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

Leading the News

Pacific Northwest Considers Response To Risks Posed By Oil Trains.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/31, Johnson, Subscription Publication) reports that “from ballot boxes to the governors’ desks in Oregon and Washington,” the Pacific Northwest, which “seemed poised only a few years ago to become a new energy hub is now gripped by a debate over whether transporting volatile, hazardous crude oil by rail through cities and environmentally delicate areas can ever be made safe enough.” The amount “of oil being shipped by rail across most of the rest of the nation has plummeted, as low oil prices and more pipeline capacity have reduced the need for trains,” but “along the Columbia River gorge…the trains have continued to rumble through Oregon and Washington in numbers near their peak.” In the “tense environment” since derailment in the region earlier this year, “the idea that the Northwest is now bearing a disproportionate burden of energy transport risk has accelerated local efforts to stop the trains or make them safer.”

California Bullet Train Faces Political, Legal Battle.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30, Vartabedian) reports that a $9 billion bond voters approved for high-speed rail in California in 2008 had some “highly technical wording of taxpayer protections” that new legislation seeks to clarify. However, opponents of the project “say the move is a direct attempt to gut taxpayer protections and have vowed to sue over the legislation.” The Times warns that lawsuits could in turn stall progress on California’s bullet train project.

Higher Education

University Of New Mexico Promotes Ties To National Labs.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/31, Quintana) reports that according to Joseph Cecchi, associate provost for national laboratory relations at the University of New Mexico, collaborations between the Sandia and Los Alamos national labs and the university provide critical workplace experience and other benefits for the school’s students. “Our mission is to educate students but, in engineering, there’s no better way than giving students a hands-on experience with research, and a lot of that happens with our collaborations,” said Cecchi told a panel of state lawmakers. Cecchi’s remarks come as UNM has joined a team led by Boeing and Battelle in a bid to operate Sandia National Laboratories.

NACAC’s Rose Praises ED, CFPB For Fighting Mandatory Arbitration Clauses.

In commentary for The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29, Rose) “Congress Blog,” Michael Rose, director for government relations for the National Association for College Admission Counseling, praises ED and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for proposing “rules that will help insure students receive the education they deserve and protect their Constitutionally-enshrined legal rights, if they were misled by a college or university.” Rose explains that “unscrupulous colleges” have used contractual clauses that “require a student resolve her grievances with the college through arbitration, rather than through the courts with an impartial judge and jury.” Rose links such language with efforts by shady colleges to protect themselves from sanctions for abusive policies and says that ending such clauses is overdue.

Clinton Vows To Work With Sanders On Student Debt Crisis.

MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/31) reports that notwithstanding rancor over the subject during the Democratic primary race, Hillary Clinton has vowed to cooperate with former rival Bernie Sanders on college affordability and student debt issues. During her acceptance speech last week, Clinton said the two will “work together ‘to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all.’”

WPost: Clinton’s Free Tuition Plan Costly, Unfocused.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/31) editorializes that Hillary Clinton’s proposal to offer free tuition at state universities to families earning less than $125,000 a year “overcommits scarce resources to a problem” that, “while real,” is not as dire as she and other Democrats claim. The Post agrees that “high student debt can have dramatic negative consequences in individual cases,” but argues “better policies can and should” address those problems “with any necessary costs falling on taxpayers best able to shoulder the burden.” Any proposed solutions, the Post concludes, should be much more tightly focused than Clinton’s plan, and tailored to specific groups of students with exceptionally high debt burdens.

Meanwhile, Jeffrey J.Selingo writes at the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30) “Grade Point” blog that as Hillary Clinton shifts toward the positions of former primary rival Bernie Sanders on college affordability, her “proposal still lacks many necessary specifics and suffers from some of the same problems that higher-education experts pointed out in Sanders’ plan months ago.” First and foremost, “tuition costs at public colleges are mostly controlled by the states,” and “any free tuition plan requires states to pitch in.” The piece lists a number of other problems with the plan.

Families Being Urged To Prepare Financially For Extra College Years.

