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

Leading the News

Astronomers Announce Discovery Of Seven Potentially-Habitable Exoplanets.

ABC World News Tonight (2/22, story 12, 0:20, Muir) reported that on Wednesday, NASA announced the “major discovery” of the “first known system of seven Earth-sized planets, all orbiting a nearby star.” Three of the planets “are in the habitable zone,” according to astronomers, making the discovery “a huge step in the search for life.” CBS Evening News (2/22, story 9, 0:40, Mason) showed NASA Astrophysicist Thomas Zurbuchen saying that the “discovery gives us a hint that finding a second earth is not just a matter of if but when.” CBS’ Chip Reid explained that the planets, at 39 light-years away, are “close enough that when the James Webb Space Telescope is launched next year, it will be able to analyze the planets’ atmospheres, a big step towards answering the question, ‘are we alone?’” NBC Nightly News (2/22, story 9, 1:50, Holt) showed Tiffany Kataria of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory saying that some of the planets “could potentially be rocky and some of them could have water envelopes.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Hotz, Subscription Publication) reports that European astronomers detailed their findings in the journal Nature. According to the scientists, the discovery of the seven exoplanets orbiting the nearby Trappist-1 dwarf star adds to evidence that billions of such exoplanets could exist in our galaxy, increasing the chances for the existence of life beyond Earth. While observations indicated that six of the planets could be warm enough to harbor liquid water on their surfaces, the astronomers noted that observations did not allow for direct detection of water or atmospheric conditions conducive to habitability. NASA’s more powerful James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, could enable the detection of such atmospheric compounds suggestive of life. On its website, USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) features a video detailing how the researchers used NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to study the dwarf star and its planets.

Higher Education

Mae Jemison Discusses Women, Minorities In Science Through Bayer’s “Making Science Make Sense” Program.

On “All Things Considered,” NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) interviews Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space and distinguished guest of Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense program. Dr. Jemison discusses efforts to encourage more women to enter science careers. Dr. Jemison also references a Bayer Making Science Make Sense survey of women and minority members of the American Chemical Society that found 40 percent of those surveyed were discouraged by a professor in college from studying science.

Pew Report Determines States Do Not Assess Federal Higher Education Funding.

The Pew Charitable Trusts released a report examining why “there is no effort to coordinate spending and tax policies” among deductions and exemptions at federal and state levels to assist families saving and paying for college, the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Douglas-Gabriel) reports. Pew estimated federal spending for college education tax credits reached $35 billion in 2014, indicating “most states are unaware of the full scope of their support of higher education.” While states ordinarily do not have data on higher education tax benefit costs, Pew determined such provisions “are a significant share of the support those states direct to families.” Phil Oliff, the report’s author, “argues that at the very least an effective integration of tax policies” into the Trump Administration’s changes “will require looking at spending and tax provisions as a single government investment.”

Engineering Research Council Meeting
Register now for this event, where ASEE members delve into the federal research funding world, hearing directly from staff at NSF, NIH, DoD, and others. This short video explains why attendance is valuable.

Start Smart with “Smart Start”
Researchers and innovators will want to be in this FREE, two-week course to improve STEM education in both formal and informal settings, at all levels. The course kicks off at the ASEE Annual Conference in June. Learn more and apply here.

NEW Report on Engineering Technology Education
The report, from the National Academy of Engineering, was written with the input of several ASEE members. It is available online for free.

Research and Development

Office Of Scientific Research Funds “Bird-Inspired Morphing Vehicles” Research.

The PBS NOVA Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Choi) reports new aircraft wings draw inspiration from early Wright brothers models in a biomimicry blend called “morphing wings” that helps reduce fuel consumption. A $6 million grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research will fund Daniel Inman, chair of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and colleagues to research “bird-inspired morphing vehicles” and “piezoelectric materials that convert electricity into physical movement as well as shape memory alloys.”

NASA Upgrades Lessons Learned Database With Graphing Tool.

Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Marr) reports that NASA has improved the functionality of its “vast, constantly updated” Lessons Learned database by moving to a graph-based, open source Neo4J management system. The interface “was becoming unwieldy” when based solely on a PageRank-style algorithm, and Chief Knowledge Architect David Meza explained that the move to Neo4j and its graphing capabilities has made “it easier to see patterns and see how things connect,” significantly cutting down on the time engineers and mission planners spend searching keyword-based results.

