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

Leading the News

Trump Expected To Sign Order Undoing Clean Power Plan Rule.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, King) reports that President Trump on Tuesday is expected to keep “a campaign vow to undo the Obama administration’s aggressive attempts to reduce carbon emissions” by signing an executive order “to roll back the Clean Power Plan rule.” Undoing the rule was a frequent promise last year from Trump, who “told friendly crowds in coal-producing states that lifting carbon restrictions would not only keep energy costs affordable but also help revitalize the coal industry and the communities economically ravaged by environmental regulations.” The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Eilperin, Dennis) says Trump’s expected order is “the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record.” It “sends an unmistakable signal that just as President Barack Obama sought to weave climate considerations into every aspect of the federal government, Trump is hoping to rip that approach out by its roots.”

The Los Angeles Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Halper) reports that the expected order “places in jeopardy the ability of the United States to meet its obligations under the international climate change accord Obama took a lead in negotiating in Paris, which EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt criticized over the weekend as a ‘bad deal,’” and it “invites a years-long legal and political battle with well-funded environmental groups and states embracing the targets.”

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Davenport, Subscription Publication) reports that while Trump is “celebrating the move as a way to increase the nation’s ‘energy independence’ and to restore thousands of lost coal mining jobs,” according to energy economists, “the expected order falls short of both of those goals – in part because the United States already largely relies on domestic sources for the coal and natural gas that fires most of the nation’s power plants.” Harvard energy economist Robert Stavins said, “We don’t import coal. … So in terms of the Clean Power Plan, this has nothing to do with so-called energy independence whatsoever.” Moreover, Robert W. Godby, an energy economist at the University of Wyoming, said that while the order would mean that older coal plants that had been slated to close would like stay open, “the mines that are staying open are using more mechanization. … They’re not hiring people. … So even if we saw an increase in coal production, we could see a decrease in coal jobs.”

In a separate story, the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Davenport, Subscription Publication) says that “Washington’s policy-making posts are filling with officials who have a record of openly denying the established science of human-caused climate change.” The Times goes on to highlight “climate denial” comments from Trump, Vice President Pence, and top Administration officials.

Higher Education

MIT Student Working At NASA Profiled.

WUSA-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Washington (3/27) profiles Tiera Guinn, an MIT senior who “has worked as a rocket structural design and analysis engineer” at NASA since June of last year. Guinn “designs rocket components for ventures to Mars and other deep space destination, and analyzes them to ensure they won’t break during flight.” The piece says when she was 11 years old, “Guinn remembers seeing a plane and wanting to know how to build one,” saying this “sparked her desire to study aerospace engineering, which led to her current role.”

Facebook Official Gives UC San Diego $75 Million For Data Science.

The San Diego Union-Tribune Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/20) reports Taner Halicioglu, who “helped turn Facebook into a social-media giant,” has given UC San Diego a $75 million gift intended “to make the campus a national leader in data science and to launch the public phase of a capital campaign that’s already produced almost $1 billion.” The gift “is the largest the university has ever received from one of its graduates, and it pushes the total raised during the current capital campaign to about $991 million.”

Members Of Congress Call On DeVos To Help Students Impacted By FAFSA Data Retrieval Tool Shutdown.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Wheeler) reports that members of Congress’ education committees have written to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calling on her to “help students complete their federal financial aid applications now that an online tool, which allowed students to directly access and input tax information, is unavailable.” The letter urges DeVos to “notify students, parents and borrowers that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DTR) on fafsa.gov and studentloans.gov is temporarily unavailable and give guidance on how to complete their forms without it.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) reports that the bipartisan group is calling for the help after ED and the IRS “announced this month that they had suspended the data-retrieval tool, a device that automatically pulls federal tax information into the Free Application for Federal Student Aid…over security concerns.”

Author: For-Profit Schools Sell ‘Risky Education’.

Tressie McMillan Cottem, a former enrollment officer at two different for-profit colleges writes that federal and state investigations into such institutions for “aggressive recruiting tactics” are pertinent, and these for-profit schools do exploit the vulnerable, NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) reports. While for-profit schools advertise a better economic future for their students, “the credentials they offer tend to be 30 to 40 percent more expensive than the same credentials from a nonprofit public institution”, NPR reports. Cottem describes an enrollment system centered on getting prospective students to visit as quickly as possible to sign an enrollment agreement, then handling all student needs that followed, NPR writes. Since tuition is the only revenue stream available to for-profit schools, they “tend to peg the tuition costs to the fully allowable amount” that students can borrow from federal student aid programs, increasing the amount of debt students will incur, NPR adds. In the for-profit sector, student debt issues are more “acute” because many students are closer to the poverty line, NPR reports.

