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

Leading the News

Girls Outscore Boys On 2014 NAEP Technology And Engineering Test.

Jackie Zubrzycki writes at the Education Week  (5/17) “Curriculum Matters” blog that according to the inaugural set of results from the new Technology and Engineering Literacy exam portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, “8th grade girls scored higher on average than 8th grade boys,” and “suburban and rural students significantly outscored their peers in cities.” Zubrzycki writes, however, that these gaps “were significantly smaller than the familiar gaps between wealthier students and their less-affluent peers, and among racial and ethnic groups, that crop up on national assessments in other subject areas.”

The AP  (5/17, Thompson) reports that students were “asked to tackle real-life scenarios such as designing a safe bicycle lane or improving a pet iguana’s habitat.” The article quotes National Assessment Governing Board Executive Director Bill Bushaw saying, “The importance here is to use this information to encourage more young women to recognize that they possess these skills, that they should have confidence with these skills.”

The Huffington Post  (5/17, Klein) reports that the results run counter to the “dearth of female employees at tech companies,” pointing out that “eighth-grade girls are, on the whole, outperforming boys in measures of technology and engineering literacy.” The Post explains that the exam “focused on three content areas: technology and society, design and systems, and information and communication technology.” The piece reports that 45% of girls scored proficient, while only 42% of boys did.

US News & World Report  (5/17) reports that girls outpaced boys on the exam “in nearly every category,” with girls especially outscoring boys on “questions dealing with communication and collaboration.” The article quotes National Center for Education Statistics acting Commissioner Peggy Carr saying, “We did not expect this pattern and the pattern does seem to be pretty clear from the data. Overall it looks like girls have the ability and critical thinking skills to succeed in the fields of technology and engineering, and that’s worth noting.”

Other media outlets running similar reports include THE Journal  (5/17), NBC News  (5/17), CNBC  (5/17), and the Politico  (5/17) “Morning Education” blog.

Results Point To Racial Gaps, Lack Of Instruction In Schools. Chalkbeat New York  (5/17) reports that the results showed that poor students “scored 28 points lower, on average, than students from more affluent families.” Moreover, 56% of white students were deemed proficient, with “just 18 percent of black students meeting that bar.” Meanwhile, “nearly two thirds of students said they learn the most about how things work from their families; only 13 percent of students said their teachers were the top source of technology learning.”

Higher Education

UC Davis Hosting C-STEM Day.

THE Journal  (5/16) reports that UC Davis will host “students from elementary school through community college” at its sixth annual C-STEM day on May 21. The students “have spent the last year working with computing, robotics and math curricula developed by the UC Davis Center for Integrated Computing and STEM Education Center.” At the event, “students can demonstrate the math and programming skills they have learned throughout the year.” Campus Technology  (5/16) also covers this story.

Foreign Students Outpacing Americans For STEM Graduate Degrees.

US News & World Report  (5/17, Neuhauser) reports the number of US students earning graduate degrees in science and engineering decreased by 5% from 2008 to 2014, while the number of foreign students earning such degrees increased by 35%, according to a survey done by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Lone Star College-University Park Starts Construction Science Center.

The Houston Chronicle  (5/17, Santana) reports that Lone Star College-University Park “broke ground recently on a $15.4 million science center” that will “house 12 labs, including biology, chemistry and anatomy, all stocked with technologically advanced equipment.”

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

Retention Strategies
Going the Distance” is a video showcasing effective retention strategies at six universities.

Research and Development

Apple Adds uBeam Engineers; Wireless Charging May Follow.

AppleInsider  (5/17, Fingas) reports Apple recently added several employees “with experience in wireless charging,” possibly indicating a step towards adopting “technology it could be planning to build into 2017 iPhone and iPad models.” The Verge  (5/17, Popper) highlights Apple “has hired more than a dozen staffers with expertise in wireless charging” in just the last two years – including engineers from now shuttered wireless charging startup, uBeam. Phone Arena  (5/17, Mihai A.) reports that the uBeam hires bear “special importance” given that uBeam’s “experimental technology uses ultrasonic waves to charge nearby devices,” adding fuel to speculation that the technology could reach consumers “starting with the 2017 models.”

FAA, FBI Initiate UAS Detection Research At JFK International Airport.