Ford To Pursue Level 4 Autonomous Vehicles After Tests Revealed Sleeping Engineers.

Mashable Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Hinchliffe) reports Ford has decided its self-driving cars will skip Level 3, in which human drivers are expected to take control if necessary, to Level 4, in which “cars are basically fully autonomous except for extreme conditions,” after company engineers fell asleep during tests, “lulled into a false sense of security with nothing much to do while driving Level 3 cars.” Ford Product Development Chief Raj Nair told Automotive News, “These are trained engineers who are there to observe what’s happening…But it’s human nature that you start trusting the vehicle more and more and that you feel you don’t need to be paying attention.” A Ford spokesman denied the occurrences, but confirmed Ford would pursue production of Level 4 autonomous vehicles.

Cloud Computing Continues Growing, But Estimates Vary On Rate.

Fortune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Darrow) reports research firm Gartner projects “overall demand for cloud computing…will grow 18% this year to $246.8 billion in total worldwide revenue from $209.2 billion,” with demand for public cloud infrastructure services “expected to grow a whopping 36.8% this year to $34.6 billion in revenue worldwide.” Gartner expects the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) segment, “in which business applications are delivered to customers over the Internet, should grow about 20% to $46.3 billion” in the period. Fortune adds, “because that market is maturing, Gartner sees its growth rate slowing a bit.” Fortune notes figures on cloud computing often “vary considerably depending on the source, partly because definitions of what defines public cloud or cloud in general differ.” However, SaaS companies’ migration to “public cloud resources from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Google is an interesting wrinkle in the overall cloud landscape and could further fuel the growth of public cloud infrastructure providers.”

Researchers Demonstrate How Data Can Be Stolen From Air-Gapped Computers By Reading LED Pulses.

EurekAlert Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reports researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Cyber Security Research Center “have demonstrated that data can be stolen from an isolated ‘air-gapped’ computer’s hard drive” by “reading the pulses of light on the LED drive using various types of cameras and light sensors.” Researchers demonstrated in a paper “how data can be received by a Quadcopter drone flight, even outside a window with line-of-sight of the transmitting computer.” Center R&D head Dr. Mordechai Guri is quoted saying, “Our method compared to other LED exfiltration is unique, because it is also covert. … The hard drive LED flickers frequently, and therefore the user won’t be suspicious about changes in its activity.”

Global Developments

French Military Studying Using Eagles To Counter UAS Threat.

MeriTalk Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reports that with growing threats from UAS, including terror groups arming commercial UAS and Iran claiming to reverse-engineer a captured Boeing Insitu ScanEagle, France is taking an unusual approach to counter-UAS research by opting “for a low-tech, yet almost foolproof solution—golden eagles.” The country’s military “is training four golden eagles to intercept drones,” has already successfully demonstrated their capabilities, and has “ordered another brood of chicks” for the program.

Industry News

Tesla Senior Project Manager Listed Among “Most Powerful Female Engineers Of 2017.”

Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Bort) profiles the “most powerful female engineers of 2017,” including Tesla Renewable Energy Development Senior Manager Julia Collignon. The article reports Collignon was “brought in as a project manager” for Tesla’s Powerpack when Southern California Edison wanted an energy storage project completed “in a mere three months.” Collignon “led the engineering procurement and construction” for the project.

Aerojet Rockedtyne To Acquire Coleman Aerospace.

Space News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Subscription Publication) reports that on Wednesday, Aerojet Rockedtyne announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire Coleman Aerospace from L3 Technologies for $15 million. Coleman Aerospace builds ballistic missile targets for the US Missile Defense Agency, as well as suborbital research rockets. Coleman “will assume the lease of the Space Coast Integration & Test facility that officially opens Friday at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.” The Sacramento (CA) Bee Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reports that Coleman “will be renamed Aerojet Rocketdyne Coleman Aerospace Inc.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Automakers Seek EPA Reversal Of Obama Decision On Fuel Efficiency Standards.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Dennis, Mufson) reports that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers, which represent the world’s biggest automakers, have asked EPA Administrator Pruitt to reconsider an Obama Administration decision “to lock in strict fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks to be produced in model years 2022 to 2025.” The Post says the requests “could provide the first indication of how the Trump administration will reshape the government’s approach to addressing climate change.” Under President Obama, the EPA used its authority to set the first fuel economy standards to regulate carbon emissions from the auto industry.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Boudette, Subscription Publication) says that according to environmentalists, “the lobbying groups overstated the difficulty and cost of reaching the 2025 targets, which require an average fuel-economy rating of 54.5 miles per gallon across a company’s entire fleet sold in the United States.”

