Leading the News
Brown University To Lead National Center For Creating Bioluminescent Neuroscience Tools.
Medical Xpress (8/1, Orenstein) reports the National Science Foundation will provide up to $9.2 million over five years to Brown University to fund the creation of a new “NeuroNex Technology Hub” that is “dedicated to developing and disseminating new tools based on giving nervous system cells the ability to make and respond to light.” Labs from Brown, Central Michigan University, and the Scintillon Institute will collaborate “to invent, improve upon and combine several unique bioengineering technologies to create new research capabilities” and “make their advances rapidly, easily and freely available to the global scientific community.” Brown Institute for Brain Sciences associate director and Brown neuroscience professor Christopher Moore, the principal investigator, said the purpose of NeuroNex “is to systematically address” the “real problem in science of certain inequities in access.” Moore, who is on the board of the open-source initiative OpenEphys, added that all collaborators on the project have a strong ethic of openness in research.
The Providence (RI) Business News (8/1) reports research conducted at NeuroNex could “hypothetically allow scientists to regulate brain patterns by creating cells that can illuminate and regulate themselves when an event, such as a particular behavior, spawns an uptick in calcium.” For example, the research may help “control epileptic seizures, with cells programmed to override cell hyperactivity, among other applications.”
ED Ending Effort To Consolidate Student Loan Servicers.
Politico (8/1, Stratford) reports in a brief item that Education Secretary DeVos “is abandoning her plans to overhaul how the federal government collects payments of student loan borrowers amid growing opposition” from both parties in Congress. The Education Department says it has “halted the process of hiring a single company to manage all federal student loan payments – and plans to come up with a ‘more innovative approach’ after gathering feedback from the student loan industry and ‘various stakeholders.’”
The Washington Post (8/1, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ED “canceled a contract solicitation that would have handed the management of the federal government’s $1.2 trillion portfolio of education loans to a single company amid growing complaints from industry stakeholders and lawmakers.” DeVos “said the Office of Federal Student Aid will create a single online platform for use by one or more loan servicers, a move that is largely aligned with the terms of the contract solicitation issued by the Obama administration.” Though DeVos had earlier “amended that solicitation in May to have one company build the portal and collect all federal student loans,” she now “says the department will devise a new approach to servicing that will require separate acquisitions for database housing, system processing and customer account servicing that will provide the opportunity for many companies to submit proposals for contracts.”
Bipartisan Bill Would Bar ED From Selecting Single Servicer. The Chronicle of Higher Education (8/1) reports that Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced on Monday legislation dubbed the Student Loan Servicer Performance Accountability Act which would “cancel the Department of Education’s process to choose a contractor to service the billions of dollars in student loans that it issues.” The measure “stipulates that the department cancel its current process to choose a company, and any amendments to that process” and mandates that “DeVos ‘shall not award a contract to a single servicer to service all Federal Direct Loans.’”
State Department Official Discusses Necessity Of Higher Education In America.
Diverse Education (8/1) reports State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Thomas A. Shannon told attendees at the eighth annual EducationUSA forum on Tuesday that American higher education institutions are an “essential part of our nation’s diplomatic outreach” and critical to advancing economic opportunities, “good governance, energy security and global security.” He added that international students “enrich American campuses and classrooms with perspectives from around the world and improved learning environment for all students,” and help “transcend stereotypes and expand world views and connect with people in places previously unknown.” Shannon also described his time with Brazil’s “Science Without Borders” program, which was established in 2011 to send 100,000 students to study STEM abroad, as one of his most interesting career experiences.
National University To Launch Personalized Education Platform.
Inside Higher Ed (8/1) reports the California-based nonprofit National University launched a $20 million, four-year project to establish a new personalized education platform that combines “adaptive learning, competency-based learning and predictive analytics for student retention.” If successful, National will implement the new platform across 20 general education courses by 2018. Last year, National hired David Andrews, a former Johns Hopkins University School of Education dean and professor and the founding dean of the Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology, as its president, in part to lead the new project. Last month, National launched the Precision Institute, a research and development arm to study the project’s progress and support faculty members. National also partnered with Civitas, which develops adaptive coursework designed to help students more effectively develop an academic pathway and provide learning academics focused on course work.
