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

Leading the News

IBM Research Team Builds Nanosized Neuron-Like Device.

Scientific American  (5/20, Torrice) reported an IBM Research team in Zurich has built a nanosized device “made from phase-change materials” to mimic how “an individual neuron integrates incoming signals from other neurons to determine when it should fire.” The device uses chalcogenide Ge2Sb2Te5 which undergoes phase change when electrical pulses are applied, changing the material’s conductance until it “suddenly jumps,” and the device fires “like a neuron.”

IBM Watson, OmniEarth Partner To Analyze California’s Water Use. The Huffington Post  (5/20, Williams) reported IBM’s Watson is partnering with OmniEarth environmental consulting firm to track water use across the state of California through image analysis, which Watson can do much faster than a human image analyst.

IBM Using ACE App For Giving And Receiving Worker Performance Feedback. Business Insider  (5/20, Lebowitz) reported IBM is using a mobile and desktop app called “ACE,” for “Appreciation, Coaching, Evaluation,” to replace its annual review system. In an interview, IBM’s Colleen Murphy discussed the app, explaining how it allows users to “give feedback, receive feedback, participate in surveys, and review their feedback history.” Business Insider also reported the elimination of the performance review system followed similar moves by “big companies like Adobe and Accenture.”

Higher Education

Northeastern University Civil Engineering Students Helping Design City’s Accessibility Infrastructure.

The Malden (MA) Patch  (5/17) reports that local officials in Malden, Massachusetts “recently met with a group of seven Northeastern University senior Civil Engineering students in the Capstone program who, for their senior design project, developed transportation engineering solutions to improve Malden’s accessibility to pedestrians, cyclists, public transportation and vehicular traffic.” The piece describes the students’ work to create “a destination accessible by pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles and public transportation.”

STEM Conference Addresses Need For Cyber Talent.

US News & World Report  (5/20, Camera) reported on the US News STEM Solutions Conference, where panelists from government, industry, and academia spoke on the need for cybersecurity talent. Speakers included Raytheon Senior Cyber Engineer Hahna Latonick and Boeing Flight Engineering VP Laurette Lahey. The conference addressed the problem of under-representation of women and minorities in the field of computer science.

State Department Proposes Anti-Spying Rule On University Research.

Reuters  (5/20, Edwards) reports American universities are challenging a new rule proposed by the State Department that would restrict foreign students from being able to participate in research projects and classes that include information deemed to be of national security interest over concerns of intellectual property theft. The new rule would impact private defense contractors – such as Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin – who regularly fund research through universities. Accordingly, the number of research grants awarded to universities would decrease. In a letter to the State Department, the Association of American Universities (AAU) said the new rule would lead to “disastrous consequences,” turning the balance in favor of national security over academic freedom.

NYTimes: Numerous Reforms Needed To Improve Job Prospects For College Grads.

The New York Times  (5/21, New York (NY), Times, Subscription Publication) editorializes that although Federal assistance to help pay for college “is vital,” such efforts will be “incomplete without commensurate federal efforts to create good jobs at good pay.” The Times says that in his commencement address at Rutgers University, President Obama named some of the reforms that could help with this – modernization of infrastructure, an increase in the minimum wage, a reversal of “the dynamics that increase executive pay and depress employee pay,” tax breaks for families – but that this “list is Mr. Obama’s unfinished agenda.”

Illinois Colleges See Decline In Applications Amid Funding Concerns.

The AP  (5/22, Mercer, Zagier, Press) reports that as students worry about “the lack of state funding for Illinois universities,” schools are seeing a declining number of applications, “and the problem appears to primarily affect schools facing some of the toughest financial struggles.” The most affected schools are smaller ones “that don’t have as much money coming in from things like research grants and tuition and have smaller endowments.”

NYTimes Backs Administration Push Against Criminal Record Questions In College Applications.

In an editorial, the New York Times  (5/23, Subscription Publication) writes approvingly of the Obama Administration’s effort to push “colleges and universities to re-evaluate how they use criminal-record information in admissions decisions. By asking about criminal convictions on their applications, the schools discourage applicants who are capable of performing academically at college and who present no danger to campus safety.”

