Leading the News
Trump Directs DeVos To Spend $200 Million In STEM Education Grants.
The AP (9/25, Superville) reports that President Trump on Monday signed a memorandum directing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to prioritize science and technology and to “spend at least $200 million annually on competitive grants so schools can broaden access to computer science education in particular.” Speaking from the Oval Office, Trump said more than half of US high schools do not have computer programming courses and that more widespread access to such instruction would help equip students with the skills necessary to compete in the workforce.
Politico (9/25, Kullgren, Emma) reports the memo instructs Secretary DeVos to work with existing competitive grant programs “that will encourage women and minorities to participate in coding and other computer-based careers.” Senior Administration officials “offered few specifics” on how that goal would be fulfilled and “said they would leave crucial specifics – such as who will receive the federal funds – up to DeVos.” One official said the Department would focus on programs that start children on the academic path at a young age. Because the grants fall under existing Education Department funds, they will not require new appropriations or congressional approval, according to White House officials.
The Washington Post (9/25, Strauss) observes that the push for greater STEM education, especially for girls, “has been a priority of Ivanka Trump…who has appeared at several events with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to promote it.”
U.S. News & World Report (9/25) reports that earlier in the day, administration officials hinted that ED “would be asked to funnel $200 million in grants each year toward STEM education and training for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.” This piece calls the move “the administration’s latest effort to tweak education or workforce training standards to adapt to what many employers describe as a skills gap in which plenty of job openings exist amid a lack of qualified applicants.”
Alyson Klein writes at the Education Week (9/25) “Politics K-12” blog that Trump is calling on ED “to put a new focus on STEM education, especially computer science education—even as his budget seeks to scrap federal grants that schools can use for those programs.” Trump directed DeVos “and her team to steer more competitive-grant money from programs like the Education Innovation and Research fund toward recipients that have a STEM focus. And the administration wants DeVos to set a goal of directing at $200 million a year in grant funds to STEM and computer science.” USA Today (9/25, Higgins), Silicon Beat (CA) (9/25), and CNN (9/25, Klein) also cover this story.
Ivanka Trump To Promote STEM Education In Detroit. The Detroit News (9/25, Burke) reports that Ivanka Trump is scheduled to be in Detroit on Tuesday alongside Quicken Loans Chairman Dan Gilbert to promote a private sector commitment aimed at improving access to computer coding and STEM education in the city. According to a transcript of a call she held with reporters, Ms. Trump said, “Our goal is for every student across our country, from our rural communities to our inner cities, to have access to the education they need to thrive in our modern economy.” The Tuesday visit was “planned to complement” President Trump’s memorandum on Monday directing investments of $200 million in grant funding for STEM education. MLive (MI) (9/25) reports that Ivanka Trump will be “joined by the city business leaders including Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert” to “announce private sector funding for higher-quality K-12 computer science programming.” WXYZ-TV Detroit (9/25), Crain’s Detroit Business (9/25), and WZZM-TV Grand Rapids, MI (9/25) also cover this story.
Colleges And Universities Recruiting Women Students For Technical Fields.
The Wall Street Journal (9/25, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports colleges and universities are trying to recruit more students into technical fields in order to fill the demand. In order to meet the demand they are putting a greater effort into recruiting women. That’s because while women are a majority of college students in the US they supply a small amount of the students in some technical fields such as engineering and computer science. To recruit women students, schools are even changing curricula to make them more attractive. The Journal points out that Columbia University, and Carnegie Mellon have both undertaken significant efforts to increase women students in engineering.
Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition Campaign Aims To Warn Students About For-Profit College Risks.
The Baltimore Sun (9/22) reports that the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is launching a new public awareness campaign “to educate students about the risk of attending for-profit schools.” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and other notables will attend “the launch of the ‘Know Before You Enroll’ campaign today at Baltimore City Community College.” The campaign is based on “a highly critical report released by the consumer rights coalition last year” which “found that for-profit schools disproportionately target low-income, minority students who can qualify for the highest amounts of federal financial aid.”
