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

Leading the News

Civil Engineers Grade US Infrastructure “D+.”

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, McWhirter, Subscription Publication) reports that the “Infrastructure Report Card” issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers every four years says US infrastructure has narrowly maintained a grade of “D+” and predicts that some $4.590 trillion will be required over the next decade to bring the nation’s infrastructure to a safe, functioning level. The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Halsey) says ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei “said lawmakers should raise the federal gas tax by 25 cents and index it to inflation.”

State GOP Lawmakers Say They Can’t Rely On Trump Plan To Deliver Infrastructure Funds. Bloomberg Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Recht) reports that GOP leaders in “at least six states” say “they can’t count on President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan to deliver what they need,” and are “pushing to raise gasoline taxes or other fees to pay for upgrading roads and bridges.” The effort puts those Republicans “in the unusual position of battling members of their own party who, in some cases, say they won’t support any tax increase and are using Trump’s infrastructure proposal as another reason to oppose them.”

ASCE Says Schools Need Billions In Repairs. CNBC Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports that the American Society of Civil Engineers has released a “report card” which says that roughly “a quarter of all public schools in America are in ‘fair or poor condition,’” and “gave most of the nation’s infrastructure a near-failing grade.” The group “estimates that U.S. school facilities are second only to roads and highways in the overall funding gap required to bring them up to acceptable standards.” ASCE says it “would take some $380 billion over the next decade to overhaul the thousands of public schools,” and notes that schools “require more funding than airports, dams, rail and levees combined to get back to ‘good’ condition.”

Higher Education

ED Shuts Down FAFSA Tax Return Link Over Cybersecurity Concerns.

The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Belkin, Subscription Publication) reports ED announced Thursday that it is shutting down a “key link” on the FAFSA website which “allows students to automatically download information from” their and their families’ tax returns over “concerns about a potential security breach.” ED said the link will be down for “several weeks.” The Journal refers to an ED statement which said, “As part of a wider, ongoing effort at the IRS to protect the security of data, the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves. At this point, we believe the issue is relatively isolated, and no additional action is needed by taxpayers or people using these applications.”

Cuomo’s Free Public College Plan Would Cost NY 44K Jobs, Report Estimates.

The Auburn (NY) Citizen Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Harding) summarizes a report released Thursday by the Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities in New York that “estimated that 54,079 fewer students would enroll in the state’s private institutions if” Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s free public college tuition proposal is adopted. The report also projected “44,693 jobs would be lost due to the student reductions and communities would lose more than $224 million in tax revenue because of the ensuing job cuts.” However, Cuomo’s office estimated “that 940,000 households will have college-aged young adults eligible to receive free tuition at SUNY and CUNY institutions” under the Governor’s plan.

Idaho Lawmakers Propose Rural Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness Bill.

The Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Russell) reports the Idaho state “House Ways & Means Committee voted unanimously today to introduce legislation…to grant up to $3,000 a year in student loan forgiveness for up to four years for teachers or counselors who go to work in rural Idaho schools.” The article adds that “the estimated cost to the state general fund is $3 million a year” as “up to 1,000 teachers or counselors a year could qualify.”

Safe Zone Webinars
In March and April ASEE offers 3 new FREE Safe Zone Ally training webinars to help faculty, staff, and students build knowledge and skills to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals. Topics include LGBTQ concepts and terminology, STEM climate, intersectionality, and tips to disrupt discrimination in the classroom. Register here for these limited-space opporunitites.

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Research and Development

UIUC Startup Develops Modem For Undersea Robots.

ChicagoInno (IL) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/8) reports on the untapped natural resources on the ocean floor, but notes that the lack of Wi-Fi or other wireless connectivity means “underwater robots that can perform this kind of exploration have to be tethered to what are known as ‘support ships’ for communication, with operations – including cost of crew and manpower – costing upwards of $120,000 per day.” However, OceanComm, a startup spinning off from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “has created a wireless underwater modem that unleashes robots from its cables and eliminates dependency on support ships.” The technology reduces costs and “can communicate data with faster speeds and more efficiency than ever seen before.”

FAA Examining Various Studies On UAV Fights Over Crowds.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Levin) reports that Earl Lawrence, the director of the FAA’s Office of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration, said that the agency, as well as others in the aviation and UAV industries, are keeping an eye on the colleges and organizations studying how safe flying a UAV over crowds of people would be. Bloomberg notes that Virginia Tech is currently studying whether small to medium-size UAVs could serious injure or kill a person by flying the devices into crash-test dummies. Meanwhile, according to Bloomberg, CNN’s Greg Agvent said that the news organization is “conducting its own research on how to safely operate drones over crowds for news video photography.” Lawrence said that the “FAA needs” this type of research “to support our rulemaking activities, but so does every other civil aviation authority and interest groups throughout the world.”

