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

Leading the News

Flint Infrastructure Needs Will Cost Millions.

The Detroit Free Press  (6/5, Dolan) reports some of the “immediate needs” facing Flint, and the overhaul of its infrastructure, were recently outlined in a state-commissioned report. In addition to taking years to accomplish, “the new infrastructure recommendations from Flint-based engineering firm Rowe Professional Services also come with a price tag of more than $214 million, including $80 million needed to dig up and replace roughly 10,000 lead pipes carrying water to homes and businesses.”

Concerns Raised Over Number Of Flint Homes Tested For Lead. MLive (MI)  (6/4, Johnson) reported that “a recent poll of 400 people showed that Flint residents still hadn’t had their water tested for lead.” The poll found that “blacks have the highest incidence of lead health issues at 43 percent compared to their white counterparts at 28 percent and blacks are the least likely to get their water tested.”

Higher Education

OSU Students Win DOE’s EcoCar Challenge.

The Columbus (OH) Dispatch  (6/4) reported the student team from Ohio State University, for the third year in a row, won the EcoCar competition in which they had to “redesign a Chevrolet Camaro with leading-edge technologies that reduce fuel consumption and emissions, all while maintaining the car’s performance.” Beating out 15 other teams, Argonne National Laboratory director of vehicle technology competitions Kristen Wahl said, “Most impressively, the OSU team’s Camaro was the first to meet all safety protocols, even though they took possession of the vehicle only a few months ago.”

UCLA Shooting Raises Campus Safety Concerns.

The Orange County (CA) Register  (6/4, Goulding, Downey, Haire) reports that last week’s murder-suicide at UCLA, the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, and last year’s shooting at UC Santa Barbara were all perpetrated by students. The piece describes a climate of fear on US college campuses and describes the steps that schools are taking to try to cope.

The AP  (6/5, Armario) reports that students at UCLA on Wednesday were “told to go into lockdown, but couldn’t lock their classroom doors.” The AP reports that questions are being raised after the spread of social media images “of students piling tables, chairs and printers against doors” that would not lock. While many colleges and K-12 schools have installed locks, “but experts say wider adoption has been hindered by the cost to retrofit doors and local fire codes that require doors to open in one motion during emergencies.”

UCLA Professor Takes Quick Action To Isolate Gunman. The Los Angeles Times  (6/4, Watanabe) narrates the sequence of events in UCLA’s Engineering 4 building, where former student Mainak Sarkar shot and killed professor William Klug and then himself. Upon hearing gunshots, professor Christopher Lynch went to Klug’s office “and held the door shut,” after which he “heard a third shot inside. Then silence.” Lynch is being credited with isolating the gunman and potentially saving lives.

Klug Had Mentored Sarkar, Helped Him Graduate. The AP  (6/4, Myers, Pritchard) reports that Sarkar had blamed Klug for stealing his intellectual property, but says Klug “had, in truth, quietly seen to his academic success.” When Sarkar’s dissertation was deemed “simply not good enough,” Klug “asked his colleagues to wave his student through to graduation.”

Policymakers Concerned Massive Student Loan Debt Will Hurt US Economy.

The Wall Street Journal  (6/5, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports that over the last 15 years the government helped finance college and graduate school tuition for tens of millions of students via grants, low-interest loans, and loan guarantees and, as a result, total outstanding student debt stands at $1.2 trillion today. The Journal says new research indicates much of that effort has backfired as many students dropped out of school before they learned the skills the effort was intended to provide, and many are left with debts they are unable or unwilling to repay. There is concern among policy makers that without some sort of government intervention those people will become trapped and the economy will suffer.

WSJournal Analysis: International Students Cheat At Much Higher Rate.

In a 2,100-word article, the Wall Street Journal  (6/5, Jordan, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports its analysis of data from 14 large US public universities found that during the 2014-15 school year, the schools recorded 5.1 reports of alleged cheating per 100 international students, and only one such report for every 100 domestic students. Faculty say much of the cheating is done by Chinese students. Professors and domestic students say it appears international students either don’t understand US standards of academic integrity or won’t accept them.

Atlanta’s Code Start Program Trains “Disconnected Youth.”

NPR  (6/4, Shamma) reports in its “Code Switch” blog on the Code Start program, a free, year-long training program in Atlanta “for low-income people between the ages of 18 and 24” who have a high school diploma or GED, but not a college degree. Founder Rodney Sampson calls Code Start, “an experiment on whether or not we can take ‘disconnected youth,’ who’ve been labeled by the system, and teach them how to be a junior level software engineer or developer.” Sampson’s goal is to diversify “the tech industry by empowering African-Americans to start their own companies” and “that’s why the program also focuses on career readiness and teaching students how to be entrepreneurs.”

West Virginia Aerospace Education Center Fuels Local Industry.

