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

Leading the News

Scientists Repair Disease-Causing Genetic Mutation In Dozens Of Embryos Using CRISPR.

The CBS Evening News (8/2, story 11, 1:20, Mason) reported, “Researchers say they’ve made a major breakthrough in gene editing. For the first time, they successfully repaired a genetic mutation in human embryos.”

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, A1, Belluck, Subscription Publication) reports that for the first time, scientists “successfully edited genes in human embryos to repair a” disease-causing mutation, according to a study Share to FacebookShare to Twitter published in Nature. The study “marks a major milestone and…raises the prospect that gene editing may one day protect babies from a variety of hereditary conditions,” but also raises ethical concerns about human genetic engineering.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, A1, Cha) reports in “To Your Health” that researchers injected sperm carrying a mutation that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy into eggs without the mutation, and then used CRISPR to remove the mutation from the resulting embryos. The researchers found that the mutation was absent from around 72% of the embryos, and the process did not cause any other changes to the cells’ DNA.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Painter) reports that the research raises the prospect that the single mutations that cause many genetic diseases could be repaired in embryos thereby preventing them from being passed on to future generations. The article points out, however, that the US and many other countries currently prohibit genetic research that could alter germ lines, because of safety and ethical concerns. On its website, the NPR Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Stein) “Shots” blog reports that the Food and Drug Administration is prohibited “from considering any experiments that involve genetically modified human embryos,” and “the National Institutes of Health will not fund any research involving human embryos.”

CNN Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Howard) reports on its website that some critics of CRISPR research “have argued that gene editing may give way to eugenics and to allowing embryos to be edited with certain features in order to develop so-called designer babies.” STAT Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Begley) reports, however, that the researchers found the embryos used the egg’s copy of the gene without the mutation to repair themselves, rather than the genetic material that the investigators provided through CRISPR. The study’s lead researcher Shoukhrat Mitalipov said that finding should help alleviate fears that the process could be used to create “designer babies.”

Higher Education

DOJ Downplays Report University Affirmative Action Policies Are Under Scrutiny.

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Savage, Subscription Publication) reports that the Justice Department “sought to play down its recruitment of Civil Rights Division lawyers for what it had billed in an internal announcement as work on ‘investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions,’” saying it was searching for lawyers “to investigate a single complaint involving Asian-American students in a college admissions affirmative-action case.” An earlier Times story reported on the announcement, “framing it as apparently being about hunting for practices deemed to discriminate against white people.” DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores called “media reports about the investigation…’inaccurate,’” and “said the personnel announcement sought volunteers ‘to investigate one admissions complaint’ filed on behalf of Asian-Americans who alleged racial discrimination in ‘a university’s admission policy and practices.’”

The New York Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Schultz) describes DOJ and the White House as pushing back on the New York Times story Share to FacebookShare to Twitter. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders “downplayed” it as “uncorroborated,” telling reporters, “The New York Times article is based entirely on uncorroborated inferences from a leaked internal personnel posting in violation of Department of Justice policy. … While the White House does not confirm or deny the existence of potential investigations, the Department of Justice will always review credible allegations of discrimination on the basis of any race.”

Nonetheless, the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Horwitz, Costa) says the internal DOJ announcement “has roused President Trump’s conservative base by seizing on a longtime grievance of the right at a moment when the administration is struggling to fulfill core Republican promises.” The Post casts the move as a “signal that the administration is embracing the base during a time of turbulence and tension,” and adds that some GOP operatives “see the affirmative action initiative as a strategic play by the White House to rally middle-class and upper-middle-class white voters, especially as the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill has stalled.”

Connecticut, Rhode Island Universities Launch Program To Interest Students In Naval, Underwater Engineering Careers.

The New London (CT) Day Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) reports that the University of Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island have launched a new program that “will target students interested in careers in the Navy and undersea engineering.” Funded through a $1.3 million Office of Naval Research grant, the program will offer “a new concentration in naval and science technology…to as many as 50 engineering students on both campuses.” Students will “conduct research and design projects involving new Navy technologies.”

Senate Sends GI Bill College Aid Expansion To Trump’s Desk.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Yen) reports that the Senate has approved legislation “to provide the biggest expansion of college aid for military veterans in a decade,” sending the bill to President Trump’s desk. The bill “removes a 15-year time limit to tap into GI benefits and increases money for thousands in the National Guard and Reserve.” Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson said, “This bill invests in the proven success of our veterans. When our veterans return home, they should have every opportunity available to them to pursue their desired profession and career.”

