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

Leading the News

Astronomers Discover Gravitational Waves In Neutron Star Collision.

CBS News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Harwood) reports that astronomers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) said Monday that they observed a rare collision of two neutron stars. The event produced a so-called “kilonova” explosion around 130 million years ago, giving off light and gravitational waves and creating heavy elements ranging from gold and platinum to uranium. Harvard University astronomer Edo Berger said that the event “revealed details that we’ve never seen before in any astronomical event.” The collision was the “first direct confirmation that gravitational radiation travels at the speed of light,” as well as the first time a gravitational wave could be connected to a visible counterpart. This data will allow scientists to “study the aftermath of the collision across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from high-energy gamma radiation to X-rays, visible light, infrared and radio.” Georgia Tech Associate Professor and LIGO spokeswoman Laura Cadonati said that, “The combined information of gravitational waves and light is bigger than the sum of its parts. From the combined information we’re learning new things about physics, about the universe, about the elements we’re made of.”

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Kaplan, Guarino) reports that the event was “the first cosmic event in history to be witnessed via both traditional telescopes, which can observe electromagnetic radiation like gamma rays, and gravitational wave detectors, which sense the wrinkles in space-time produced by distant cataclysms.” researchers are for the first time “able to observe the universe using two fundamental forces: light and gravity.” This method gives astronomers “new means to probe some of their field’s most enduring mysteries: the unknown force that drives the accelerating growth of the universe, the invisible matter that holds galaxies together, and the origins of Earth’s most precious elements, including silver and gold.”

In a separate piece, the Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Guarino, Kaplan) reports that the “massive undertaking” marked “the first observation of a cosmic event using gravitational wave detectors and conventional telescopes,” saying that “thousands of researchers from diverse fields in physics and astronomy played crucial roles.” The Post presents a number of brief bullet points about the announcement. Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) and USA Today Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) also cover this story.

Higher Education


Commentary: US Must Invest In Education To Compete Globally In 21st Century.

In a piece for The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16), Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology President Tom Baldwin writes that it is noteworthy that of the 10 recent Nobel laureates, eight are Americans, saying, “decades ago, here in the U.S., we created an environment supportive of scholarship and innovation that has set us apart from other nations.” Baldwin writes about such “enlightened legislation” as the GI Bill and the Morrill Act that invested in education, and says the US’ “openness to immigrants from other countries made this nation a magnet for innovative scientists and engineers.” He says such policies established US global dominance in the 20th Century, but says that now “many of the practices that made us great are being questioned or reversed.” Baldwin calls for “21st century investments in education and research that will ensure our ability to compete.”

Michigan Colleges Partner To Prepare New Engineers For Self-Driving Vehicles.

The Detroit News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports that Leadership at the American Center for Mobility is partnering with 15 Michigan colleges and universities in an effort to prepare new engineers to work on self-driving vehicles at Willow Run. The partnership will include “training, courses, recruitment, internships, co-ops and work-study programs.” The article notes that in January, DOT “designated 10 proving grounds for developing and testing self-driving cars, including Willow Run.”

Growing Number Of Prospective College Students Hire Coaches To Write Application Essays.

Inside Higher Ed Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports that in recent years, a new and unregulated agency has emerged: “Students – many of whom are also paying for private counselors, sometimes at hefty rates – are” paying thousands of dollars for help on their college application essays. In interviews, essay coaches “insist[ed] that they don’t actually write essays,” although “most also say that they know of competitors who do so.” Many essay coaches also said they routinely save students from their parents, who push for such services but are “unaware that their essays would immediately be flagged as written by people much older than a typical college applicant.” On condition of anonymity, one counselor expressed concern that “the growing industry adds another level of income inequality to the admissions process,” as “those using these services already have wealthy parents and are likely to attend high schools (public or private) with far more resources than the average institution attended by a low-income student.”

ASEE Week of Giving
October 23-27 we’ll ask members to help us get to 25 by 125 – that is, $25K in time for our 125th anniversary next year. More details to come but know that our highest-tier givers get a batch of fresh-baked, from-scratch chocolate chip cookies overnighted to their office or home!

Start Smart with “Smart Start”
Researchers and innovators will want to be in this two-week course to improve STEM education at all levels. Courses offered in the spring of 2018. Learn more and apply here.