Microsoft’s Allen Giving $40 Million To University Of Washington Computer Science Department.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen “is giving $40 million to the University of Washington’s computer-science department,” and “Microsoft is giving another $10 million in Allen’s honor.” The school is elevating its “computer-science department to the status of a school, and named it the Paul G. Allen School for Computer Science & Engineering.” The funding “will provide the school with $2 million a year in seed funding for new initiatives, which could be used for funding of early stage research, developing new experimental-education initiatives, providing equipment that can’t be purchased through other means, or funding fellowships or scholarships to recruit outstanding students.”

University Of Houston Researchers Creating Tiny Surgery Robots.

The Houston Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports that in an effort to mitigate the complications that can arise from invasive surgery, researchers at the University of Houston and the Houston Methodist Hospital are working on “developing millimeter-sized robots to travel the body’s venous system as they deliver drugs or a self-assembled interventional tool.” Researchers and surgeons will use MRI scanners to “both see and steer the tiny robots through the body via the veins to complete the desired procedure with minimal damage to the body. The robots’ primary use would be targeting cancerous tumors with chemotherapy or another treatment.”

NASA-Backed Study: “Good Chance” Potatoes Can Grow On Mars.

On its website, TIME Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/8, Abrams) reports that a NASA-backed study has found that potatoes have “a good chance to grow on Mars,” according to researcher Julio Valdivia-Silva of the University of Engineering and Technology (UTEC) in Lima, Peru. Engineers from UTEC built a CubeSat that housed the potatoes in the Southern Peruvian desert to mimic Mars-like conditions for the test, which was orchestrated by the International Potato Center in cooperation with NASA. NASA scientist Chris McKay said that the desert’s environment contains “the most Mars-like soils found on Earth.” Business Insider Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Mosher) reports that the CubeSat was “rigged with pumps, water hoses, LED lights, and instruments to emulate” Mars conditions.

NASA Selects 133 SBIR Projects For $100M In Phase II Grants.

PC Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Humphries) reports that through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, NASA has selected 133 projects from 112 businesses to receive Phase II SBIR funding for further development of proposals that could benefit the agency and achieve commercial production. The awards are “thought to be worth in the region of $100 million” in total, or about $750,000 per project. The finalists selected completed a Phase I feasibility process and now receive the Phase II support over two years, meaning “we’ll now have to wait until 2019 to find out how many of the 133 make it and get turned into commercial and space-ready products.” The articles highlights several of the projects selected to receive funding.

Industry News

Ford Engineer Discusses Largest Hurdles To Self-Driving Cars.

TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Etherington) reports Ford said it is still committed to its goal of releasing “a fleet of self-driving vehicles in operation by 2021,” but acknowledged there are “significant technical hurdles to overcome between now and then.” Ford’s Chief Program Engineer for Autonomous Vehicle Development Chris Brewer discussed the largest challenges the team is required to overcome before autonomous vehicles are made available to consumers. Brewer highlighted the first issue as “making sure the car components of the self-driving vehicle are still a car in terms of safety, redundancy and reliability.” He said “there has to be some kind of steering control system that relies on simple mechanical control in case a power-steering system in a self-driving car fails.” The other key challenge Brewer outlines is “rigorous testing for endurance in a range of environmental conditions.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Colorado Saw 70 Percent Growth In Solar In 2016.

The Denver Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports that according to the U.S. Solar Market Insight Report published Thursday, Colorado’s solar power capacity rose 70 percent in 2016 to 926 megawatts. Data from the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research show that despite the gains, Colorado fell out to the top ten states for solar growth as other states, such as Utah with 1,200 megawatts of new solar capacity, rose in the ranking.

Texas City Among First To Be Powered Solely Renewable Energy.

The Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Uhler) reports on Georgetown, “one of the first cities in America to be powered entirely by renewable energy,” in “conservative red state Texas.” Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross said, “It’s our love of green — green rectangles and green energy. … First and foremost it was a business decision.” In 2012 when the town began to plan the effort “there was never any talk of global warming or climate change.” The state of Texas “has led the nation in wind energy for the past decade while under then-Gov. Rick Perry, now the nation’s energy secretary.” But he did not “promote the industry because he was any kind of tree-hugger.” Texas Tribune reporter Jay Root said, “I don’t think anyone would call Rick Perry an environmentalist, including Rick Perry. … But the guy knows how to sniff out a dollar. Here’s a guy from West Texas who saw that you can make money off of the wind blowing.”