South Dakota Guarantees College Admission To Students With High SB Scores.
The Seventy Four (9/25) reports that South Dakota education officials have announced “guaranteed college admission to the state’s public universities for seniors who hit standardized test score benchmarks.” Graduates who score a 3 or 5 on the Smarter Balanced math and English tests are guaranteed admission “to the state’s six public colleges and four technical institutes.” Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said the move “is particularly aimed at students who may not have even considered higher education.”
Tennessee’s Free Community College Program Yields Positive Early Results.
Inside Higher Ed (9/25) reports 56 percent of Tennessee students who enrolled in Tennessee Promise, the state’s free community college program, in 2015 had either graduated, stayed enrolled, or transferred to a four-year institution, compared to 39 percent of recent high school graduates who had enrolled outside the program. According to data from the Tennessee state Board of Regents, however, “some troubling data points” were apparent. For example, Board of Regents executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success Russ Deaton said, “The data’s pretty clear that we have gaps and equity issues.” Specifically, “students from minority groups were less likely than white students to participate in the program.”
Thousands Of University Of California Retirees Receive Six-Figure Pensions.
The Los Angeles Times (9/25) reports that last year, more than 5,400 University of California retirees received pensions of more than $100,000 – a 60 percent increase since 2012. The UC Board of Regents will allocate about a third of new funds toward financial aid, but “university officials expect this year’s increased tuition and fees for in-state students to generate an extra $57 million for the so-called core fund.” The officials “also expect to pay an extra $26 million from the fund for pensions and retiree health costs, according to the university’s most recent budget report.” Noting that the UC system had a $15 billion gap between the amount it owed to future and current retirees and the amount it had on hand, the Times says these “soaring outlays, generous salaries and the UC’s failure to contribute to the pension fund for two decades have left the retirement system deep in the red.”
Research and Development
Woman Suffering From Spinal Muscular Atrophy Designs Robots To Help Severely Disabled People.
The Washington Post (9/25, Pitts) carries a Baltimore Sun story about Kavita Krishnaswamy, a graduate student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has “invented robotic devices that are discussed around the world” and who “sent her robot” to defend her dissertation proposal. She also uses her robot to attend classes, as she has “spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a rare genetic disorder in which a breakdown of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord prevents the brain from sending the messages that direct muscular movement.” As a result, she is “paralyzed from the neck down but for a few muscles in her right hand.” She has won Ford and National Science Foundation fellowships, as well as the Microsoft Fellowship and the Google Lime Scholarship. She has designed robots “to allow severely disabled people to move their arms and legs simply by moving a computer trackball, speaking or changing their facial expressions.”
Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory Suffered Damage From Hurricane Maria.
WUWM-FM Milwaukee (9/25, Neuman) reports Hurricane Maria, in striking Puerto Rico “cut off electricity and communications island-wide, including at the Arecibo Observatory, one of the world’s largest radio telescopes.” Though there were reports of “significant damage,” it now appears that “a secondary 40-foot dish, thought destroyed, is still intact.” The observatory “found the first planets around other stars, was the first to image an asteroid and discovered more exotic objects, such as the first binary pulsar.” The National Science Foundation has been reviewing its funding, “and it’s unclear how the cost of any repairs might affect that discussion.”
Experimental Radar System At University Of Massachusetts Amherst Funded By NSF.
WWLP-TV Springfield, MA (9/25, Pagliei) reports, “Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Engineering are developing a multi-purpose radar system that can detect very small drone aircraft,” and can assist in “severe weather warning.” The system scans “the area closest to the ground, where drones and severe weather are not visible to the pre-existing weather radar.” It has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for 18 months.
NSF $20 Million Grant To Support Materials Assembly And Design Excellence In South Carolina Program.
