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

Leading the News

White House Considers Raising Federal Gasoline Tax To Fund $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan.

Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Wasson, Niquette) reports National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn proposed the idea of increasing the federal gasoline tax next year “to help pay for the administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, U.S. Representative Tom Reed said.” There have been proposals in recent years to raise the gas tax for the first time since 1993, “but they have faced stuff opposition from congressional Republicans and others loath to raise taxes.” In a Bloomberg News interview, President Trump said he “would certainly consider” raising the gas tax to fund infrastructure improvements he promised during the campaign. However, the White House has “quickly said the president wasn’t endorsing the idea.”

Meanwhile, an industry source told The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Zanona) that “the White House intends to back a 7-cent gas tax increase to pay for U.S. roads, bridges, highways and other public works, though it’s unclear if the proposal would be included in initial infrastructure legislation or if the administration will push to have it added at the committee level.” Despite “fierce opposition” from Republican lawmakers and influential conservatives, the White House “may be eager to identify potential funding options for its long-stalled infrastructure plan,” which was “once billed as a 100-day priority for Trump.” Some lawmakers have proposed funding the rebuilding effort using revenue from repatriation, but the Administration and GOP leaders “have shown no indication that they plan to include any money for infrastructure in the tax-reform package.”

The Washington (DC) Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Ferrechio) also covers this story.

Higher Education

Activists: Some For-Profit Colleges Victimizing Veterans.

Diverse Education Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports that advocates for veterans say some for-profit colleges are defrauding veterans and leaving them with heavy debt and worthless degrees. The piece quotes Sean Marvin, legal director at Veterans Education Success, saying, “Evidence shows that some bad actor colleges are clearly defrauding most of their students, so we believe hundreds of thousands of veterans are being defrauded. There are way too many veterans who’ve been defrauded by schools that only care about GI Bill dollars.”

Grant Aid Failing To Keep Pace With Tuition Increases.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that though rapid increases in college tuition have leveled off somewhat, families are still facing pressure to “dig deeper” and go further into debt because “grant aid is failing to keep pace with even modest increases in tuition.” According to a pair of studies released by the College Board, tuition growth has averaged around three percent in recent years, but “the amount of money students actually pay after taking grants, scholarships and tax credits into account, known as net price, continued to rise between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years.”

More US Students Pursing Degrees Abroad To Save Money.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/24, Nykiel) reports that a growing number of US students is “pursuing full degrees abroad” in an effort to save on tuition. The piece says that last year “there were an estimated 48,000 students doing so, up from an estimated 42,000 in 2011, according to data collected by the Institute of International Education.” The piece notes that such students face limited financial aid options and higher costs of living in some cases, but says “for students who choose inexpensive schools in less pricey locations, an education abroad can be affordable.”

ASEE Week of Giving
This week, we’re asking members to help us get to 25 by 125 – that is, $25K in time for our 125th anniversary next year. Donate here!

NEW from ABET – Engineering Change: Lessons from Leaders on Modernizing Higher Education Engineering Curriculum
This issue brief offers a glimpse into the best practices at play for driving change within engineering programs across the country, and the benefits that have been realized as a result.

Research and Development

Researchers Further Extend Energy Storage Capacity Of Supercapacitors.

Nanowerk Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports researchers at the University of Waterloo have implemented nanotechnology to “significantly improve” the advancement of rapid cellphone charging that uses supercapacitors. These are an energy storage device with a “novel design roughly doubles the amount of electrical energy the rapid-charging devices can hold, helping pave the way for eventual use in everything from smartphones and laptop computers, to electric vehicles and high-powered lasers.” Michael Pope, a professor of chemical engineering who led the Waterloo research, says, “We’re showing record numbers for the energy-storage capacity of supercapacitors. … and the more energy-dense we can make them, the more batteries we can start displacing.” The team’s methodology reportedly increases the surface area of atomically thin layers of graphene in the supercapacitors using liquid salt so that the conductive material’s storage capacity increases.


Latina Engineers Sue Uber Claiming Gender, Race Discrimination.

Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports that three female engineers at Uber Technologies have filed suit against the firm alleging “discrimination based of their gender and race, the latest blow to the ride-services company that is straining to overcome a year of controversies over its workplace culture.” The complaint “follows a widely read blog post in February from another female engineer that described Uber’s work environment as one that tolerated and fostered sexual harassment.” The lawsuit “says that Uber’s compensation and other practices discriminate against women and people of color,” meaning the plaintiffs “have lost out on earnings, promotions and benefits.”

Global Developments

Cambridge University Researchers Develop Novel Exploration Technique For Rare Earth Metal Mining.

BBC News (UK) Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/24, Galer) reports researchers from Cambridge “may have found a safer way to extract rare earth elements (REEs) – the vital material in our smartphones – that could end up saving the planet.” BBC says the heavy environmental costs of mining RREs – virtually all of the world’s known reserves are in China – come from having to recreate “complex chemical and steam conditions,” but the Cambridge research team, led by geologist Teal Riley, believe there exists “a more eco-friendly way to satiate the world’s tech lust.” Riley and his team use UAVs and satellites to identify spectral signatures from RRE deposits anywhere on the planet, with Riley saying “the biggest change” between his team’s methods and traditional RRE mining techniques “is that we’ll be able to locate RREs locked away in soil and clay, which are currently much harder to identify compared to ore-type deposits.”

Perry: US Ready To Partner With African Nations To Spread Electricity.

The Washington Times Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Hill) reports Energy Secretary Perry said Wednesday during a visit to South Africa that the Administration is ready to partner with African countries to expand electricity across the continent, “including from fossil fuels.” Speaking at a regional oil summit in Cape Town, Perry said it was time to break the “culture of shame” around using oil, gas and coal. “If you admit you support fossil fuels, it’s like saying you’ve made some huge social error,” Perry said. “But it’s in fossil fuels that you will see real growth.” Bloomberg News Share to FacebookShare to Twitter(10/25, Burkhardt) reports Perry discussed LNG supplies for electricity generation across Africa. Perry said, “We talked about a lot of opportunities – LNG, coal, but it all goes to the issue of power and power being able to be delivered into places that don’t take electricity for granted.” South Africa has plans to import LNG for power as Cheniere and other suppliers wait for tenders. Reuters Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports Perry told reporters at the conference, “Nuclear and coal … Those two industries were discriminated against over the course of the last administration.” Platts Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports Perry attended the conference with a “sizable contingent” from the Energy Department.

Engineering and Public Policy

Administration To Install Emergency Manager At Puerto Rico Power Authority.

The Washington Post Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Mufson, Davis) reports that over the objections of Puerto Rico’s governor, the Trump Administration and Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board “are moving to install an emergency manager at the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.” Two people familiar with the plan say it “would appoint Noel Zamot, currently in charge of revitalization for the oversight board, to oversee the utility with his own small team to monitor day-to-day operations.” The plan comes amid concerns from OMB Director Mulvaney and lawmakers “over how the bankrupt utility, with $9 billion in debt, would manage the surge of federal money to repair and possibly upgrade the electric power infrastructure.” The Wall Street Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Scurria, Subscription Publication) reports that only around 25% of Prepa’s customers have had their power restored.

Pelosi Calls Ford Probe Into Whitefish Energy Contract. The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Siegel) reports House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi yesterday “demanded an investigation into how a small Montana-based firm with ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke struck a $300 million deal to repair Puerto Rico’s shattered electricity grid.” Whitefish Energy agreed to a $300 million contract with PREPA, “to rebuild 100 miles of power infrastructure across the island.” In a statement Pelosi said, “All Americans should be concerned about the highly suspect Whitefish contract and the circumstances under which it was negotiated. … Democrats demand Congress and the appropriate Inspectors General exercise their oversight role to get to the bottom of this suspicious agreement and hold this administration accountable for its dangerous lack of transparency in spending taxpayer money.” The Washington Examiner Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Siciliano) reports the Sierra Club is also “calling for probes of the contract in both the Senate and the House.”

The Daily Caller Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Bastasch) reports “Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, is heading to Puerto Rico this week to personally survey the desperate situation on the island.” Committee spokesman Parish Braden said, “The size and unknown details of this contract raises numerous questions.”

San Juan Mayor Says Contract Should Be “Voided.” The Hill Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Henry) reports San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the contract is “alarming.” She told Yahoo News, “The contract should be voided right away and a proper process which is clear, transparent, legal, moral and ethical should take place.”