The New York Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Fandos, Subscription Publication) says the bill was passed “with rare unanimity” by voice vote. Isakson tweeted Share to FacebookShare to Twitter, “I thank Congress for quickly approving the bipartisan, bicameral #ForeverGIBill; a great victory for our veterans.”

Cybersecurity Scholarship Bill Advances In Senate.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Chalfant) reports that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved a bipartisan bill “that would update and expand an existing federal cybersecurity scholarship program for students pursuing degrees in cyber fields.” The measure “would expand a cyber scholarship-for-service program run by the National Science Foundation in an effort to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity workforce.”

Norman Fortenberry Letter in Washington Post
ASEE’s ED challenged the Post (and other media outlets) to properly distinguish between engineers and scientists when appropriate.

ASEE Annual Conference Video Highlights
Good Day Columbus broadcast LIVE from our exhibit hall. (Click the picture to play the video)

Interview with NSF Director France Córdova.

The Conference “Living Wall.”

Members on the next big thing in engineering education.

Research and Development

Virginia Tech Researchers Create Neutrino Detection Technology To Track Illicit Nuclear Activity.

WDBJ-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Roanoke, VA (8/2) reports online that researchers at Virginia Tech are working on technology “to detect nuclear activity, even in rogue countries that are not trusted with that technology.” The CHANDLER project “centers on a high-tech box full of luminescent plastic cubes stacked atop one another.” The piece explains that researchers say “neutrinos can tell them how much plutonium is inside a nuclear reactor, as a certain level is considered dangerous and only used to make weapons.”

Vanderbilt Engineers Unveil Smart Underwear.

WSMV-TV Share to FacebookShare to Twitter Nashville, TN (8/2) reports on its website that engineers at Vanderbilt University “say they’ve figured out how to create sophisticated mechanized undergarments, also known as ‘smart underwear.’” The device is intended to “prevent back stress” and “has two fabric sections for the chest and legs that are connected by straps across the middle back. It works only when you need it, and a double tap engages the supportive straps.”

Clemson Researchers Participating In Bioengineering Research To Reduce Biopharmaceutical Research Costs.

The Greenville (SC) News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) reports that Clemson University professor Sara Harcum is leading a research partnership with Tulane, the University of Delaware, and Delaware State to address “the increasingly inefficient production of biopharmaceuticals” which “is driving up the costs of life-saving drugs.” Using a $6 million federal grant, the researchers are “trying to crack the code of evolution in a single, 60-year-old line of ovarian cells from a Chinese hamster.” The researchers will attempt to “figure out the underlying mechanism for genetic drift in the 60-year-old hamster cell line — and turn it off.”

New Solar Powered Sunglasses Show Versatility Of Organic Solar Cell Technology.

TechCrunch Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Coldewey) reports that engineers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have created a pair of sunglasses with organic solar cells housed in its lenses, demonstrating the cells’ flexibility for applications not possible with other solar power technologies. The lenses power two small displays showing temperature and brightness leaving about 200 milliwatts of power to drive a step counter, small speaker, or other low-power device and the energy collection happens in real time due to the absence of a battery in the assembly. The team has published its methodology in the journal Energy Technology.

Nanowerk Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) also reports on the KIT team’s sunglasses and points out that the technology could pave the way for solar cells in windows, overhead glazing, and building and high rise designs. The article says the solar cells are “very exciting devices due to their mechanical flexibility and the opportunity to adapt their color, transparency, shape, and size to the desired application.”

Memory Recovery, Retention Device To Overcome Dementia.

Med Device Online Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Marshall) reports on the work of Dr. Ada Poon, an associate profession of electrical engineering at Stanford University, who is “expecting to develop and complete clinical evaluation of an implantable electronic device intended to enable patients with Alzheimer’s disease – and other forms of dementia – to recover or retain memory function.” The article says, “Poon’s solution envisions a redundant backup system for the brain. The implant will be able to identify which neurons are most active at any given point in time, indicating they are currently being used for episodic memory.” Poon expects “the first five years of the project to result in demonstration of the device with rodents. The next five years will be focused on proving the science in a primate model, and finally, human clinical trials will be slated during the final 5 years of the project.”


Facebook Announces Diversity Improvements, But Still Few Workers Of Color In Technical Positions.

USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Guynn) reports that Facebook announced this week that it “made progress in improving the gender and racial balance of its workers, with women, African Americans and Hispanics all gaining more representation in the Silicon Valley company’s ranks over the last year.” However, while “Facebook brought aboard more people of color,” it “fell short where the lack of diversity is most acute, in the proportion of African-American and Hispanic workers in technical roles, which has stayed flat at 1% and 3% respectively since 2014.”

CNN Money Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) reports Facebook “started voluntarily releasing the reports in 2014 to indicate their progress solving a long-standing problem in the technology industry.” This article says the reports have been “largely underwhelming” and “tend to contain language that’s sterile and prescriptive.”

Industry News

Nissan Engineers Solution To Remind Parents Not To Leave Children In Car.

Fox Business Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Wisner) reports on the new technology from Nissan that could “reduce the risks of hot car deaths.” Nissan engineer Elsa Foley explains that “If you open and close your rear door and then you drive somewhere and you don’t go back and open and close that rear door again, then you’ll get a message in your dashboard that says ‘hey, check the back seat before you leave.’ If you’re distracted and you don’t see that message, then when you get out of the car the horn will honk at you.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Wisconsin Transportation Officials Close Bridge Over Safety Concerns.

The Eau Claire (WI) Leader-Telegram Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) cites Chippewa County, Wisconsin officials as saying that the Cobban Bridge over the Chippewa River was closed on Wednesday due to concerns over the safety of the bridge’s fracture critical steel components. Chippewa County Highway Commissioner Brian Kelley said in a news release, “Annual bridge safety inspections were performed on July 19 and 20, and at that time, slight changes to the bridge condition were documented. These changes were reviewed by bridge engineers from the Federal Highway Administration and Wisconsin Department of Transportation, with the recommendation being that Chippewa County officials consider closing the bridge.”

DOE Launches Initiative To Connect Clean Energy Projects To Funding.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Subscription Publication) reports that the Department of Energy has dedicated $7.8 million on an initiative aimed at connecting energy startups with underutilized sources of wealth, such as pension funds, insurance companies and philanthropic foundations. The initiative aims to address obstacles to early energy projects, like “inconsistent funding, [and] the lack of access to expensive equipment.” Known as the Innovative Pathways project, it “appears to be a rare instance of harmony between the clean energy policies of DOE under the Obama and Trump administrations.”

More Information Known About How Outer Banks Outage Happened.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Drew) reports “workers were setting aside equipment that wasn’t in use when they caused a massive power outage that drove thousands of tourists from two islands in the Outer Banks, North Carolina transportation officials said.” The new information “on how the accident happened came as utility officials announced that they hope to have power restored to Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands by early next week,” over “nine days after the underground cables were damaged. Even a weeklong outage is enough to dent the bottom lines of island businesses, some of which are suing PCL Construction.”

Indiana Mayor Makes Solar Push Ahead Of Change In State Law.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) reports the mayor of Bloomington, Indiana “is making a push to expand the use of solar power in the city before a new state law curtails the economic benefits to Indiana’s solar panel owners.” The mayor “is planning an estimated $15 million project for solar systems at 29 city buildings and sites, such as its wastewater treatment plant and city fire stations.” The project “would result in 14 percent of city government’s electricity coming from solar.”

Proposed Wind Farm Would Be First To Match Offshore Wind, Battery Storage.

E&E Publishing Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/1, Subscription Publication) reports that Deepwater Wind and Tesla have proposed building an offshore wind farm tied to battery storage off the coast of Massachusetts. The project is one of several proposals under consideration by the state as part of Massachusetts’ push to satisfy a law requiring a portion of state power to come from clean energy sources by 2022. If approved, the 114-megawatt project would be the first “pairing of offshore wind and energy storage in the U.S.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Nebraska DOE Releases Draft Science Standards Which Calls On Students To Evaluate Climate Science.

The Omaha (NE) World-Herald Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2) reports that the Nebraska Department of Education has released a new draft of state science standards which includes language on climate science for the first time ever. Students “would ‘evaluate the reliability and validity’ of climate models,” whereas a previous draft “worded the climate change standards as settled science.”

Colorado School Of Mines “Revamps” Summer STEM Program.

The Denver Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (8/2, Baumann) reports that the Colorado School of Mines is revamping an “intensive academic summer camp” to introduce students to STEM subjects. The article quotes program director Louisa Duley saying, “We introduce STEM programs to underrepresented students all over Colorado and Oklahoma. Ethnic, rural, socio-economic and female backgrounds are all underrepresented in STEM.” Duley adds that “some of the region’s best and brightest juniors and seniors are chosen for the program from a pool of more than 300 applicants.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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