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

Leading the News

Volkswagen Reaches Tentative $4.3 Billion Deal With US Over Emissions Cheating.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Ewing, Tabuchi, Subscription Publication) reports that Volkswagen said on Tuesday that it “has reached a deal with the United States government to pay $4.3 billion to resolve a federal criminal investigation into its cheating on emissions tests.” The automaker has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges as part of the settlement. The Times adds that the agreement “is not yet official, as the company’s management board must still approve it.” The $4.3 billion settlement “includes both criminal and civil fines, and the civil part of the fines include environmental and customs-related penalties.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Overly) reports that after the settlement is approved by the firm’s management and board of directors, it must then be approved in federal court. The settlement “comes three months after a US District judge signed off on a separate settlement that requires Volkswagen to pay regulators and car owners $14.7 billion – the largest penalty levied against an automaker in US history.” Most of that money “will be used to buy back cars and otherwise compensate affected customers; smaller portions are allocated for efforts to mitigate the environmental damage and promote zero-emission cars.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Boston, Spector, Viswanatha, Subscription Publication) reports that Volkswagen said in a statement that it had agreed to a draft settlement with the Justice Department and US customs authorities. The Journal adds that sources said the automaker is expected to plead guilty to charges of conspiring to defraud the US, commit wire fraud and violate the Clean Air Act, as well as obstruction of justice and violating import rules.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Bomey) notes that federal prosecutors on Monday charged Volkswagen general manager Oliver Schmidt “for allegedly conspiring to cheat regulations,” and adds that “it was not immediately clear whether any additional VW executives would be charged.” The FBI probe “has centered on two unidentified cooperating witnesses and a third VW worker, James Liang, who pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday.” USA notes that Volkswagen “still faces a criminal investigation in Germany, as well,” and that the company “recently agreed to separate civil settlements worth about $17 billion for US consumers and dealers who own diesel vehicles affected by the scandal, authorizing buybacks and free fixes.”

Higher Education

ED: All Schools Accredited By Shunned ACICS Meet Deadline To Retain Federal Aid Rights.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports that ED recently announced that all of the schools that were accredited by the embattled Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools have met a December 31 deadline to file paperwork “with the department to retain their federal aid eligibility for 18 months while seeking a new accreditor.” The piece explains that last month, ED made the final decision to withdraw recognition from the “controversial national accrediting agency that oversaw Corinthian Colleges, ITT and other failed for-profits.”

Charlotte School Of Law To Reopen Despite Lack Of Accreditation.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Fain) reports that last week, Charlotte School of Law told its students that it will reopen next week despite losing access to federal financial aid. The American Bar Association, citing admissions policy, curriculum, and bar exam passage rate problems, placed the for-profit law school on probation, and ED in December suspended its federal aid access because of accreditation issues and for misrepresentations made to students. Charlotte School of Law told its students that it will “bridge financing” no longer available to them through federal sources through other avenues, such as private loans.

Maryland Governor Calls For Student Loan-Interest Tax Credit, Capping Public College Tuition.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Wiggins) reports that Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who faces reelection in 2018, on Tuesday said “that he plans to ask the General Assembly to consider making interest on student loans tax-deductible and capping tuition increases at state colleges and universities at 2 percent.” Announcing the proposals during a visit to the University of Maryland, Hogan “said nearly 60 percent of college students are graduating with student debt that averages more than $27,000. The loan-interest tax-credit program, which would be available to state residents earning less than $200,000 and couples earning less than $250,000, would cost about $20 million each year.”

The Baltimore Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports that the state legislature would have to sign off on Hogan’s plan, which comes as he “must close an estimated budget gap of more than a half-billion dollars.” Hogan said he believes “his plan will be popular with Maryland residents and therefore will have bipartisan support in the Democratic-dominated legislature.” The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Dishneau) and WTTG-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Washington (1/10) also cover this story.

Colleges Introduce Free Graduate Tuition To Entice Students.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Melia) reports a select few private universities introduced tuition-free graduate school to undergraduate students in an effort to boost enrollment, but the strategy remains “unusual” compared to joint-degree programs. The University of St. Joseph in Connecticut and Clark University in Massachusetts have implemented free graduate tuition incentive, and both schools reported high levels of student participation and retention in those programs. For students who have determined a career path early on, said Bob Collins of Western Governors University, the concept makes sense; however, students coming out of high school may need more time to explore possible degrees and determine whether an advanced degree justifies the indirect expenses and extra time.

Federal Judge Espouses Tenure System As Means To Protect Academic Freedom.

In a Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) op-ed, Judge José A. Cabranes of the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit says “academic tenure is essential to democracy itself” because tenure enables “professors to pursue the truth and teach it without fear of retaliation.” Cabranes accuses university campus administrators of becoming “civility police” who incorrectly target “uncivil” speech in their efforts to make campuses safe, specifically efforts that can result in professors’ removal because of their beliefs. Cabranes uses Yale University, where he served as a trustee and as its first general counsel, as an example.