The Deseret (UT) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30) cites recent media reports on the financial impact of college students taking more than four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, noting that the phenomenon has “become so common that some financial planners are telling their clients to prepare by saving for five or six planned years, instead of just four.”

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Research and Development

University Of Wyoming Students Working On Making Self-Teaching AI.

The Laramie (WY) Boomerang Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30) reports that students at the University of Wyoming Engineering Building are working on artificial intelligence, and profiles computer science professor Jeff Clune, who “came to UW in 2013 with a plan to create a new lab specific to advancing computer intelligence.” Clune “created the Evolving Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, which has produced various world-renowned research and ideas.”

Unmanned Surface Vessels Discussed.

The Boston (MA) Globe Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29, Nanos) carried an article discussing the development of unmanned surface vessels by maritime engineers. “Autonomous shipping is the future of the maritime industry,” said Rolls-Royce maritime division president Mikael Makinen. “As disruptive as the smartphone, the smart ship will revolutionize the landscape of ship design and operations.” Shipbuilding standards organization Lloyd’s Register recently released its first classification levels for autonomous ships. Spokesman Nick Brown emphasized the need for a regulatory framework as the field develops.

“Artificial Leaf” Produces Hydrogen Fuel From Carbon Dioxide.

Newsweek Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29, Cuthbertson) reports that researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago “created a catalyst that uses the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into burnable hydrocarbon fuel.” Amin Salehi-Khojin, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC, said, “Instead of producing energy in an unsustainable one-way route from fossil fuels to greenhouse gas, we can now reverse the process and recycle atmospheric carbon into fuel using sunlight.” The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy funded the research.


CODE2040 Founder To Administration Policy Adviser On Tech Sector Diversity.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30, Guynn) reports Laura Weidman Powers, “who has built CODE2040 into a major force for diversifying the technology industry, is taking her advocacy to the White House with her appointment as a senior policy adviser to U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.” Powers has been tapped to serve in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, “focusing on diversity and inclusion in tech hiring and entrepreneurship.”

Industry News

Tesla Engineers Present Possible Theories For Cause Of Fatal Tesla Crash.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29) reports Tesla engineers on Thursday testified in front of the US Senate Commerce Committee and presented possible theories for the case of the fatal Model S crash in Florida in May. The two main theories are: 1) either both the Tesla’s cameras and radar failed to sensor the tractor-trailer in the intersection or 2) the cameras failed to register the tractor-trailer and the Tesla’s computer “thought the radar signal was false, possibly form an overpass or sign.” A Tesla spokeswoman said in a statement that the Florida incident fell “within a unique set of circumstances for which the camera and radar were not able to provide the appropriate warning or braking support.”

Engineering and Public Policy

DOE-backed Research Aims To Improve Geothermal Energy.

E&E News PM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29, Irfan, Subscription Publication) reports on the CarbFix geothermal power project, Iceland’s largest geothermal heat and power plant where “researchers recently demonstrated that they could take carbon dioxide and turn it into rock 1,500 feet underground.” Edda Sif Pind Aradóttir, project manager for CarbFix at Reykjavik Energy, said the project uses natural processes to minieralize carbon in calcium- and magnesium-rich basalt rocks. “After two years, it’s just rock, and it stays that way.” The US Department of Energy, which contributed $11.5 million into the project, aims to reduce some of the uncertainties associated with finding suitable areas for geothermal energy. “You know where to put the solar panels, but with geothermal, it’s hard to know where to drill,” said Bud Johnston, laboratory program manager for geothermal technologies at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. DOE recently announced $11.5 million in federal funds to drive eight research projects in geothermal prospecting and carbon storage

Faison Makes Clean Energy Pitch To GOP.