The Pickens (SC) Sentinel (9/25, Colmenares) reports the National Science Foundation awarded a $20 million, five-year grant from its Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research to “a team of researchers from 10 universities” in South Carolina, for “a new initiative: Materials Assembly and Design Excellence in South Carolina, or MADE in SC.” Clemson professor Rajendra Bordia said the goal is “to discover and establish new and sustainable approaches for the design and assembly of advanced materials that serve South Carolina’s STEM research, education and workforce needs.” Other partners in the program are the University of South Carolina, the Medical University of South Carolina, the College of Charleston, Furman University, USC Beaufort, Winthrop University, Claflin University, South Carolina State University, and Florence-Darlington Technical College. The grant will pay for an additional 17 researchers at five schools, as well as “training postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students; outreach to K-12 schools and the public; and developing new facilities.”
NSF Grant To Purchase Scanning Electron Microscope For Western Illinois University.
The AP (9/25) reports a National Science Foundation grant of over $330,000 has been awarded to Western Illinois University at Macomb “to purchase a scanning electron microscope.” The grant was the work of seven faculty members who said it “will be useful in several departments including biology, chemistry, physics, geology, sociology and anthropology” and can “photograph images and analyze what elements the samples contain.”
University Of Michigan Student Designed Self-heating Blanket To Protect Babies From Hypothermia.
The Detroit News (9/22, Steinberg) reports on Grace Hsia, a University of Michigan materials science engineering student, who upon learning, “over 1 million infants die from hypothermia” each year, she “developed the IncuBlanket” described as, “a nonelectric warming blanket that helps preterm babies survive in hospitals worldwide lacking electricity or resources.” She then “founded the company Warmilu” to produce the blanket. She now oversees a “2,000-square-foot facility in Ann Arbor” that produces the blanket for a cost of $75-$150. The News adds that Hsia’s father was “a General Motors engineer” and she “thought she’d pursue engineering, too.” She said, “I knew I wanted to help people.”
University Of Michigan Researchers Develop Chip To Help Separate Cancer Cells.
dbusiness (MI) (9/22, Shenouda) reports “researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor today announced they have created a chip that channels blood samples through a hydrodynamic maze to separate rare circulating cancer cells for analysis.” It is “being used in a breast cancer trial and enables doctors to create customized treatments and monitor genetic changes in cells that might spread cancer.” Sunitha Nagrath, U-M associate professor of chemical engineering, “led the development of the chip along with Dr. Max Wicha, the Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology at Michigan Medicine.” The project “was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.”
Engadget (9/24) reports the chip is “much faster than conventional methods, which use markers and traps to gradually bind cancer cells.” Engadget adds, it “could be the key to a new wave of cancer treatments.”
Nanocellulose Improves 3D-Printability Of Carbon Nanotubes For Wearables.
Nanowerk (9/25) reports that a new use for nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC) has been developed by University of Maryland engineers by combining NFC with carbon nanotubes (CNTs) “to form strong, conductive microfibers through a 3D-printing process.” The resulting combination of high electrical conductivity and mechanical strength mean the 3D-printed wood nanocellulose-carbon nanotube microfibers “can be potentially used in wearable electronics with high performance and low cost.” Energy Research Center Associate Professor Liangbing Hu and his team report their findings in an article available through WileyOnline (9/18) and published in Small Methods. He reportedly explained to Nanowerk, “Conventional methods to disperse carbon nanotube in aqueous solution include carbon nanotube surface covalent modifications and organic surfactants. This either leads to low mechanical strength or poor conductivity. We used nanocellulose particles as both dispersing agent for the carbon nanotubes and as reinforcement in the composite fibers.”
NASA Honors “Hidden Figures” Inspiration Katherine Johnson With Research Facility.
SPACE (9/25, Lewin) reports that NASA has opened its Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at Langley Research Center in Virginia, “named for a mathematician whose calculations helped put the first Americans in orbit and onto the moon.” Johnson was called one of NASA’s “human computers” who calculated trajectories early in the space program, including for the Apollo 11 mission, and was depicted along with her colleagues in the book and film “Hidden Figures.” Langley Director David Bowles said that with “this new facility, we will continue to advance the same techniques that [Johnson] used to such spectacular effect, and I can’t imagine a better tribute to Mrs. Johnson’s character and accomplishments than this building that will bear her name.”
