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

Leading the News

Mississippi Robotics Students Create Solar Vending Machine For Homeless.

The Miami Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Vicory) reports Mississippi’s Gulfport High School “is attracting national attention for building a solar-powered vending machine that supplies free hygiene products to homeless people.” Gulfport High School National Technical Honors Society students were tasked with building a community-focused device using science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, or STEAM, research, and their resulting project is now one of 10 finalists in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition. The students were inspired to create the vending machine after they learned 143 of their peers in the Gulfport School District were homeless.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13) reports the students’ machine “dispenses toothbrushes, toothpaste, shaving cream, disposable razors, bars of soap and feminine hygiene products.” Currently, the machine operates on tokens distributed by district counselors, but the students hope to introduce similar devices across the city. They also “plan to power the machines with solar panels and add a shower that uses rainwater or reusable water.”

Higher Education

California Bill Aims To Help College Students Avoid Debt.

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Mason, Watanabe) reports a bill in the California legislature would establish “the most generous college aid plan in the nation,” which would cover “not just tuition but also living expenses that have led to spiraling student debt.” The bill, introduced Monday, “would supplement California’s existing aid programs with the aim of eradicating the need for student loans for nearly 400,000 students in the Cal State and University of California systems.” Moreover, community college students would get a free year of tuition. The piece reports that the plan’s high cost is a significant stumbling block, but rising college costs could make it more attractive.

The San Francisco Chronicle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13) reports that under the plan from Democrats in the state Assembly, “community colleges would be free to full-time students for one year, tuition subsidies for middle-income students would remain intact, and extra money for college living expenses would flow.” Democratic budget negotiators say that they “hope to protect the middle-class tuition subsidies that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed eliminating to save roughly $37 million a year.”

The Los Angeles Daily Breeze Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13) reports that the bill would “enable millions of California students to graduate from public universities without crushing levels of student debt,” but says Democrats may find it difficult “to get all of their plans implemented absent a favorable change in the state’s fortunes.” This piece reports that the plan “calls for the creation of a new scholarship program that, according to proponents, may cost the state $1.6 billion during its first year, if completely implemented in time to benefit students during the 2018-19 school year.”

The Sacramento (CA) Bee Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13) reports students “would be required to work 15 hours per week to cover some expenses and, if their income is more than $60,000, their families would be expected to contribute a portion.” The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Bollag) and KERO-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Bakersfield, CA (3/13) also cover this story.

Survey Shows Drop In Applications From International Students.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Camera) reports that according to a survey of 250 US colleges and universities conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, in partnership with the Institute of International Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the College Board and the National Association for College Admissions Counseling indicates that nearly 40% of responding institutions “are reporting a drop in international student applications, particularly from students in the Middle East.” This trend reverses “about a decade of steady increases in applications from international students.” The survey “results come on the heels of a pair of executive orders regarding immigration signed by President Donald Trump.”

Forty Percent Of US Colleges Experiencing Declines In International Applications. Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Redden) reports that that recent survey found that roughly 40 percent of US colleges have seen declines in the number of applications from international students. International recruitment professionals report that student and families have a “great deal of concern” about the welcoming climate of the US.

Prism Podcast
One faculty member has a method for dealing with engineering education’s “dirty” words.

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

University Of Washington Researchers Create Radio Signal-Based “Smart Posters.”

On its website, KGMI-AM Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Bellingham, WA (3/13) reports University of Washington researchers created “Smart Posters” that use FM backscatter to introduce sound to visual advertisements. Creator Vikram Iyer explained, “Let’s say that you could walk up to it and then just tune to a radio station and actually hear the music that’s coming from this poster. That’s the kind of thing that we would enable with this.” The researchers received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a prototype.

D-Wave To Upgrade NASA Ames Research Center’s Quantum Computing System.

Digital Trends Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Parrish) reports that on Monday, D-Wave Systems announced that it will upgrade the quantum annealer computing system at NASA’s Ames Research Center to its new D-Wave 2000Q platform following a decision by NASA, Google, and the Universal Space Research Association. The 2000Q system provides 2000 quantum bits, double the number provided by Ames’ current D-Wave 2X system. The new platform will be installed later this year, and will assist the center’s Quantum Artificial Intelligence Laboratory team.

NASA Releases Animation Of TRAPPIST-1 Captured By Kepler Telescope.

SPACE Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Cofield) reports that NASA has released an animation showing “a very pixelated view” of the TRAPPIST-1 system captured by the Kepler Space Telescope. The telescope’s onboard camera observed TRAPPIST-1 for 74 days, and the animation shows changes in the brightness of the system’s star – indicating obstruction from the movement of its Earth-sized planets – through 60 images taken over the course of an hour. Mashable Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Kramer) reports that in its statement, NASA explained that a planet moving in front of the ultra-cool dwarf star “creates less than a one percent dip in brightness.”