The AP  (6/5, Troshinsky) reports, from Bridgeport, West Virginia, that graduates of the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, a part of the Pierpont Community & Technical College, obtain jobs at local companies like Aurora Flight Sciences, Bombardier Aircraft Services, and Lockheed Martin, according to Thomas A. Stose, director and senior professor at the center. “If it wasn’t for us (the school) being here, there wouldn’t be these companies here, because we provide the training and workforce for them,” Stose said. He explains that the center graduates 20 to 25 students each year, after which they will earn their FAA certification – “a certification that is good for life and they can work anywhere in the U.S. and overseas if it’s with a U.S. contract.”

North Dakota Increasing Use Of Free Online Textbooks.

The Grand Forks (ND) Herald  (6/3, Burleson) reports that “more than a year after the state Legislature put $110,000 into the North Dakota University System to fund a free textbook initiative, the first schools to see those funds are hoping to save students a lot of money.” The Herald says that UND is going to save students about $1.2 million in textbook costs next school year while “Valley City State University already is cutting up to $82,000 in costs, with the aim to eliminate between $30,000 and $50,000 in textbook expenses next school year.” The Herald explains that the program is designed to support open educational resources and open textbooks are free, “vetted online materials universities nationwide have been moving toward using.”

From ASEE
EDITOR NEEDED: Journal of Engineering Education
ASEE members recognize JEE as the world’s premier journal on the scholarship of engineering and engineering technology education. Read more if you’d like to be considered as the next editor.

Summer Prism Now Online
ASEE members can access the new Prism magazine online. Topics include research opportunities opening up with a thaw in US-Cuba relations and proposed changes to ABET criteria, among much more.

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

ASEE has done extensive work on retention and time-to-graduation rates over the previous several years. A good distillation was recently done by consultant Cindy Veenstra.

Research and Development

Researchers Looking To Vacuum Tubes To Continue Shrinking Electronics.

The New York Times  (6/5, Markoff, Subscription Publication) explains how the silicon transistor replaced the vacuum tube, becoming “the building block of modern microelectronics,” but explains that as researchers work to further shrink transistors, “the vacuum tube may be on the verge of a comeback.” The Times reports that California Institute of Technology researchers are working to develop “a computer chip made from circuits like vacuum tubes whose dimensions are each roughly one-thousandth the size of a red blood cell.”

University Of Michigan Spinoff Wins Venture Investment For Technology Linking Brain To Software.

Crain’s Detroit Business  (6/5) reports that Newrable Inc., a startup that spun off from the University of Michigan, has won “a commitment of at least $285,000 from a prominent national angel investor group” after demonstrating a “noninvasive brain-computer interface that…allows people to control software and objects with their brain activity.”

Scientists Develop “Metamaterial Lens” 100,000 Times Thinner Than Similar Lenses.

Digital Trends  (6/3, Grigonis) reported that Harvard University applied physics and electrical engineering professor Federico Capasso and his team have developed a new “metamaterial lens” that is 100,000-times thinner than a similar Nikon lens and “sharper than a 55-millimeter microscope lens.” The new lens, which is “just 600 nanometers thick,” differs from traditional lenses because it flat, which reduces distortion and eliminates the need to layer lenses. The lens is comprised of nanofins – a set of “a set of blocks [that are] 600 nanometers tall” – that “when rotated at different angles, pull light together the same way that the traditional piece of curved glass does.” The team has “successfully developed the lens for use on the visible spectrum,” though the use of “any actual lenses developed from the material are likely well into the future.”

Industry News

Economists, Tech Experts Divided On Why Technology Isn’t Spurring Growth.

The New York Times  (6/5, A1, Lohr, Subscription Publication) reports the puzzle over why technology hasn’t sparked productivity growth in the last five years “has given rise to a number of explanations in recent years – and divided economists into technology pessimists and optimists.” Optimists say “gains from current tech trends like big-data analysis, artificial intelligence and robotics…will come.” However, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of McKinsey & Company, concluded only 18% of the American economy “is living up to its ‘digital potential.’”

Honeywell Says Industrial Facilities A Growing Target For Hackers.

Bloomberg News  (6/3, Syeed) reported a Honeywell International Inc. executive has indicated that US industrial facilities, including oil refineries and nuclear plants, are increasingly the targets of hackers seeking to “captur[e] data and control the sites remotely.” The company said that in two thirds of the 30 companies it tracks, it has “seen evidence of threats from nation-states and ‘sponsored attackers.’” Honeywell cybersecurity engineer Eric Knapp said, “We’ve seen that there’s definitely increasing exposure to what we call high-capability threat actors.” He additionally indicated the company has seen “administrative credentials for sale. We’ve seen specific access to specific industrial facilities for sale.”

Engineering and Public Policy

SEC Names Senior Adviser For Cyber Attacks.

Reuters  (6/2, Varadhan) reports the SEC has named Christopher Hetner as a senior adviser to Chair Mary Jo White “to address rising instances of cyberattacks” facing the financial system. Reuters says Hetner, who was already “coordinat[ing] cybersecurity efforts within the SEC’s office of compliance inspections and examinations,” will expand his role to consider cybersecurity issues across the whole agency.

DC Metrorail’s $60 Million Repair Set To Begin.