The Washington Post  (5/17, Halsey) reports the Federal Aviation Administration said it will explore ways to spot “rogue” UAS operations near to airports, and in partnership with the FBI has initiated a research program to evaluate UAS detection technology at JFK International Airport in New York. PC Magazine  (5/17, Reisinger) says according to an FAA statement, “Five different rotorcraft and fixed wing UAS participated in the evaluations, and about 40 separate tests took place.”

Additional coverage on the story is provided by Defense Daily  (5/17, Biesecker).

Researchers Create Reconfigurable Touchscreen Display Prototype .

Engadget  (5/17, Dalton) reports that researcher from the University of Bristol’s Interaction Group have designed a “reconfigurable” smartphone display, dubbed the Cubimorph and composed of “smaller, six-sided display cubes that are daisy-chained together and can be repositioned” like a “Rubik’s cube with a little more flexibility.” The research team proposes that a flat smartphone device “could be folded and reconfigured into the shape of a game controller,” and will include an algorithm to “determine the best way to twist and fold the screen into the desired shape.” PC Magazine  (5/17, Brant) adds that the prototype device features OLED touchscreens and “a hinge-mounted turntable mechanism” that allows it “to self-reconfigure in the user’s hand.” The inspiration for the device is “what its designers call ‘programmable matter,’” a concept similar to 3D printing except that an existing device is shaped “into a form factor that can accomplish” what the user needs. Popular Science  (5/17, Geshgorn) also reports.

Industry News

Apple Suppliers’ Early Hiring Sprees Cause iPhone 7 Speculations.

A rumor that Apple suppliers are gearing up for production of the iPhone 7 is generating significant coverage in tech publications, based on local reports of so-called hiring sprees, and driving speculation about the possibility of significant changes to the phone’s design. International Business Times  (5/17, Learmonth) adds that the recruiting sprees are happening “a month earlier than…in previous years,” leading to speculation that the “new iPhone is more complex mechanically” and will require additional training time. According to the Times, more complexity “could mean the kind of transformative features that would drive an upgrade cycle” or that the company expects to produce more iPhones, not long after the company “reported its first down quarter in 13 years.”

The rumor about increased complexity contradicts previous rumors, 9 to 5 Mac  (5/17, Mayo) reports, that suggest the next iPhone “will feature a design very similar to the current iPhone lineup, with tweaked antenna lines.” 9 to 5 Mac adds that the early production start could mean the company “may have asked suppliers to prepare more phones in advance of the launch” or could be adding “new components and new processes inside the device that require the additional training” – possibly including dust- and water-proofing or a dual rear camera system.

Investor’s Business Daily  (5/17, Gatlin) also reports, adding that Apple chipmaker Analog Devices (ADI) is expected to report Wednesday “a 5% year-over-year revenue dip on a 40% sequential plunge in sales to Apple” – or $777.6 million. Credit Suisse analyst John Pitzer expects ADI “to report $30 million in Q2 sales to Apple, down 40% sequentially,” and “models $80 million in sales to Apple vs. consensus views for $110 million” in Q3. He wrote in a research report, “We suspect modest downside to our Apple revenue estimate for (the second half of the year) offset by upside to (industrial, automotive and communications).” Sources offering similar coverage include AppleInsider  (5/17, Fingas), AppleInsider  (5/17, Hughes), CNBC  (5/17), DigiTimes (TWN)  (5/17, Lee, Tsai), Forbes  (5/17, Crothers), Fortune  (5/17, Reisinger), Mac Observer  (5/17, Gamet), and Phone Arena  (5/17).

Engineering and Public Policy

NTSB Determines Human Error As Probable Cause Of Fatal Amtrak Derailment.

National and local news outlets are reporting on the NTSB’s release of its probable cause report on the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia last year. In it’s lead story, ABC World News Tonight (5/17, lead story, 2:10, Muir) reported the NTSB determined that human error caused the crash. NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the train’s engineer Brandan Bostian was distracted due to radio calls when he increased to speeds of over 100 mph at a curve where the speed limit was 50 mph. ABC mentioned that the experts have said positive train control (PTC) could have prevented the accident. ABC added that NTSB has called for PTC for the past 40 years. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said he would tell Congress, which extended the PTC installation deadline, “I hope we’re not back in this room again, looking at another PTC preventable accident.”