Researcher Calls For Action In Wisconsin To Prepare For Autonomous Vehicles.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reports University of Wisconsin engineering professor David Noyce said Wisconsin is falling behind other states in preparing for the imminent shift to driverless cars, possibly two decades from now. During an Assembly committee hearing Wednesday, he said applauded “the fact that a University of Wisconsin traffic lab is one of 10 groups nationwide the federal government has designated to test the vehicles,” noting it will work in the state’s favor. Additionally, companies developing the technology are pushing “the Legislature to set groundwork for the testing and use of autonomous cars in Wisconsin.”

Advocates Say Administration Support Needed For Advanced Nuclear Designs.

ClimateWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Irfan, Subscription Publication) reports that while advocates say the “case for the next generation of nuclear power remains robust,” lawmakers are “uncertain whether the Trump administration will continue shepherding the industry.” The “more than 50 U.S. companies” working on advanced nuclear designs “ranging from molten salt reactors to fusion power need a commitment from the federal government to continue investing in research and to create markets where these new advanced nuclear systems can compete.” Exelon CEO Chris Crane said there while it is clear that “nuclear power is the best option for clean, reliable power going forward,” the “lack of coherent and stable public policy associated with market design” is undermining the prospects for many currently operating nuclear plants in the US, while threatened budget cuts “for research at the Department of Energy’s national laboratories could hamper the next generation of designs.”

Clean Energy Groups Launch Campaign Touting Jobs.

The “Morning Energy” blog of Politico Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reported “a broad coalition of clean energy groups are launching a campaign” to “highlight the three million jobs their industries support nationwide.” The numbers, which come from the Energy Department’s US Energy and Employment Report, “mean American clean energy jobs are equivalent to employment opportunities in retail stores and represent more than double the number of building construction jobs.” American Council on Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association and American Wind Energy Association are among the groups involved in the campaign.

Lynch: Solar Jobs Represent Labor Inefficiency. Contributor Michael Lynch writes for Forbes Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) that renewable energy advocates have “misinterpreted” a DOE report as finding that the US solar industry employs more people than oil, coal, and gas combined. The report, Lynch writes, showed that “the petroleum industry employs roughly twice as many as the wind and solar industry do, but mostly not in power generation.” Lynch writes that solar jobs “represents inefficiency,” not the delivery of needed jobs, and that jobs created rely on subsidies. Lynch argues that higher cost electricity are a “drain on the economy and employment.”

New York Saw Eight-Fold Increase In Solar Over Five Years.

CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reports that in New York, solar increased by almost 800 percent from December 2011 to December 2016 with almost $1.5 billion leveraged in private investment, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Tuesday. With 744 megawatts of installed solar, growth demonstrates “increased accessibility and affordability for residents and businesses,” Cuomo said, adding that New York’s investments in clean energy resource “create jobs, reduce carbon emissions, support economic growth, and help build a cleaner, greener New York.”

New York Town Advancing Temporary Moratorium On Solar Farms. The Buffalo (NY) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22) reports Lancaster, New York lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a six-month moratorium on solar farm development “to review zoning regulations and determine revisions and amendments to the town zoning code.” Council member Matthew J. Walter said, “We’re not saying that no solar can be done,” adding, “It’s just about the farms.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Teacher Implements Augmented Reality In Classrooms.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (2/22, Staff) reports Crosby ISD teacher Operium Baldwin enhances her classrooms by “incorporating augmented reality – the process of using technology to layer virtual content on top of real-world situations – into her classroom literacy stations,” encouraging students to apply concepts to informational texts. Baldwin said “technology has a prominent place in the classroom,” allowing students “to become independent, collaborative learners and take ownership in their learning.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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