Leading the News
US Officials Suspect Russian Cyberattacks Targeted Nuclear Power Plants.
NBC Nightly News’ (7/7, story 5, 1:50, Guthrie) Pete Williams reported, “US officials say tonight they sent a bulletin warning of a series of cyberattacks beginning in May on companies that run a dozen US nuclear power plants. Several US intelligence officials tell NBC News Russian hackers are strongly suspected because the attacks resembled previous cyber intrusions known to have been carried out by the Russians on electrical grids in other countries. Among the targets this time, US officials say, the Wolf Creek nuclear plant in Burlington, Kansas.” Williams added that the industry claimed “none of the control systems for any of the nation’s 99 operating nuclear plants are connected to the Internet, but some experts say the intrusions are a wake-up call.”
Cybersecurity expert Jim Lewis told Jeff Pegues of the CBS Evening News (7/7, story 7, 2:20, Pauley) that all of the evidence related to the hacking activity “points towards Russia,” which most likely wanted “to get into the nuclear controls, but they weren’t able to. They only were able to get into the front-end operations, you know, the billing, the office stuff, the email.” National Intelligence Director Coats stressed, “The potential impact of these cyber threats is amplified by the ongoing integration of technology into our critical infrastructure and into our daily lives.”
The Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News (7/9, Marroni) reports that Neil Sheehan, spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s field office in Philadelphia, said Sunday: “We have had no reports of cybersecurity issues at any plants in the Northeast.” He also “said commission’s threat and cyber experts have been working with law-enforcement officials Homeland Security related to the incident.”
DHS: Nuclear Energy Hack Attempts Pose No Threat To Public. The AP (7/7, Caldwell) reported in continuing coverage that the Department of Homeland Security on Friday said that recent attempts by hackers “to breach the business and administrative networks of” nuclear and other energy providers pose “no threat to public safety.” Nuclear engineer David Lochbaum explains that “nuclear safety systems are generally out of the reach of hackers in analog systems.” The New York Post (7/7, Murphy) reported that according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, “no nuclear-plant operator had reported operational security breaches in the recent wave of attacks.”
Connecticut High School Students To Train At State Police Academy.
The AP (7/8) reports that 25 high school students have been selected to take part in a week of training at the Connecticut State Police Training Academy in Meriden, Connecticut, with “a shot at some college scholarships.” The program highlights a number of law enforcement techniques and procedures, and is “designed to give the students insight into the training, duties and expectations of state troopers.”
University Of Missouri Undertakes Budget Cuts As Enrollment Declines After Protests.
The New York Times (7/9, Hartocollis, Subscription Publication) reports that enrollment at the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus has dropped by over 35 percent in the two years since the school’s fall 2015 protests, during which “students complaining of official inaction in the face of racial bigotry joined forces with a graduate student on a hunger strike” that would eventually pressure the university system president and the campus chancellor to resign. Lost tuition and a decline in state funding have caused the university to undertake budget cuts, “temporarily closing seven dormitories and cutting more than 400 positions, including those of some nontenured faculty members, through layoffs and by leaving open jobs unfilled.”
Research and Development
Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute To Take Part In Eclipse Research.
The AP (7/9, Chavez) reports that researchers at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute will play “a front-and-center role in the total solar eclipse August 21,” saying the NASA-built site was founded by “Don Cline, a philanthropist and astronomically obsessed retired engineer from Greensboro.” Cline, who has worked to promote a wider scope for STEM education, “expects the cosmic event to have a quantum effect of science love.”
NSF Gives Adaptive Optics System Grant To Mauna Kea Telescope.
The Kaua’i (HI) Garden Island News (7/8) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea telescope a grant for nearly $1 million “to build an autonomous adaptive optics system called Robo-AO-2.” The piece quotes University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy astronomer Christoph Baranec saying that the new technology “will usher in a new age of high-resolution science in astronomy. And were doing it with one of the oldest and smallest telescopes on Mauna Kea.”
New Mexico Company Develops Buoy System To Pump Fresh Water To Third World Countries.
On its website, KRQE-TV Albuquerque, NM (7/7, Yingling) reported a buoy system designed by a mechanical engineer from Sandia National Laboratories is helping design a buoy system that “could provide fresh water to hundreds of thousands of people living in third world countries.” Atmocean’s complex system “is a group of buoys the size of a football field that floats a mile and a half off the coastal communities.” Mechanical engineer Timothy Koehler said he has been using software called Flow 3D “to simulate the effect of ocean waves on the buoy structure.” Christopher White, COO of Atmocean, said the system pumps 50 million cubic feet of seawater to shore.
