) David Tracy reports that researchers from Mississippi State University’s Center of Advanced Vehicular Systems have converted a Subaru BRZ into a plug-in hybrid, debuting their “Car of the Future” project at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress event in Detroit last week. The converted BRZ has a 50 mile range in fully-electric mode, thanks to its “approximately 13 kWh lithium-ion battery pack,” and sports “a 850cc two-cylinder snowmobile engine along with dual electric motors.” Project leader Matthew Doude “says 0-60 numbers are close to 5.7 seconds, or about a second faster than a stock BRZ” and the team expects fuel economy figures “to be close to 100 MPGe.” Jalopnik also notes that the team was able to add the hybrid engines and batteries while adding udner 100 pounds of total weight to the car.

Industry News

VW Cheat Devices Originally Developed In 1999 By Audi.

Reuters  (4/19) reports that a the German newspaper Handelsblatt reported Audi had developed cheat devices for emissions in 1999, though it never employed them. Reuters reports that when VW engineers weren’t able to bring down nitrogen levels to legal thresholds six years later, VW began using the technology developed by Audi.

Fortune  (4/20, Smith) reports that the Handelsblatt article “contradicts the company’s long-held line” on the emissions scandal and “increases suspicions about the complicity of the now-departed CEO Martin Winterkorn, who was head of Audi at the time.” Time adds, continuing from yesterday’s coverage, that “some of the 20 engine development employees” at the focus of the scandal investigation “used code words to cover their tracks.”

DOJ Reportedly Urges Volkswagen Not To Release Results Of Pollution Probe. The Wall Street Journal  (4/19, Barrett, Viswanatha, Subscription Publication) reports that the Justice Department has urged Volkswagen not to release publicly the results of an independent probe into cheating on diesel-emissions tests in order to keep confidential the names and events seen as important to federal probes of the matter. The department has told the firm’s attorneys that making interim findings public would hinder federal investigative efforts.

Arizona AG Sues Volkswagen Over Emissions Scandal. The Arizona Republic  (4/19, Quijada) reports that Arizona on Tuesday became the fourth state “to file a lawsuit against Volkswagen, alleging the car company deceived thousands of Arizonans who purchased so-called ‘clean diesel’ vehicles.” The lawsuit, filed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office in Maricopa County Superior Court, “said Volkswagen, and its brands Audi and Porsche, cheated more than 4,000 Arizonans who purchased or leased falsely advertised ‘clean’ vehicles.” The lawsuit “alleged that what Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche deceivingly passed off as ‘clean,’ powerful, fuel-efficient cars actually emitted more harmful pollutants into the air than allowed by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.”

Colorado Looking To Israel For Tools To Succeed In Cybersecurity Market.

The Denver Post  (4/19, Chuang) reports the state of Colorado is attempting to follow Israel’s model for building a cybersecurity hub. The Post says Israel “has more research and development investment per capita than nearly all other nations, attracted 10 percent of the world’s venture capital for cybersecurity startups and has the second most Nasdaq-listed firms of any foreign country.” The Post reports Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s statewide push to become a cybersecurity hub “is permeating the local tech community” as more cybersecurity entrepreneurs are building local offices.

Report: Apple Hires Former Tesla VP Of Vehicle Engineering Chris Porritt.

USA Today  (4/19, della Cava) reports that Apple has hired former Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Chris Porritt as its “Special Projects Group PD Administrator,” according to “a report Tuesday in sister publications 9to5Mac and Electrek.” Porritt reportedly left Tesla months ago, USA Today adds, but “hand in designing all three [Tesla] models.” USA Today reports that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has in the past “called Apple the ‘Tesla graveyard,’ carping that Cupertino is where failed Tesla employees go to die.”

Investor’s Business Daily  (4/19, Seitz) reports that Apple is reportedly “targeting a 2019 release for” its rumored car, while Bloomberg News  (4/19, Gjorgievska) adds that Porritt is slated to “become Apple’s most senior ‘car guy’” and a will probably lead the company’s “secretive electric vehicle project,” replacing Steve Zadesky – who reportedly left the company in January. Fortune  (4/19, Reisinger) and TIME  (4/19, Fitzpatrick) offer additional coverage.

Engineering and Public Policy

Senate Expected To Pass Energy Bill This Week.

The AP  (4/19, Daly) reports the Senate is expected this week to pass “a wide-ranging bill that would promote a variety of energy sources, from renewables such as solar and wind power to natural gas, hydropower and geothermal energy.” The measure, which would also “speed federal approval of projects to export liquefied natural gas to Europe and Asia, update building codes to increase efficiency and strengthen electric-grid safety standards among dozens of provisions,” will need to be reconciled with a House-passed bill that drew a veto threat from the President. The AP notes that while the bill is “widely popular,” it was “delayed in early February amid a partisan dispute over sending hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid to Flint, Michigan.” That provision was dropped last week and Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters “said they would seek another way to get the Flint aid package through the Senate.”

Exxon Says Subpoena For Climate Change Documents Violates Its Rights.

In a move “legal experts say is unusual but not unprecedented,” ExxonMobil is seeking to quash a subpoena for its internal documents on climate change, “arguing that the order violates the company’s constitutional rights,” the Huffington Post  (4/19, Shepard, Ferro) reported. The subpoena stems from an investigation by US Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker “into whether Exxon misled the public on climate science.” Walker’s office “accuses Exxon of defrauding the government and consumers, and ‘misrepresenting its knowledge of the likelihood that its products and activities have contributed and are contributing to climate change.’” Exxon says his attempt to get its documents “is politically motivated and a violation of the company’s rights,” arguing in a Tarrant County, Texas court, “Defendants’ actions violate ExxonMobil’s constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law and constitute the common law tort of abuse of process.”

Stakeholders Concerned That STEM Push Foregoes Critical Thinking Skills.

US News & World Report  (4/19, Camera) reports on the push to promote STEM education, specifically on steering girls toward coding classes “as a way to close the gender gap” in STEM fields. However, some education stakeholders are concerned that “without also providing critical thinking skills,” coding programs will do little to overcome “the stereotype that women aren’t as naturally gifted when it comes to coding.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Federal Court Says Opponents Of Kansas Science Standards Lack Standing.

The Topeka (KS) Capital-Journal  (4/19, Boczkiewicz) reports the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Citizens for Objective Public Education, which says Kansas science curriculum standards “are anti-religious,” does not “have the legal standing to file their lawsuit. … The 3-0 decision by the Denver-based court stated that the opponents failed to meet that requirement because they didn’t show they had been harmed or would imminently be harmed.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Snyder Says He Will Drink Flint Water For 30 Days.
Accrediting Council For Independent Colleges And Schools Replaces CEO.
Researchers Working On Chip-based Quantum Physics.
House Passes Bill Renaming Program To Recruit Women To Science Jobs.
NTNU Researchers, Statoil, & Kongsberg Partner On Maritime Robot Snakes.
Lockheed’s Space Business “Took Center Stage” At DC Science And Engineering Festival.
GSA Puts Out Cybersecurity Acquisition Research Survey, DoD Selects Vendors For DTIC Cyber Contract.

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