Leading the News
Federal Interagency Task Force Recommends Safety Upgrades For Natural Gas Storage Facilities.
The AP (10/18) reports a “year after a blowout” at the Aliso Canyon gas well in Southern California “spewed tons of natural gas and drove thousands from their homes,” a federal task force has recommended “dozens of safety changes for the nation’s 400 underground natural gas storage wells.” A report by an interagency task force released yesterday “recommends that operators of gas-storage facilities conduct strict risk assessments and develop robust safety procedures,” including making sure “that wells have backup systems to contain gas flows in the event of a leak.” Scientists say that the Aliso Canyon leak was the “largest-known release of climate-changing methane in U.S. history.”
The Hill (10/18, Cama) reports the task force was organized by the Department of Energy. In the report Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said, “No community should have to go through something like the Aliso Canyon leak again. … It is up to industry to implement these recommendations in a timely fashion, while state and federal officials develop regulations that enhance the safety of underground storage facilities in the United States.” The are “44 distinct recommendations to the industry and regulators” outlined in the report. Reuters (10/18) reports that Under Secretary for Science and Energy at the Energy Department Franklin Orr and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration Administrator Marie-Therese Dominguez co-chaired the task force.
Platts (10/18) reports Orr “said the task force’s recommendations are designed to prevent incidents such as Aliso Canyon from ever recurring.” He stated, “We need to work to make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again. It caused real destruction and they’re still working to deal with the problems created by not having that facility available.”
The Wall Street Journal (10/18, Smith, Subscription Publication) reports the American Gas Association signaled that it was happy the report highlighted that gas storage is important. Interstate Natural Gas Association of America head Don Santa expressed some concerns about the recommendation calling for “double barriers” saying that the recommendation could impact “the majority of U.S. natural gas storage wells.” NPR (10/18) and a second Reuters (10/18) article also provide additional coverage.
Clark Foundation Gives Johns Hopkins $15 Million To Support STEM Undergrads.
WTOP-FM Washington (10/18) reports in continued coverage that the Clark Charitable Foundation is giving Johns Hopkins University’s Whiting School of Engineering $15 million “to provide financial aid and to create a new academic program for undergraduate engineering students.” This gift is the biggest the school has ever received.
Citybizlist (10/18) reports the gift “honors the late A. James Clark, a former trustee of the university and of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and a construction engineer and executive for more than 60 years” and will establish “the Clark Scholars Program” and will bolster “the university’s ability to attract talented engineering students while providing need-based aid, the university said.”
University Of Oregon To Receive Record-Breaking Donation.
The Washington Post (10/18, Svrluga) reports the University of Oregon will receive a $500 million dollar gift, allowing it to “build a new campus to kick-start scientific research into real-world impact.” According to University President Michael Schill, the gift “has the potential to jump-start the regional economy as well, and to provide an ambitious model for the future of public higher education.” Since the year 2000, the University of Oregon’s state funding has been slashed by more than 50 percent, so Schill says the gift “is a remarkable vote of confidence in a public university that has really been disinvested by the state.” Because the university doesn’t have a medical or engineering school, the original goal for the donation of “finding a cure for disease” has limitations. The donation will be used instead for developing “an environment that is conducive to the next generation of discoveries,” according to acting executive director the campus Patrick Phillips.
Plan To End Ban On Higher Education Data Collection Draws Criticism.
Politico Morning Education (10/18) reports on opposition to a bipartisan plan in Congress to “lift a federal ban on tracking individual students through college and into the workforce,” noting that backers “say lifting the ban is the only way to get critical information such as a college’s true graduation rate and average salaries of graduates from different majors in particular schools. But opponents…say that changing the law comes at too high of a cost — particularly in a time of hackers and problematic internet leaks.”
New Research Says Women’s Spatial Reasoning Not Inferior To Mens’.
The Huffington Post (10/18) reports on the “enduring stereotype that women tend to be worse than men when it comes to spatial reasoning,” noting that decades of research “supports this view,” which has been cited as a reason for women being underrepresented in STEM fields. However, a new study published in the journal Psychological Science “found that women performed better on spatial reasoning tests when certain superficial aspects of the tests were changed.” Researchers “asked 135 college students to take a test involving spatial perspectives,” and women’s performance equaled that of men when the questions were rewritten so that they were presented as “a type of social intelligence test that women tend to do better at than men.”
Research and Development
Microsoft Says Speech Recognition Technology Now On Par With Humans.
Several reports today discuss Microsoft’s new speech recognition technology, which according to CBS News (10/18, Mastroianni), Microsoft has described as having reached “human parity” in the ability to now “equal humans in the ability to recognize words.” While USA Today (10/18, Cava) reports that chief speech scientist at Microsoft Xuedong Huang has referred to the breakthrough as a “historic achievement,” The Verge (10/18, Byford)predicts the update is “far from an endgame” for the technology. The software will require a wider range of arduous testing, according to The Verge, and needs to take on additional, “more challenging real-life situations and with a broader selection of devices.” Mashable (10/18, Bell) and PC World (10/18, Thibodeau) offers similar coverage.