NYTimes Analysis: Ann Arbor, Michigan Emerges As Self-Driving Car Research Hub.
The New York Times (7/9, Boudette, Subscription Publication) reports that amid “fierce” competition from Silicon Valley, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Singapore, and Shanghai, Ann Arbor, Michigan “has emerged as a one-of-a-kind, living laboratory for the technologies that will pave the way” for the “future of interconnected, self-driving cars.” University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute Director James Sayer emphasized the unique situation: “This combination of research and testing in a controlled facility like MCity, and testing on the street in the real world, on this scale, doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.” Indeed, industry representatives from the Netherlands, Germany, and India recently visited to witness the efforts. University President Mark Schlissel said the institution’s efforts come from a desire to boost the state economy: “For the economic future of the state, it is critical that the leadership of automotive technology remains in southeastern Michigan.”
Celtic Renewables Develops Biofuel From Whisky Byproduct.
Reuters (7/7, Hanrahan) reported Martin Tangney, the president of Celtic Renewables and the director of Edinburgh Napier University’s Biofuel Research Centre, “has developed a process to manufacture the biofuel biobutanol from draff and pot ale – barley kernels and a yeasty liquid that are produced when whisky is made and then usually thrown away.” According to Reuters, Tangney demonstrated the “efficiency” of the fuel “by driving a rental car filled with the mixture around the university’s car park this week.” In an interview, Tangney said, “What I did was I look at this as a business innovation as much as a technical innovation and thought: ‘if 70 percent of the cost of production is coming from the raw materials – why not tackle that end of it?’” He added, “The whisky industry will now have a sustainable and reliable way of disposing of their residue. Plus we’ll create a brand new industry out of something that has no value whatsoever.”
Hacker Releases First Product For Car Enthusiasts.
Business Insider (7/7, Muoio) reported “famous hacker George Hotz” on Friday began selling “his first car product,” Panda, for $88, “a few months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration prevented him from selling a self-driving roof kit.” BI said that the device is paired with the software tool Cabana, which “will allow car enthusiasts to reverse engineer their cars using the data compiled by Panda.” According to BI, “using the Panda/Cabana combo for example, someone could theoretically write software to give a car automatic braking or advanced cruise control (assuming the car has the necessary sensors built-in).” However, BI conceded the device and software “clearly…isn’t aimed at the average driver.”
Engineering and Public Policy
NYTimes Analysis: Utility Lobbyists Threaten “Explosive” Growth Of Solar Power.
According to the New York Times (7/8, Tabuchi, Subscription Publication), while rooftop solar panel installations have seen “explosive growth” of up to 900 percent in the past six years, the growth “has come to a shuddering stop this year,” with Bloomberg New Energy Finance projections indicating a decline of two percent. Among the factors driving the reversal are saturated markets, financial woes at top producers, and the coincidence of a “concerted and well-funded lobbying campaign by traditional utilities” in state capitals to reverse homeowner incentives. The Times says that the “considerable success” of the lobbying efforts is “dimming” renewable energy’s prospects nationwide. Now, the same group of utilities is set to sway solar policy in Washington, even as former Edison institute executive Brian McCormack – now Energy Secretary Perry’s chief of staff – charged with leading a study of how renewable energy could be hurting convention sources.
Politico Analysis: Air Traffic Control Privatization Faces Hurdles Despite Trump’s Support.
Politico (7/9, Gurciullo, Gardner) reports that a month after President Trump publicly announced his support, the GOP proposal to privatize the air traffic control system “still faces opposition form rural interests, small-plane owners and key Republicans in Congress.” Some members of Congress “have expressed confidence” that House Speaker Ryan will bring the bill to a vote this year. However, the September 30 deadline for reauthorizing the FAA is similar to the deadline for raising the debt ceiling to prevent a shutdown, and the House version would have to be reconciled with the Senate’s, which lacks a privatization provision. If the chambers can’t agree on a compromise before October, Politico says that “one likely scenario is that lawmakers will simply extend the FAA’s current authorization while they hash things out.”
WSJournal Analysis: US-Based Wind Farm Development Faces Obstacles.
The Wall Street Journal (7/9, Ailworth, Subscription Publication) reports that as the offshore wind industry turns to America, red tape surrounding federal waters and the lack of US-based deep-water turbine producers pose challenges. Further, the Block Island wind farm – which sits off Rhode Island’s coast – currently generates power for 24.4 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared to well under 10 cents per kilowatt-hour in Europe. Still, the Journal says developers are hopeful that supply chain, regulatory, and cost-related hurdles will wane as more projects establish themselves this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power to be developed by 2030, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law last year for the state to add 1.6 gigawatts by June 2027.