New Safe Zone Online Workshops – Coming Next Month!
Don’t miss the Fall 2017 Safe Zone Ally Training online workshops! These free online workshops help faculty, staff and students build knowledge and skills to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ individuals in STEM. Each workshop emphasizes tips and action strategies for allies. Tune in on Nov. 7 to learn LGBTQ terms and concepts, the steps of the coming out process, and more. Register today.

Research and Development

Researchers Tout Potential Of Quantum Computing.

In a more than 2,200-word article, the Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Nicas, Subscription Publication) interviews Google employees and outside researchers who tout the efforts to build quantum computers due to their potential to revolutionize information. The Journal puts a spotlight on Google’s initiatives in particular.

NSF Gives Bucknell University Professor Grant To Study Driverless Vehicle Mechanics.

The Sunbury (PA) Daily Item Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports the National Science Foundation has given Bucknell University mechanical engineering professor Craig Beal a $154,000 grant to “provide for equipment, including a pair of sensors valued at $70,000 each, to measure steering torque towards programming a vehicle to predict the grip between the tires and the roadway.” The paper says the technology could be used for both traditional and driverless cars. THE research is intended “to develop methods not only to predict grip and program a vehicle to steer appropriately but also to share that information in real time with other vehicles to act accordingly.”

Clemson, Duke Partner On Research On Deterring Drone Activity.

The Pickens (SC) Sentinel Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports that the National Science Foundation has given a partnership between Duke University and Clemson University a $750,000 grant to research “technology to detect and deter drone activity.” The research is intended to find economical deterrence technologies for open public spaces.


America Has Jobs, Needs Skilled Workforce.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Gonzales, Culbertson) reports, in a feature article entitled, “The Worker-Jobs Mismatch,” that America is simultaneously experiencing very low unemployment, a low workforce participation rate, and a lack of skilled workers to fill available jobs. The article states that “the real issue isn’t a lack of family-wage sustaining jobs in the US As of August, there were 6.1 million job openings in the US, with 397,000 of them in manufacturing and over 1 million in health care, two industries that typically have jobs with family-sustaining wages.” In addition, retiring baby boomers are expected to leave even more job vacancies. The real problem, US News writes, “is a mismatch between workers and available jobs.” It adds, “the US faces a projected shortage of workers for jobs that require skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM),” and, “while some of these jobs require a college education, most are “middle skill” jobs requiring a high school diploma, a foundation of math and some additional training – but not college.” Too few Americans “follow educational pathways that prepare them for these jobs.” While these jobs exist in significant numbers, “the challenge is figuring out how to inform people about these opportunities and helping them acquire skills through lifelong learning.”

Industry News

Research Suggests Unicorn Startups Inflate Valuation.

Writing for the New York (NY) Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Sorkin, Subscription Publication), Andrew Ross Sorkin argues that the “eye-popping valuations” of Airbnb, Uber and SpaceX Technologies are “a bit of myth – or perhaps wishful thinking.” Stanford University professor Ilya A. Strebulaev concluded after evaluating “unicorn” companies that the “average unicorn is worth half the headline price tag that is put out after each new valuation.” Sorkin says the inflated valuation of such companies is not widely understood, which may impact public investors who often aggressively invest in firms such as Uber. “Big mutual fund companies like T. Rowe Price and BlackRock have aggressively begun investing in unicorn companies in recent years on behalf of public investors – yes, you may own a stake in Uber and not even know it – helping to increase the valuations even further,” says Sorkin.

Engineering and Public Policy

EPA To Restrict Settlements With Environmental Groups.

The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Cama) reports the Environmental Protection Agency is vowing “to crack down on settlements with environmental groups that sue the EPA.” In a statement EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, “The days of regulation through litigation are over. … We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress.” Under the new directive from Pruitt, “the agency will post all lawsuits online, reach out to affected states and industries and seek their input on any potential settlements.”

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Gardner) reports Pruitt “sued the agency he now runs more than a dozen times in his former job as attorney general of oil producing Oklahoma.” The EPA “under former President Barack Obama quietly settled lawsuits from environmental groups with little input from regulated entities, such as power plants, and state governments, he argues.” Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Dlouhy) reports the directive “takes aim at a practice conservatives have long criticized as empowering environmental groups to force federal agencies to issue regulations and commit to timelines for imposing them.”

