Leading the News
Duke Engineers Develop Larger Artificial Heart Muscle In Effort To Repair Hearts.
The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer (11/29, Murawski) reports on a study published in Nature Communications from biomedical engineers at Duke University describing their development of “artificial heart muscle that’s large enough to” be used to replace scar tissue so as to reduce the need for transplants. They “plan to test the biomedical tissue on pigs,” and one of the engineers said that it would be “at least a decade” before such tissue will be able to be used as a patch on a human heart. The tissue they developed “was 4 centimeters by 4 centimeters in size” or “more than 30 times larger than the previous artificial heart muscle Duke researchers created in 2013,” though it is too thin to work as human heart muscle. The study which produced the muscle is being “funded by a 7-year, $8.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health,” and has six years remaining. HealthDay (11/29, Preidt) reports the patch “was tested in rodents,” and is, according to the researchers, “a significant advance in efforts to repair dead heart muscle.”
House HEA Overhaul Plan Includes “Significant Changes” For Higher Education.
The Wall Street Journal (11/29, Belkin, Mitchell, Korn, Subscription Publication) reports House Republicans this week plan to introduce a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act which includes broad changes, including an overhaul on the federal student loan program that would cap borrowing and do away with some loan forgiveness programs. Republicans say the plan is intended to fight the skills gap, but the Journal reports that it differs significantly from recent proposals from Democrats.
The Chronicle of Higher Education (11/29) reports the bill “includes several significant changes,” including “a plan to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the Fafsa, and cap the amount that students may borrow. And it would end a loan-forgiveness program for public servants who have made payments on their loans for 10 years.” The measure would also eliminate the gainful employment rule, “which is slated to undergo negotiated rule-making next week and be rewritten.” The plan “also would expand job-training and apprenticeship opportunities, which have been championed by the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.”
California AG Sues For-Profit School For Deceptive Practices.
The Washington Post (11/29, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that “California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Wednesday filed a civil lawsuit against Ashford University, a for-profit chain, and parent company Bridgepoint Education, accusing them of engaging in unlawful marketing, sales and debt collection practices.” Bridgepoint Vice President for Investor Relations Anna Davidson “said the company will vigorously defend itself against the allegations brought by the attorney general.” The lawsuit alleges that Ashford employees misled students “about the cost of attending, their eligibility for federal loans and grants, and the timing of financial aid and the use of that funding.”
The AP (11/29, Thompson) reports that Becerra’s lawsuit against Bridgepoint alleges “officials made false promises to entice students and illegally tried to collect their overdue debt.” The complaint alleges Bridgepoint “used illegal business practices to deceive and defraud students, nearly three-quarters of whom never graduated.” A Bridgepoint official vowed to fight the lawsuit, saying “Ashford has improved the lives of thousands of students ‘by providing a high-quality education that serves communities and gives families the opportunity to succeed.’”
The Los Angeles Times (11/29, Phillips) reports that the lawsuit represents a break with the Trump administration, as it “backs away from Obama-era efforts to crack down on for-profit colleges.” Becerra, the Times reports, “described Ashford as a ‘nightmare’ for students. It is ‘an institution that professed to provide higher education but was making a ton of money instead,’ he said.”
Minorities Underrepresented In Environmental Programs.
Diverse Education (11/29, Bhattacharyya) reports that people of color “compromise around 36 to 38 percent of the population,” but they only occupy about 16 percent of the staffing in environmental organizations. According to Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor, professor of environmental justice at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, “The even worse news is [people of color] are occupying the entry-level and lower level positions” in environmental organizations, and there are very few hires of people of color at leadership levels. Taylor adds, “When you ask programs why aren’t there more students of color, they pretend to want to say those students are not interested,” which means they “fall back on what I consider to be pure stereotype.” The article says Taylor “runs two diversity programs at the University of Michigan…and she says she sees evidence of demand for opportunities among people of color.”
Research and Development
Report: US Must Recognize Military Potentials Of AI.
A new report by the data and analytics firm Work and Govini that was exclusively provided to CNN (11/29, Cohen) says the US risks losing an artificial intelligence arms race to China and Russia if the Defense Department does not recognize “the revolutionary military potential of AI and advanced autonomous systems.” The report calls on the White House and Pentagon to determine not only “the extent to which the US will ramp up research and development in technologies associated with artificial intelligence,” but also “a national strategy for how aggressively it will develop new systems, operational concepts and organizational constructs that exploit artificial intelligence advancements in warfare.” CNN notes that the report comes as “Both China and Russia have recently highlighted the importance of artificial intelligence to the future of the global economy and military power.”
General Motors’ Self-Driving Bolt Makes Media Debut.