FERC Approves Two Pipelines, But Future Projects Must Account For Greenhouse-Gas Emission Impacts.

Engineering News-Record Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports FERC recently approved the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, both of which “would bring gas to markets in the Southeast from shale fields in West Virginia.” According to the article, the “two controversial projects and other interstate pipeline projects have been limbo since February, when the five-member commission dropped to two members.” Two new members were approved by the Senate in August, while two more nominees await Senate approval. FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee “had promised to speed up the pipeline approval process,” but he will “have to contend with the legacy of Obama, who issued guidance directing federal agencies to consider greenhouse-gas emission impacts in their environmental reviews.” The directive was a “factor in August, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected FERC’s approval of three different gas pipelines in the Southeast, citing downstream GHG impacts of the projects.”

Elementary/Secondary Education

Amazon Donates $10,000 To FIRST Washington To Support STEM Education.

The Kent (WA) Reporter Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Klaas) reports Amazon helped sponsor “Girls FIRST, a full-day field trip for about 80 young minds interested in hands-on learning with machines while peeking at the possibilities using STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) practices,” which took place Monday at the Kentridge High School library. Amazon, a supporter of STEM education, “on Monday even surprised students from Kentridge with a special donation of $10,000 to FIRST Washington to support robotics teams in the school district.” With the donation, “more student [will be able] to pursue STEM education outside of the classroom.” Arkajit Rakshit, Director of Operations at Amazon’s Kent fulfillment center, said, “We’re proud to give back to communities where our associates live and work. … Our growing team in Kent, which started fulfilling customer orders in March 2016, is honored to support the young innovators of tomorrow.”

NASA Glenn Research Center Hosts 25th Annual Young Astronaut Day.

SpaceRef Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports that NASA’s Glenn Research Center will host its 25th Annual Young Astronaut Day in Cleveland on October 28. Glenn Aerospace Engineer and Young Astronaut Day co-coordinator Ashlie Flegel said that opening up this year’s event “up to 60 student organizations” has allowed it to “reach more youth in the surrounding region to explore team-based STEM challenges similar to the type of work being performed at NASA.” Young Astronaut Day Sponsors include the AIAA Northern Ohio Section.

After Controversy, New Mexico Adopts Next Generation Science Standards With Some Annotations.

The Albuquerque (NM) Journal Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports the New Mexico Public Education Department on Wednesday “decided to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards ‘in their entirety’ with just six state-specific standards, well short of the 35 additions the agency proposed last month.” The department had faced “an onslaught of opposition” to its plans to omit parts of the standards dealing with “evolution, the rise in global temperatures and the 4.6 billion-year-old age of Earth.” The paper reports that Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski “said Wednesday the public debate about the proposed standards had become a distraction from the vital work of implementing standards that will ‘raise the bar’ and improve student outcomes” in STEM subjects.

Tennessee Elementary Students Take Part In STEM Fair.

The Bristol (VA) Herald Courier Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25) reports that a group of fourth-grade students in Kingsport, Tennessee took part in the Northeast Tennessee Section of the American Chemical Society’s annual “Celebration of Chemistry for 4th Graders.” Students saw a demonstration of flash-freezing a banana with liquid nitrogen and “chemiluminescence, which — to put it simply — is what makes glow sticks light up on camping trips and at concerts.”

Also in the News

Study Offers More Evidence Linking Earthquakes To Wastewater Injection Wells.

The AP Share to FacebookShare to Twitter (10/25, Elliott) reports a study published last week by University of Colorado researchers linked the increase of earthquakes on the Colorado-New Mexico border since 2001 to wastewater injection wells, “similar to human-caused quakes in Oklahoma and other states.” The study “concluded that the wastewater caused a big enough increase in underground pressure to make rock formations slip along fault lines.” According to the US Geological Service, earthquakes in the Raton Basin of northern New Mexico and southern California started to increase in 2001, “about two years after large-scale wastewater injection began.” A 2014 paper by the USGS “blamed injection wells for the area’s quakes,” but the new UC study “went further, using computer models and records of wastewater injection to conclude that enough pressure built up to cause the quakes.”

Wednesday’s Lead Stories

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