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

Leading the News

Oroville Incident Highlighting Neglect Of Dam Infrastructure.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Nagourney, Fountain, Subscription Publication) reports that engineers and environmentalists say problems similar to that faced by the damaged Oroville Dam this week could recur at many of the roughly 1,585 dams in California, 17 of which are listed in poor condition. The Times reports that “California’s most troubled large dam is at Lake Isabella” and will need to be rebuilt. Officials say the dam, built on a fault line, is safe despite record rains brought by changing weather patterns. The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14) reports that beyond infrastructure neglect, “the Oroville incident is raising what may be an overdue debate over how water managers can better adapt to new climate realities.” Sally Thompson at the University of California-Berkeley said that as more of California’s winter precipitation comes as rain rather than snow, “these kinds of concerns about reservoir capacity will become increasingly urgent.”

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14) reports “scrutiny continued to grow over the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam after it eroded Sunday.” During 2005 relicensing proceedings for the dam, environmental groups asked FERC to order the state to “to armor or otherwise reconstruct the ungated spillway.” Greenwire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Jacobs, Northey, Subscription Publication) also reports.

Some Residents Able To Return As Crews Work To Repair California Dam. ABC World News Tonight (2/14, story 8, 0:20, Muir) reported that crews in Oroville, California are “rushing to fix the heavily damaged spillways” of the country’s tallest dam. While “some evacuated families being allowed to return,” there is “a new warning now that new rain is on the way.” NBC Nightly News (2/14, story 5, 0:25, Holt) and the CBS Evening News (2/14, story 6, 1:05, Pelley) also briefly reported on the repair efforts.

Scholar Says Dam Crisis Highlights Impact Changing Climate On Water Management. Noah S. Diffenbaugh at Stanford University writes for the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Subscription Publication) that the Oroville Dam incident is “the latest reminder that the United States needs a climate-smart upgrade of our water management systems,” which were built when “extremely warm years were less common and snowpack was more reliable.” The wet winter will end California’s drought as the state lost one to three full years of precipitation from 2012 to 2016. Diffenbaugh argues that investments in “climate smart” infrastructure are needed for the “new normal” of today’s weather.

Higher Education

Dartmouth Engineering Professor Recognized For Contribution To Smartphone Cameras.

The Concord (NH) Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Brooks) reports Dartmouth College engineering professor Eric Fossum received the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, “sometimes called the Nobel Prize of engineering,” for his role in developing a “camera on a chip” that enabled imaging systems’ implementation in smartphones. Specifically, Fossum helped replace the charged couple device, or CCD, with the complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor, or CMOS. Fossum discovered CMOS was too “noisy” so, in the 1990s from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he reduced the excess false signals “through a process called intrapixel charge transfer.” The simplicity and obviousness of Fossum’s discovery led him to believe “surely other people have thought of this and it didn’t work.” Fossum said five years of government research and development and then appeals to commercial vendors yielded “nothing,” so he kept it in a spinoff of his Photobit company. When smartphones took on the role of small digital cameras, his creation filled the niche, which Fossum deemed “a very happy coincidence.”

For-Profit Colleges, Investors Optimistic About Trump Administration Reforms.

The Chicago Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Colby) publishes a Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Colby) article that reports since President Trump’s election win in November, for-proft DeVry Education Group’s stock price “has jumped almost 40 percent,” a striking “turnabout for a company that” epitomized “the problems in for-profit classrooms” and in recent years sent both students and investors “running.” Analysts forecast for-profit education companies to prosper under the Administration, and DeVry’s leadership and investors were optimistic about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ confirmation. DeVos, Bloomberg explains, “has long supported directing taxpayer dollars to schools run by for-profit companies, including those operating fully online,” and for-profit schools “rely on federal student loans and grants for as much as 90 percent of their revenue.” DeVry chief executive officer Lisa Wardell was also encouraged by the Administration’s review of a number of regulations under the former Obama Administration that had “unintended consequences,” such as ED’s classification of DeVry’s veterinary program as “in the zone” because of its default rate.

Universities Share Objections To Trump’s Travel Restrictions With Federal Court.

All eight Ivy League universities and a handful of other institutions filed an amicus brief in a federal court on Monday in which they shared their opinion of President Trump’s executive order blocking people from seven predominately-Muslim nations from entering the US, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Neumeister) reports. The universities warned the executive order has “serious and chilling implications” for faculty and students, and has “damaging effects” already “widely felt by American universities.” The universities said in the 2015-16 academic year, international students accounted for over five percent of total enrollment, and nearly a third of those students studied engineering, math, or computer science. The universities also explained the measure prevented international students, faculty, and scholars from gaining an understanding of democratic principles, human rights, and other American values that they can bring with them to their native countries.