Intel Research Lab Experimenting With Neuromorphic Chips.
Forbes (9/25, Tilley) reports Intel “is beginning to experiment with so-called neuromorphic chips that attempt to more closely resemble how a real brain functions.” Out of the chip giant’s research lab, the Intel Loihi test chip “consists of 128 computing cores,” and “each core has 1,024 artificial neurons, giving the chip a total of more than 130,000 neurons and 130 million synaptic connections.”
Professors Argue Gender Gaps In Technical Fields Can Be Closed By Early Exposure.
Sapna Cheryan, associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington; Allison Master, research scientist at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington; and Andrew N. Meltzoff, professor of psychology and co-director of the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, write in the Los Angeles Times (9/25, Cheryan, Master, Meltzoff), about the “gender gap” in the sciences. They argue that it is “closing” as “women are now more likely than men to earn undergraduate degrees in biology, and…almost as likely as men to earn undergraduate degrees in chemistry and math.” But, they write, there is still a significant gender gap in computer science, engineering and physics, and that, they argue, is due to a “specific stereotype” that “boys are better than girls in these technological subjects.” They argue that these stereotypes can be weakened or eliminated by giving girls experience in those subjects at a young age.
Amid Lingering Obstacles, Tech Sector Slowly Moves Toward Gender Parity.
The Wall Street Journal (9/25, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports that after decades of decline, a growing number of colleges have awarded large numbers of STEM degrees to women. The piece touches on a number of social conventions that discourage women from pursuing STEM careers, especially computer science, and reports experts say this makes it remarkable that woman are gaining ground toward gender parity.
VW Securing Supplies Of Cobalt As Part Of Move To Electric Cars.
Reuters (9/22, Desai) reported that Volkswagen “is moving to secure long-term supplies of cobalt, a vital component of rechargeable batteries, as the group accelerates its ambitious shift to electric cars.” According to suppliers in the industry, VW “has asked producers to submit proposals on supplying the material for up to 10 years from 2019,” and wants proposals from cobalt producers “submitted by the end of September.” The article added that “demand for cobalt is expected to soar in the coming years due to the electric vehicle revolution as governments around the world crack down on pollution,” and “Volkswagen is under particular pressure as it had been slow to embrace electric cars and self-driving technology until admitting two years ago to cheating on U.S. diesel emissions tests.”
Wall Street Said To Be Undergoing “Robot Revolution.”
Bloomberg News (9/25, Son, Surane) proclaims, “Wall Street’s robot revolution has begun.” JPMorgan is introducing a program called LOXM “that executes equities trades so well, it’s replacing the humans who used to do that.” At the same time, Goldman Sachs “is in the midst of automating the initial public offering process.” Fintech innovations are creating competition in areas that have been dominated by institutions for a long time – former Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit “says technological advances could make 30 percent of banking jobs disappear in five years,” and Two Sigma co-founder David Siegel “is worried that machines will soon make swaths of the workforce obsolete.” The jobs most threatened by fintech are those that are being replaced by online loan portals, including loan officers and clerks. However, new jobs like data scientists and machine-learning engineers are increasingly in demand. Moreover, “it’s still hard to automate empathy or trust, so as long as buyside clients want to phone up a salesperson, people will have jobs.”
Engineering and Public Policy
PREPA: Eighty Percent Of Power Lines In Puerto Rico Down.
Reuters (9/25) reports PREPA announced on Monday that “eighty percent of the power lines in Puerto Rico are down,” following Hurricane Maria which devastated the island last week. Carlos Monroig, a PREPA spokesman, “said the utility is evaluating all of Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure by air.” The AP (9/25) reports the storm “smashed poles, snarled power lines and flooded electricity-generating plants, knocking out a grid that was already considered antiquated compared to the U.S. mainland.” Almost “all the island’s 1.6 million electricity customers were still without power Monday and facing many, many hot days and dark nights to come. Power had been restored to a handful of hospitals and surrounding areas by Monday afternoon but Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario said it will take months to fully restore power to the island.” Officials “are still figuring out the extent of the damage, let alone beginning to repair it.”
