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

Leading the News

Panama Opens Canal Extension.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Pretel, Moreno) reports Panama on Sunday opened the “long-delayed” expansion of its shipping canal with a celebration that included representatives from nearly all of the 70 nations invited, including Jill Biden as the lead delegate for the US. Panama’s foreign ministry said the event was a diplomatic success, although only “a dozen of the 70 heads of state invited” attended the ceremony, according to Reuters. Analysts “said the rank of those leading the delegations was affected by the Panama Papers scandal.”

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Jervis) reports the $5.4 billion expansion project includes a new set of locks that “nearly triples the capacity of ships transiting the canal, from those able to carry 5,000 containers to up to 14,000 containers, and is expected to bring increased revenue to Panama.” US Ambassador to Panama John Feely congratulated Panama for its “wonder of engineering,” adding, “This expansion will reconfigure, permanently, the map of the global shipping industry.” However, some US officials, including William Brownfield, assistant secretary of State for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, and Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, cautioned that the expanded canal and bigger ships also mean “mean increased chances for drug cartels to sneak more drugs and contraband through the Panama isthmus.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Mufson) reports Martin Houston, co-founder of Tellurian, a developer of liquefied natural gas projects, said the expanded canal can now likely accommodate about 80 percent of the current global liquefied natural gas tanker fleet, “compared with the 7 percent that could pass through the old facilities.” The Boston Consulting Group and C.H. Robinson, a transportation logistics firm, estimated in 2015 that up to 10 percent of the container traffic from East Asia to the US “could shift to East Coast ports instead of landing on the West Coast and finishing the journey by truck or rail.” Meanwhile, the Post adds that the new canal should provide a boost to Panama’s economy, with the IMF forecasting that the country will continue to grow at its current rate of almost six percent a year.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Zamorano) reports canal administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said the “new transit route is the tip of the iceberg in making Panama once again the logistic center of the Americas,” adding that the improvements represent “a significant opportunity for the countries of the region to improve their infrastructure, increase their exports.” However, the AP says the celebration “comes amid a lull in global shipping due to the drop in oil prices, an economic slowdown in China, which is the canal’s second-largest customer, and other factors that have hit the waterway’s traffic and income.” Furthermore, “doubts remain that not all those ports are ready to handle the huge New Panamex-class cargo ships.”

The Miami Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Whitefield) adds that “nine years in the making and nearly two years behind schedule, the canal expansion includes deepening portions of the existing canal, new access channels, and new locks on both sides of the 50-mile-long waterway.” Unlike the old canal, “where electric locomotives and guide wires position ships for their passage through the locks, tugboats will guide ships through the new locks and actually enter the locks with them.” The first ship expected to traverse the new canal is a Chinese vessel, which “won the privilege…when it was selected in a drawing among the canal’s top customers.” Normal commercial traffic will begin Monday.

Higher Education

Baltimore Community College Partners With High Schools To Offer STEM Education.

Gordon F. May, president and CEO of Baltimore City Community College, writes in the Baltimore Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24) about BCCC as a partner in Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), in which it will “prepare and train high school students for careers in cutting-edge Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields with high earnings potential.” The school is partnering with two schools “located in low-income communities” as part of its effort “to get more women and minorities enrolled in one of our STEM programs.” The P-TECH program “combines high school and post-secondary curriculums with career training opportunities.” The graduates earn a high school diploma as well as an associate’s degree from BCCC.

ED Unveils Measures To Extend Pell Grants To Inmates.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Mitchell, Subscription Publication) reports the Administration on Friday announced a proposal to expand Pell grants to 12,000 state and Federal prisoners to take classes through 67 colleges and universities.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Rascoe, Harte) reports the program will provide “an emphasis on inmates set to be released within five years of starting classes.” White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett explained, “The bottom line is that our communities are less safe when the stigma of incarceration prevents Americans from truly ever shedding their prison jumpsuit.” She added, “When people leave prisons and can’t turn their lives around, they too often end up back behind bars.” According to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, “All the little things that people take for granted generate tremendous obstacles for people who are coming out of the criminal justice system. … In order to compete, you have to be allowed in the arena.” Labor Secretary Perez agreed, adding that employing people with a criminal history “is not an act of charity, it is an act of enlightened self-interest,”