NBC Nightly News (5/17, story 2, 1:55, Holt) added that Amtrak CEO and President Joe Boardman also said, “This kind of accident would be prevented, would be the backstop for Amtrak or any railroad with positive train control.” NBC reports that today, PTC is installed on 21 percent of passenger tracks. USA Today  (5/17, Jansen) adds that NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr “said the lack of automatic braking at the accident site should have been part of the direct cause rather than simply a contributing factor to the crash as the board decided.” FRA head Sarah Feinberg also “said the board’s findings underscored the urgency for other railroads to install automatic braking.” Feinberg added, “While Congress has given railroads at least three more years to fully implement PTC, the public deserves it sooner.” New Jersey Local News  (5/17, Salant) adds that Dinh-Zarr’s proposal to list the lack of positive train control as a main cause of the crash instead of as a contributing factor was defeated, 3-1. The New York Post  (5/17) reports that despite voting against Dinh-Zarr’s proposed language, the NTSB agreed that PTC technology could have prevented the incident.

ABC News  (5/17) reports online that Bostian told investigators his memory of the crash was limited but he did recall “holding on to the controls tightly and feeling like, OK, well, this is it, I’m going over.” The Washington Post  (5/17, Laris, Halsey) reports that NTSB staff member Mary Pat McKay explained, “It’s not so much the stress of the event as the blow to the head. The blow to the head can cause the amnesia.”

NBC News  (5/17) reports online that NTSB investigator Stephen Jenner said, “The engineer lost track of where he was before he accelerated to a high rate of speed.” NTSB investigator Ted Turpin also “said there was no evidence to back up a report from the engineer on another train that Bostian’s windshield had been hit by gunfire. And there was no evidence that Bostian was talking on his cell phone or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” Turpin added that prior to this crash, Bostian had “no past performance issues” and “was a concerned operator.”

The Wall Street Journal  (5/17, Calvert, Tangel, Subscription Publication) reports that Bostian was distracted by radio calls about a nearby emergency where a commuter train was hit by a rock that shattered the locomotive’s windshield. Reuters  (5/17, Simpson) adds the investigators suggested that Bostian may have thought he was already at a higher-speed stretch when he increased his speed and since the crash happened at night, he lacked visual clues about where the train was.

The AP  (5/17, Sisak) reports that Bostian, who did not attend Tuesday’s hearing, has been “suspended without pay since the crash for speeding.” Amtrak engineer and Secretary of Railroad Workers United Ron Kaminkow “said the board’s conclusion underscores the need to put two engineers on trains.” The AP adds that the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has not commented on the possibility of criminal charges.

Philadelphia Inquirer  (5/17, Whelan) reports that the NTSB also found that the Philadelphia Police Department’s “scoop-and-run” approach of “transporting injured victims to hospitals instead of waiting for ambulances” resulted in an uneven distribution of injured passengers at the area hospitals. The NTSB recommended that “the city develop a plan to systematically work scoop-and-run into its emergency response plan” and “the city’s emergency responders should communicate better during mass-casualty events.”

The Danbury (CT) News Times  (5/17) reports that Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy also supported the NTSB’s call for positive train control. Murphy “said the Senate is about to pass a bill that includes $200 million to implement PTC on more commuter railroads like Metro-North.”

The AP  (5/17, Sisak, Whack) provides a summary of the investigation in a brief Q&A-style piece.

Also coverign the story are the New York Times  (5/17, Fitzsimmons, Subscription Publication), Philadelphia Inquirer  (5/18, Laughlin, Tamari), New Jersey Local News  (5/17, Salant), the New York Daily News  (5/17, Wagner), the New York Post  (5/17, Schram), Metro Philadelphia  (5/17, Newhouse), the Broadneck (MD) Patch  (5/17, Belt), Gothamist (NY)  (5/17, Katz), The Hill  (5/17, Zanona), Inquisitr  (5/17), BuzzFeed  (5/17, Nashrulla), Yahoo! News  (5/17), Law360  (5/17, Chiem), International Business Times  (5/17, Mindock), Engineering News-Record  (5/17, Ichniowski), Trains Magazine  (5/17, Ibata), Progressive Rail Roading  (5/17), MSNBC  (5/17, Diaz-Balart), NPR  (5/17, Brady), NPR  (5/17, Peralta), PlanPhilly  (5/17, Saksa), Government Security News  (5/18, Bittenbender), the WGAL-TV  Lancaster, PA (5/17, Barr) website, the WPVI-TV  Philadelphia (5/17) website, the WUSA-TV  Washington (5/17) website, the WCBS-TV  New York (5/17) website, the NY1-TV  New York (5/17, Bennett) website, the WAXQ-FM  New York (5/17) website, and the KMIZ-TV  Columbia, MO (5/17, Kerwin) website.