Higher Education Adviser Calls For College Accreditation Reform.

In commentary for The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter’s (2/14, Neal, Contributor) “Pundits Blog,” American Council of Trustees and Alumni senior fellow Anne D. Neal accuses the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, or SACS, regional accreditor of embarking on “a rampage” by “meddling with state policymaking and the democratic process in both Kentucky and Alabama.” Neal points to SACS’ interference in the actions of Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevins and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley in higher education issues and says these incidents highlight “a pervasive problem” in accreditation. Neal urges President Trump’s “new task force on higher education regulation” to prioritize “accreditor interference with federalism,” and calls on Congress to “seize the opportunity to hold out-of-control bureaucrats accountable” when it reauthorizes the Higher Education Act. Neal explains a provision in that law “delegates blank check authority to accreditors” and prevents the Education Secretary “from prescribing or restricting any of them,” granting accreditors power “at a level never envisioned by Congress as preconditions for Title IV funding.”

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Research and Development

NASA’s Solar Probe Plus To Weather Harsh Environment Of Sun.

Popular Science Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Graber) reports on the designs that NASA is using for its Solar Probe Plus to protect the spacecraft and its instruments from its planned close encounter with the sun. Scheduled to launch in 2018, the probe will carry four main instruments. One will “make 3D, cat-scan-like images of solar wind and the sun’s atmosphere,” while the others will analyze solar wind, electric and magnetic fields, radio emissions, and shock waves. Spacecraft systems engineer Mary Kae Lockwood explained the features designed to guard those instruments against the heat, radiation, high-energy particles, and solar storms. Heatshield mechanical engineer Beth Congdon said that one of the challenges is controlling for the constant temperature fluctuations the spacecraft will undergo during its elliptical orbit, which the probe’s carbon foam heatshield is designed to mitigate.

DARPA Enters Third Phase Of TERN Long-Range Drone Project.

Popular Science Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/13) reports DARPA on Monday announced it has entered Phase III of its Tacitly Exploited Reconnaissance Node, or TERN, project. Northrop Grumman developed the TERN long-range scouting and air support drone for DARPA, which is collaborating with the Office of Naval Research to supply the US Navy and Marine Corps with a fully-functional “virtual flying scout that can support ships and troops almost anywhere they may be” by 2018. TERN can land without a runway, vertically takes flight like a helicopter, and then transitions in mid-air to take “plane-like horizontal flight.” TERN is expected to have a 690-mile range and 1,000-pound carrying capacity.

Los Alamos Scientists Developing Nuclear Reactors To Power Space Exploration.

R&D Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Atcher) reports Los Alamos National Laboratories, “in partnership with NASA Research Centers and other DOE National Labs, is developing and rapidly maturing a suite of very small fission power sources to meet” the larger power needs required to “enable human space and planetary exploration and establish reliable high bandwidth deep-space communications.” The kiloPower reactors are “based on well-established physics that simultaneously simplifies reactor controls necessary to operate the plant and incorporates inherent safety features that guard against consequences of launch accidents and operational transients.” After several attempts, an “exact replica of the kiloPower core was fabricated at Y-12 with depleted uranium.” A nuclear demonstration test will take place in the late summer or early fall at the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada National Security Site.

NASA Considers Sample-Return Run As Mars 2020 Mission Goal.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Reilly) reports NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is guided by a “follow the water” paradigm, but engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently expanded the mission to include the collection of air, rock, and soil samples to be transported for study on earth. According to the National Research Council in a 2013 report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter, the hypothetical sample-return run “would have significantly higher science return and a much higher science-to-dollar ratio” than other proposed mission alternatives, such as a human launch. The original Mars 2020 mission will cost an estimated $2.4 billion, and the sample-return mission is expected to cost between $6 and $7 billion. Yet, if NASA collaborates with SpaceX, that second mission’s cost could drop to “as little as $300 million.”

Global Developments

World’s Largest Wind-Mapping Project Underway In Portugal.

Scientific American Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/15, Witze) reports an “international team of minders will spend the next five months measuring nearly everything it can about the wind that blows” through a “windswept rural valley in eastern Portugal” for the “world’s most detailed wind-mapping project.” According to Scientific American, the aim of the project, called Perdigão, is “to illuminate fundamental properties of wind flow over complex terrain, to help researchers improve atmospheric computer models and enable engineers to decide where to put wind turbines to get the most energy from them.” Sonia Wharton, a meteorologist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said lessons learned from the Perdigão project “will translate into improved atmospheric models for the entire wind-energy community.”

