Leading the News
NASA’s Cassini Mission Comes To A Close.
The New York Times (9/14, A1, Chang, Subscription Publication), in a front page story, reports that the 20-year mission of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft came to a close Friday when, as planned, the probe relayed its final signal before slipping into Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrating. The Times explains that Cassini “stretched far beyond the original four-year plan, sending back multitudes of striking photographs, solving some mysteries and upending prevailing notions about the solar system with completely unexpected discoveries” during its 13 years spent in orbit. Thomas H. Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science, is cited saying, “Cassini is really one of those quintessential missions from NASA. … It hasn’t just changed what we know about Saturn, but how we think about the world.” The story emphasizes the sad undertone of the mission’s end for many of those who contributed to it – “some of whom had spent decades” on the project.
The Washington Post (9/15, Kaplan), The Wall Street Journal (9/15, Hernandez, Hotz, Kapadia, Subscription Publication), ABC World News Tonight (9/15, story 12, 0:20, Muir), CBS Evening News (9/15, story 9, 1:50, Mason), NBC Nightly News (9/15, story 13, 2:00, Holt) also report on the mission and its conclusion.
WPost: The Cassini Mission Embodies The Best Of Humanity. The Washington Post (9/15) writes in an editorial piece that the Cassini mission “marks a profound accomplishment for humanity and science” and “In many ways…embodies the best of our species.” The Washington Post explains that 27 countries contributed to the mission that has opened the door to questions about microbial life on moons in Saturn’s system and organic compounds – the building blocks of life on Earth – on Enceladus. The story asserts that those “who worked on the Cassini mission should be commended for their decades-long work” as “People across the globe will see the images and read about their discoveries for generations.”
NSF Gives University Of Montana $300,000 Grant To Boost Native American STEM Education.
KSEN-AM Shelby, MT (9/16) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Montana a $300,000 grant “to launch a pilot project to enhance American Indian participation in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.”
Idaho Engineer Taking Over University Of Maryland Center For Environmental Science.
The Washington Post (9/17, Dance) reports that University of Idaho Professor Peter Goodwin “has spent much of his career engineering ways to restore salmon populations in dammed Pacific Northwest rivers or analyzing the downstream effects of water supply management decisions in drought-stressed California.” But on Monday, Goodwin will begin focusing on the Chesapeake Bay when he takes “over the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, home to the preeminent research on” the bay.
Foreign Students Increasingly Choosing Canada Over The US.
The Boston Globe (9/16, Krantz) reports on a trend for foreign students to choose schools in Canada for their study, rather than in the US, due in part to “what many see as the demonization of foreigners and immigrants and a new wave of racism.” At the University of Toronto, numbers of entering foreign students increased 21 percent from last year, while the number of international students in the country as a whole has increased 92 percent since 2008. The article cites “political uncertainty,” and “the tumultuous climate [Trump’s] election ushered in,” as factors, especially as compared to the more “welcoming atmosphere” found in Canada.
NYTimes Analysis: Black, Hispanic College Freshmen More Underrepresented In 2015 Than 1980.
The New York Times (9/17, Goldstein, Subscription Publication) reports that mid the continuing “debate and legal wrangling over whether college affirmative action efforts are too aggressive, black and Hispanic freshmen were more underrepresented at the nation’s top schools in 2015 than they were in 1980,” according to a Times analysis. The Times adds that “many admissions officials say that affirmative action as it is traditionally understood – taking race into consideration when assessing applications – falls short as a diversity strategy, and that further-reaching efforts are needed to recruit a student body that even comes close to reflecting the country’s demographics.”
College Enrollment Falls For Fifth Straight Year.
The Washington Post (9/17, Selingo) reports that according to the National Student Clearinghouse, “fewer students are going to college this fall, as enrollment in higher education has fallen for five straight years.” The Post reports that the group says around “2.4 million fewer students are enrolled than at the recent peak in 2011.” The Post describes a number of contributing factors to the decline in enrollment such as reduced numbers of high school graduates, shifting population, and “the rise of alternative types of higher-education credentials in an age when we always need to be learning.”
Research and Development
Polaris Testing Two Driverless Electric Cars In Detroit.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune (9/16) reports that Polaris Industries is testing two electric vehicles “outfitted with autonomous-driving software and sensors” in Detroit in October. The vehicles “will have human drivers on board. But unless there is an emergency, the actual driving will be left to the machines.”
New Mexico Engineers Study Termites To Learn Building Strategies.
The Las Cruces (NM) Sun-News (9/16) reports that New Mexico State University College of Engineering Dean Lakshmi Reddi “has always admired nature” and “is trying to understand biological systems to engineer energy efficient methods for cooling and heating modern structures, with the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation.” The piece reports that termites have “the amazing ability to build soil-based towers that maintain steady internal temperatures of 86 degrees.”
Ford Invests $5 Million Into Willow Run Autonomous Vehicle Test Site.