From ASEE
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

Undersea Robot Sparks Controversy Related To Anthropomorphism In Robotics.

Wired  (5/11) reports on a humanoid undersea robot developed by Stanford University roboticist Oussama Khatib called OceanOne. Which “elicits mixed emotions” “with its graceful, streamlined body but oh, also, claws and dead eyes.” The piece says “OceanOne is in fact an emblem of a battle over the future of robotics: Humanoid bots are getting roboticists riled up, and not just because they’re creepy.”

Industry News

How GM Lightweights Its Vehicles.

Car and Driver  (5/20, Sherman) described how GM began lightweighting its vehicles, the progress it has made, and the technology used to shave grams off its vehicles. According to Car and Driver, computer-aided engineering (CAE) “facilitates the evaluation of 1001 good ideas before choosing a few for the prototype stage” and “helps optimize load paths, structural stiffness, crash performance, aerodynamic efficiency, and curb weight.” All together, GM has claimed “a net savings of 15-million gallons of fuel and 150,000 tons of CO2 per year” for its Buick LaCrosse; Cadillac XT5; Chevrolet’s Camaro, Cruze, Malibu, and Volt; and GMC Acadia models. The Detroit (MI) Free Press  (5/21, Phelan) offered similar coverage.

Engineering and Public Policy

Report: US Nuclear Plants Need To Improve Safety, Monitoring Of Radioactive Pools.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/20, Sweet, Subscription Publication) reports a new National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report calls for new, stricter safety measures at all US nuclear plants where spent uranium is stored. A committee of scientists studied the affects of the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on the Fukushima Daiichi plant, where radioactive pools containing spent rods were damaged. Recommendations in the report call for increased monitoring of the radiation and water levels of radioactive pools at all times. The report’s lead author, CalTech engineer Joseph Shepherd, said, “This should serve as a wake-up call to the industry and regulators about the critical importance to be able to monitor the condition of the pools.”

Bakken Pipeline Stalled In Iowa Amid Lawsuits Over Eminent Domain.

Christian Science Monitor  (5/22) reports construction of Dakota Access, LLC’s Bakken Pipeline project has been suspended in Iowa amid lawsuits by landowners challenging “whether Dakota Access was entitled to eminent domain access to their property.” Work on the line, which would carry 570,000 barrels of oil per day, has already begun in Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Bill Hanigan, a lawyer handling two of the lawsuits, said that he expects more lawsuits “filed in additional counties in the coming weeks.”

WSJournal: California High-Speed Rail Doesn’t Deserve Federal Boost.

The Wall Street Journal  (5/22, Subscription Publication) editorializes against the Federal Railroad Administration’s extension last week of the California high-speed rail authority’s deadline to complete an initial 118-mile track by four years to 2022, and the Transportation Department is advancing federal money to the authority instead of requiring the state to spend its own money upfront. These moves come as construction on the project is years behind schedule, and while lawsuits holding things up remain possibly years away from being resolved. The Journal calls on the Obama Administration to cut off funding for the project of which Democratic lawmakers are too afraid to let go.

Possible Native American Site In Iowa May Delay $3.8B Oil Pipeline.

The AP  (5/20, Pitt) reported that on Friday “Iowa State Archaeologist John Doershuk said his office had received information indicating a possible Native American site in northwest Iowa that, if confirmed, could result in relocation of the” proposed $3.8 billion oil pipeline. Houston-based Dakota Access LLC has begun construction of the pipeline in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois. Final approval for the pipeline in Iowa awaits permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as the pipeline would cross the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

The Des Moines (IA) Register  (5/20, Petroski) reported farmers in Cherokee and Polk Counties in Iowa have filed lawsuits challenging Dakota Access LLC’s ability to use eminent domain to seize their lands in the construction of the Bakken Pipeline. In Cherokee County, lawyers for the farmers are asking the courts to halt a county commission’s valuation proceedings in preparation for Dakota Access to seize the land, arguing the use of eminent domain in the case is under deliberation in the courts. In Polk County, farmers are arguing “the Iowa Utilities Board made a mistake in granting the use of eminent domain, citing the same reasons as behind the Cherokee County litigation.”