Private Colleges Push For Antitrust Law Exemption To Discuss Tuition, Discounts.
The Washington Post (8/1, Marcus) reports that through a National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities proposal, “private-college lobbyists and congressional committees” are quietly discussing a possible Federal antitrust law exemption to let private colleges discuss tuition prices and discounts. Such an exemption, advocates say, may “stop, and even reverse, their big annual increases in tuition,” as well as “help ensure financial aid goes to the students who need it most.” Nonetheless, antitrust law exemptions are “hugely controversial.” Up to 150 schools in 24 groups “once talked to each other routinely about cost and discussed how much financial aid to offer individual students who applied to more than one of them,” but in 1991, the Justice Department “brought charges of price-fixing against the most prominent of these, the Ivy Overlap Group, which included the Ivy League institutions and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Since then, private colleges have “found themselves in an intensifying competition, giving bigger and bigger discounts to fill seats.”
NASA Aims To Draw Women, Girls To STEM Careers.
Politico Morning Education (8/1) reports that NASA “is taking steps to encourage women and girls to study STEM, pursue careers in aerospace and play a part in advancing the country’s space science and exploration efforts.” NASA says it will “invest in three programs: NASA GIRLS & BOYS, a program that pairs middle school students with NASA employees for a virtual mentorship; Aspire to Inspire, which offers content such as short films about career opportunities in STEM through the lives of early career women at NASA; and the Summer Institute in Science, Technology, Engineering and Research, which allows middle school students to take a deeper look at nontraditional career fields with female engineers, mathematicians and scientists.” The piece says the moves are a response to the INSPIRE Women Act.
California High School Robotics Team Hosts Lego Robo-Camp.
The Los Angeles Times (8/1, Vega) reports the Buena Vista Branch Library in California collaborated with a community high school robotics team, FRC Team 980 ThunderBots, to host a week-long Lego Robo-Camp. Participating students were divided into eight groups, and used Lego Mindstorms to learn about robot assembly and programming. ThunderBots mentor Robin Dorfman “said the goal is to instill an interest in robotics at a young age, so students and parents can encourage schools to implement technical programs into their curricula.” She explained, “It’s better to set up a foundation in students early on and lead them in studies toward [science, technology, engineering and math] careers, [where] they will be better prepared for the new future.”
Australian Start-Up’s New Device Introduces Children To Programming.
Forbes (8/1, Burns) contributor Janet Burns profiles the Australian startup Microbric’s “affordable, fully programmable device,” Edison. The LEGO-ready bot offers “a range of free lesson plans and programming tools for elementary, middle, and high school students,” and is “also creating a community of students and educators around the world who can’t wait to see what it’ll do next.” Microbric designed Edison “to help students get their feet wet in programming” and accommodate “younger and language-learning students by sticking almost entirely to visual symbols and tools and using a horizontal format.” Microbric product and marketing manager Kat Kennewelll explained “that the company’s new easy-to-use EdBlocks app utilizes open-source framework from Google’s Blockly, as well as work by other tech leaders, including Scratch 3.0 from MIT.”
Research and Development
3-D Printing Could Save Auto Industry “Billions” In Product Development.
Automotive News (7/31, Truett) reports that “the auto industry could save billions on product development by embracing 3-D printing to produce tooling – not parts.” The article quotes Oak Ridge National Laboratory Group Leader Lonnie Love saying, “early results of 3-D printed tooling are promising.” Automotive News adds that “engineers and scientists at Oak Ridge have produced tooling that can make a car hood, and aircraft maker Boeing is using a 3-D printed tool that makes winglets for commercial airliners.” The article further quotes Love saying, “We are at a pivotal time at U.S. manufacturing. We are on the cusp of great things.” Love adds, “we’re bullish on where things are going. Additive manufacturing is going big, going fast and going inexpensively.”
Colorado School Of Mines Engineering Students Push To Finish Pod Ahead Of Hyperloop Competition.
