Leading the News
Researchers Display Phone Hack Using Sound Waves.
The New York Times (3/14, Markoff, Subscription Publication) reports a group of researchers from the Universities of Michigan and South Carolina will demonstrate a new vulnerability that “allows them to take control of or surreptitiously influence devices through the tiny accelerometers that are standard components in consumer products like smartphones, fitness monitors and even automobiles.” The researchers say the flaw was found in “more than half of the 20 commercial brands from five chip makers they tested, [and] illustrates the security challenges that have emerged as robots and other kinds of digital appliances have begun to move around in the world.” University of Michigan assistant professor Kevin Fu, who authored the paper, said DHS is “expected to issue a security advisory alert Tuesday for chips produced by the semiconductor companies documented in the paper.” Fortune (3/14) also covers this story.
Researcher Warns Nuclear Missiles Vulnerable To Cyberattack.
Princeton research scholar Bruce G. Blair, a founder of anti-nuclear weapons group Global Zero, in an op-ed in the New York Times (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.”
Report: Student Loan Defaults Up 17% In 2016.
The AP (3/14, Sell) reports the Consumer Federation of America analyzed government data and “found that the number of Americans in default on their student loans jumped by nearly 17 percent last year,” with “4.2 million Federal Direct Loan Borrowers in default” at the end of 2016, “up from 3.6 million at the end of 2015.” Meanwhile, even as the stock market hits record highs and official unemployment falls into the generally acceptable range, the New York Federal Reserve “reported last month that total household debt in America in 2016 began nearing its previous peak from 2008, driven largely by student debt and auto debt.”
The Washington Post (3/14, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the analysis found that defaults “soared in the last year, painting a bleak picture of one of the largest government programs.” The study found that “millions of people had not made a payment on $137 billion in federal student loans for at least nine months in 2016, a 14 percent increase in defaults from a year earlier.” The Post says it is a “striking” finding because “Americans now more than ever have a variety of repayment options to avoid default.” The article quotes former CFPB student loan ombudsman Rohit Chopra saying, “Despite a rising stock market and falling unemployment, student loan borrowers are still struggling. The economy remains very difficult for so many young people just starting out.” MarketWatch (3/14, Berman) reports the analysis found that some 1.1 million borrowers “entered default on their Direct Loans” last year. The study “likely underestimates the number of federal student loan borrowers in default as it doesn’t account for borrowers who are in default on types of federal student loans other than Direct Loans.”
Other news outlets covering this story include Dow Jones Newswires (3/14, Subscription Publication), Politico Morning Education (3/14), the Wall Street Journal (3/14, Mitchell, Subscription Publication), Money (3/14, Clark), and CNBC (3/14, Anderson).
Senate Democrats Call On DeVos To Explain Gainful Employment Rule Delay.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (3/14) reports that a dozen Senate Democrats led by Richard Durbin, Patty Murray, and Elizabeth Warren have written to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeking answers about ED’s “decision last week to delay the effective date of the gainful-employment rule until July 1.” The piece quotes the letter saying, “The gainful-employment rule is a critical protection for both students and taxpayers. This delay needlessly stalls important protections for students and taxpayers, and creates more uncertainty for schools.”
Noting that the rule is “aimed at ensuring career-training programs, specifically those at for-profit colleges, actually prepare students for good-paying jobs,” The Hill (3/14, Wheeler) reports that ED recently “gave schools more time to appeal their ratings, which are generated using earnings data from the Social Security Administration and debt information from the department’s records and the school.” However, “Democrats argue the rule was generous to begin with, giving schools three opportunities to appeal their rates.”
USA Today Analysis: Charter Schools’ Low College Completion Rates Persist.
According to USA Today (3/14, Toppo), more than three-fourths of Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools’ alumni do not complete a four-year college degree, a statistic which matches the national average for charter schools of 23 percent based on the scant data available. USA Today allows that the national average for all low-income students, which make up the majority of charter schools, is only nine percent, and just 15 percent at high-minority urban public schools. While many charter schools continue to increase high school graduation rates, their students often drop out from college when they become overwhelmed by academic rigor, attend a school that does not suit them, have difficulty integrating, or cannot afford college costs, according to New America Education Policy Director Kevin Carey. While charters have developed different techniques to address these issues, Carey says many charter students attend colleges nearby that are “bad” at making sure at-risk students complete a degree.
Law Schools Starting To Teach Software Classes.
Mashable (3/14, Bogle) reports that a 2015 report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia estimated that up to 40 percent of Australian jobs, including lawyers, could by replaced by automation in the next few decades. Universities are introducing classes that train law students to use legal software that will assist in contract creation to legal research. Head of legal capability and transformation at Gilbert + Tobin Petra Stirling says they these classes will help train the lawyer of the future and she believes that it is only a matter of time that students will be able to graduate without these skills.