Source: Trump To Order Repeal Of Clean Power Plan Without Replacement.

ClimateWire Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Lehmann, Subscription Publication) reports that a source says the White House intends to repeal the EPA’s Clean Power Plan without providing a replacement. An executive order expected next week will instruct DOJ to effectively withdraw its legal defense of the CPP, freezing the case and preventing a federal court from issuing an opinion this spring. Some legal experts say the case could continue if defense of the rule is taken up by states or other groups. The source said the there is no guarantee the circuit court will not issue an opinion. ClimateWire reports withdrawing the CPP “raises questions about whether EPA would fail to satisfy legal requirements to regulate carbon dioxide and other climate pollutants” as the Supreme Court has obliged the EPA to do.

Nevada About Doubles Solar Power In 2016, Mulls Higher Green Energy Target.

Drawing from The Las Vegas Review-Journal, the AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports Nevada about doubled its solar power capacity in 2016 to 2,191 megawatts, according to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The Nevada Legislature on Wednesday heard testimony supporting a bill that “would increase the state’s renewable portfolio standard to 50 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2040.” Supporters see the goal as “aggressive but achievable,” while opponents want more study of impacts on ratepayers.

Ten Reasons To Expand Solar In Nevada. The Las Vegas Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Anderson) offers ten reason to support a measure to raise Nevada’s Renewable Portfolio Standard. They include: Nevada’s 90 percent dependence on out-of-state power supplies; the potential for new job creation; Nevada’s solar energy resource potential; and global warming.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Buffalo Medical Center To Host “Genome Day.”

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports that Buffalo’s medical campus is set to host “Genome Day” a day that is designed “to raise awareness and pique students interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Girls Who Code Is Providing Opportunities For Girls To Learn Coding And Computer Science.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports thousands of girls nationwide from grades 6 through 12 are getting opportunities to learn about coding and computer science through Girls Who Code, “a national nonprofit dedicated to closing the gender gap in technology.”

Aurora University To Launch High-School STEM Program.

The Aurora (IL) Beacon-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/5, Freishtat) reported Aurora University in Illinois is preparing to open the Michael J. Birck Innovation Engineering Program, which “will offer college-credit STEM courses to high-schoolers, beginning with two courses this summer and eventually working up to four course offerings.” The Beacon-News explains, “Like the university’s John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School, which draws third- through eighth-grade students from four neighboring public school districts,” the university aims for the center to be a “multi-generational learning space.” The article describes how “the space will include flexible classroom and lab space, a garage and ‘maker space’ with high-powered computers, 3D printing and scanning technology, laser cutting tools and other equipment.”

San Antonio High School Student Constructs Prosthetic Hand With 3-D Printer.

The San Antonio Express-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Malik) profiles six-year-old Zack Robbins, who uses a prosthetic hand developed by 16-year-old Justin Cantú, “who constructed the ‘hand’ using a 3-D printer at” nearby San Antonio’s School of Science and Technology charter school. Cantú is a part of “e-NABLE, a network of volunteers who use 3-D printers to create free prosthetics for those in need.”

Mount Olive, NJ Hosts Annual “FIRST Steamworks” Robotics Competition.

New Jersey Hills Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9) reports “Mount Olive Robotics Teams, FRC 11 MORT and FRC 193 MORT Beta, will host their annual District Robotics Competition” this weekend. The article explains, “‘FIRST Steamworks, the 2017 FIRST Robotics Competition’ game invites two adventure clubs from an era in which technology relied on steam power to prepare their airships for the ultimate long distance challenge.”

NC Lawmakers Propose Bill Offering Forgivable Loans To STEM, Special Ed Teachers.

The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/9, Stancill) reports that on Thursday, North Carolina state lawmakers proposed the “NC Teaching Fellows Program,” a bill “that would provide forgivable loans for new teachers who agree to teach in” STEM-related subjects and special education in the state. The “legislation would cost the state $6 million for about 160 teachers per year,” as those selected “would receive a forgivable loan up to $8,250 a year.” UNC System President Margaret Spellings asserted the need for greater STEM education. WTVD-TV Share to FacebookShare to TwitterRaleigh-Durham, NC (3/9, Hoggard) reports similarly online.

Thursday’s Lead Stories

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