Leading the News
FDA Partners With IBM Watson Health To Study How Health Providers Might Use Blockchain Technology.
The Boston Business Journal (1/11, Bartlett, Subscription Publication) reports the Food and Drug Administration “has signed a research initiative” with IBM Watson Health “to research how health providers might use blockchain technology to create a secure, efficient and scalable data exchange.” IBM Watson Health “said the FDA is not providing any funding for the study, and there are no financial implications to the agreement.”
In a paywalled article, STAT (1/11, Keshavan) reports that blockchain technology is “best known for being the basis of cryptocurrency system Bitcoin” and is “meant to bring checks and balances to data, really – decentralizing data as a way to make it immutable and secure.”
Healthcare IT News (1/11, Monegain) reports that the focus will initially be on oncology-related data. IBM and the FDA “said they intend to share initial research findings in 2017 under the two-year agreement.”
Ashland University Receives National Science Foundation Scholarship Grant.
The Richland Source (OH) (1/11) reports that the National Science Foundation “has awarded Ashland University a $650,000 grant as part of a five-year STEM scholarship program that will provide scholarships and academic support for academically talented science students with financial need.” The report explains that the “NSF grant, titled ‘Science Scholars Program: Opening the Science Career Pipeline Through Enhanced Engagement and Support,’ begins Jan. 15 and runs through Dec. 31, 2021, and provides funds to create a ‘Science Scholars Program’ allowing students pursing undergraduate degrees in a natural science discipline to receive scholarship and academic support designed to engage, retain and graduate these academically talented students.” AU Provost Dr. Eun-Woo Change said, “This grant will allow us to provide renewable scholarships to outstanding incoming students with financial need who want to major in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, environmental science, geology, physics or toxicology.”
Montana Schools Struggling To Provide Dual Credit Opportunities.
An article in the Billings (MT) Gazette (1/11) describes the challenges that Montana schools face in providing dual credit opportunities to high school students. The piece explains that there must be sufficient demand to fill out a class, and that AP teachers require different certifications than do other dual credit teachers. The piece explains that the biggest challenges may be finding certified teachers and “working out relationships between universities and high schools.”
Number Of Older Student Loan Borrowers Quadruples In Recent Years.
The New York Times (1/11, Subscription Publication) reports that while most student loan consumers are young adults, “the number of older Americans with education loans has quadrupled in the last decade.” Many of these seniors complain about the impact of “difficulties with loan servicers” according to a new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau report, which says that “Americans age 60 and older are the fastest-growing group of student loan borrowers.”
Research and Development
NSF Considers Reducing Funding For Arecibo Observatory.
Scientific American (1/11, Witze) reports that “the storied Arecibo Observatory, an enormous aluminum dish nestled in a Puerto Rican sinkhole, might soon find itself out of the science game.” The report explains that the US National Science Foundation, “which owns the observatory, wants to offload the facility to free up money for newer ones” and, “in the coming weeks, it will ask for ideas about how Arecibo might be managed if the NSF reduces its current US$8.2-million annual contribution.” Meanwhile, Arecibo advocates have “pressed their case at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Grapevine, Texas – arguing that Arecibo is putting out some of the best science it has ever done, and that the NSF is moving too quickly to divest itself of an astronomical treasure.”
Pittsburgh Supercomputer “Bridges” Debuts At Poker Tournament.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (1/10, Erdley) reported that, “named for its home in the city of bridges and its potential to be a bridge for researchers working on new developments in a diverse range of disciplines, Bridges is the latest offspring of the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center.” The report says, “scheduled to be available to scientists, academicians and corporate researchers through 2019, the supercomputer makes its public debut at a man-versus-machine poker tournament beginning Wednesday at Rivers Casino.” The Tribune-Review points out that “the National Science Foundation underwrote development of the supercomputer, which came about in phases and cost $17.2 million.” The report explains that “the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University since 1986, is among a handful of academic supercomputing centers across the country NSF is equipping for such work.”
Duke University Scientists Hack Deep Brain Stimulation Treatment For Parkinson’s.
Motherboard (1/6, Rogers) reported that that while deep brain stimulation has been used to treat Parkinson’s disease for years, “researchers at Duke University recently used a computer model to hack deep brain stimulation, making it more efficient and safer, according to a study published in Science Translational Medicine this week.” The report explains that “a team of researchers at Duke Medical led by David Brocker have come up with a possible improvement to DBS: alternating the frequency of the electrical pulses, not in a random way, but using a pattern generated by an advanced computer model.” Motherboard says tests found “the computer-generated pattern of electrical pulses was just as effective as the standard, constant-blast approach. And it did so while using less energy: the researchers estimated patients would get an additional 3.9 years of battery life using the computer’s pattern versus the typical, constant stream approach.”
Faurecia Developing Automotive Seats For Self-Driving Cars.