Battelle Develops Revolutionary Navy Bandage.
Military (10/18, Seck) reports Ohio-based research company Battelle, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, has developed “a new Navy bandage wrap that promises to prevent limb loss or even death by keeping severely wounded arms and legs clean and protected for up to three days.” The bandage wrap, Acute Care Cover for the Severely Injured Limb (ACCSIL), is “designed to be carried by medics and corpsmen” and features “an outer cover that conforms to the shape of the wounded arm or leg to inhibit blood loss, keep the limb warm, and block dirt.” Furthermore, the bandage includes an “inner ‘bioactive’ layer that uses chemical compounds to treat pain, prevent flesh from dying out, and stop infection,” according to ONR officials. Researchers also “believe the new Navy bandage wrap could also be useful in industrial settings and aboard ships, where sailors and Marines are at greater risk for crush injuries and burns.”
Google’s Made With Code Encourages Women To Learn Coding.
In a piece highlighting the need for women in coding and STEM, U.S. News & World Report (10/18, Golod) applauds women like Rose Broome, founder and chief executive officer of HandUp, who was featured on Google’s Made with Code website for using coding “to make a difference.” Google launched Made with Code in 2014, hoping to “inspire girls to learn how to code and to expose them to the idea that coding is a means for achieving their professional aspirations.” In May 2014, Google’s study “Women Who Choose Computer Science – What Really Matters,” found “that encouragement and exposure are instrumental to inspiring girls’ pursuit of computer science.” Groups across the nation, like Girls Scouts of the USA, are encouraging young girls to use the program to “play creative games, practice STEM skills and learn about other girls and women who are using code to achieve their dreams.”
Robot Pilot Technology Being Developed For Cargo And Passenger Planes.
The AP (10/18, Lowy) reports private contractor Aurora Flight Sciences is collaborating with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a “program that seeks to replace the second human pilot in two-person flight crews with a robot co-pilot that never tires, gets bored, feels stressed out or gets distracted.” Suffering shortages of trained pilots, military and airlines officials believe there is “an advantage to reducing the number of pilots required to fly large aircraft while at the same time increasing safety and efficiency by having a robot pick up the mundane tasks of flying.” The program, called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), goes beyond currently used aircraft autopilot, by making spontaneous decisions. ALIAS learns from experience and “the entire history of flight in that type of plane.” Officials say some features of ALIAS “could be adopted within the next five years.” The technology isn’t without critics, though, as some pilot unions are skeptical about the program’s decision making skills.
AARP, University Of Illinois Create “Nest” For Tech Research.
In continuing coverage, Crain’s Chicago Business (10/18, Ruiz-Branch) reports on AARP’s collaboration with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on the new Tech Nest in Research Park, which will “allow the company to collaborate with students on technology-based research and solutions” for issues faced by those over 50. AARP Illinois director of communications Gerardo Cardenas called the rapidly increasing senior population a “demographic phenomenon unlike any other,” an understanding of which is essential to addressing the needs of AARP’s membership. Students working in the Tech Nest will develop prototypes in “artificial intelligence, mobile apps, information security, biometrics, and software engineering” under guidance from an AARP mentor, and the students will be compensated for their work.
Robotic Fleet To Monitor Deep Ocean Heat Uptake.
ClimateWire (10/18, Patterson, Subscription Publication) reports aquatic machines called Argo floats are surveying oceans to measure heat content and have “revolutionized scientists’ ability to study how climate change is affecting the seas.” The robotic fleet will now enter “the deepest ocean abyss” to inform scientists about “deep ocean heat uptake.” According to a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, “oceans have taken up 93 percent of the warming created by humans since the 1970s.” Two deep sea Argo floats were deployed in New Zealand in June 2014, and “the goal is to expand the program to have global coverage.” Scientists have said “learning more about where the heat sucked up by the ocean is being stored” is crucial “because it ties directly to the ability of mankind to stave off the worst effects of a changing climate.”
Grace Hopper Conference Highlights Women In Tech Industry.
U.S. News & World Report (10/18, Golod) reports the 16th Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (GHC) begins October 19th in Houston. The event is “an opportunity for women who are working in technical roles in the industry to get together to both share technical information and ideas and skill sets, but also to share inspiration, encouragement and to partake in sessions that will help them to expand their skill set, both technically and professionally,” says Elizabeth Ames, senior vice president of marketing, alliances and programs at the Anita Borg Institute. Additional opportunities presented through the event are networking and recruitment. GHC allows women to view “the potential influence of role models” and connect “with other like-minded women.” Software engineer at Pinterest Stephanie deWet will speak at two sessions during the conference, highlighting the “major gender gap within software engineering.”
Brexit Could Negatively Impact UK Research.