WPost: Carbon Tax Would Promote Development Of Effective Clean-Coal Technologies.
The Washington Post (7/9) editorializes that the decision by Mississippi’s Kemper County Energy Facility to begin solely burning natural gas without any carbon dioxide diversion last week amounts to “the second federally funded clean-coal boondoggle.” Rather than “channeling cash to favored experiments,” the Post says lawmakers should “distribute research money and other incentives on merit” in order to foster markets in which the “best low-carbon technologies [are] profitable and…rise into use naturally.” A carbon tax would provide a “freedom-maximizing, flexibility-preserving, waste-minimizing” solution.
NSF Gives University At Buffalo Physics Instructor Grant To Get Native American Students Interested In Science.
The AP (7/9) reports that the National Science Foundation has given University at Buffalo physics instructor Ciaran Williams a $400,000 grant to “try to get Native American high school students interested in science.” The AP reports the grant will allow Williams to “continue his theoretical work for the Large Hadron Collider project.” Williams will work to get Salamanca High School students “involved by periodically bringing undergraduate students to the school to do lectures on interesting aspects of physics. Many Salamanca students are members of the Seneca Indian Nation.”
Education Nonprofit Addresses Projected Cybersecurity Professional Shortage.
The Seventy Four (7/9, Newcomb) reports the US government and major companies “have a dire need for additional computer science experts capable of staving off cyberattacks.” Project Lead the Way senior vice president and chief programs officer David Greer cautioned that by 2022, there will be a projected shortage of 1.8 million cybersecurity professionals. He stressed the need “to start addressing [this crisis] early on in the educational life of a student that they can choose to be whatever they would like – but the option of computer science needs to be one of those choices.” The nonprofit creates “engineering, biomedical, and computer science programs” used in more than 9,000 schools and by “2.4 million students in grades K-12 every year,” and it will introduce a high school cybersecurity course next fall. Verizon also granted the nonprofit a $5 million grant to train teachers at 240 middle schools across 36 states, and pledged another $3 million to expand into 150 more schools.
Connecticut Students Attend Summer Manufacturer’s Academy.
The New Haven (CT) Register (7/9) reports Connecticut’s Manufacturing Innovation Fund paid for 40 students to attend the Connecticut Technical High School System’s Second Annual Young Manufacturers Academy. The program is aimed at preparing students for placement in the state’s competitive technical high schools, where admission decisions factor in “grades, community service and teacher recommendation.” Emmett O’Brien Technical High School precision manufacturing department head Steven Orloski said he has placed “90 percent of my graduates into the workforce,” including “at Alinabal, Orchid Orthopedic Solutions and Shick in Milford, Precision Resources in Shelton and Bridgeport Fittings and Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford.” He said he tells his “students that when I was 20 years old, I was able to buy my first house” because he “wasn’t saddled with enormous college debt” and “are ready to immediately enter the work force.”
FIRST Global Launches Inaugural International Robotics Competition.
The Washington Times (7/9, Zietlow) reports high school teams from nearly 160 countries gathered “in Washington starting Sunday to participate” in what FIRST Global and other “sponsors are calling the first international robot olympics.” The competition’s “three days of games [are] designed to test their ingenuity and promote STEM education – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – as a field of work for everyone, including those in the world’s least-developed countries.” The event “has not been free of political controversy, with both the Gambian team and an all-girl team from Afghanistan finding their original visa applications denied by the U.S. government.” The Gambian team’s visas were approved following “a spate of publicity,” but the team’s mentor and Gambian minister of higher education, research, science and technology, Mucktarr Darboe, was denied. The Times notes more than 200 student competitors are female, and 60 percent of the teams “were either founded, organized or led by women.”
NSF Awards Afterschool Science Education Grant To Maine Organization.
The AP (7/9) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $1.85 million grant to the Maine Mathematics & Science Alliance to train librarians and other educators “to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics into their communities,” and “help with the alliance’s Afterschool Coaching for Rural Educators in STEM program.” According to the alliance, rural students are half as likely as their urban peers to experience STEM instruction, but expects the after-school initiative to impact “more than 14,000 students and about 500 program providers.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• Report: Suspected Russian Hackers Penetrating US Energy Networks.
• AGs Sue DeVos Over Student Loan Protections.
• Duke Researchers Develop Low-Cost Tire Wear Sensor.
• Microsoft Cutting Thousands Of Jobs As It Shifts Sales Focus Toward The Cloud.
• Taiwan Planning $33 Million Investment In AI Research Centers.
• DOE: Cost Of Building Power Plants On The Decline.
• Indiana District Middle School To Host First Robotics Camp.