The Detroit Free Press (1/11, Witsall) reports French automotive supplier Faurecia is “anticipating that the next generations of vehicles will be autonomous, freeing drivers to focus on more than the road.” The company has started to design and engineer “automotive seats and interiors that are more comfortable, safer and smarter.” In one demonstration at the Detroit auto show, “which the company calls Active Wellness 2.0, eight sensors – in the dashboard and seats – gather about a dozen data points including heartbeat, breathing, sweat, facial expression, blinking, and whether your eyes are open.” Company officials this data could be used to help with driving or enhance comfort and safety. The system could also “interact with mobile apps and be useful as the auto industry develops more connectivity.”
Neural Analytics Receives $3 Million NIH Grant For Portable Brain-Monitoring Platform.
Healio (1/11) reports Neural Analytics “announced it has received a $3 million NIH grant for a clinical validation study to evaluate its portable brain-monitoring platform.” The grant is supported by the NIH’s Small Business Innovation Research program.
US Army To Research 3D-Printing UAVs From Deployed Positions.
The Daily Mail (1/11, Libertore) reports the US Army is looking to create a 3D-printing system which allows for printing and laser cutting of UAVs from a deployed location. The units, according to the developers, “can be manufactured within 24 hours, with a total turnaround time of less than three days.” BAE Systems’ Chemputer, which would cut UAV production time from years to weeks, is mentioned as a similar “futuristic vision of warfare.”
Taiwan’s NARLabs Displays Typhoon-Monitoring UAS.
The China Post (1/12, Liu) reports that in its “first-ever exhibit on Wednesday to showcase the practical innovations it had been developing for the past few years,” Taiwan’s National Applied Research Laboratories’ (NARLabs) “most eye-catching” display was for “the Taiwan Typhoon and Flood Research Institute’s (TTFRI) Aerosonde MK 4.7” UAS. The 2.2 meters-long waterproof plane “can fly directly into the eye of a typhoon to gather relevant information about air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind direction, and wind speed.” The Institute “will officially start using the aircraft this year after a series of successful tests conducted last year.”
Participants At AIAA Panel Discuss Aerospace Industry Role In Geoengineering.
Inverse (1/11, Ronson) reports that at a panel discussion hosted by AIAA on Tuesday, participants discussed “the role of aerospace industries in potential geoengineering projects, especially solar radiation management schemes that would seek to block out some of the sun[‘s] light in order to cool the planet.” In a separate article on the AIAA panel, Inverse (1/11) reports that the “US government formally acknowledged the potential need to engineer the climate to mitigate global warming for the first time this week, opening the door to federal research funding in this area.”
Six Volkswagen Executive Indicted As Company Agrees To Pay $4.3B To Settle Criminal, Civil Probes.
Reuters (1/11, Shepardson, Cremer) reports that Volkswagen has agreed to a $4.3 billion settlement to resolve the US government’s civil and criminal investigations into the German automaker’s diesel emissions cheating. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and EPA chief Gina McCarthy will announce the settlement on Wednesday. A second Reuters (1/11, Shepardson) story reports prosecutors charged six Volkswagen executives and employees for their roles in the nearly 10-year conspiracy to cheat emissions tests. According to filings, VW will pay a $1.5-billion civil fine and $2.8-billion criminal fine. “It would have faced higher fines if it hadn’t agreed to spend an estimated $11 billion to address consumer vehicles.” VW admitted that six unnamed supervisors agreed to mislead regulators and customers about the standards, and DOJ said VW officials told engineers to destroy a document that detailed the cheating. “VW will face oversight by an independent monitor for three years and has agreed to make significant reforms.” The Financial Times (1/11, Lynch, Subscription Publication) reports the six indictments represent a validation of a DOJ strategy launched in September 2015 to target individual executives in corporate crime prosecutions. Five of the six indicted are in Germany, which doesn’t typically extradite its citizens. The Washington Examiner (1/11, Pappas) quotes EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy saying that “serious crimes have serious consequences.” According to the EPA, the pollutants emitted “are linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses that can cause premature death.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Interior Report Indicates Changes To Coal Program.
The AP (1/11, Brown) writes that a preliminary report of an Interior Department “broad review of US coal sales” indicated the agency is considering raising coal royalty rates and requiring mining companies offers compensation “to offset the climate change effects of burning the fuel.” Federal investigators and members of Congress have complained that coal sales from public lands were “shortchanging taxpayers.” Outgoing Interior Secretary Jewell said publicly owned coal is being bought at a fraction of the cost of coal from private reserves. The agency currently has a moratorium on new coal sales, but President-elect Trump has promised to end it. However, Jewell suggested lawsuits, presumably by environmentalists, challenging any reversals of her reforms could use the report’s findings. The Washington Post (1/11, Eilperin, Mooney) writes the department’s report calls for more analysis on “how the federal coal program contributes to climate change, whether taxpayers are getting a good return on the program and other matters,” and with Trump’s vow to increase coal extraction, it is “unlikely the incoming administration will heed any of the new recommendations.”
Moniz Says Any Attempt To Revive Yucca Won’t Be Successful.