The Hill  (6/3, Zanona) reports Paul Wiedefeld, the general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said the Metrorail’s $60 million repair will begin this week and take a year to complete. According to The Hill, the repair plan, “known as SafeTrack, crams three years’ worth of track work and maintenance into one year.”

In a Washington Post  (6/3, Thomson) piece, columnist Robert Thomson says Fairfax County transportation official Nicholas Perfili described the repair as “catching us up to where a 40-year-old railroad should be.” Thomson calls the upcoming repairs a “slow, unglamorous process,” that will result in a 40-year-old metro system “that looks like it has been maintained properly all along.”

“Electric Power Research Institute” Conducting Study On “Zero Net Energy.”

The New York Times  (6/3, Cardwell, Subscription Publication) reports the non-profit group Electric Power Research Institute is conducting a study in a new housing division in California’s San Gabriel Mountains centered on the concept of “zero net energy.” According to the Times, the new study includes a “combination of rooftop solar panels, smart thermostats, advanced water heaters and other high-efficiency features” to create homes that “make at least as much energy as they use over a year.” Additionally, the article indicates the DOE has already certified 700 homes as “zero-energy ready,” with more homes slated to be built so in the coming years in places like Denver, New England, New York and the Carolinas

Iowa Board Meets Monday On Allowing Oil Pipeline Work To Start.

The AP  (6/3) reported the Iowa Utilities Board will meet Monday to discuss allowing Dakota Access to start oil pipeline construction in areas for which the company has secured approval. The board voted unanimously Wednesday to allow the company to “begin laying pipe in areas outside U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jurisdiction,” given the Corps “hasn’t issued permits for federal parcels.” Pipeline protesters plan to hold a rally at the Iowa Capitol Monday and “want the board to deny construction until all required permits are approved.”

EIA Says US Renewable Energy Capacity Will More Than Double By 2040.

The Houston Chronicle  (6/3, Osborne) reports that a US Energy Information Administration report is predicting “the amount of renewable energy on the electricity grid will more than double by 2040 to close to 500 gigawatts of capacity.” The report “presumes the Obama administration’s clean power plan…survives a legal challenge.” But even without the CPP, “cost reductions in solar and wind energy, along with the extension of a tax credit for renewable energy last year, should still grow to more than 400 gigawatts over the next 24 years.” EIA “is predicting continued growth in wind power until 2022, when the tax credit expires and construction comes to a virtual halt.” EIA “forecasts continued growth in solar farms and rooftop systems through 2040.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Aerospace Sector Working To Spark Children’s Interest In Jobs.

The AP  (6/5) reports on programs schools and businesses are providing to spark children’s interest in aerospace work, particularly in the area around Aurora, Colorado, where “the biggest employer is Buckley Air Force Base and Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin employ close to 4,000 people.” The Aerospace Industries Association stated in its 2015 annual report that over one-quarter of the industry’s workforce is older than 55, and over 10 percent were older than 61.

US Kids Lag In STEM Education.

The State College (PA) Centre Daily Times  (6/4, Morgan) reported that according to the Conversation, “globally, the United States is at risk of declining economic competitiveness due to its continuing lower levels of educational attainment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” ranking 44th in mathematics and science education. According to the article, “factors such as lower expectations, discrimination and a lack of interest make it less likely that racial or ethnic minorities, women or those from low-income families will pursue STEM careers.”

STEAM Expo Held At Centennial School.

The Cranberry (PA) Eagle  (6/4, Grubbs) reported that over “70 fifth graders at the Mars Centennial School on Thursday presented their thought-provoking and high-tech projects at the school’s first STEAM Expo.” According to the Cranberry Eagle, the students “worked in teams during the last few weeks on Math Stop-Motion Animation Videos, Lego Robotic Cars and Powtoon Tall Tales, which involves animated presentation cartoons.”

Space Center, Raytheon, Partner To Create After-School Club.

The AP  (6/4) reported on a partnership between the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, New Hampshire, and Raytheon for the creation of “an afterschool science and engineering club for middle school students.” According to the AP, “the yearlong program will begin this fall with the goal of inspiring youth participation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.” A Raytheon $10,000 donation to launch the program will also help to fund middle school teacher professional development for geared towards creating classroom engineering activities.

Struggling High Schools Re-Designed Around Emerging Industries.

The AP  (6/4, Thompson) reported that Buffalo’s re-designed South Park High School students may not have to go far to get jobs thanks to “a massive solar panel factory being built up the road.” According to the AP, “the school is among five struggling high schools the district is redesigning with emerging local industries in mind. Along with regular classes, each will offer specialty programming around in-demand skills such as solar panel manufacturing, life sciences, homeland security and gaming.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

Global Leaders Expand Push Into Clean Energy Research.
Police Release More Details In UCLA Murder-Suicide.
Researchers To Launch 10-Year Project To Create Synthetic Human Genomes.
WVU Fracking Project Seeing Successes.
American Canyon Successful At UC Davis’ C-STEM Day Robotics Competition.

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