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

Leading the News

ED: California Must Continue Implementing Older Science Tests.

The San Jose (CA) Mercury News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13) reports that ED has “rejected California’s request to skip standardized science testing for two years while test-driving a newer version of the exams.” The state wanted to suspend science testing through 2018, but ED said this “would deny schools and families data about science achievement and also violate federal education laws.” In a letter to California Department of Education officials, Ann Whalen, adviser to Education Secretary John King, wrote that the state wouldn’t “be able to assess progress in science learning nor be able to communicate that to schools and the public.” The piece explains that California began overhauling its testing system when it adopted the Next Generation Science Standards three years ago.

EdSource Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13) reports that the state had planned to “begin phasing in tests this spring based on new science standards, in lieu of current tests based on standards in place since 1998.” However, Whalen wrote that “pilot tests based on the Next Generation Science Standards adopted by California in 2013 would not ‘measure the full depth and breadth of the state’s academic content in science.’” Meanwhile, it remains unclear how the Trump Administration will view the issue.

Higher Education

ED Decision Muddies Future For ACICS.

Politico Morning Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13) reports that now that Education Secretary John King has upheld an ED decision to withdraw recognition from the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, “attention turns to the uncharted waters of actually carrying out the department’s termination of the accreditor, an action that affects more than 250 colleges enrolling nearly 600,000 students.” The piece explains that the accreditor has 18 months to appeal the ruling.

Q3 2016 Had Fewest Defaults On Private Student Loans Since 2008.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Andriotis, Subscription Publication) reports in the third quarter of 2016 private lenders had the lowest level of student loan write-offs since 2008, when MeasureOne started tracking such data. As the story points out, since the recession private lenders have tightened credit, unlike the Federal government, resulting in far fewer missed payments and losses than at the deepest points of the recession. Still, defaults on Federal student loans are still high compared with the unemployment rate and make up over 90 percent of all outstanding student loan debt.

Forbes Contributor: Rising Interest Rates Could Mean Bigger Bill For Taxpayers On Student Loan Repayments.

Writing for Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13), contributor Preston Cooper says the expectation of a Fed rate hike this week has some investors excited, but “student borrowers ought to pay attention” too because “since 2013, yields on the 10-year Treasury note have directly determined interest rates on federal student loans.” As Cooper points out, when interest rates start to rise income-driven repayment plans in particular present a challenge for the Education Department in managing the spread on money it borrows from the Treasury to disburse new loans, as “under some circumstances, all of the borrower’s payment goes toward interest, meaning the principal balance actually increases, a phenomenon known as negative amortization.” Taxpayers are thus at risk of funding “tens of thousands of dollars” in extra loan forgiveness, after the 20-year repayment period ends “or, if interest rates rise significantly, hundreds of thousands” per student.

Thirty Colleges Join Effort To Increase Low-Income Enrollment In Top Colleges.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13) reports that 30 colleges and universities are taking part in the American Talent Initiative, which aims “to enroll low- and moderate-income undergraduates at colleges and universities with high graduation rates.” The initiative is part of an effort to “have more students from modest backgrounds graduate from prestigious campuses seen as opening doors to top careers.”

Prism Podcast
We talked to UDub’s Urban Freight Lab director Anne Goodchild about the best uses of city infrastructure. Hear what she has to say in our short (2:20) podcast here.

Support ASEE with your Holiday Amazon Purchases
ASEE participates in Amazon Smile, a program allowing you to donate a percentage of your purchase total to the charity of your choice. To set up your account to donate to ASEE, follow these few simple steps.


Research and Development

University Of Michigan, Google Develop Flint Water Crisis App.