The Denver Post (8/1) reports the Colorado School of Mines’ Team Diggerloop is pushing to complete its all-electric hyperloop pod, currently “little more than a few plastic pipes held together with screws,” by Aug. 18 – the deadline to compete in the second annual SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, created “to help jump-start technology that could eventually make a hyperloop transportation system viable.” The 14 engineering majors on Team Diggerloop have “less money, experience and manpower than other teams” slated to compete in California this August, but the “Diggerloop team members remain unfazed.” Team Diggerloop was selected in April as one of 24 finalists to compete on the above-ground tunnel system at SpaceX’s headquarters in California.
University Of Pennsylvania Team Wins Top-Performing Electric Car At Formula SAE.
Philly (PA) (8/1) reports the University of Pennsylvania’s student engineering team won “first in five out of eight categories” at the international Formula SAE competition last month. It also “boasted the top-performing electric car” for the second time in three years. The electric car, dubbed REV 3, was constructed out of two medium-density fiberboard panels shaped with a giant router from team sponsor Leading Edge Composites, and then affixed with carbon panels. The 400-pound vehicle completed “the 75-meter course in 4.095 seconds – equivalent to going from zero to 60 mph in a brisk 2.6 seconds.” The engineering students on the team had an $85,000 budget, but the true cost, “including sponsor donations of parts, software, and expertise,” totaled in “the millions.” Despite his “long career working with lubricants in the automotive industry, most recently at ExxonMobil,” team faculty adviser and mechanical engineering professor Andrew Jackson said he thinks “electric vehicles are the vehicle of the future.”
Universities Of Rhode Island, Connecticut To Launch Undersea Engineering Program.
The AP (8/1) reports the US Navy’s Office of Naval Research awarded a three-year, $1.3 million grant to the University of Rhode Island and the University of Connecticut to establish joint programs targeting undergraduate students interested in careers with the Navy and in undersea engineering. The two universities “will launch a new concentration in naval science and technology in which students will take classes featuring guest speakers from local Navy contractors and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.”
NSF Awards Cornell University With Grant To Launch Neurotech Research Hub.
The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette (8/1) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a five-year, $9 million grant to Cornell University “to establish the Cornell Neurotechnology NeuroNex Hub, which will focus on researching, developing and disseminating new optical imaging tools for noninvasive recording of neural activity in animals.” The grant will also establish the Laboratory for Innovative Neurotechnology for engineers and biologists to “collaborate on developing and testing the tools.” The NeuroNex Hub is aimed at overcoming “three barriers faced by neuroscientists: deep imaging of intact brains, imaging of large and multiple neural regions, and faster imaging for volumetric recording,” and with the technology, “biologists hope to explore unanswered questions such as how animals consciously switch from autonomous locomotion to deliberate limb placement.” The Star-Gazette notes the hub is part of the Cornell Neurotech program, “launched with a multimillion-dollar gift from the Mong Family Foundation in 2015 with the same goal of encouraging cross-disciplinary research to develop new tools for neuroscience.”
Science Professors Detail New, Optimized Approach To Nanomanufacturing.
Nanowerk (8/1, Berger) reports on a new approach to nanomanufacturing that could “rapidly optimize” photonic nanostructure design, and significantly lower the costs involved in future processing. The outlet references a recently published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences as part of its report, which “describes how the team employed wrinkle lithography integrated with concurrent design” to develop the nanostructures “in amorphous silicon at wafer scales that achieved over 160% light absorption enhancement from 800 to 1200 nm.” Teri W. Odom, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison, Professor of Chemistry and Professors of Materials Science and Engineering at Northwestern University, tells Nanowerk, “The quasi-periodicity of patterns, materials filling ratio, and feature depths could be independently controlled. We statistically represented the quasi-random patterns by Fourier spectral density functions (SDFs) that could bridge the processing-structure and structure-performance relations. Iterative search of the optimal structure via the SDF representation enabled concurrent design of nanostructures and processing.”
Illinois Research Spending Flat As US Spending Grows, Report Finds.
