Leading the News
University Of Michigan Researchers Working On Plasma Thrusters.
WXYZ-TV Detroit (10/17) reports that University of Michigan aerospace engineering doctoral student Scott Hall is part of a team working on plasma thrusters for potential future spacecraft. The piece quotes University of Michigan Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering Alec Gallimore saying, “In the test that we did recently in Ohio we broke three records. The amount of thrust generated by a hall thruster, the amount of current generated by a hall thruster and the power generated by a hall thruster. The power we generated is about 25 times more powerful than the most powerful hall thruster operating in space right now.”
SPACE (10/13) reports that the thruster “broke several records during recent tests, suggesting that the technology is on track to take humans to the Red Planet within the next 20 years, project team members said.” Researchers at the University of Michigan, working in conjunction with the US Air Force and NASA, developed the X3 thruster, “a Hall thruster — a system that propels spacecraft by accelerating a stream of electrically charged atoms, known as ions.” In testing at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, the thruster “broke records for the maximum power output, thrust and operating current achieved by a Hall thruster to date.” The International Business Times (10/17) also covers this story.
Valparaiso Art Students Working With Engineering Professor On 3d Printed Sculptures.
The Northwest Indiana Post-Tribune (10/18) reports that a number of sculpting students at Valparaiso University are working with electrical and computer engineering professor Jeff Will and art professor Kevin Firme “to master computer-aided drafting and have their creations printed on a 3-D printer.” The piece quotes Will saying, “What engineers do when they design a part or a widget is creating a 3-D object. It’s what artists do, too. Since we have the technology on campus, it makes sense to leverage that to benefit as many students as possible.”
Research and Development
NSF Gives University Of Michigan $1.8 Million To Study Using Smart Tech To Control Flooding.
Crain’s Detroit Business (10/17) reports that the National Science Foundation has given the University of Michigan a $1.8 Million grant “to develop autonomous technology for stormwater systems.” Civil and environmental engineering professor Branko Kerkez “received the grant and is leading the team, which includes engineers, computer scientists and local officials” from a number of cities in Michigan, Indiana, Virginia and Tennessee.
Amazon Engineers Tackle Seattle’s Parking Problems In Facebook Hackathon.
GeekWire (10/17, Levy) reports Amazon engineers Paramita Ghosh and Raghavendra Kotikalapud, who both work on Amazon Instant Video, scored “top marks” in a Facebook Hackathon for their project “that scans parking lots for available spaces” in Seattle, “cutting down time drivers spend cruising for parking.” Their “Find ‘n Park” solution “uses deep learning vision models to determine how many cars are currently parked in a given lot to give real-time availability of parking and where there might be an available spot.” Seattle contributed its vast set of open data to the project.
Velvet Worm Secretions Lend Lessons On Synthetic Materials Production.
Nanowerk (10/17) reports that Researchers, including scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, are studying velvet worms to learn how industrial manufacturers can improve processes for creating synthetic polymers and develop methods for sustainable production of synthetic materials. The article explains that to capture prey, “velvet worms shoot out a sticky secretion that stiffens into strong threads under the action of force.” The secretion can be dissolved and reformed into new threads that behave just as a new one would. Matt Harrington, head of the research group and a biochemist in the Biomaterials Department of the Potsdam Institute, says, “This is a nice example of a fully reversible and indefinitely repeatable regeneration process.”
New Research Demonstrates LED Wafer That Can Transmit And Receive Information.
Ars Technica (10/17, Timmer) reports on new research published in Nature Nanotechnology that “suggests an alternate possibility” to conventional light-based communications that use one laser, saying researchers “put together an LED just two atoms thick and integrated it with a silicon chip.” Moreover, the researchers were able to use the chips as “a photodetector” as well.
Mexican Tech Sector Looks To Gain From Trump Anti-Immigration Policies.