National Robotics Competition Highlights Importance Of STEM Education.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (5/22, Ritenbaugh) reports 63 teams participated in the annual National Robotics League competition Saturday at California University of Pennsylvania. According to the story, the robotics organization cites a Deloitte study for the NAM-affiliated Manufacturing Institute as projecting the US will need to fill almost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs over the next decade. The National Robotics League, which operates under the auspices of the National Tooling and Machining Association, encourages students’ exploration of science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM.

Elementary/Secondary Education

National Robotics Competition Held In Pennsylvania.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  (5/22, Ritenbaugh) reports that 63 teams participated “in the National Robotics League competition held this year at California University of Pennsylvania.” The winning team was from Pine-Richland High School. The Post-Gazette explains that “the National Robotics League is a program under the Cleveland-based National Tooling and Machining Association that encourages students to explore Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM-related, subjects.” NRL Commissioner Steven Tamasi said, “This promotes STEM education in a way that’s fun where they can be more engaged, and, in some cases, not intimidated by science or math.”

Massachusetts Robotics Competition Targets Minority Students.

The Boston Globe  (5/21, Fleming) reported that, “on Saturday, the Kroc Corps Community Center hosted the fourth annual Robotics Competition and Family Science Fair, organized by the Boston-based Latino STEM Alliance.” According to Latino STEM Alliance cofounder Reinier Moquete, “hands-on engineering education is basically nonexistent for youth from communities of color.” He also said that research shows science education needs to be hands-on, “which requires expensive equipment and trained instructors.” He also discussed the importance of minority youth having STEM mentors who are minorities themselves.

Ohio High School In Running For CTE Makeover.

WCPO-TV  Cincinnati (5/21) reports that Kings High School in Kings Mills, Ohio is in the running for to win “Warren County’s first makerspace,” explaining that the school is taking part in the CTE Makeover Challenge, a competition being run by ED “through which more than 600 career technical education, or CTE, schools are vying for funding to create makerspaces, where students will have access to materials and resources to help them create.” Up to 10 schools could win a portion of a $200,000 “cash prize pool.”

Students Compete In Louisiana Underwater Robot Competition.

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate  (5/21, Richards) reported that the “US Navy National SeaPerch Challenge pitted teams of middle and high school students against each other” as they “raced handmade underwater robot-like contraptions…during a competition Saturday at the LSU Natatorium.” The Advocate says that 536 boys and 273 girls took part, “in line with national trends, where women fill 25 percent of science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs.” Assistant Professor at LSU and director of the Gulf Coast Regional SeaPerch Challenge Bridgette Davis “said the real world application is critical for STEM education in Louisiana, given that much of the state’s economy involves being on or around water.” Executive Director of the SeaPerch Program Susan Nelson said, “We (graduate) less than 70,000 engineers in a year, so there aren’t enough people to fill the pipeline. … (The Navy) likes programs like this because of that reason.”

New York Mentorship Program Puts Startup Employees In Schools.

The AP  (5/21, Matthews) reports that New York City grade-school students “spent the past week developing product ideas and as part of” Big Idea Week, “a mentorship program that sends engineers and designers from New York City’s burgeoning tech industry into high-poverty public schools.” The AP explains that mentors from companies including Etsy and Makerbot “coached the kids as they broke up into teams of four or five to come up with a product and a PowerPoint presentation to sell it.” Program creator Alex Rappaport “said Big Idea Week has expanded to 20 New York City schools since 2014 and is also running at Brentwood Magnet Elementary School of Engineering in Raleigh, North Carolina, this year.” He expects additional cities to join the program next year.

Friday’s Lead Stories

Race To Autonomy Accelerates: Uber, GM Confirm They’re Testing Self-Driving Cars.
University Of Phoenix To Stop Using Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.
Northeastern, UMass-Lovell, MIT Studying NASA Robots.
Audi’s Virtual Cockpit Worries Some, Excites Others.
Senators Want Study Of Additional Great Lakes Lock Expedited.
Obama Honors Scientists And Innovators, Launches Youth Science Advisory Campaign.

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