Local television coverage was provided by WPSG-TV Philadelphia (5/17, 10:07 p.m. EDT), WPHL-TV Philadelphia (5/17, 10:05 p.m. EDT), and WFMZ-TV Allentown, PA (5/17, 10:04 p.m. EDT).

Amtrak Derailment Emphasizes Life-Saving Potential Of PTC. The New York Times  (5/17, Bajaj) reports that one of the main lessons from the NTSB’s report on the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia last year is the life-saving potential of the PTC technology. The article writes that the NTSB has been promoting PTC to lawmakers for several years now. NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said at Tuesday’s hearing, “Unless PTC is implemented soon, I’m very concerned that we’re going to be back in this room again, hearing investigators detail how technology that we have recommended for more than 45 years could have prevented yet another fatal rail accident.” At the hearing, the NTSB “said the FRA should develop standards to make sure windows do not fall out during accidents.” The NTSB “also told the regulator to study the use of seat belts, which are currently not required on trains, to protect passengers from being thrown from their seats during accidents and derailments.”

The Christian Science Monitor  (5/17, Schouten) similarly reports on the importance of PTC technology.

Amtrak Says PTC Installed In Almost All Of Northeast Corridor. The Wilmington (DE) News Journal  (5/17, Baker) reports that at the Tuesday hearing, Amtrak said it has installed PTC on nearly all of the Northeast Corridor passenger rails. Amtrak Spokesperson Craig Schulz said only seven miles of the corridor does not have PTC installed. Schulz also said Amtrak has “completed the installation of inward-facing video cameras in the fleet of (electric) locomotives in service on the Northeast Corridor. The goal is for us to fully understand what happened and how we can prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future.”

Person Who Threw Rock At Train Was Never Caught. The Philadelphia Inquirer  (5/17, Laughlin, Whelan) “In Transit” blog asks who threw the rock at a train that set off “a flurry of radio chatter” that distracted the engineer of Amtrak train 188 before the fatal derailment. The article mentions that the engineer Brandon Bostian was “worried about the engineer of the other train.” EPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III said the person who threw the rock was never found. Nestel explained, “The train engineer didn’t see where the rock came from or who threw it. He stopped shortly after getting struck. We sent people up to search the track area but didn’t find anything.” The article adds, “Unless someone decides to come forward and provide information, the person who threw that rock probably won’t be held responsible.”

Victims’ Attorneys Take Issue With NTSB’s Report On Derailment. Philadelphia Magazine  (5/17, Gambacorta) reports that attorneys Robert Mongeluzzi and Tom Kline, who represent several of the passengers injured in the Amtrak derailment took issue with the NTSB’s report on Tuesday, particularly “the discussion about Bostian’s memory loss, going as far as displaying a chart of what they said are numerous examples of the engineer changing his story.” Mongeluzzi argues that changes in Bostian’s account of the accident “raises red flags” and should be examined more harshly. Kline also “said there’s no doubt in his mind that Bostian’s conduct was reckless.”

The AP  (5/17, Sisak) adds that Kline also said the NTSB’s findings “are based on speculation” and would not be admissible in court.

Science Board Says GM Foods Pose No Health Risks To Humans.

The AP  (5/18) reports the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine said in a report that genetically modified foods do not pose the health risks to humans that their opponents claim. However, the board also said that GM foods have not lived up to their promise to increase yields and address global hunger needs. The report also said disclosure labels could be justified on societal grounds, a stance which was “criticized by some scientists as unnecessary because the food poses no unique risks.”

Genetically Engineered Crops Are Safe, According To New Report.

There was widespread coverage of a new report released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine on the safety and efficacy of genetically engineered (GE) crops. The report was created by a large committee that reviewed hundreds of studies on the matter before concluding that GE crops are safe for people and the environment. However, the report raised other concerns about the consequences of GE crops.