In a profile of Republican donor Jay Faison, The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/31, Cama) reports he “is on a mission to change the Republican Party’s stance on clean energy.” Faison “was an active presence at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, doing numerous public events and meeting with committees and lawmakers to plead his case.” Faison is champions a number of options “that he says don’t get respect they deserve, including nuclear power, hydropower, coal with carbon capture and natural gas.” Faison’s main pitch to “conservatives is strictly political.” The Hill adds that “research that he and others have commissioned shows that support for clean energy is the top issue that can sway an undecided voter.” Faison said, “No other issue does more to change a persuadable voter’s mind than clean energy. … It is the No. 1 peel-away issue.”

Transmission Plan Could End Coal Plant Life Support Payments In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

E&E News PM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29, Subscription Publication) reports that “millions of dollars in life support payments for an unprofitable coal plant in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula would no longer be required under a proposal to temporarily reconfigure the area’s transmission system.” American Transmission Co., “a transmission-only utility in the Upper Midwest that’s jointly owned by more than two dozen electric distribution companies, proposed the solution to the region’s grid operator, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), this week.”

Kauai Utility Expects To Meet Renewable Energy Goal.

Drawing on coverage from the Garden Island, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30) reported the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative “produces 40 percent of its power through renewable sources and is on track to reach its goal of 50 percent by 2023.” The co-op “expects new solar arrays and a biomass energy project to help 2016 greenhouse gas emissions fall below 1990 levels” and “a project under development could account for 15 percent of island energy.”

Nevada High Court Questions Rooftop Solar Ballot Referendum.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29, Whaley) reports that the Nevada Supreme Court justices “raised numerous concerns” Friday about a proposed ballot referendum that would restore net metering to “more financially viable” rates. The court heard arguments on whether Question 5 is a proper referendum for the general election ballot, and justices asked whether the description of the referendum’s effect on the petition signed by voters is misleading, “which could also disqualify it from the ballot.” A ruling will be issued in the next few weeks, “but there was no clear indication how the seven-member court will rule.”

Massachusetts Considering Extending Renewable Energy Subsidies To Biomass.

The Boston Globe Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30, Abel) reports that officials in Massachusetts are drafting “controversial regulations” that could qualify biomass from felled trees and clear brush for the same subsidies as solar and wind power. The proposed rules “would provide financial incentives for the energy source known as woody biomass — wood chips and pellets made from tree trunks, branches, sawdust, and other plant matter.” Eight environmental groups opposing the move wrote in a letter to officials, “Burning biomass emits significantly more carbon pollution than burning fossil fuels … and harvesting trees for fuel reduces the ability of forests to take carbon out of the atmosphere.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

STEM Camp Attracts 400 Students.

The Akron (OH) Beacon Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/29) reports 400 high school students attended a STEM summer camp sponsored by Alcoa Foundation and the SME (the former Society of Manufacturing Engineers) Education Foundation and funded by the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation. Students “focused on solar and wind energy and worked with matter and kinetic energy” during the camp.

OCR Warns Of Possible Gender Discrimination In CTE Programs.

The Bend (OR) Bulletin Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30) reports that ED’s Office for Civil Rights is warning districts across the country to “watch out for discrimination” in CTE programs “that could be causing gender disparities in violation of Title IX.” The piece notes that the guidance comes as districts in Oregon are looking “to add career and technical classes as a way to increase high school graduation.” OCR released guidance “on recruitment, counseling or admission practices that ensure boys and girls have equal access to classes and aren’t pushing students toward certain subjects based on their gender — as in, nursing for girls and welding for boys.”

Millennials Choosing Blue-Collar Jobs Over College.

The New York Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/31, Byrne) reports an increasing number of millennials are taking “jobs more associated with grime and physical labor than technology, cubicles and office politics. They’re pulling down some of the biggest salaries and best benefits, and in fields with plenty of openings,” while “many of their peers, some of them recent grads, are unemployed, underemployed or are swelling the ranks of the huge low-wage service sector.” According to the Post, “there’s a major shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers nationwide.”

Students In Alaska Explore STEM During Summer Break.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (7/30) reports on the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program’s Acceleration Academy at the University of Alaska Anchorage, a five-week summer learning program where students “participate in hands-on activities and take classes for dual high school and college credit along with 60 other students from across Alaska.”

Friday’s Lead Stories

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