A separate article by the AP (9/25) reports the US federal government “ramped up its response Monday to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico while the Trump administration sought to blunt criticism that its response to Hurricane Maria has fallen short of it efforts in Texas and Florida after the recent hurricanes there.” But while “the administration said the focus on aid was strong, when two Cabinet secretaries spoke at a conference on another subject — including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose agency is helping restore the island’s power — neither made any mention of Puerto Rico or Hurricane Maria.” The AP adds DOE “crews are working in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, coordinating with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, FEMA and a team from the New York Power Authority, among others.”
Bloomberg News (9/25, Levin, Malik) reports over “half of the territory’s towers may be down, at least 90 percent of its distribution lines damaged or destroyed and almost all overhead transmission lines affected, according to the American Public Power Association and Energy Department.” In total, “Maria could end up resulting in $40 billion to $85 billion in insured losses across the Caribbean.” A third piece by the AP (9/25) reports “repair work will be complicated by terrain and geography.” Unlike Florida and Texas, “which were hit by hurricanes that knocked out power grids this summer, workers from other utilities can’t hop in a truck and drive to Puerto Rico” and “the main airport in San Juan is not yet operating normally, which is slowing the airlift of crews, generators and other equipment.” The Washington Post (9/25, Achenbach, Lamothe, Horton) also provides coverage of this story.
Fox News (9/25) reports that “fears of dam failure persist in Puerto Rico as officials work to restore power following Maria’s wrath.”
Trump Administration Will Not Waive Federal Restrictions On Shipping Transport For Puerto Rico. The AP (9/25) reports that on Monday, the Trump administration said it “would not waive federal restrictions on foreign ships’ transportation of cargo as it had following Harvey and Irma” for Puerto Rico. The administration “will continue to enforce the Jones Act, which requires that goods transported between U.S. ports be carried on U.S.-flagged ships.”
ITC Finds Surge In Solar Equipment Imports Harmed Domestic Industry.
The New York Times (9/22, Cardwell, Swanson, Subscription Publication) reported the International Trade Commission, in a unanimous ruling issued Friday, “determined that the domestic solar equipment industry had been harmed by imports, including those coming from trading partners like Mexico and South Korea, with one commissioner adding Canada to the list.” The ITC will now draft a recommended course of action to be submitted to President Trump by Nov. 13. Those “recommendations – which the president will have broad leeway to accept, amend or reject – could include establishing tariffs or minimum prices on imported solar equipment.” The AP (9/22, Daly) reported the 4-0 vote by the ITC “sets up a two-month review period in which the panel must recommend a remedy to President Donald Trump, with a final decision on tariffs expected in January.”
The Wall Street Journal (9/22, Schlesinger, Tangel, Ailworth, Subscription Publication) said the significance of ITC’s unanimous ruling expands beyond the energy sector, as it will likely encourage more industries to rely on the so-called “safeguard” law for relief upon establishing a “serious injury” from a sudden surge of imports. Prior to Friday’s ruling, the Journal said, most industries sought relief under anti-dumping laws that have limits, but do not require White House approval and are applied through commission votes.
The Los Angeles Times (9/22, Halper) reported the Solar Energy Industries Association “projects 88,000 jobs would vanish” if “heavy tariffs” are enacted. The San Francisco Chronicle (9/22) reported CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association Abigail Ross Hopper said, “This really is not a case about a divide within the solar industry. … This is a case about two companies that are bringing a petition about which almost – almost – the entire rest of the solar industry is in agreement in opposition.”
Solar Developers Want IRS To Outline Tax Credit Guidance.