MLive (MI) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/9, Johnson) reported that “researchers introduced a mobile application Thursday and a website to help residents easily find Flint water crisis information.” MLive explains that “Mywater-Flint is an Android application and website,, developed by researchers at the University of Michigan’s Flint and Ann Arbor campuses and funded by” The report says that “users can access information regarding Flint’s water crisis including a city-wide map showing where lead has been found in drinking water, where service line workers have replaced infrastructure and where crews currently working.” UM-Flint Assistant Professor Mark Allison said, “It’s not an easy thing to do. … You have to go downtown and pick up a special bottle, and then you have to go drop it off somewhere and the testing process itself is complicated. You can’t just use any pipe in the house. The app tells you how to test it, and exactly where test kits are available.” WXYZ-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Detroit (12/9) also covers this story.

Self-driving Passenger Shuttle Debuts At McIty.

The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/9, Gardner) reported that Navya Technologies, a French company that “has deployed about 30 self-driving vans in France, Switzerland and Australia…has debuted its 15-passenger electric shuttle at Mcity in Ann Arbor this morning.” The Free Press says the “vehicle, the Arma, will be tested and used for tours at the 32-acre simulated village on the University of Michigan’s North Campus.” Carrie Morton, deputy director of the Mobility Transformation Center, which manages Mcity, said the vans “eventually it may be used to transport U-M students if it meets federal motor vehicle safety standards, but there is no specific timetable for that.” The Detroit News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/9) also covers this story.

Clemson Students Developing New Automotive Manufacturing Methods.

WYFF-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Greenville, SC (12/12, Fralick) has an interview with Dr. Laine Mears, the BMW endowed chair in automotive manufacturing at the Carroll Campbell Graduate Education Center. WYFF says that prestigious position comes with a $10 million endowment to do research in automotive manufacturing. Mears says “his students are experimenting with lighter materials to make cars more fuel efficient,” including aluminum, titanium, and magnesium. In addition, students have been tasked with building an mini assembly line and researching new training methods that include methods like virtual reality.

Colorado Researchers Working To Use Beer Wastewater For Natural Battery Electrodes.

The Huffington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13) reports that for every pint of beer that is brewed, “a bucket of water basically goes down an expensive drain.” Researchers in Colorado are “using the sugar-rich wastewater from brewing to produce efficient, naturally-derived lithium-ion battery electrodes that could be used for your smartphone or laptop.” The piece explains the process, and reports that researcher Tyler Huggins “started researching the technique as a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering.”

FDA Approves New Product To Repair Damaged Knee Cartilage.

MedPage Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Gever) reports the Food and Drug Administration has approved MACI, a product “to repair damaged knee cartilage…in which a patient’s own cartilage tissue is engineered to grow on artificial scaffolds and then implanted.” The FDA pointed out that in order to use the product, surgeons “must receive special training.”

The Boston Business Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Subscription Publication) also covers this story.

Facebook Oculus’ CEO To Lead New Virtual Reality Development Unit.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Tharakan) reports Brendan Iribe announced an Oculus Blog Share to FacebookShare to Twitter post published on Tuesday that he will no longer serve as the chief executive of Facebook’s virtual reality division, Oculus. Iribe will instead lead a new division focused on personal computer-powered virtual reality developments. Software head Jon Thomason and Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer will work together to find Iribe’s replacement.

Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Seetharaman, Subscription Publication) reports, Iribe said in addition to the personal computing virtual reality unit, Facebook’s Oculus is also creating a mobile-powered virtual reality division to be led by Thomason. Palmer Luckey, who co-founded Oculus with Iribe prior to its $2 billion Facebook acquisition in 2014, will remain with Oculus in a capacity yet to be announced, according to an Oculus spokeswoman.

CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Nieva) says Iribe commented, “As we’ve grown, I really missed the deep, day-to-day involvement in building a brand new product on the leading edge of technology,” and in his “new role, I can dive back into engineering and product development.” He explained that his focus will be “pushing the state of VR forward with Rift, research and computer vision.” USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Molina) reports Iribe said separating the personal computing and mobile virtual reality divisions will enable faster, more focused, stronger developments in each arena.

The Verge Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Robertson) reports Iribe reiterated, “Facebook is committed to working on VR for the long term, which means building the next great computing platform that allows people to experience anything with anyone and connects the world in bold new ways.” The Verge notes that Oculus chief scientist Michael Abrash will continue to work under Iribe in the personal computer VR unit. Facebook has yet another virtual reality unit focused on social virtual reality, which is investing on 360-degree video and other virtual reality-optional media.