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Research and Development

Vancouver Utility To Pilot System For Turning Wastewater Into Fuel.

In a “Nova Next” article on its website, PBS Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports public water utility Metro Vancouver in British Columbia “plans to pilot a system” for transforming its wastewater into “potentially carbon-neutral fuel and clean, sterile water as practically the only byproducts.” The process was developed by US-based Genifuel Corporation “in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).” An “independent assessment” of the system was then “performed by PNNL under the supervision of engineers from technical consulting company Leidos, Inc,” PBS explains.

Report Assesses Global Nano UAV Market.

In a press release carried by WhaTech Channel (AUS) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10), Deep Research Reports announces the release of its “2016 Global Nano UAV Drones Market Report,” which provides an overview of “development trends, competitive landscape analysis, and key regions development status” for the market. According to the report, the “key manufacturers” in the Nano UAV market are “Parrot SA, 3D Robotics Inc., Microdrones GmbH, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., Aerovironment Inc., Elbit Systems, Ltd., DA-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology, BAE Systems.”

Venus Researchers Look Past NASA Discovery Program Rejections.

Following NASA selecting proposals focused on asteroids for its two Discovery program missions, Ars Technica Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports that planetary scientists who study Venus are looking for other research options after their two finalist submissions were rejected. NASA has had no presence on Venus since 1994. Options for future exploration include NASA’s New Frontiers mission, announced in December, “which will provide about $1 billion in funding for a launch in 2025,” enough to fund a mission to Venus. NASA is also consideration potentially working with Russia to continue the missions of country’s Venera program that had studied the planet in the past.

Researchers Use Metal Organic Frameworks To Create Novel Wound Dressings.

BBC News (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) features video reporting online of BBC Scotland’s science correspondent Ken MacDonald investigating “pioneering research at St Andrews University” into Metal organic frameworks (MOFs) that “could lead to a new generation of medical devices which prevent infection and improve healing.” BBC explained MOFs “contain microscopic holes and can be coated in a porous powder loaded with antibacterial and healing agents,” which then “could be used to make new types of wound dressings and help tackle hospital acquired infections.” MOFgen CEO Yvonne Davies touted her company’s research into the devices.

Grijalva Rallies Democrats Against Stream Protection Rule, Methane Rule Rollbacks.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Henry) reports that Rep. Raúl Grijalva is urging his party to stop Republican leaders from slashing two Obama-era environmental standards, the EPA’s coal rule aimed at protecting small waterways from damage during the mining process, and the Interior Department’s methane regulations. The E&E (1/10) reports that on Monday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva said in a letter to Democrats, “For the past eight years, the Republican Party has echoed the anti-regulatory talking points of the fossil fuel industry. But now instead of simply attacking President Obama’s agenda, they are preparing to actually repeal health, safety, fiscal, and environmental protections that President Obama provided the American people.”

Meanwhile, Natural Gas Intelligence Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Subscription Publication) reports that “House Republicans are working on ‘a larger bill’ to block final rules on methane emissions – and possibly others – from taking effect after one GOP lawmaker’s plan to invoke a rare parliamentary procedure to block the rules failed because too much time elapsed since their introduction.” Last Friday, Rep. Scott Perry “introduced HJ Res. 22, which calls on Congress to invoke the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to block three final rules for methane emissions from new oil and gas wells.”

White House Urges Research On Geoengineering For First Time.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Fountain, Subscription Publication) reports a White House road map for federally funded climate research “has for the first time recommended research into geoengineering.” The report by the US Global Change Research Program calls for studies related to “distributing chemicals in the atmosphere to reflect more heat-producing sunlight away from the earth, and removing carbon dioxide from the air so the atmosphere traps less heat.” The recommendations “face an uncertain future” under the Trump administration, bu the concept of geoengineering “stirs controversy that goes beyond partisan politics” as opponents question the risks.

Cuomo Urges LIPA To Back Offshore Wind Project.

Newsday (NY) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Harrington) reports that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in an State of the State address on Tuesday urged LIPA to approve Deepwater Wind’s offshore wind farm off Montauk “and said the state would commit to other offshore projects that would place hundreds of turbines in federal waters off the Long Island coast by 2030.” The story notes Deepwater Wind is proposing another offshore project to LIPA that would bring 210 megawatts of wind power to Long Island. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports Cuomo said New York should commit to developing up to 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, adding the wind farms can be built so they wouldn’t be visible from shore.

Eversource Gets Massachusetts Approval For Solar Projects, Seeks Sites.

The Boston Globe Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Vaccaro) reports that Eversource Energy has received approval to build at least a dozen solar energy facilities in Massachusetts, “allowing it to take advantage of a change in state law that permits utilities to generate more solar power on their own.” Eversource “plans to hone in on a list of proposed sites by May, and they may require municipal approval.”