Noting that the move runs contrary to a “22-year congressional ban on providing financial aid to prisoners,” the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Douglas-Gabriel) reported that ED “selected 67 colleges and universities Thursday for the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, an experiment to help prisoners earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree while incarcerated.” The piece notes that ED “is using its authority to create limited experiments in the deployment of federal student aid” to circumvent the ban, which critics say contributes to recidivism. The Post quotes Education Secretary John King saying, “We all agree that crime must have consequences, but the men and women who have done their time and paid their debt deserve the opportunity to break with the past and forge new lives in their homes, workplaces ad communities. This belief in second chances is fundamental to who we are as Americans.”

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Korte) reports that inmates at 141 state and Federal prisons will be eligible “to use a federal Pell grant of up to $5,815 to pursue a two- or four-year degree from one of 67 approved colleges and universities.” This piece quotes King saying, “We have called for Congress to reverse the mistake that was made in the mid ‘90s. That ban remains in place until Congress acts. We are using our experimentation authority under the Higher Education Act.”

Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25, McCarthy) reports that the pilot “is part of a larger, bipartisan effort to reform the US justice system.” However, Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Hefling) reports that some Republicans have criticized the plan, saying Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander “has said the administration doesn’t have the authority to give Pell grants to prisoners.” Nonetheless, King said, “The evidence is clear. Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism, and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.”

Other media outlets running reports on this story include Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23), US News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Camera), Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), the Philadelphia Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/27), Youth Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), the Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/27), the Baltimore Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/23), BuzzFeed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), the Community College Daily Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), the Cleveland Plain Dealer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), KABB-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter San Antonio (6/24), Norwalk (OH) Reflector Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(6/24), the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25), Connecticut Public Radio Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26), the Connecticut Mirror Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24), and an AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25) article out of Vermont.

WPost: Group Hopes To Alleviate Cost Of Pricey College Textbooks.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26) editorializes that with college students spending up to $1,300 during their studies on textbooks, a pilot program by education advocacy group Achieving The Dream could help alleviate the financial barriers that “force students to fall behind in their classes, lowering their grades and raising withdrawal rates.” The nonprofit this month announced $9.8 million in grants for developing degree programs for two-year colleges that use open-source materials instead of expensive printed books. By focusing on community colleges, Achieving The Dream “hopes to fix the hole that most needs a patch – not just for the schools it funds, but also for other colleges that adopt the programs its grantees will develop.” Policymakers could help by providing the organization with additional funding, and schools can also do their art by “integrating open-source materials into their curriculums.”

Three Universities Collaborate On Efficient, “Human-Like” Robots.

The Oregonian Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25) reports Oregon State University, the University of Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon University created a robot known as ATRIAS that is the first to “accurately and efficiently mimic the way humans walk.” Most models that mimic humans are inefficient, using “maybe 100 times more energy.” A new project, known as Cassie, will build on this technology but will give the robot “small ankles and feet” as opposed to ATRIAS’ stilt-like legs. ATRIAS was given $4.7 million in funding and Cassie will receive “just under $1 million,” in part by “the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is interested in having robots working with teams of soldiers.”

Uconn Alumnus Develops And Donates Gunshot Detection System To School.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25, Eaton-Robb) reports Robert Hotaling, a University of Connecticut alumnus, developed and donated a gunshot detection system to the school as part of a pilot program. The system includes acoustic sensors that resemble smoke detectors that are programmed “to listen and identify the particular acoustic wave form of a gunshot.” This system is different from others that rely on human judgment to determine whether or not a recorded audio file is actually of a gunshot or not, instead the system uses an algorithm. The system will then notify police and the wider campus via emergency communication systems. Eventually, Hotaling said, “The system will be integrated with the school’s existing video surveillance systems and will activate the closest video camera to give authorities a real-time look at what is going on.” He has been working on this system since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.


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Research and Development

Navy Announces Plan For 150 Kilowatt Laser.

Popular Science Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24) reports that at a “summit on directed energy weapons in Washington, DC,” the Navy announced plans to conduct ship-board testing of a 150-kilowatt laser weapon, noting that the “Navy already has a 30-kilowatt laser mounted on a ship.”