Research and Development
LeHigh Engineering Professor Wins National Grant To Explore Energetics In Fish Schools.
R&D Magazine (3/14) reports online about a study on “the energetics of schools of fish” led by LeHigh University assistant professor of mechanical engineering Keith Moored that “offers counter-intuitive data – the group patterns do not necessarily maximize energy use” but rather reflect the fluid dynamics of the fishes’ medium. Moored posits that “the 3-D formation created by a group of fish is akin to atoms being pulled by forces into a lattice structure.” The story notes Moored “received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award to explore this promising area of inquiry,” which has applications in the fishing industry and other research fields. The story represents “the first time such detailed measurements of the forces, energetics and flow fields of three dimensional thrust-producing interacting bodies in such complex arrangements have been assembled.”
West Virginia Family Looking To Save Green Bank Observatory From Federal Cuts.
West Virginia Public Broadcasting (3/14) reports that 16-year-old Ellie White of Barboursville, West Virginia is part of a family that is defending the state’s Green Bank Telescope at Green Bank Observatory, which is facing federal review “with the possibility of losing funding or being dismantled.” The family is hoping to “convince the powers that be of the facility’s value to science, education and the small town in which the telescope resides,” and has volunteered to “start a campaign called ‘Go Green Bank Observatory’ to rally support from across the country and show the National Science Foundation, which used to almost completely fund the observatory, that Green Bank Observatory is worth keeping.”
Continuing Coverage: IBM Developing Technology To Help Seniors Maintain Their Independence.
Investor’s Business Daily (3/14, Coram) reports IBM’s Aging Initiative Global Research Leader Susanne Keohane revealed that the company is currently developing technology to make seniors’ homes safer so that they could be able to remain independent and live in their homes longer. Keohane said, “We don’t want to take anyone’s independence away. … The actual goal of the project is to enable people to live in their homes longer” and “I think we can do it.”
Raytheon Developing New Missile Defense Communications.
UPI (3/14, Maass) reports Raytheon was awarded an $11.8 million contract “to develop new communication technologies for the US Office of Naval Research.” The Communications and Interoperability for Integrated Fires (CIIF) technologies “will aim to enhance situational awareness capabilities for the US Navy’s air and missile defense operations.” Raytheon said CIIF will permit new and existing Navy ships to swap information across common data links.
Consultant Says Science Infrastructure Key To Job Creation.
Synopsys senior software consultant Mina Hanna writes in an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle (3/14, Hanna) that the US must upgrade its science infrastructure, “the essential scaffolding that directly supports more than 17 million US jobs.” The National Science Foundation operates a Major Research Instrumentation program that could potentially fund infrastructure projects at many universities, while DOE’s Office of Science similarly operates the Science Laboratories Infrastructure program. Over the last half-century, more than 50 percent of U.S. economic growth sprang from our scientific infrastructure, Hanna writes.
Apple Hired High-Profile Security Expert Jonathan Zdziarski.
Re/code (3/14, Glaser) reports Jonathan Zdziarski, “an important figure from the forensic security and mobile phone hacking community,” announced Tuesday that he’s taken a position with Apple’s security engineering and architecture team, though he declined to offer details about what his work for the company will entail. He did say he is “very excited to be working with a group of like minded individuals so passionate about protecting the security and privacy of others.” He said, “This decision marks the conclusion of what I feel has been a matter of conscience for me over time. Privacy is sacred; our digital lives can reveal so much about us – our interests, our deepest thoughts, and even who we love. I am thrilled to be working with such an exceptional group of people who share a passion to protect that.” Re/code adds that Zdziarski “appears to have disabled his [Twitter] account,” which is “not surprising now that he’s working for a secretive company like Apple.”
Fortune (3/14, Vanian) explains Zdziarski has “worked on iOS security matters for years as an independent researcher” and has written numerous books on iPhone-related topics. His O’Reilly Media profile says Zdziarski’s “research into the iPhone has pioneered many modern forensic methodologies used today, and has been validated by the United States’ National Institute of Justice.”
According to Business Insider (3/14, Heath), Zdziarski helped Apple “fight the FBI’s request to hack an iPhone used by a shooter from the 2015 San Bernardino attack.” He also “made headlines in 2014 for alleging that Apple had created a “backdoor” into its software that could be used to get private information.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Study: Methane Emissions From Refineries, Gas Plants Far Exceed EPA Estimates.
Greenwire (3/14, Subscription Publication) reports on a new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology showing estimates of methane emissions from natural gas-fired power plants and oil refineries could be significantly higher than EPA figures. Methane emissions at gas-fired plants could be 21 to 120 times higher than EPA and 11 to 90 times higher for oil refineries. The team used a light aircraft to collect daily samples at three natural gas power plants and three refineries from July 30 to October 1, 2015. Paul Shepson, director of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center says that “while emissions are greater than anticipated, natural gas-burning power plants are still cleaner, relative to burning coal.” The Hill (3/14, Cama) also reports.