Traditionally Poor-Performing DC High School’s Entire Senior Class Applies To College.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Matos) reports Ballou High is one of DC Public Schools’ lowest-performing on core academic measures, and its 57 percent graduation rate last year was the second-lowest. Ballou is located “in one of the poorest wards of the city,” and all 930 of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. This year, however, all 190 Ballou High seniors applied to college. Administrators said the students themselves set the goal last spring. Principal Yetunde Reeve said for many students, “college is an automatic next step,” but his “kids don’t get that same message. We are trying to create an environment where going to college is what Ballou does as well.” The school credited college and career coordinator Jamanda Porter for part of the success. Porter meets with every senior and encourages all of them, even if they think they want to enlist or immediately join the workforce, to apply to college.

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Research and Development

NYTimes Says Trump’s Budget Shortchanges Scientific Research.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Subscription Publication) says in an editorial that President Trump’s first budget blueprint “sacrifices American innovation to small-bore politics, shortchanging basic scientific research across the government – from NASA to the Department of Energy to the National Institutes of Health – in ways that can only stifle invention and undercut the nation’s competitiveness.” The Times adds that while “some research cuts, particularly to the N.I.H., aren’t likely to make it past Congress,” they show Trump’s “lack of understanding of science’s role in national and domestic security, in protecting air and water and other resources and in preventing disease and lowering the cost of health care, which consumes one-quarter of the $3.7 trillion federal budget.”

University Of Arizona Partnering With Manufacturing Firm On Concrete Made From Coal Mining Waste.

The Casa Grande (AZ) Dispatch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) reports the University of Arizona is working with private manufacturing firm Acrete “to create a more eco-friendly version of concrete” using “leftovers from mining and coal plants.” The process uses fly ash, “a fine, powdery material that used to be released into the air until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began requiring air filtering devices in coal plants in 2011.”

Seismic Research Raises Possibility Of A 7.4 Magnitude Earthquake In California.

In continuing coverage, the New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Yin, Subscription Publication) discusses new seismic research that found “two fault zones that were thought to be separate actually make up one continuous fault system running through San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties,” raising the possibility of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake if all the onshore and offshore segments of the Newport-Inglewood/Rose Canyon fault system ruptured at once. United States Geological Survey researcher Valerie Sahakian, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said, “The size of an earthquake is directly related to the length of the fault that’s rupturing – the longer the fault, the larger the earthquake.” The article mentions that the study was funded by Southern California Edison, which was asked by the California state government “to evaluate potential earthquake activity” around the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Digital Assistants, AI Could Revolutionize Aging Process.

According to the Smithsonian Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Rieland), artificial intelligence has the potential to completely transform how consumers think of aging going forward, as human-robot interactions are expected to “play a growing role in enabling older adults to live in their homes longer” and further sustain their independence. As the report indicates, it’s difficult to tell whether it will “be robot companions? Talking digital assistants? Strategically-placed sensors?” or some combination of the two, but irrespective of how exactly AI impacts older generations, the outlet expects the technology to have a significant impact on “how people age” and in particular, how “they stay connected to family and friends.” “You have to walk this balance on where you are starting to impinge on somebody’s privacy versus tracking their safety and social engagement,” says David Lindeman, co-director of Health Care at the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) at the University of California, Berkeley. “That’s the compelling challenge of the next decade. How do we maximize the use of this technology without having unintended consequences.” MediaPost Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) offers related coverage.

Industry News

Samsung Files Patent For A Smartwatch With A Secondary Display On Its Bezel.

PC Magazine Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Humphries) reports Samsung has filed a patent for a smartwatch with two displays, “with the second one being placed around the rotating rim of the watch.” PC Magazine notes the secondary display is like a “single-line scrolling electronic displays you see at locations such as train stations and airports,” which has been shrunk to the size of a watch. PC Magazine notes the displays limited size would make it a good place to show simple information, with Samsung’s patent giving examples of “the title of a song that’s playing, the date, weather forecast, or useful information such as who the incoming call or message is from.”

TechRadar Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) reports the secondary display is placed where the “bezel edge normally sits.” TechRadar adds that such a design would “fit in nicely with Samsung’s Edge smartphone range.”

Phone Arena Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) reports that the display design itself could be costly and present a host of engineering problems, but Samsung’s patent also included limiting factors, such as only 90-degree rotation on the bezel, which “may fully well be the result of real-life prototype testing.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Michigan Agrees To $87 Million Proposal To Replace Flint’s Contaminated Water Pipes.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Bosman, Subscription Publication) reports the State of Michigan agreed to devote $87 million replacing “thousands of lead pipes throughout Flint over the next three years” as part of a proposed settlement to fix the city’s contaminated water system. State officials “may use a combination of federal and state funds for the project, which, if approved, would settle a lawsuit brought last year by a coalition of Flint residents and national groups” alleging city and state officials failed to protect residents from tainted water for upwards of a year. A Federal judge in Detroit is slated to review the proposal Tuesday, the Times adds. National Resources Defense Council lawyer Dimple Chaudhary said, “The proposed agreement is a win for the people of Flint. It provides a comprehensive framework to address lead contamination in Flint’s tap water. The agreement is a significant step forward for the Flint community, covering a number of critical issues related to water safety.”