Study Unveils Cybersecurity Deficiencies At Hospitals.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Uchill) reported that new research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania “found that sticky notes with passwords were prevalent in hospitals; that employees shared passwords; that keypad-protected doors to medical supply rooms often had passwords written on them, and that clinicians left computers logged on as a courtesy to whoever needed to use them next.” The study “added that while hospital staff recognize the danger of lax security, their systems may be too cumbersome to use in a timely enough fashion to save patient lives.” The study also found that at “a large city hospital, death certificates require the doctor’s digital thumbprint. However, only one of the doctors has thumbs that can be read by the digital reader.” And, consequently,” only that one doctor signs all of the death certificates, no matter whose patient the deceased was.”

Kapersky Lab Research Finds “Epidemic” Levels Of Ransomware. Digital Trends Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24) detailed research by cybersecurity firm Kapersky lab which found that ransomware infected more than 700,000 users from April 2015 to March 2016. Kapersky described the infection level as an “epidemic.” The infection levels were “5.5 times more than the figures from 2014 to 2015.”Federal Computer Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Rockwell) says Kapersky’s research found that most ransomware attacks are focused on the US.

INL Researchers Aim To Boost Biomass Power.

Citing the Post Register (ID), the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25, Ramseth) summarized some of the biomass research conducted by Idaho National Laboratory’s biomass energy research program, which “has largely flown under the radar.” Michael Clark, INL’s biomass facility manager, sees much potential for biomass power, and is quoted saying, “One of the reasons biomass is so attractive is that it comes back every year – it is truly a renewable form of energy.”

Researchers Develop Lining Allowing Soap To Pour Cleanly Out Of Plastic Containers.

The Daily Mail Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Fernandez) reported researchers have developed a lining that allows “soap to pour cleanly out of plastic containers, reducing waste and irritation.” The lining incorporates “microscopic y-shaped quartz structures which, apparently, create air pockets that stop the shampoo touching the side of the bottle.” Co-inventor Bharat Bhushan said manufacturers have shown interest in the new technology “because they make billions of bottles that end up in the garbage with product still in them.” The Daily Mail mentions the invention may “boost recycling as plastic bottles must currently be rinsed clean before they can be recycled.”

Industry News

Two More SolarCity Board Members Recuse From Voting On Tesla Offer.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25, Groom, Baker) reports additional SolarCity Corp board members are recusing themselves from Tesla Motor’s offer to buy SolarCity over close ties to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The new recusals of Musk’s cousin Peter Rive and SolarCity CTO JB Straubel “mean the majority of SolarCity’s board will be sitting out the decision on whether to be acquired by Tesla.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Liedtke, Condon) reports that apparent conflicts of interest may complicate the deal. The offer “raises a number of questions around governance that may test the bond of trust,” Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas wrote in a research note. Jonas downgraded Tesla and lowered his target price on the shares by 26 percent to $245. “S&P Global Market Intelligence analyst Efraim Levy believes investor resistance eventually may prompt Tesla to withdraw its bid.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Grant, Subscription Publication) highlights historical support among Tesla’s largest shareholders which may save the deal.

Engineering and Public Policy

Justice Department May Appeal Overturned Fracking Rule.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Cama) reports the Justice Department on Friday filed a notice “asking the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit” in Wyoming to reconsider a decision from earlier in the week that overturned fracking regulations by the Interior Department. The Hill indicates the Justice Department has not yet decided if they will appeal. Judge Scott Skavdahl’s ruling that the Interior Department does not have the authority to regulate fracking “was a major loss for Obama, his environmental agenda and his first attempt at national fracking standards.”

States, Rockefellers Push Back On House In Exxon Climate Probe.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Wade) reports the Massachusetts attorney general and “investment funds of the Rockefeller family” on Friday sent a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology saying the committee did not have the authority to oversee investigations being undertaken by a number of states into “Exxon Mobil Corp’s record on climate change.” The committee last week demanded “state attorneys general hand over any records of consultations the prosecutors had with outside environmental groups before their probes were opened.” The letter stated the committee did not have the right to interfere. A separate letter to the committee from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund also said their request “imperiled the funds’ First Amendment rights” and that “Congress’s investigatory power is not unlimited.”