NASA Finds Missing Indian Lunar Orbiter.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Kaplan) reports that the “pioneering moon orbiter” Chandrayaan-1, “the first lunar probe ever launched by the Indian Space Research Organization,” went missing in August 2009, “just 312 days into what was supposed to be a two-year mission.” The piece describes the difficulty researchers have had in trying to find the orbiter, but notes that it “couldn’t evade powerful radio telescopes. Scientists at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California’s remote Mojave Desert and at the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia worked together to detect the long-lost orbiter by sending out radio waves in its direction and listening for the echoes that bounced back.”

Researcher Warns Nuclear Missiles Vulnerable To Cyberattack.

Princeton research scholar Bruce G. Blair, a founder of Global Zero, a group opposed to nuclear weapons, in an op-ed in the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/14, Blair, Subscription Publication) warns of US nuclear missiles’ vulnerability to cyberwarfare. Critical issues were discovered and corrected under President Obama, but more remain, including corrupted early-warning data and the use of off-the-shelf commercial hardware and software “that could be infected by malware” in critical networks. Blair calls for the US and Russia to take nuclear missiles “off hair-trigger alert,” leading to eliminating “silo-based missiles and quick-launch procedures on all sides.” He then advocates “a comprehensive examination of the threat and develop a remediation plan” and negotiating with US rivals to “put nuclear networks off limits to cyberintrusion.”

New Report Suggests Biotech Developments Could Overwhelm Regulatory System.

STAT Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Keshavan) reports that a new report commissioned by the FDA and two other Federal agencies suggests that new biotech products could eventually “overwhelm the regulatory system” and tax the existing expertise and forms of governance. The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine “comes at a time when far-reaching deregulation looms, along with a government hiring freeze,” STAT says, adding that some forthcoming technologies, including CRISPR genome editing and “engineered microbes, and even plants and insects,” will require “a scrupulous regulatory process.”

Fraunhofer Institute Engineers Develop Thinner Smartphone Camera Assembly.

ComputerWorld Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Williams) reports that Engineers at Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute have developed smartphone camera components that provide a thinner alternative to those currently used commercially, which create a “camera bump” on devices. The new system employs a set of four image sensors and mirrors in an assembly that stows in the phone until sliding out of its side for use. Aside from a thinner setup (the prototype is “half the height of a comparable commercial unit” at 3.5 millimeters), ComputerWorld mentions the “additional benefit” of protection from malware that can “surreptitiously snap photos without the user’s knowledge” since the camera remains hidden until use. The concept model is also able to capture photos at a 20-megapixel resolution and “has both auto-focus and optical image stabilization.” However, ComputerWorld says Jacques Duparré, a senior scientist at Fraunhofer’s Microoptical Imaging Systems lab in Jena, Germany, “concedes…the biggest hurdle facing engineers now is trying to convince smartphone makers to adopt such a radically different system to what’s currently in use.”


Initiative Helps HBCU Tech Students Attend SXSW.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Henderson) reports that 100 students from HBCUs across the country are “participating in the HBCU@SXSW initiative, a partnership between South By Southwest Convention and Festivals and organizations such as Opportunity Hub, Huddle Ventures and Stemmed.” The groups “have teamed up to help students of color attend the popular music, interactive and film festival in Austin.” The article presents this story within the context of tech companies’ struggles to increase workforce diversity and “recruit more African-American engineering students and young professionals.”

AP Analysis: Tech Workers, Traditional Activists Form “Improbable” Alliance In Bay Area.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Riccardi) says that Bay Area tech workers and traditional activists from “the country’s heartland of radicalism” increasingly have joined forces in opposition to President Trump. Some activists say they are encouraged by what the AP calls “the civil awakening among tech workers,” but founder and CEO Debra Cleaver warned that efforts to merely “engineer” a way around the Administration’s policies would be ineffective. Franki Velez, an Iraq War veteran on disability, worries that tech workers who have joined forces with traditional activists do not share their sense of purpose. University of Notre Dame Center for the Study of Social Movements Director Rory McVeigh says such improbable partnerships defy the historical model for protests.

Global Developments

Ugandan Engineers Create Biomedical Jacket Capable Of Detecting Pneumonia.

Newsweek Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Ong) reports several Ugandan engineers have devised a “biomedical jacket that measures vital signs that can indicate the presence of pneumonia” in children. The Mama-Ope prototype has been “short-listed for this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize, worth about $30,000.” The jacket is being “tested with volunteer families in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, before larger clinical trials are rolled out in hospitals countrywide, most likely by spring.”

EU Approves Siemens, Gamesa Wind Turbine Merger.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Bartunek) reports German engineering company Siemens and Spain’s Gamesa “have won unconditional antitrust approval from the European Union to create the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines,” the European Commission announced Monday. Analysts expect the new group “will have a market capitalization of about 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion).”