Investor’s Business Daily Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Carson) notes Alphabet’s Google, Samsung, and HTC Vive are also notable players in the virtual reality market, and these three companies recently collaborated with Facebook’s Oculus and Acer to form the Global Virtual Reality Association. According to the GVRA’s website, its goal is to promote “best practices and share them openly,” although it is unclear whether the group is developing technical standards that could improve the technology’s adoption. Additionally, Netflix introduced its new Netflix VR app on Monday to deliver virtual reality content through the Google Daydream View VR headset.


Ahead Of Trump Meeting, IBM Announces Plans To Hire 25,000 In US.

A day before a tech industry summit with President-elect Trump in New York, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said Tuesday that she “plans to hire about 25,000 people in the U.S. and invest $1 billion over the next four years,” Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Cao) reports. Rometty, who “will join Facebook Inc.’s Sheryl Sandberg, Inc.’s Jeff Bezos and Alphabet Inc.’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt” at Wednesday’s summit, is “continuing what is emerging as a formula among technology companies: in conjunction with meetings with Trump in his Manhattan tower, pledge to create jobs and invest billions of dollars in the US, even if the plans had already been in the works since before he was elected.” Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Romm) reported in its “45” blog that an IBM spokesman asked about the timing of the announcement, “said the targets are new and the company is ‘announcing them now as a basis for engaging the incoming administration on how the right policies can create more New Collar opportunities for US workers.’”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Finkle) says IBM spokesman Adam Pratt would not say how the hiring “might be offset by staff reductions or disclose how many people IBM employs in the United States.” Said Pratt, “We expect to end 2016 with our U.S. workforce about the same size as it was at the beginning of the year. By 2020, we expect it to be larger than it is today.”

In an op-ed for USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Rometty), Rometty writes that “lasting job creation will require an understanding of important new dynamics in the global labor market” and highlights what she describes as “‘new collar’ jobs that employers in many industries demand, but which remain largely unfilled.” Rometty says her company is “hiring because the nature of work is evolving – and that is also why so many of these jobs remain hard to fill.” She adds that “jobs are being created that demand new skills – which in turn requires new approaches to education, training and recruiting” and calls for efforts to “reform education, policy and strategic approaches – in the US and around the world – for today’s job opportunities that will build a future of growth and prosperity.”

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Halper, Pierson) describes Trump’s meeting Wednesday with tech CEOs as a “reckoning” at which the executives, who “made little effort over the last year to conceal their distaste” for Trump during the campaign, “will find out how much of a grudge Trump holds.”

Tech Employees Say They Won’t Help Trump Track Muslims, Deport Immigrants. In an open letter Share to FacebookShare to Twitter at, more than 100 employees of tech companies pledged Tuesday not to help the Trump Administration “build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations,” Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Volz) reports. The letter, which “draw[s] comparisons to the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II,” states, “We are choosing to stand in solidarity with Muslim Americans, immigrants, and all people whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the incoming administration’s proposed data collection policies. … We refuse to build a database of people based on their Constitutionally-protected religious beliefs. We refuse to facilitate mass deportations of people the government believes to be undesirable.”

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA Changes Course, Concludes Fracking Can Contaminate Drinking Water.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that the final version of an EPA study first issued in 2015 concludes that “hydraulic fracturing…has contaminated drinking water in some circumstances.” In what the Times describes as a “significant change,” a conclusion from an earlier version, which said the was “no evidence that fracking systemically contaminates water” supplies, was removed from the final version. The report comes as President-elect Trump “has vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Harder, Subscription Publication) says the report is one of several environmentalist-backed moves – including denying a permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline – the Administration has taken during its last weeks in office, adding that the EPA drew fire from industry leaders for changing its conclusion right before President Obama leaves office.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Daly) is less definitive in its coverage, saying that “after six years and more than $29 million,” the EPA “says it doesn’t know” whether fracking is safe or contaminates drinking water. According to the AP, while the new report “said fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances…a lack of information precludes a definitive statement on how severe the risk is.” The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Wolfgang) says the report “does little to settle the debate around the drilling technique.”