India Planning To Launch 104 Satellites Today.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Kotoky) reports that today, India’s space agency will attempt to deliver a record 104 satellites into orbit in a single launch as the country “looks to cement its position as the dominant destination for low-cost launches.” The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is scheduled to take off at 9:28 am from Sriharikota carrying nanosatellites from seven countries, including 88 from US-based Planet Labs. Earth2Orbit COO Susmita Mohanty said that the launch represents a “further consolidation of the already well known technological prowess of the Indian space program.” David Todd, head of space content at UK-based Seradata Ltd., explained that nanosat multilaunches “might be a way in to the US launch market” for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its commercial arm Antrix.

Planet’s Constellation To Image Entirety Of Earth’s Landmass Daily. Detailing Planet’s 88 satellites that will launch aboard the PSLV, Wired Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Scoles) reports that “the largest sat fleet ever,” composed of 11-pound devices called “Doves,” will form a constellation that the company says will image “the entire Earth daily” – although Wired notes that a truer claim is that it will image the entirety of Earth’s landmasses daily, not the oceans. Bolstering Planet’s existing network and that of its recent acquisition Terra Bella, the constellation will “track much more of the Earth than massive satellites from military-industrial juggernauts like DigitalGlobe.” Planet will be able to sell the richer data resources that result for more money than its current offerings.

Engineering and Public Policy

Tribes Submit “Last-Ditch” Filing To Stop Dakota Access Pipeline.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Mufson) reports that in “another last-ditch effort to stop completion of the Dakota Access pipeline,” the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes on Tuesday submitted a new filing in Federal court in DC. According to the filing, the Army Corps of Engineers’ actions “in issuing a final easement for the oil pipeline” were “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.” The filing “asks the court to grant a partial summary judgment and vacate that easement.”

West Virginia DEP Will Not Regulate Compressor Noise, Light.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14) reports an engineer in West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Air Quality said the agency will not regulate noise and light from compressors along natural gas pipelines. The West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization said the decision is a disservice to anyone who lives near compressors. The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association told the DEP its Division of Air Quality lacked authority to regulate noise and light.

Climate Scientists Call On FCC To Refrain From Allocating Critical Radio Spectrum.

BuzzFeed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Grandoni) reports private telecommunications company Ligado Network has asked the Federal Communications Commission to allot a share a radio spectrum currently used by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite to communicate weather images and other information to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Virginia’s Wallops Island. The spectrum at issue serves as a buffer between NOAA channels and Ligado’s existing network, and if the FCC grants Ligado that band of radio frequencies, “interference with satellite signals may get worse.” Experts reiterated the critical importance of protecting the channels for transmissions of weather observations to NOAA, private firms, and academic institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin. Ligado claimed its proposed use of the spectrum would have the opposite effect and in fact expand data transmissions to thousands of other scientists. The company proposed a range of solutions to prevent interference and “has attempted to make other inroads in the climate science community,” but those relations still “appear strained.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Georgia Microschool To Focus On STEM Curriculum.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Robinson) reports the 21st Century STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Academy, or 21C, will open this fall in Georgia. The school “is a modern take on the one-room schoolhouse,” and will host “about 100 students from kindergarten through 10th grade within its 4,000 square-foot space.” Attorney Glenn Delk and former college prep school president Gareth Genner co-developed the “microschool” in an attempt to expose students to a research-based STEM curriculum in an individualized, one-on-one instruction setting. Microschools began emerging in Texas, Silicon Valley, and New York City “for most of the past decade,” and Acton Academy, launched in 2009, helped expand the movement to campuses in the US, Guatemala, Honduras, and Malaysia.

XQ Challenge Award Recipient To Open Louisiana High School On Barge.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14, Rolph) reports New Harmony High will open a new school on a floating barge outside of New Orleans in 2018. Enrolled students “will work on projects related to the massive erosion of the state’s coastline.” In 2016, XQ: The Super School Project awarded New Harmony High with one of its $10 million grants; the project awarded a total of 10 schools with grants “to rethink high school in America.” Laurene Powell Jobs, the XQ challenge’s sponsor, originally intended to back five winners through the Emerson Collective philanthropic organization, but after the challenge elicited about 700 proposals, she doubled the number of recipients.

Maine Schools Receive Travel Grants To Help Students Attend Engineering Expo.

The Bristol (VA) Herald Courier Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/14) reports the Maine Engineering Promotional Council will award $500 transportation grants to 16 schools to encourage students to attend the Maine Engineering Expo on March 4. The council said it targeted rural-area schools with several of the grants so students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math can attend the expo.

Tuesday’s Lead Stories

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