Reuters (10/17) reports, “Amazon, Facebook and other U.S. tech companies” are boosting their footprint in Mexico as the country “works to capitalize on the Trump administration’s anti-immigration stance.” Oracle also plans to expand operations in Mexico. Trump’s “efforts to reduce immigration to the United States, including new constraints on H-1B visas for skilled workers – which many tech companies rely on for attracting foreign talent” have spurred countries around the globe to look to recruit tech workers and firms “that might once have found a home in the United States.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Natural Gas Affects Renewable Energy Growth.
Natural Gas Intelligence (10/17, Cocklin, Subscription Publication) reports that as solar and wind power is becoming incorporated into the power grid, the demand for natural gas is being threatened. ConocoPhillips Director of Market Research Jim Duncan “said the western states are unequivocally going to continue adding more renewable capacity, if only for the space that exists in the region compared to the more densely populated East Coast.” Natural Gas Intelligence states that “natural gas is poised to continue providing short-term reliability or even long-term baseload.”
Bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus Gains Influence.
Roll Call (10/17, Nawaguna) reports that the growing House Climate Solutions Caucus demonstrated its effectiveness for the first time when the all but one member of the bloc voted against an effort to strip the 2018 defense spending bill of its requirement to plan for global warming. “We know for sure that we can block bad policy,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R), “and that’s significant.” Although only three Republican members of the caucus signed an Oct. 13 letter affirming the group’s support for the Clean Power Plan, caucus members “are confident the group will grow to a point where it can make legislative changes.” Right now Rep. Curbelo said he views the group’s role as a “blocking minority within the majority,” and moving forward, “he wants the coalition to be an ‘ideas factory.’”
Republican Losses In 2018 Could Cripple Climate Solutions Caucus. E&E Daily (10/17, Subscription Publication) reports that Democrats are singling out 79 Republican-head seats to target in 2018 elections, 24 of whom are GOP members of the Climate Solutions Caucus. If the Democrats succeed in taking back the House, it could “come at the cost of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus,” which “can only add members in bipartisan pairs, so a Republican loss drops a Democrat from the body.”
EPA Administrator To Restrict Grant Funding To Agency Science Advisers.
The Washington Examiner (10/17) reports EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “plans to issue a directive next week to limit research grants provided by the agency to scientists serving on the agency’s boards.” At a Heritage Foundation event, Pruitt said, “If we have individuals who are on those boards receiving money from the agency, sometimes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, that calls into question the independence of the recommendations that come our way. … Next week, I will issue a directive that addresses that, to ensure the independence and transparency and objectivity with respect to the scientific advice that we are getting at the agency.” He did not “make clear if he would block scientists who receive grants from serving on the agency’s scientific advisory committees or if he would simply impose restrictions on how grants are distributed.”
Appeals Court Urged To Rule On Obama-Era Climate Rules By States, Environmental Groups.
The Washington Examiner (10/17, Siciliano) reports “environmental groups and aligned states” on Tuesday urged the DC Circuit Court of Appeals “to issue its long-awaited decision on the Clean Power Plan and reject the Trump administration’s arguments for holding its ruling in permanent suspension after proposing to repeal the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate agenda last week.” The coalition said in a brief filed with the court, “This court should deny respondent Environmental Protection Agency’s latest request for indefinite abeyance. … Because EPA has not established the necessary grounds for the requested abeyance and because the case involves a time-sensitive statutory obligation to protect the public health and welfare from grave threats, the court should decide this fully briefed and argued case on the merits.”
Senate Democrats Plan Amendment To Challenge ANWR Drilling.