Energy Department Refuses Trump Request For Names Of Climate Change Workers.

Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Wolff) reported that a spokesman for the Energy Department said Tuesday that the Department will not furnish the names of Department aides who worked on climate issues to President-elect Trump’s transition team. Among 74 questions the Trump team submitted to the Department last week was a request for “identities of staffers who worked on Obama administration climate policy efforts.” DOE spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder said in an email that the questions “left many in our workforce unsettled,” and added, “We are going to respect the professional and scientific integrity and independence of our employees at our labs and across our department.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Shepardson) says the Department’s refusal “could signal a rocky transition for the president-elect’s energy team and potential friction between the new leadership and the staffers who remain in place,” and the Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Boyer) sees it as “another sign that the transition isn’t proceeding as smoothly as President Obama professes.” The Trump team’s questionnaire also prompted concern from Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, the union for workers at the Department’s Washington headquarters. Reardon said, “My members are upset and have questions about what this means. These are all civil servants who do their jobs. … They have no wish to be caught up in political winds.”

Scientists Try To Preserve Climate Data Amid Fears Trump Administration Will Delete It. The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Dennis) reports that “scientists have begun a feverish attempt” to copy “decades of crucial climate measurements” onto independent servers, fearing the “reams of government data” could “vanish under a hostile Trump administration.” The effort comes as President-elect Trump “has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming,” prompting fears in the scientific community that Trump “could try to alter or dismantle parts of the federal government’s repository of data on everything from rising sea levels to the number of wildfires in the country.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Wonder Lab Helps Jenkins Elementary School To Bridge Technology Gap.

The Hickory (NC) Daily Record Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Bailey) reports on the Wonder Lab, a new tool that will help Jenkins Elementary School students learn about technology. The new facility, which will be STEAM driven, opened on Thursday as part of the school’s “participation in the annual Hour of Code to celebrate Computer Science Education Week.” Hickory Public Schools Teacher of the Year and Jenkins third grade teacher Erica Greer said, “The space is designed to be an extension of the classroom where regular classroom teachers can come in and take the learning to a different level, using technology and creativity.”

ChickTech Receives Grant To Expand Hour Of Code At MCPS.

The Missoulian (MT) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Davis) reports that the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation recently awarded a $1,500 grant to “ChickTech, a nonprofit that encourages girls to pursue careers in technology.” ChickTech plans to use the grant to help with Hour of Code, and further expand coding at Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) by working “with MCPS’ Flagship program this winter to start after-school coding clubs at Lewis and Clark, Franklin, Lowell and Hawthorne elementary schools.”

New York Classrooms To Get New Hands-On Learning Standards.

The Albany (NY) Times Union Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/12, Bump) reports that “next fall, new science learning standards will roll out in New York classrooms that are focused on better preparing students for higher education and careers in fast-growing science, technology, engineering and math fields.” The state Board of Regents approved the standards on Monday, which were developed over five years. The new standards “include a keener emphasis on hands-on learning opportunities and projects that engage students with natural science phenomena,” and are “based on frameworks established by the National Research Council and Achieve Inc.” Supporters anticipate “transition to new science standards won’t generate the same kind of backlash that New York’s transition to Common Core English and math standards suffered several years ago.”

Also in the News

NASA Engineers Troubleshoot Mars Curiosity Glitch.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (12/13, Chang) reports that “engineers are troubleshooting a snag on NASA’s Curiosity” involving a problem with its drill motor that’s “preventing the rover from moving its robotic arm and driving to another spot on Mars.” NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada said, “We’re keeping busy with using the other instruments on the rover while they do these tests.” Prior to the malfunction, Curiosity had been exploring the area around Mars’ Mount Sharp and “surveying the rim of a huge crater near the Martian equator.”

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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