The AP (1/11) reports Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz signaled on Wednesday that “any effort to revive the long-dormant nuclear waste dump at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain is doomed to fail because the project lacks support from elected officials in the state.” Moniz said the battle over where to dispose of nuclear waste in the US has shown him that “a consent-based approach is the only way we’re going to get across the finish line.” President-elect Donald Trump has not “indicated a clear position on Yucca.” The Hill (1/11, Cama, Henry) reports “Republicans and the nuclear industry are optimistic that he’ll let it move forward.”
The Las Vegas Review-Journal (1/11, Martin) reports in address to the National Press Club, Moniz “said congressional mandates in the 1980s that the Department of Energy develop Yucca Mountain as a storage site curbed research, development and other selection of other locations to store waste generated by nuclear reactors.” He contended “there needs to be a different process is needed to build federal, state and local support for nuclear waste storage facilities, and the process should involving seeking willing participants.” Following the address while speaking to reporters, Moniz said, “We believe a consent-based approach is the only way to get across the finish line.” Nevada’s congressional delegation, meanwhile, “filed legislation on Wednesday that would require the Energy Department to secure consent from a governor, local governments and Native American tribal leaders to authorize construction of a repository in any state.” Trump’s choice to head DOE, former Gov. Rick Perry, “would be instrumental in the decision-making process of nuclear waste disposal in the next administration.” The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico (1/11) previewed Moniz’s appearance at the National Press Club.
Arizona Solar Plant To Power PayPal, ASU.
The Arizona Republic (1/11, Randazzo) reports Arizona Public Service Co. yesterday “dedicated a $90 million solar power plant” near Tucson “that will supply power for PayPal and Arizona State University.” ASU and PayPal “entered an agreement with APS to purchase the power from the 40-megawatt Red Rock Power Plant.” The company and the school “will pay a premium for the renewable-energy credits from the plant in a deal approved by utility regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission.”
New York Community Wind Project Stalled For 11 Years.
POLITICO New York (1/11, French) highlights the planned seven-turbine 16-megawatt Black Oaks Wind Farm in upstate New York which has been delayed for 11 years. “The experience of the Black Oaks Wind Farm, which would be the first community-funded wind project in the state, illustrates the challenges facing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to move the state to 50 percent renewable electricity by 2030.” Marguerite Wells, a local resident spearheading the project, said, “I don’t see a path forward with community wind because it’s too easy to kill.”
Minnesota Solar Capacity Grew By 250 MW In 2016.
The AP (1/11) reports Minnesota’s solar energy capacity grew by 250 megawatts in 2016. Minnesota Public Radio News “reports Chisago County has more solar capacity that any other county in the state.”
Camacho: Teaching Our Kids About Technology Will Secure Our Economic Future.
In an op-ed for The Hill’s (1/11) “Pundits Blog,” Greater Phoenix Economic Council President and CEO Chris Camacho says that education programs coming out of the new administration “need to be flexible, allowing teachers to approach learning from new and thought provoking ways.” Through industry exposure, Camacho says, “a focus on technical trades and integration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning, for example, educators can employ applied learning methods to connect students with real world experiences.” While technology advancements “have long been blamed for displacing traditional jobs,” educators “need to be teaching our students to understand these technologies and how to work with them” and “continue to develop critical thinkers who will drive the future economy and U.S. global competitiveness.”
JPMorgan Chase Gives $20 Million In CTE Grants To States.
Catherine Gewertz writes at the Education Week (1/11) “High School and Beyond” blog that JPMorgan Chase & Co. has announced that it has given 10 states a total of $20 million in grants “to build comprehensive career-and-technical-education systems in collaboration with industries in their states” through its New Skills for Youth initiative. The banking giant is working with the Council of chief State School Officers and Advance CTE “to evaluate states’ plans and support them as they move forward.”
Politico Morning Education (1/11) reports the states are Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
Several media outlets also cover this story from a state level, including the Wilmington (DE) News Journal (1/11, Goss), the Providence (RI) Journal (1/11), the Providence (RI) Business News (1/11), the Talequah (OK) Daily Press (1/11), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (1/11), WWLP-TV Springfield, MA (1/11), KATC-TV Lafayette, LA (1/11), the Las Vegas Review-Journal (1/11), Chalkbeat (1/11), and WDRB-TV Louisville, KY (1/11).
Minnesota, North Dakota Students Preview New Robotics Challenge Game Field.
The Park Rapids (MN) Enterprise (1/11, Geisen) reports that robotics teams from 17 schools in Minnesota and North Dakota traveled to Nevis, Minnesota for the kickoff of the 2017 Northern Minnesota FIRST Robotics Competition. Students “learned the details of this year’s robotics challenge and viewed one of the only official game fields in northern Minnesota.”
Wednesday’s Lead Stories
• Volkswagen Reaches Tentative $4.3 Billion Deal With US Over Emissions Cheating.
• ED: All Schools Accredited By Shunned ACICS Meet Deadline To Retain Federal Aid Rights.
• Vancouver Utility To Pilot System For Turning Wastewater Into Fuel.
• Tech Companies Trying Affirmative Action Hiring But Under Other Names.
• Fitbit Acquires Vector Smart Watches.
• Two New “Clean Coal” Projects Launched In US.
• Pennsylvania Outreach Center Invites Pre-K Students To STEM Event.