Half-Dozen Legal Challenges Filed Against Changes To EPA Haze Rules.
E&E Publishing (3/14, Reilly, Subscription Publication) reports that a half-dozen legal challenges were filed on Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia over the EPA’s recent changes to regional haze regulations, although “none of the petitions for review spells out exact ground for challenging the changes.” The litigants included companies in the power sectors, the state of North Dakota, and a coalition of four environmental groups.
Florida Panel Advances FPL-backed Measure Bypassing Court Ruling.
The Palm Beach (FL) Post (3/14) reports the Florida state Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee unanimously advanced measures allowing state regulators to give permission to utilities to charge customers to recoup costs on exploratory natural-gas projects in other states. The state Supreme Court had issued a ruling that found utility regulators exceeded their authority in allowing FPL to invest in the Woodford Gas Reserves Project in Oklahoma. Another FPL-backed proposal approved Tuesday would give the Public Service Commission the exclusive authority to force utilities to bury lines underground, not local communities.
More States Considering Raising Renewable Fuel Mandates.
ClimateWire (3/14, Subscription Publication) reports that 29 states have renewable energy mandates, and that with federal climate initiative being rolled back, “states are considering their renewable energy requirements with renewed vigor.” Massachusetts and California lawmakers are contemplating a 100 percent mandate, while Nevada and New Jersey are eyeing 80 percent and Connecticut and Minnesota could raise theirs to 50 percent. Amid a wider debate about RFS standards, many economists would prefer a “more flexible and less costly” carbon tax or cap-and-trade regimen to a mandate. Citing costs, four states are considering lowering their mandates, while Ohio and New Hampshire are considering full repeals.
Google CEO Schmidt Spotlights Promise Of Solid State Battery Technology.
Bloomberg News (3/14, Tirone) reports that Alphabet Inc.’s Eric Schmidt says scientist John Goodenough has developed the first all-solid-state battery cells, offering energy density that is “promising.” Schmidt spotlighted the technology in a Tuesday tweet. Researchers are working on several patents and are seeking to collaborate with battery makers “to develop and test their new materials in electric vehicles and energy storage devices,” according to a statement by the University of Texas.
National Nonprofit: Majority Of Finalists In Last Year’s IntelScience Talent Search Were Children Of Immigrants.
Money (3/14, Wile) reports the National Foundation for American Policy “found that 33 of the 40 finalists of the 2016 IntelScience Talent Search – the leading science competition for U.S. high school students, run by the Society for Science & the Public and now known as the Regeneron Science Talent Search – were the children of immigrants.” Moreover, “30 out of the 40 finalists” were the children of people working under the H-1B program. The Foundation stated “These outstanding children of immigrants would never have been in America if their parents had not been allowed into the U.S.”
Cincinnati College And High School Students Participate In 3D Printing Prosthesis Project.
USA Today (3/14, Murphy) reports on the work being done with “3D printing to solve medical problems in the community” in the greater Cincinnati area by University of Cincinnati biomedical engineering students and “local kids” in high school. The focus on the project was “inspired by the global organization e-Nable” and involves the printing of “a custom, functional hand in its lab on campus for less than $20 – instead of thousands of dollars – and get it to the patient in about a week.” Pediatric patients receive their prosthetic hands for free and can use the “affordable and accessible tools” to do a wide range of activities.
Results Of Illinois’ 2016 State Science Assessment To Be Released This Summer.
The Naperville (IL) Sun (3/15) reports Illinois Board of Education members told school districts that the results of the inaugural Illinois Science Assessment, administered in spring last year, will be released this summer. More than 400,000 students took the exam, and it “had been fraught with timing issues from the start.” In April, 2016, some districts were still waiting to hear whether their schools would need to administer the exam, and some of the participating schools lacked web access to administer the online-only exam. The state board’s media and external communications director, Jackie Matthews, added that state-level budgetary uncertainties and a lack of established standards on student performance had delayed the scoring process. “The Illinois Science is a summative exam, not formative, so schools do not really have to adjust learning for individual students from year to year,” Matthews added.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Mississippi Robotics Students Create Solar Vending Machine For Homeless.
• California Bill Aims To Help College Students Avoid Debt.
• University Of Washington Researchers Create Radio Signal-Based “Smart Posters.”
• Initiative Helps HBCU Tech Students Attend SXSW.
• Ugandan Engineers Create Biomedical Jacket Capable Of Detecting Pneumonia.
• Trump Expected To Announce Reopening Of Fuel Economy Rule Review At Michigan Event.
• Kansas School District To Adopt New Core Math Curriculum.