Fewer Puerto Rico Residents Have Power Restored Than A Week Ago.

CNN Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Petulla) reports that in Puerto Rico “the number of customers getting power off of the island’s grid has declined, according to the latest available data and conversations with energy experts.” On Monday of last week, “15% of customers were receiving power compared with typical peak load” but today “that number was down to 13.7%, according to Department of Energy and Puerto Rican government status reports.” On Sunday, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló expressed hope that have 95% of residents would have “power restored by December” but “the progress of the last week shows how difficult getting there will be, say groups working on the ground and energy analysts.”

Solar Industry Turns Its Eye To Puerto Rico. Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Eckhouse) reports “the solar industry has taken particular interest in San Juan in the aftermath of the hurricane.” It is “primarily a humanitarian effort for these companies, but it’s also a chance to showcase an energy source capable of enduring natural disasters.” The article adds “Tesla Inc. is sending its Powerwall battery systems and Sunrun has sent more than 12,000 pounds of solar products and equipment to the island. The Solar Energy Industries Association has received pledges for more than $1.2 million in product and monetary contributions from its network.”

Puerto Rico Facing Environmental Crisis. The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16, Michael Melia) reports that “nearly a month after the hurricane made landfall,” the island “is only beginning to come to grips with a massive environmental emergency that has no clear end in sight.” Officials with EPA “said that of last week they still had not been unable to inspect five of the island’s 18 Superfund sites.”

States Pushing Clean Energy Efforts.

U.S. News & World Report Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports that “both Republican and Democratic states” have been “pushing policy and investments in green technology to reduce their energy consumption and drive economic growth, despite partisanship in Washington, D.C., that has divided climate and clean energy issues along party lines.” At the National Clean Energy Summit last week “electric cars, clean energy storage and affordable solar panels are among the top recent innovations in states pushing clean energy, governors said during a panel.” Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, called clean energy an “irresistible force” during the event. He said that Nevada’s “renewable energy production has nearly doubled since 2009,” and “its clean energy workforce has grown 9.5 percent over the past year, more than three times faster than other Nevada industries.”

Study Finds Renewable Energy Jobs In Minnesota Up 16 Percent.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports a study Clean Energy Economy Minnesota “shows renewable energy jobs in Minnesota grew by 16 percent from 2015 to 2016.” The study found “there are about 6,200 jobs in the state in renewable energy, most in solar or wind power.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

New Mexico Officials Hold Public Hearing On Controversial New Science Standards.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports on the “intense criticism” for proposed new science standards in New Mexico, with opponents complaining that they omit “references to global warming, evolution and the age of the Earth.” Speakers at the hearing “overwhelmingly sided against” the revised standards, the piece reports, saying “teachers, state university faculty, Democratic Party officials and the science chairman for a school catering to local Native American students urged the Public Education Department, led by a recent appointee of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, to throw out its proposed changes and adopt unedited standards.”

The Los Alamos (NM) Monitor Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/16) reports that “no one spoke in favor of PED’s proposal, many saying the department’s rewritten version of the national Next Generation Science Standards, known as Next Gen, were politically motivated.” The changes “include replacing references to climate change with ‘temperature fluctuations,’ removes mention of the earth’s age as 4.8 billion years, and tweaks instruction on evolution.”

California Voters Express Strong Support For Expanded Science, Computer Education.

EdSource Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/15) reported an online Berkeley IGS/EdSource “survey of 1,200 registered voters in California found that 87 percent favored schools putting ‘greater emphasis on integrating science as part of the entire public school curriculum.’” Even though the majority of respondents were unaware of the Next Generation Science Standards, 68 percent said they support the concept. Additionally, 85 percent of respondents supported “a greater emphasis on computer programming and coding.” EdSource notes the state is currently drafting computer science standards to be adopted statewide in 2018. California State Board of Education member Trish Williams hailed the survey’s findings, adding that the state “is seen as a national leader on the new science standards.” WestEd K-12 Alliance director Kathy DiRanna, however, said the lack of awareness over the national standards is a problem, and called for greater community outreach.

Monday’s Lead Stories

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