Crain’s Chicago Business (8/1, Pletz) summarizes a report from the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition (ISTC) that found “Illinois is among the leaders in overall research spending, ranking eighth in the nation,” but “the state’s R&D spending rose 0.2 percent annually between 2010 and 2014, the most recent data available, compared with 4 percent growth in the U.S.” ISTC CEO Mark Harris said the state is “holding steady, not going in the other direction,” but it “need[s] to pick up pace” with regards to research spending. The article mentions Illinois Tool Works “upped its R&D spending to a healthy 7 percent between 2010 and 2014.”
“Internet Of Things” Poses Widespread Cybersecurity Threats.
E&E Publishing (8/1, Subscription Publication) reports on the threat posed by cyberattacks directed at the “internet of things.” For example, last fall “attackers drew on raw computing power from thousands of hacked electronics to briefly knock down a core pillar of the internet” using a “distributed denial-of-service attack.” Another threat is posed by older IoT systems, which lack a “simple ‘off’ switch to prevent them from being exploited for eventual use in wide-scale cyberattacks.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Aurora University Dedicates New Center To Introduce Area High School Students To Engineering And Design Principles.
The Aurora (IL) Beacon-News (8/1) reports the new Michael J. Birck Collaboration Center for Innovation at Aurora University was dedicated July 27. AU President Rebecca L. Sherrick said the center, according to the Beacon-News, “is a testament to the power of collaboration between the university, businesses and philanthropic organizations in promoting STEM education.” Southern Company Gas/Nicor is listed as one of the program’s partners.
DTE Proposes $1B Natural Gas Plant As It Plans To Close Two Coal-Fired Plants.
The AP (8/1) reports that DTE Energy Co. is seeking permission to build a $1 billion natural gas-fired power plant in St. Clair County, where the utility plans to close two coal-fired power plants it has operated for decades. “A fundamental transformation in the way we produce power in Michigan has already begun,” said DTE Electric president and COO Trevor F. Lauer, adding that the new plant “is the best solution for our customers due to many factors, including the environment, reliability and affordability.”
Natural Gas Executives Defend Cyber Defenses, Meet With Security Officials.
E&E Publishing (8/1, Subscription Publication) reports the natural gas industry released a briefing paper yesterday, defending the cybersecurity of its vast pipeline network, despite the reviews being conducted by Congress, the Energy Department and an electric grid monitor. However, executives have started discussions with federal officials and security experts about steps to strengthen cyber defenses.
Tulsa-Based Utility Needs Quick Approval For $4.5B Wind Project.
The Oklahoman (8/1, Monies) reports that Tulsa-based electric utility Public Service Co. of Oklahoma needs a “quick approval” from Oklahoma regulators for its proposed $4.5 billion wind farm and transmission line in order to “fully quality for federal tax credits for renewable energy.” Nick Akins, chairman of PSO’s parent company American Electric Power Co. explained, “The sense of urgency around getting approvals for this thing is centered on the federal government basically giving a 62 percent-, 63 percent-off sale with the [production tax credits] PTCs, and to take full advantage of the PTCs, that’s $2.5 billion alone.”
Seattle Non-Profit Helps Teachers Become “Lead Learners” For Computer Science Classes.
Education Week (8/1, Herold) reports a Seattle non-profit called Code.org “has carved out a big slice of the K-12 computer-science education market by combining popular curricula with savvy policy advocacy and public awareness campaigns.” In addition, the organization focuses “on helping teachers learn to teach in a different way than they may be used to,” referred to as a “‘lead learner’ approach,” to help the teachers overcome anxiety about their lack of content knowledge.
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Patent Docs Showcase Apple’s AR “Smart Glasses” Project.
• University Of Michigan Prepares For Construction Of Ford-Sponsored Robotics Building.
• Alphabet Researchers Working On Technology To Store Electricity As Thermal Energy.
• Vanderbilt Engineering Professor Analyzes How US Infrastructure Compares Globally.
• WTimes Analysis: EPA Would Face Tough Fight To Reverse Greenhouse Gas Endangerment Finding.
• Stony Brook University Hosts High School STEM Competition.