USA Today  (5/17, Weise) explains that the report is entitled “Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects” and was created by a committee of over 50 people, including scientists and agricultural experts, working together over the past two years.

Bloomberg News  (5/17, Durisin) explains the methodology of the report, which compared epidemiological data from the US and Canada, where food containing GE crops has been widely consumed for 20 years, with data from western Europe, where such foods have not been widely consumed, in order to approximate the health consequences of people consuming GE crops.

The New York Times  (5/17, Pollack, Subscription Publication) outlines the major findings of the report. The report concluded that the consumption of food made from GE crops did not harm public health or the environment in the US over the past 20 years. Based on that finding, the report concluded that it is not necessary for public safety to label foods that contain GE crops. The report concluded that it is unclear whether GE crops have increased crop yields as some have claimed.

The AP  (5/17, Borenstein) notes that there is growing public controversy about GE crops with some calling for foods containing them to be labeled. The report suggested that even though such labeling would not be necessary for public safety, it could be required for other reasons, such as transparency.

Some Dispute Neutrality Of Committee Producing Report. The Kansas City (MO) Star  (5/17, Darby) reports that some have criticized the report as biased claiming that some of the committee members have ties to companies that produce GE crops. On its website, NBC News  (5/17, Fox) reports the committee has made the report available to the public on a website, because they are aware of the growing public interest in the matter. North Carolina State University Professor Fred Gould, who chaired the committee that made the report, said, “You can’t just continue to have an opinion without backing it up with data.”

Also discussing the report are TIME  (5/17, Worland), HealthDay  (5/17, Thompson), and the Christian Science Monitor  (5/17, Rosen).

Elementary/Secondary Education

French Billionaire Opens Tuition-Free Software Engineering School In Silicon Valley.

Bloomberg News  (5/17, Mawad) reports that Xavier Niel, a “French high-school dropout turned technology billionaire,” is “opening a branch of his tuition-free Parisian school, 42, in Fremont, California.” The “unconventional software engineering school” will “train future programmers…for free.” The article notes that the school hopes to address US technology companies’ long-running complaint “that there aren’t enough qualified American workers to fill the industry’s job gaps.”

Study: Hot Wheels-Focused Curriculum Helps Fourth Graders Improve Test Scores.

US News & World Report  (5/17, Zazulia) reports that a new study from USC’s Rossier School of Education suggests a “Hot Wheels-focused science curriculum,” called “Speedometry,” could help teach physics to fourth graders. In the experiment, “students in 49 Southern California classrooms who had been exposed to the curriculum…scored an average of 1.34 points higher last fall on a 20-question science-and-math quiz than students who had not.”

Georgia High Schools Gets Automotive Technology Program Masters Certification.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution  (5/17, Cauley) profiles the automotive technology program at Forsyth Central High in Georgia, which recently became the first high school to earn “the masters level designation in automotive technology.” The article proceeds to detail the program, noting that “students begin by working toward certification in engine repair then move through automatic transmissions, manual transmissions, suspension steering, brakes, electrical systems, and air conditioning/heating and, finally, engine performance.”

US News/Raytheon STEM Index Shows Increase In Hiring, Education, General Interest.

A more than 2,000-word US News & World Report  (5/17, Neuhauser, Cook) article examines statistics from the 2016 US News/Raytheon STEM Index, which found “a slight rise in hiring, education and general interest in technology and engineering over last year, while math education and general interest in science declined.” The index also found that number of STEM students receiving graduate degrees rose by 6 percent in 2015; however, the number of STEM graduates “holding U.S. passports and green cards fell from 2008 to 2014” while STEM graduates holding temporary student visa rose by 35 percent during that time. The article highlights issues facing women in STEM fields, noting that women’s interest in STEM “decreased slightly since last year.” US News also notes changes in standardized tests schools related to math and science, highlighting that “Falling scores on AP exams…drove the index’s largest decline for 2016.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

Administration Selects Colleges For Dual-Enrollment Pilot Program.
Dartmouth To Expand Engineering School With $25 Million Gift.
Virginia Tech Engineer Seeks To Promote Natural History Museums As Spark For Innovation.
Delphi Unveils Supplemental 48-Volt System To Help Automakers Reach Efficiency Targets.
Sources Say Engineer Was Distracted Before Deadly Amtrak Derailment.
Arkansas Statewide Hosts Electric Vehicle Rally For High School Students.

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