Engineering and Public Policy

Trump Expected To Announce Reopening Of Fuel Economy Rule Review At Michigan Event.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Overly, Eilperin) reports that President Trump will travel to Ypsilanti, Michigan on Wednesday to announce the reopening of “a review of the fuel economy standards that automakers must meet” in the coming years, in “a sign that the White House could ease environmental regulations the industry finds onerous.” The Obama Administration approved the rules in question in 2012 “and determined in January that the standards were sound.” Last month, auto sector trade groups asked the EPA to reopen the review of the rules. Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Shepardson) reports that the CEOs of Fiat Chrysler, Ford, and GM are expected to attend the Wednesday event, along with “officials from Japanese and German automakers.”

The Detroit News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Burke) says Trump “will talk up his priorities of bolstering the manufacturing industry and taming the outsourcing of American jobs.” MLive (MI) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Haynes) reports that Trump is set to speak at “the future home of an autonomous and connected vehicle testing facility being created by the American Center for Mobility.” The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Snavely, Spangler) runs a similar report.

Nevada Expects To Continue Fight Against Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.

The Las Vegas Sun Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Ryan) reports that “by the end of the year” Nevada may find out “whether the federal government will restart hearings on licensing a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.” Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects director Robert Halstead “told a legislative budget subcommittee” yesterday “that Congress may include $100 million in its proposed budget in April to resume the application for Yucca Mountain.” The state “has been fighting since 1982 to keep the waste dump out of the state.” The Las Vegas Review-Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Whaley) reports Halstead “said the state will contest 218 elements in any Department of Energy license application, with another 30 to 50 challenges anticipated based on new information.” According to the Review Journal “the contentions cover areas including site suitability, the disposal concept, groundwater impacts and transportation issues.” During his January confirmation, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry “left open the possibility that the nation’s highly radioactive waste could be entombed in Yucca Mountain” though he didn’t signal whether “he supported reviving the project.”

North Korea Missile Test Heightens Concerns Over Potential EMP Attack.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13, Nikolewski) reports North Korea’s recent missile test has heightened concerns about a possible electromagnetic pulse attack “using a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere,” that could take down the U.S. power grid for up to 18 months. The article reports an EMP “could create massive currents that would blow through power lines, destroying electrical transformers and damaging power plants.” However, a report released by the Electric Power Research Institute, found that while “there would be likely be some failures but those failures are relatively small in nature and not in the hundreds as had been contemplated from some of the reports in the past,” according to EPRI Vice President of Transmission Rob Manning. The article mentions that EPRI’s research is funded by 50 utilities across the U.S., including Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

Study: Grid Operators See Clean Power Plan Survival Unlikely, But Important “Stress Test.”

The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13) reports that in a new joint study of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan issued Monday, PJM Interconnection and MISO say the rule in unlikely to survive in its current form in the current political climate. The gird operators said the new study was a useful because the CPP serves as a “stress test” to see how much the grid can withstand before experiencing major distortions and price impacts. The study emphasizes the need to collaboration among states as they consider coal and nuclear plant retirements and increasing renewables. “Disconnected state policies can drive significant economic distortions along the seam [between markets and states] and exacerbate transmission cost impacts,” the study said.

Industry Professionals Dispel Concerns On Credibility Of ASCE’s Infrastructure Report Card.

The Christian Science Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/11, Reilly) reported the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card on Thursday. The ASCE graded America’s infrastructure a D+, and increased the estimated cost of repair from $1.3 trillion in 2001 to $4.59 trillion. Some critics questioned the report’s credibility, but Eno Center for Transportation president Robert Puentes explained the 28-engineer committee relied “on detailed analysis that’s been done by federal agencies for the most part, so those [numbers] are fine.” He added that the “report does a good job of raising the issue, of sounding the alarm, for the crumbling infrastructure needs that we have, but we have to get specific.” Vanderbilt University professor Janey Camp, who was on the ASCE committee, dispelled concerns that the private engineers involved in the report could be motivated by a possible benefit from greater infrastructure investment. “Our first duty as civil engineers is to protect the safety of the public,” she asserted.

Elementary/Secondary Education

Kansas School District To Adopt New Core Math Curriculum.

The Wichita (KS) Eagle Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/13) reports that on Monday, Wichita’s school board voted in favor of entering into a $4 million, seven-year agreement with Carnegie Learning curriculum, which features soft-cover textbooks, online resources, and teacher lesson plan suggestions. Carnegie will replace Agile Mind as the core math curriculum in Wichita middle and high schools. District officials said the Carnegie curriculum is more closely aligned with Common Core standards. Additionally, it is expected to more seamlessly build on the Engage New York math curriculum that was implemented last fall in district elementary schools. On Kansas’ math assessment test in 2016, 41 percent of the Wichita’s students scored below grade level, and more than half of Wichita’s high school students received the lowest possible score. Meanwhile, only 26 percent of students in the state scored below grade level.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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