NBC News (10/17, Seitz-Wald) reports in continuing coverage that the Senate budget bill contains a provision that could allow drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Environmentalists are especially concern because the measure is part of a filibuster-proof legislative process that Republican lawmakers hope to use to pass tax reform. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, “This provides an excellent opportunity for our committee to raise $1 billion in federal revenues while creating jobs and strengthening our nation’s long-term energy security.” Reuters (10/17, Gardner) reports Senate Democrats promised to fight the measure, saying it would destroy a pristine wilderness. Sen. Edward Markey said, “This Republican budget scam to hand over the wildest place left in America to Big Oil should be removed from the budget and put on ice.” Democrats are hoping Republican Sens. John McCain and Susan Collins will support the effort to block drilling. The Hill (10/17, Cama) reports the Senate Democrats are planning an amendment to prevent the GOP from using the budget process to allow ANWR drilling. Markey said, “We’re going to work together with our colleagues to determine just the right moment in this budgetary process to make this amendment. … But we are going to do so, and we are reaching out to Republicans to try to make this as bipartisan as we can. It should be a bipartisan issue.” Sen. Maria Cantwell said, “It tells you something that this idea does not stand on its own. It tells you that every time it has to be paired with something else as almost a sneak attack, you have to vote for this because of these other issues.”
Pruitt Seeks To Assure Senators Over Biofuels Mandate.
The Hill (10/17, Henry, Cama) reports EPA Administrator Pruitt “sought to reassure” Midwestern lawmakers on Tuesday that he supported the federal biofuels mandate. In a nearly hour-long meeting in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Senate office that included Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Deb Fischer (R-NE), Pruitt “made a political case for the ethanol mandate.” The meeting came amid concerns from lawmakers in both parties about proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard.
The Quad-City (IA) Times (10/17) reports that prior to the meeting, Grassley “suggested the Senate could hold up Trump administration’s nominees to the agency if it doesn’t abandon a potential rollback of some Renewable Fuel Standard requirements.” E&E Publishing (10/17, Subscription Publication) reports the biofuel supporters “are threatening to derail the nomination of Bill Wehrum to lead U.S. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.” The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is slated to vote on his nomination Wednesday morning, “but some corn state lawmakers are threatening to block him unless the agency provides assurances on biofuel blends.”
The AP (10/17) reports, “Grassley said EPA’s proposed rollback would result in job losses in his home state.” The EPA Administrator’s “position is in contrast to the staunch support for the biofuel industry Trump pledged as a presidential candidate last year.” Grassley told reporters, “I’ve made it clear that EPA’s latest proposal under the RFS would break the president’s and Administrator Pruitt’s commitment on this issue. … It would hurt rural America and also hurt Iowa.” The Washington Examiner (10/17) also provides coverage of this story.
Mediator Appointed In Michigan Wind-energy Dispute.
The AP (10/17) reports that “a mediator has been appointed to try to settle a dispute between a wind-energy operator and township officials in Michigan’s Thumb region.” A federal judge has selected Grand Rapids lawyer Bruce Neckers. The article adds that “after four wind-energy critics were elected in 2016, Almer Township rejected a permit that could have cleared the way for 19 turbines in the Tuscola County community.” NextEra Energy Resources operates Tuscola Wind III. The company “has three wind facilities in Michigan.” The wind farm “filed a lawsuit earlier this year, claiming Almer Township violated its rights by rejecting a land-use permit.”
RAND Report: STEM Education Grows In Importance As Older Workers Retire.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (10/17, Huba) reports that, according to a RAND Corp study, the demand for STEM workers in Pennsylvania will increase into the next decade. The industry will require “a steady supply of workers with skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)…to offset predicted shortages in skilled labor in the energy and advanced manufacturing industries.” The study said “the growing need for a STEM-skilled workforce is likely to further intensify given impending retirements of larger numbers of older workers.”
Tuesday’s Lead Stories
• Astronomers Discover Gravitational Waves In Neutron Star Collision.
• Commentary: US Must Invest In Education To Compete Globally In 21st Century.
• Researchers Tout Potential Of Quantum Computing.
• America Has Jobs, Needs Skilled Workforce.
• Research Suggests Unicorn Startups Inflate Valuation.
• EPA To Restrict Settlements With Environmental Groups.
• New Mexico Officials Hold Public Hearing On Controversial New Science Standards.