The Detroit Free Press (9/15, Lawrence) reported Ford Motor Co. on Friday announced it “is investing $5 million into the American Center for Mobility in Ypsilanti Township, becoming the second automaker to donate to the driverless vehicle test site and capping a week of news on the self-driving car front.” The Free Press stated that the donation will make Ford a “founder-level” sponsor as well as “a member of a government-industry team developing the autonomous vehicle testing grounds on the site of the former Willow Run bomber plant.” In a release, Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering and chief technology officer at Ford, said, “The work done at Willow Run will help drive mobility solutions across the globe. … This is an investment in the safe, rapid testing and deployment of transformative technology that will help improve people’s lives.”
Canadian Researchers Develop Safety Technology To Monitor Driver Focus.
The Washington Post (9/15, Kunkle) reported researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada developed technology that “can tell if a driver’s texting or doing something else that’s a distraction from driving, said Fakhri Karray, a UW professor of electrical and computer engineering.” According to the Post, “The technology uses cameras and artificial intelligence to follow the movements of a person’s head, hands and other movements to assess whether a person is paying attention. The machine then assesses the degree of inattention and what sort of safety threat it poses.”
UK-Developed Dragonfire Laser Cannon Unveiled At DSEI 2017.
The Engineer (UK) (9/14) reports that the turret of a laser cannon “being produced under a £30 million contract for the UK Ministry of Defence” was unveiled at the DSEI conference this week in London. The 50kW Dragonfire directed energy system is being developed by a consortium of companies including “Qinetiq, Leonardo-Finmeccanica, Arke, BAE Systems, Marshall and GK.” The system will test a demonstrator “on UK ranges in 2018, culminating in a major demonstration in 2019.”
Facebook Will Explore AI Research In New Montreal Lab.
MIT Technology Review (9/16, Knight) reports that Facebook said “it is tapping into Canada’s impressive supply of artificial-intelligence talent and expertise by creating a major AI research center in Montreal” that will be devoted to “reinforcement learning.” The goal is to produce “more coherent and useful virtual assistants,” which the Review says means that “the first genuinely impressive AI assistant may well have a Canadian accent.” The piece adds that “several big recent advances in AI can be traced back to Canadian research labs.”
Reuters (9/15) reports Facebook’s lab will be led by Joelle Pineau, co-director of the Reasoning and Learning Lab at McGill University. The newest lab “will be Facebook’s fourth, after sites in Palo Alto, New York, and Paris, and joins similar AI research efforts in the city from Microsoft Corp and Alphabet’s Google.”
NYTimes A1: Lurid Lawsuit’s Settlement Illustrates Silicon Valley’s Sexual Misconduct.
The New York Times (9/15, A1, Streitfeld, Subscription Publication), on its front page, reports that a lawsuit brought against virtual reality tech startup, Upload, by its then digital media manager Elizabeth Scott, has been settled for an undisclosed sum and pushed aside by remaining employees, according to two people familiar with the situation. The case, involving allegations of sexual misconduct has reportedly had minimal impact on the company save for a tone that is “a bit more muted” at the events which led to the behaviors in question, as well as the departure of Ms. Scott, who was fired, and 12 employees who quit in solidarity but remained quiet about their grievances. Ms. Scott was reportedly turned away from various VR companies once they discovered she had previously filed a suit against Upload, but has since secured employment.
Fitbit Launches Largest European R&D Center.
ZDNet (9/15, Fiscutean) reported Fitbit has “opened its largest European research and development center in Bucharest,” Romania – home to Vector Watch, a startup the activity tracker firm recently acquired. The new Fitbit “R&D team is formed around the existing 30 Vector employees, all of whom have remained onboard,” and the new facility will be headed by former Vector CTO Andrei Pitis. According to ZDNet, Fitbit, which is looking to hire local techies, has launched the “R&D center hoping to capitalize on some of the technologies Vector Watch has developed and the team’s expertise.”
UPS Becomes First US Customers Of Mitsubishi Fuso Electric Trucks.
In continuing coverage, the AutoIndustriya (9/18, De Guzman) reports that the Mitsubishi Fuso eCanter electric truck made its debut in the US with UPS. Carlton Rose, president of Global Fleet Maintenance and Engineering at UPS, said, “At UPS, we constantly evaluate and deploy advanced technologies that enable sustainable, innovative solutions for our fleet. Electric trucks make our fleet both cleaner and quieter, adding to our already more than 8,500 alternative drivetrain vehicles in service today. We have a long-standing global relationship with Daimler, and we welcome the opportunity to trial the Fuso eCanter as UPS continues to realize the benefits of electric trucks.” The article adds that UPS will take three eCanters, while five more will be given to non-profit organizations in New York.
Business Green (UK) (9/17) also reports on the story.
Engineering and Public Policy
WSJournal: Solar Panel Tariffs Will Hurt US Solar Industry.
The Wall Street Journal (9/15, Subscription Publication) editorializes that a petition by two solar companies to the International Trade Commission requesting tariffs on foreign-made solar panels will only serve to make solar energy less competitive in the energy market. The Journal warns that the tariff would hurt the US solar industry as a whole, and suggests that US-based manufacturers should focus on adding value to foreign-made panels via innovations like unique framing systems or automated sun tracking technology.
M&Ms Launches “Fans Of Wind” Campaign.