Tech Companies Trying Affirmative Action Hiring But Under Other Names.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Huet) reports that “Tracy Chou wrote a post on Medium in October 2013, challenging tech companies to tell the world what percentage of their software engineers were women.” Bloomberg says that in response “Google, Apple, Facebook and others published their lopsided race and gender statistics” but since then “their diversity has only increased a few percentage points – or, in some cases, dropped.” The report says “most companies’ first response was to try to make their hiring processes more ‘blind’” but now “some companies want to do more than cover their eyes.” Bloomberg explains that “some companies are embracing affirmative action hiring, even if they are careful to call it something else.” Y-Vonne Hutchinson, a diversity consultant, said “companies are looking for a policy that ‘looks like that, talks like that, but isn’t perceived as that.’”

Boeing Internal Memo Details More Intended Layoffs.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Scott) reports that according to an internal Boeing Co. memo the news service has seen, the company “warned on Tuesday that it will conduct involuntary layoffs of engineers, part of a cost-cutting drive as the aerospace and defense company responds to increasing competition amid slowing aircraft sales.” The reductions “also include dozens of job categories eligible for voluntary layoffs in Washington state, southern California and South Carolina.” The company “did not indicate the number of reductions…planned.”

Industry News

Fitbit Acquires Vector Smart Watches.

A Fitbit spokesperson told MarketWatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) Tuesday that Fitbit has acquired “special assets” from “Vector Watch, a European wearables company,” for an undisclosed price. According to TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10), the Vector startup “carved out a very credible slot in the ‘affordable luxury’ smart watch sector,” originating from the combination of “engineering talent in Central Europe’s Romania, with the business smarts of London and former executives from Citizen watches.” Engadget Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports Fitbit will be “integrating Vector’s hardware and software know-how into its own organization,” which means “Vector, as a brand, will die off.” USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Molina) reports the Vector acquisition comes only one month after Fitbit reached a deal to purchase software and firmware development assets from smartwatch maker Pebble.

Amazon Among Leading Smart Home Device Manufacturers.

According to a market research report from Juniper, CNET News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Kerr) reports that Amazon, Google, Apple and Samsung are leading sales in smart home devices. The firm calls those companies “the ‘Big Four,’” and predicts “they’ll ‘further solidify their positions’ as leaders” over the course of the next few years. Other data released by the firm suggests the smart home hardware and services industry will reach $83 billion in 2017.

Engineering and Public Policy

Two New “Clean Coal” Projects Launched In US.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10, Mooney) reports the energy firm NRG Energy and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. opened the Petra Nova “clean coal” project near Houston in September. According to executives at NRG and JX Nippon, the plant can capture over one million tons of carbon dioxide per year. Mississippi Power is expected to open Kemper Plant, a similar carbon dioxide-capturing plant, on Jan. 31. While both plants strip carbon dioxide out of the coal combustion process, Kemper does so before burning the coal, and Petra Nova after. These and other “clean coal” processes, collectively referred to as “CCS,” have been praised by the International Energy Agency and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as critical to offset man-made greenhouse gas emissions, and the Petra Nova plant is financially supported by the Energy Department.

WPost Urges Maryland Not To Ban Fracking.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) calls on Maryland’s lawmakers to finalize rules on hydraulic fracking instead of “indulging unfounded anti-fracking absolutism.” The Post argues that carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced at a reasonable cost to successfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and says fracking “has made the fuel very affordable, and substituting gas for coal has reduced carbon and other pollution.” The Post says Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s belief that fracking is dangerous is not unfounded and supports his push for “serious regulation” but adds that Hogan’s other costly, micromanaging measures may not even reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Pennsylvania Outreach Center Invites Pre-K Students To STEM Event.

On its website, WHTM-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Harrisburg, PA (1/10, Lanyon) reports Pennsylvania’s Whitaker Center is hosting a “Mini-Adventure Day” on Jan. 21 to inspire an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM, in Harrisburg-area pre-K students. In an online video, Whitaker Center president and CEO Dr. Michael L. Haines discussed the organization’s STEM programs and the event’s sponsor, PNC.

New York School Renovates Library, Media Center For STEM Curriculum.

The Herkimer (NY) Times Telegram Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/9, Sorrell-White) reports Herkimer Elementary School in New York renovated the library and remodeled the high media center to coincide with educators’ focus on a STEM, or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, curriculum. Students participate in hands-on projects that are not graded and aimed at introducing students to 21st century learning skills; some students are introduced to apps for the first time at the media center. Herkimer media center teacher Leah Peyton explained, “STEM careers are expected to grow at a much faster rate than non-STEM careers,” and “STEM education creates critical thinkers, increases science and math literacy, and enables the next generation of innovators.”

Mississippi School District Approves $2 Million Bond For Career And Technical Education Facility.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (1/10) reports Mississippi voters in the Baldwyn School District approved with 85 percent support a $2 million bond on Thursday. The bond will fund a career and technical education facility to be constructed on the district’s high school campus.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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