According to the Detroit News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Snell), the state is willing to “spend an additional $47 million” – on top of “$40 million previously budgeted to address Flint’s widespread lead-contamination crisis” and “$10 million to cover unexpected costs” – to bring the state’s total spending “to $97 million.” The deal proposes “more money to repair the city’s water lines but also gives the state an opportunity in the future to stop providing free bottled water to residents,” the Detroit News says. It follows “10 days after the Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $100 million emergency grant to Michigan to fund infrastructure upgrades in Flint.” The proposed settlement stipulates that, if costs exceed “$97 million, the state is obliged to use its best efforts to secure additional funding, possibly from the Legislature.” The Detroit Free Press Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Egan) runs a similar report, noting the proposal calls for “the City of Flint to identify and replace at least 18,000 unsafe water lines in Flint by 2020.”

New Yorker Profiles NASA Engineers Entering Politics.

The New Yorker Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) profiles Natalia Sanchez, who moved to the US from her native Colombia in her teens, and “completed degrees in general and aerospace engineering at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, where she met and found a role model in Tracy Van Houten, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was active in the Society of Women Engineers.” Sanchez is not a citizen and works for JPL. After the election of President Trump, “she learned that Van Houten was running in a special primary for California’s Thirty-fourth Congressional District” and “decided to work for Van Houten’s campaign.” The article places these two women’s experience within the context of the “long history of political engagement” by US scientists, who “have, among other activities, provided advice and expert testimony to Congress, lobbied for funding, worked for non-governmental organizations and think tanks, and shaped policymaking.”

NRC Says Three Mile Island Accident Resulted In Significant Safety Improvements.

The Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Kiner) remembers the partial meltdown of the Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island plant in Londonderry Township on March 28, 1979. The incident that “no one in central Pennsylvania will ever forget,” was called by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, “the most serious accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant operating history, although its small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public.” The NRC also said the aftermath of the accident “brought about sweeping changes involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations.” The accident also “caused the NRC to tighten and heighten its regulatory oversight. All of these changes significantly enhanced U.S. reactor safety.”

Federal Energy Efficiency Programs Effective At Reducing GHG Emissions, Study Says.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Harvey) reports that as the Trump Administration’s proposed budget aims to eliminate several popular energy efficiency program, “including the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program and the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program,” a new study argues that “such programs…have the potential to make a big dent in our greenhouse gas output.” According to research published in the journal Nature Energy, federal programs that help to “green” buildings in Los Angeles have helped avoid “145,000 metric tons in carbon dioxide equivalents each year,” and there is “hope that efficiency programs in other cities may perform similarly well.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Microsoft Campaigns For More Young Girls To Get Involved In STEM Fields.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Mirza) reports that Microsoft’s “#MakeWhatsNext” campaign encourages girls to not only get involved in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but to stay in them as well. According to Microsoft, girls tend to lose interest in STEM fields around the age of 15, and only 6.7 percent of women graduate with STEM degrees, adding that the low numbers are due to a lack of female role models within the field, unequal access and cultural stereotypes. Microsoft’s other campaign, DigiGirlz, is a “hands-on initiative” that began in 2000 and has provided free technology education in schools throughout the world and enables young girls to interact with new technology, speak with female professionals in the field and make connections.

Legally Blind Chemist Creates Low-Cost STEM Curriculum For Blind Children.

Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Johnson) reports that as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Minnesota who is legally blind is developing a STEM curriculum for blind children in developing countries. Mona Minkara will implement her “blind-accessible and low-cost” STEM curriculum at a camp started by her sister in Lebanon, adding that she hopes it pushes blind children towards the idea that “maybe one day the could become scientists.”

New Jersey High School Robotics Team Awarded Silver Medal.

Tap Into New Jersey Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/24, Flemington) reports that Hunterdon Central High School’s robotics team was awarded the silver medal at a recent 38-team event, and that they were also presented the Creativity Award which “celebrates creativity in design.” The team’s robot was designed and built by students, with aid from teachers and mentors.

Charles Taylor Kerchner: Twin Brothers Create Learning Zone To Create Interest In The STEM Field.

Charles Taylor Kerchner writes in his Education Week Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27, Taylor Kerchner) blog about the Gibbs, twin-brothers who created the Imperial Valley Discovery Zone which aims to excite second graders “with the scientific method” and create STEM opportunities in college for high school students. The basic concept has high school students presenting “highly engaging” science lessons to elementary school students in a school district where 80 percent are Latino and 43 percent fall below the poverty standard. The twin-brothers set out to create their learning zone after finding out that many teachers didn’t have the funding, time or expertise to create “compelling science experiments.”

Space Camp Aims To Increase Interest Among High School Seniors In STEM Careers.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (3/27) reports that three Albuquerque area high school seniors were part of a larger group of students from around the world that recently wrapped up a “wildly enjoyable stint” at the Honeywell Leadership Challenge Academy at the US Space and Rocket Center, otherwise known as Space Camp. Selected students went through many of the same training simulations as NASA Astronauts at the Alabama-based Academy, and were able to meet NASA scientists, engineers and former astronauts. One of the objectives of the program is to increase interest in STEM subjects through interactive workshops and training, because according to the US Department of Education only 16 percent of US high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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