Americans’ Appetite For Gas Guzzlers A Climate Problem.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/24, Richtel, Subscription Publication) reports falling gas prices have Americans once again buying larger, less fuel efficient cars, which poses a problem in the fight against climate change. The Times cites in highlighting how 75 percent of Americans “who have traded in a hybrid or electric car to a dealer have replaced it with an all-gas car,” which represents an 18 percent increase from 2015. Moreover, the number of electric cars on the road, which includes hybrid plug-ins, is less than half of President Obama’s goal of 1 million by 2015. SUVs, pick-ups and cars produce 16.2 of greenhouse gases. Climate Interactive co-director Andrew Jones said tailpipe emissions reduction “is perhaps the most important thing Americans can do.”

Gates: Next President Should Continue Support For Federal R&D Investments.

Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, writes for Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26) that “when the United States invests in innovation, it creates companies and jobs at home, makes Americans healthier and safer, and saves lives and fights poverty in the world’s poorest countries.” Among other areas, Gates points out that “early advances in wind and solar technology were developed with federal money.” $17.5 billion in researching spending on efficiency and fossil fuels by the Department of Energy between 1978 and 2000 has yielded $41 billion in economic benefits, Gates writes, urging the next president to continue to “invest in innovation.”

IEA: Air Pollution Causes 6.5 Million Deaths Annually.

According to the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, B5, Reed, Subscription Publication), a report to be released June 27 by the International Energy Agency in Paris, France, suggests that “air pollution has become a major public health crisis leading to around 6.5 million deaths each year, with ‘many of its root causes and cures’ found in the energy industry.”

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Hirtenstein) reports the IEA “is calling for governments to adopt a strategy to cut pollutants by half, a plan that would add about 7 percent to the total energy investment needed through 2040,” the study reveals. The strategy proposed by the IEA not only “pushes for cleaner fuels, energy efficiency, better cooking facilities and emissions controls,” but “also calls for a collective long-term air quality goal, policies for implementation and regulations to monitor and enforce it.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Chestney) quotes the IEA, which said, “Without changes to the way that the world produces and uses energy, the ruinous toll from air pollution on human life is set to rise.”

EPA Compliance Ruling For Memphis Boosts Hopes To Draw Industry.

Drawing from reporting by The Commercial Appeal, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/25) reports that the Environmental Protection Agency noncompliance designation for Memphis will be lifted on July 25, “making it easier and cheaper for industrial developments to get air-pollution permits,” and raising local officials’ hopes to recruit industry to the region. “Recruiters say that some industries won’t even consider communities that don’t meet federal smog standards.”

Court Delays Lawsuit On EPA New Coal Plant Requirements.

The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Lawler) reports, “The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said Friday that it is delaying the court briefing on [the Environmental Protection Agency’s New Source] the coal industry says effectively bans the construction of any new coal-fired power plants in the country.” The rule requires companies planning to build new coal-fired power plants “to meet a technological standard for reducing emissions that critics argue is not cost effective, nor feasible, on a large scale.” The delay means initial arguments in the case won’t be completed until after President Obama has left office.

Solar Plane Partner Sees Potential For US Grid Reforms.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/26, Loveless) reports Solar Impulse 2 project partner ABB’s CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer sees similarities between the challenges facing the solar-powered aircraft circling the globe and those issues companies navigating changes in energy consumption. “We need to make sure that we demonstrate to the world with projects like this that we continue to stretch the limits,” Spiesshofer said. Spiesshofer attended the SelectUSA Summit and said of large-scale investments in new energy infrastructure in the US, “The need is there. The technology is there. At the moment, it’s less the technology and the need, and more the ecosystem around it, that makes it not that easy.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

President Unveils Maker Promise Initiative During National Week Of Making.

THE Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (6/20, Chang) reports President Obama has declared the week of June 17-23 as a National Week of Making saying, “During National Week of Making, we recommit to sparking the creative confidence of all Americans and to giving them the skills, mentors and resources they need to harness their passion and tackle some of our planet’s greatest challenges.” This week is part of the larger Maker Promise initiative involving more than 1,400 schools and almost 1 million students across the entire country. Schools have pledge to take steps in creating and re-purposing existing spaces into labs, recreation places, and “makerspaces” in order to foster an enriched science and computer based curriculum and inspire innovation.

Sunday’s Lead Stories

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