In a review on Bloomberg News (11/29), David Welch describes riding in the self-driving Chevrolet Bolt as “like going back to driver’s ed,” in that “it slavishly obeys traffic rules that I forgot even existed.” The caution that it “might bore even a conservative driver to tears” is deliberate, according to Kyle Vogt, chief executive officer at Cruise; “self-driving cars are about reducing crashes and fatalities, above all else.” While Welch calls the riding experience “dull,” he notes that “the technology is well beyond those of the Super Cruise system featured in GM’s Cadillac CT6 and the Autopilot system I tried in Tesla’s Model S,” which lack “true autonomy.”
Reuters (11/29) reports, “Double-parked cars and orange traffic cones tripped up the computer driver, and a taco truck stumped the machine.”
Autonomous Vehicle Design Could Bring Ethical Quandary.
Fast Company (11/29, Baram) reports that Ford CEO Bill Ford was speaking at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas this year when he broached an issue in designing autonomous vehicles. Ford said that a car may have to decide whether to save the vehicle’s operator or pedestrians in the event of an imminent crash. In a survey by AAA, 75 percent of motorists said they are afraid of riding inside an autonomous vehicle. The survey also found that 54 percent said sharing the road with an autonomous vehicle would leave them feeling less safe. Fast Company states, “Last year, the U.S. National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) endorsed self-driving cars as a way to’ dramatically decrease the number of crashes tied to human choices and behavior.’”
NIH Awards Grant To Professor Developing Laser Immunotherapy For Cancer Treatment.
The Oklahoman (11/29) reports the National Institutes of Health awarded a R01 grant to Wei R. Chen, PhD, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Central Oklahoma’s College of Mathematics and Science. Chen will use the grant to continue his work on laser immunotherapy (LIT), a “combination of local laser irradiation and the local administration of an immunological stimulant to treat tumors.”
Afghan Girl Robotics Team Wins Entrepreneur Challenge At Robotex Festival.
Forbes (11/29) reports, “Afghanistan’s Girl Robotics Team just won the Entrepreneur Challenge at Europe’s largest robotics festival, the Robotex festival in Tallinn, Estonia.” The team “faced off against 3700 other competitors and 1600 robots in a series of competitions, including robot basketball games, races, and mazes.” Competitors in the Entrepreneurial Challenge are required “to build a robot, design marketing flyers, and present a sales pitch to a team of judges. The winning robot, presented by three members of the Afghan team, used solar energy to work on small-scale farms, the New York Times reported.”
Porsche CEO Discusses Hybrid, Electric Vehicles, Keeping Up With Tesla.
CNBC (11/29, Aiello) reports on Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer’s appearance on CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” during which he discussed Porsche’s plans for keeping the pace with Tesla, which he admits sometimes ends up taking from Porsche’s customer base. Porsche has begun its dabbling in the hybrid market with the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo, which isn’t yet available in the US, but will bring to market its first all-electric vehicle, the Mission E, in 2019, according to The Verge (10/4). The Mission E will boast “comparable charge time, speed and cost to the Tesla Model S” but will be slightly cheaper than the Panamera hybrid and “will allegedly have certain autonomous features and may be sold at different price brackets.”
EV Producers Fall Behind On Lithium Market.
Platts (11/29) reports speakers at the Mines and Money conference said electric vehicle production is falling behind as automakers compete for lithium, which is used to make batteries. Marino Pieterse, an analyst with Strategic Metals & Rare Earths Letter International, said the market tightness has led to contract prices for lithium carbonate staying above $10,000/mt after doubling in 2016. Prices are expected to continue rising until new mine capacity comes online.
Engineering and Public Policy
Navajo Generating Station To Stay Open Through 2019.
The Hill (11/29, Cama) reports “the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station has obtained the approval it needs to stay open through 2019.” The Salt River Project “announced Wednesday that the federal Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs had completed their environmental review of the lease extension.” The owners of the plant “lease the plant’s land from the Navajo Nation.” Originally, they had planned “to close it this year, but the Trump administration and the Navajo Nation pushed for a renewal, and the other utilities involved agreed to it.”
The AP (11/29) reports the Navajo Nation “and most owners of the Navajo Generating Station near Page signed off on it earlier this year,” but the agreement “also needed the OK from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a former owner in the power plant. Those approvals came ahead of Friday’s deadline.”
Scientists Say Climate Change Efforts Must Go Beyond Reducing Greenhouse Gases.
CNN (11/29, Vonberg) reports that most of past efforts to combat climate change have focused on the reduction of greenhouse gases. However, “many scientists say that simply minimizing man-made pollution is not enough to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius, as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate agreement – humans must also devise other means to help cool the planet.” Some of the “imaginative proposals to achieve this goal” include “sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere” and using “a giant space-based solar shield [to] reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches Earth.”