Fortune (9/15, Bach) reports M&Ms has launched a “Fans of Wind” campaign, which informs consumers “about sustainable ways to fight climate change, while highlighting the ways Mars is already doing so.” The imitative is part of Mars’ “Sustainable in a Generation” commitment, which aims for “zero net greenhouse gas emissions from direct operations by 2040.”
Trump Administration Pursuing Change To Rules Governing Coal-Fired Power Plants
The Hill (9/15, Cama) reports that the EPA “could put out a preliminary proposal for a rule to replace the Clean Power Plan” as soon as next moth. The article adds that the president and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “have long been critics of the Obama climate rule.” The Hill writes that “the regulation is likely to focus solely on the carbon reductions that can be achieved at the coal-fired power plants themselves – mainly improving the efficiency of coal-fired generators, an approach known as ‘inside the fenceline’” that differs from the Obama-era rules’ approach.
FERC Overrules New York’s Millennium Pipeline Water Permit Denial.
The AP (9/15) reports the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Friday overruled New York’s denial of a water permit for the Millennium natural gas pipeline. Reuters (9/15, DiSavino) reports energy companies on Friday praised the decision. However, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Director Roger Downs called the decision “an insult to New Yorkers and our right to protect our communities and our water,” adding that FERC has no right to override the state’s decision. Similarly, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation said it will review the decision “and will consider all legal options to protect public health and the environment.”
“Makerspace” Movement A Growing Trend Among Maryland District Elementary Schools.
Mountain View Elementary is the first school in Maryland’s Prince William County Public Schools district to launch a “makerspace,” which the Washington Post (9/17, Hunley) describes as “any setting where tools and other resources are shared” and “self-directed, experiential and hands-on learning by students” is encouraged. Mountain View launched its makerspace four years ago, and it now features “hot-glue guns, drills, a 3-D printer and a 3-D scanner, among other tools.” Principal Adriane Harrison said teachers and staff members noticed English-language learners and students in special education programs have particularly benefited from the makerspace. Since Mountain View launched its makerspace, several other Prince William County elementary schools have followed. This year, the district’s Minnieville Elementary School, where about 70 percent of students are English-language learners and 70 percent are economically disadvantaged, launched its own makerspace “to give students an opportunity to use resources that nurture creativity.”
Texas Girl Scouts Assemble 3-D Prosthetic Hands For Disabled Children.
KRBC-TV Abilene, TX (9/17) reports online that the “Girls Scouts of Central Texas partnered with Wayside Sci-Tech Preparatory School and EOS North America, an industrial 3D printing company,” for a service project on Saturday through the Helping Hands program. Under the guidance of ninth grade Wayside Sci-Tech engineering students, the girls assembled “15 child-sized prosthetic hands using 3D-printers from EOS North America.” The group will donate the completed prosthetic hands “to e-Nable, a non-profit that matches 3D-printed prosthetic limbs to people in need of upper-limb devices around the world,” for use by disabled children. The groups said the event was established “to teach girls that fields in STEM can allow them to make a positive impact on their community.”
California District’s “Math Academy” Advances Students At Least Four Years Ahead Academically.
The Washington Post (9/17, Mathews) profiles the “Math Academy” in California’s Pasadena Unified School District, where 69 percent of students are from low-income families. Initiated by Jason Roberts, the program accelerates “students at least four years above their grade level.” Students in the program finish “high school math, including calculus, in middle school and devote high school to more complex subjects: multivariable calculus, abstract algebra, probability, game theory and other college subjects.” The Post says Roberts’ “plan appears to be unique for a public school district, and its pace is not the only startling feature,” as “Roberts and his wife, Sandy,” both have “deep backgrounds in math.” The Post says the only other program akin to Math Academy in the nation “is the University of Minnesota’s Talented Youth Mathematics Program,” which serves about 75 middle and high schools.
Indiana Teacher Introduces Middle School Students To Computer Science.
The Times of Northwest Indiana (9/17) profiles Crystal Kistler, a seventh grade teacher at Hobart Middle School in northwestern Indiana, a region that has started “offering computer coding to children as young as the elementary school level.” This fall, Kistler started teaching “Computer Science for Innovators and Makers,” a class that implements “computer science state standards that make sure students at the middle school level learn how to code or program computers.” Kistler said that she “has many plans for the 162 students during the nine-week course before they switch to another science class, including working with the Valparaiso-based Center for Workforce Innovations that will arrange for the students to visit a local manufacturer.” Hobart “Superintendent Peggy Buffington said the changes in 2016 reflect the ever-changing science content and underlying premise that science education should be an inquiry-based and hands-on experience.”
Friday’s Lead Stories
• EPA To Reexamine Coal Ash Waste Regulations For Power Plants.
• UC Berkeley Student Effuses Over Advancements In 3D Metal Printing.
• Researchers Claim To Discover Android Malware Outbreak.
• Google Hit With Gender Discrimination Lawsuit.
• Oil Majors Enter Competition Over Electric Vehicle Charging Stations.
• California Lawmakers To Vote Friday On Proposal To Achieve 100% Clean Energy BY 2045.
• STEM Students In Missouri School Designed And Built 3-D Printer.