The New York Times (10/17, De Freytas-Tamura, Subscription Publication) reports that the UK’s planned withdrawal from the European Union is causing anxiety among entrepreneurs in the research and science fields, given the prospect that skilled workers will no longer be able to cross borders without visas. This anxiety, the Times reports, is “acutely felt in the scientific community, dependent as it is on long-term funding, cross-border mobility and international collaboration.” Britain “has long been a global leader in scientific research,” and “excels at health sciences and advanced engineering, areas that have thrived partly because of factors tied to Britain’s membership in the bloc.”
Thales Opens New Satellite Propulsion Center In Belfast.
The Irish Independent (10/19, Canning) reports Astronaut Tim Peake opened Thales’ “new £6m (€6.7m) space propulsion centre in Belfast,” which “will be manufacturing propulsion systems for sending high-tech satellites into space.”
BBC News (UK) (10/18) reports Philip McBride, the head of Thales in Belfast, “said the city’s engineering heritage was a factor in the company choosing its Castlereagh site to manufacture electric-powered rocket boosters.” The company is hoping that electric propulsion technology “will be a game changer for the satellite industry.”
Engineering and Public Policy
California Town Leads Charge Into Solar Power Mandates.
E&E Publishing (10/18, Mulkern, Subscription Publication) reports Lancaster, California was the first city in the U.S. to mandate all new homes built must add solar power, leading more cities to adopt similar measures. Next year in San Francisco, “all new buildings 10 stories or less must add solar power,” a mandate passed as “part of its goal to cut carbon emissions and limit climate change.” Other California cities have similar requirements, that are proving efficient “in changing the environment,” according to Stanford University Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Mark Jacobson. He predicts that trend “will catch on slowly at first but then speed up until most cities in the U.S. will ultimately adopt some type of ordinance.” California is “leading the charge on this effort nationwide, but these conversations are definitely beginning to happen elsewhere,” says Solar Energy Industries Association Senior Communications Manager Alex Hobson. Home buyers in Lancaster applaud the mandate, stating it reduces energy bills and adds value to homes.
Study: Solar Power Has Value For Utilities, Customers.
The Baltimore Sun (10/18, Gantz) reports that Baltimore nonprofit Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center released a report Tuesday that “aims to highlight the benefits of solar energy as Baltimore forges ahead with a financing model to make solar available to low-income homeowners.” Solar energy costs 3 cents more than the average retail electricity rate, according to the review of 16 studies, but solar benefits to customers and utilities include price stability and reduced demand for electricity and need for utilities’ capital improvements.
Google Study Highlights Race/Gender Gaps In Computer Science Education.
USA Today (10/18, Guynn) reports new research released by Google and Gallup indicates a significant lack of women, blacks, and Latino students in the field of computer science education, a gap Google hopes will be eliminated through the research. Although computer science classes are being increasingly offered nationally, “disparities persist in who has access to computer science education.” Google’s Sepehr Hejazi Moghadam believes “structural and social barriers still keep girls and underrepresented minorities from studying computer science.” The major tech companies in Silicon Valley are currently “staffed mostly by white and Asian men.” Google has said it has increased hiring of black and Hispanic workers, but this “has not budged the overall percentage of underrepresented minorities in the Google workforce.” Additionally, seven out of ten Google employees are male. Moghadam stated: “For us, a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures within the company and the industry overall lead to the creation of better products and services that meet the needs of all users.”
Oregon English Teacher Urges Passage Of CTE Funding Bill.
In a Salem (OR) Statesman Journal (10/18, Spaulding) op-ed, local English teacher Caroline Spaulding highlights the benefits of vocational and career technical courses and laments that “most Oregon high schools offer little to no career technical education (CTE).” Spaulding claims the “shortsighted decision” to cut CTE “has left most of our state’s high schools with barebones or no vocational education.” Therefore, Spaulding endorses Measure 98, which funds some CTE programs, to “get our students graduating and succeeding.”
Miami-Dade Students Contribute To New STEAM-Focused Musical.
The Miami Herald (10/18) reports Miami-Dade Schools seventh-grade students and teachers visited the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami on Oct. 14 “to contribute to ‘Kitty Hawk,’ one of the first STEAM-focused musicals in the nation.” In a release, the Arsht Center explains the musical, which “aims to make history come alive and be more relevant and fun for seventh-graders learning about Wilbur and Orville Wright’s historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903,” also “aims to fuel student interest in pursuing a science, technology, engineering, arts or mathematics career – collectively known as STEAM.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Bloomberg: Apple Sets Deadline For Project Titan Self-Driving Car Initiative.
• Clark Foundation Gives Johns Hopkins $15 Million For Engineering Scholarships.
• MIT, Harvard Researchers Create Implantable Optic Fibers That May Detect Disease.
• Manufacturing Sector Struggles To Find Software Engineers, Developers.
• Grid Improvements Lessen Length Of Outages Following Major Storms.
• Girl Scouts CEO Wants Girls To Learn To Code.