FAA ASSURE Study Finds Bird-Strike Regulations “Not Appropriate” For UAV Impacts.
Aviation Today (11/29, Fuller) reports on Wednesday’s release of an FAA ASSURE research study, “The sUAS Air-to-Air Collision Severity Evaluation Final Report.” The report found that UAV collisions with aircraft can inflict more damage than bird impacts, partly due to the strength of some UAV components, and also because aircraft components are intended to “withstand bird strikes from birds up to eight pounds for the empennage and four pounds for windscreen.” The study “found that energy (projectile mass and velocity) and the stiffness of the drone are the primary drivers of impact damage.” UAVs powered by lithium batteries pose an additional fire risk, although “at typical high speeds, the battery completely destructs and cancels any risk of battery fire due to a shorted battery.” ASSURE concluded that “bird-strike certification regulations are not appropriate for unmanned aircraft,” and noted that “regulators do not require and manufacturers do not design commercial and business aircraft to withstand collisions from other aircraft.” ASSURE plans to conduct follow-up research through 2021.
EPA Refuses To Reconsider RFS Point Of Obligation.
The Washington Examiner (11/29, Siciliano) reports that the EPA’s refusal to reconsider the point of obligation for the Renewable Fuel Standard marks the “final chapter in a long, protracted attempt by Trump confidante and adviser Carl Icahn, representing independent refiners.” According to a draft copy of the EPA’s formal notice of denial, “EPA’s primary consideration was whether or not a change in the point of obligation would improve the effectiveness of the program to achieve Congress’s goals. EPA does not believe the petitioners or commenters on the matter have demonstrated that this would be the case.”
Morning Consult (11/29) reports that the EPA’s decision is unlikely to satisfy “the refinery industry, which has complained about the burden of the mandate and wants structural changes to the program, nor the renewable fuels industry, which wants a guaranteed higher level of demand that could provide certainty for future investments and growth.”
Trump Administration Decides To Maintain Biofuel Mandate. Bloomberg News (11/29, Parker) reports that the Trump administration announced it will maintain biofuel quotas for motor vehicles, “a move likely to draw tepid applause from Iowa corn growers and disappoint soy-based biodiesel producers.” The decision highlights the Trump administration’s efforts to appease the “needs of two competing constituencies for President Donald Trump: Midwest farmers who rely on the mandate to guarantee ethanol demand and oil refiners that insist the requirements are costly, burdensome and impractical.”
Researchers: Study Supports Assertion Of Humans Causing Texas Earthquakes.
Natural Gas Intelligence (11/29, Passut, Subscription Publication) reports that researchers from Southern Methodist University and the U.S. Geological Survey published a report which shows “seismic activity within two geologic regions in Texas supports the assertion that a series of earthquakes that has struck the area since 2009 were caused by human activity.” The researchers analyzed fault displacements in the Forth Worth Basin and the northern Mississippi Embayment. According to the researchers, the most significant discovery is that seismic reflection data “found no evidence of active faults for the past 300 million years in the” Forth Worth Basin, but the northern Mississippi Embayment “has had active faults for the past 65 million years.”
Earthquake Frequency Increases In West Texas In 2017. Texas Standard (11/29, Zein) reports that in the last year, a region that contains Pasos, Texas has recorded 30 earthquakes. This many earthquakes is a large increase and is “three times the number of earthquakes that were recorded in west Texas over the past ten years.” Meanwhile, sensors have improved recently, and scientists will be looking for any change in magnitude and frequency moving forward.
Port Washington School District Addresses Focusing On STEM Education.
The Williston Park (NY) Island Now (11/29, Torrence) reports the Port Washington School District is facing criticism because it failed to have one of its students named a semifinalist for the Siemens STEM competition. In response, Superintendent Kathleen Mooney “said she is more concerned about the recent expansion of science, math and technology programs than the performance of individual students in competitions.” She said the district’s success should be “measured by the challenging, demanding courses we offer based on” New York’s new science, math and technology standards.
Wednesday’s Lead Stories
• EPA Holds Hearing On Clean Power Plan In West Virginia.
• In Florida, DeVos Announces Plans For FAFSA App.
• University Of Washington Researchers Create “Smart Fabric,” Could Lead To Wearable Keycards.
• Boeing Launches “HorizonX India” Innovation Challenge.
• Bloomberg Analysis: EV Batteries Must Fall By Over Half To Compete With Traditional Cars.
• DOE Official Says Inaction On Perry’s Coal, Nuclear Plan Would Endanger Power Grid.
• FBI’s Kromer Speaks To Texas Fifth Graders As Part Of STEM Event.