Bloomberg BNA (9/25, Lucero) reports that solar energy developers are calling on the IRS to “define new-construction requirements for a renewable energy tax incentive” as soon as possible so that they can confidently move forward with multimillion-dollar projects currently on hold because “developers remain uncertain how to calculate the credit into their capital planning.”
Exxon Mobil Announces New Methane Emissions Reduction Program.
The New York Times (9/25, Krauss, Subscription Publication) reports Exxon Mobil on Monday announced a plan to reduce methane emissions, “from its oil and natural gas production and pipeline operations across the United States.” Exxon Mobil is the largest natural gas producer in the US, “so its program to make repairs, monitor operations for leaks and replace leaky equipment may serve as an example for the industry.” Other “large gas producers are moving forward with methane control programs,” but some “have resisted the effort as too burdensome.”
Reuters (9/25) reports the company “declined to outline the cost of the three-year program or the savings it projects by keeping methane from venting.” Sara Ortwein, XTO Energy president, which is a subsidiary of Exxon that is focused on shale, said, “We do believe this will have a meaningful impact on our methane-emissions reductions. … We remain committed to minimizing our environmental impact from our operations.” The AP (9/25) reports the company “said Monday that it would improve detection of methane leaks and repair equipment causing the leaks across its XTO Energy natural gas subsidiary.”
The Hill (9/25, Cama) reports the announcement by Exxon “elicited praise from the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has been working for years with industry and the government to try to cut methane emissions.” In a statement EDF’s Mark Brownstein said, “XTO Energy is showing real leadership in addressing methane emissions at key sources across its U.S. operations. Delivering on this promise will make XTO a stand-out among the U.S. oil and gas industry.” The Houston Chronicle (9/25, Blum, Chronicle) also provides coverage of this story.
Commentary: Push For Computer Science Curriculum Not Motivated By Tech Industry Conspiracy.
Elizabeth Ames, the senior vice president of Marketing, Alliances, and Programs at the Anita Borg Institute, rejects in a piece for Mashable (9/25) Ben Tarnoff’s argument in a recent op-ed (9/21) for the Guardian that the motivation behind computer science education is to ensure the tech industry has a source of cheap labor. Ames calls Tarnoff’s logic “deeply flawed,” and posits that teaching children to code also teaches them “the mental discipline for breaking down problems logically and then solving them – a skillset that everyone can use.” Computer science classes also make students aware “that they can be producers and not just consumers,” Ames adds. She concludes in writing, “We need to stop fretting about imaginary plots to flood the market with low-wage programmers, and embrace reality: Technical fluency is critical to our national success and to our global humanity.”
Nonprofit Invests More Than $15 Million In New York City STEM Teachers.
The Seventy Four (9/25) reports the nonprofit Math for America will award 300 new four-year fellowships to the New York City math and science teachers in its latest class, bringing the total number of educators in the program to more than 1,000, and its total financial contribution to more than $15 million. MfA has pledged to “invest nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in STEM educators in the country’s largest school district between 2013 and 2022.” MfA fellows “go through a competitive screening process before being chosen,” and then “receive $15,000 yearly stipends while engaging in intense professional development.” Participating fellows also “meet regularly over the course of the school year.” MfA President John Ewing, the former executive director of the American Mathematical Society, noted that seven out of 10 program fellows serve “in low-income, high-needs schools. These are incredible teachers, and it’s really important that we keep them there.”
Monday’s Lead Stories
• Energy Department To Award $36 Million Toward Carbon Capture Research.
• Alabama Universities Establish German Engineering Exchange Program.
• Samuelson: Digital Hacking Could Make Driverless Cars Dangerous.
• NYTimes A1: Men’s Groups Believing Gender Equality In Tech Is Going Too Far Are “Gaining Traction.”
• Israel Authorizes Alternative Fuel Sources In Response to Tamar Supply Issues.
• CARB Chair Raises Possibility Of Reopening Negotiations Over California Fuel Standards.
• New Mexico Students’ Science Proficiency Rates Drop Amid State Push For New Standards.