Leading the News
Pentagon Discloses Details Of Secret UFO Investigations.
The Defense Department’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program for years “investigated reports of unidentified flying objects, according to Defense Department officials, interviews with program participants and records obtained by” the New York Times (12/16, A1, Cooper, Blumenthal, Kean, Subscription Publication), which reports in a front-page article that the Defense Department “never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012,” but the program’s supporters “say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence.” The Times adds “for the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.” According to the Times, “The shadowy program – parts of it remain classified – began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of” former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The Pentagon confirmed the existence of the “multi-million dollar program” on Friday to Politico Magazine (12/16, Bender) and the Times. A former congressional staffer revealed a “possible theory behind the unexplained incidents…was that a foreign power – perhaps the Chinese or the Russians – had developed next-generation technologies that could threaten the United States,” but Politico says the program “could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation, and could fuel demands for increased transparency about the scope and findings of the Pentagon effort, which focused some of its inquiries into sci-fi sounding concepts like ‘wormholes’ and ‘warp drives.’” NBC Nightly News (12/16, story 9, 0:20, Diaz-Balart) provided similar coverage in a brief report.
Louisiana Tech University Receives Cybersecurity Education Grant.
The AP (12/16) reports, “Louisiana Tech University has received a more than $1.3 million grant to enhance its cybersecurity programs.” The university “says the grant was awarded by the National Science Foundation and will be used to support Tech’s proposed CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program to prepare cybersecurity professionals for entry into the government workforce.”
KSLA-TV Shreveport, LA (12/15, Roberson) reports Louisiana Tech “became the first of it’s kind to award diplomas for Cyber Engineering last year and will now have more money to continue on that path.”
Construction On UM-Kansas City Engineering Center Set For Summer.
The AP (12/16) reports that University of Missouri-Kansas City officials say “students will soon have access to state-of-the-art 3-D technology, analytics labs and other innovations provided by a $32 million education and research center on the university’s Volker campus.” The school plans to “start construction on the expansion of the School of Computing and Engineering by late summer 2018. The new building would house virtual reality equipment, 3-D printing, data, and high-bay structural labs, a clean room and an electron microscope.”
HEA Reauthorization Could Stymie DC’s Efforts To Curb Student Loan Servicer Abuses.
The Washington Post (12/15, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that the House Higher Education Act reauthorization could hinder “the D.C. government’s efforts to protect residents from abusive practices in the student loan market.” The piece says DC currently “requires student loan servicing companies…to obtain a license to operate within its borders.” However, the bill “would exempt servicers working on behalf of the U.S. Education Department — which holds the vast majority of student loans — from having to comply with the local law.” The language, the Post reports, delivers “a blow to a nascent movement of states seeking greater oversight of servicers.”
Some Colleges Paying Presidents Over $1 Million In Salary.
Bloomberg News (12/17, Smith) reports that according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the presidents of 58 colleges across the country have “total compensation of more than $1 million, up from 39 in 2014 and 32 in 2013.” Average pay for college presidents is $569,932, “up 9 percent from 2014’s average.”
Research and Development
CU Boulder Students’ CubeSat Helps Solve Radiation Belt Mystery.
The Boulder (CO) Daily Camera (12/17) reports that a “a shoebox-sized satellite built by University of Colorado students” has provided insights into “a decades-old mystery surrounding the source of some potentially-damaging particles in our planet’s radiation belts. … The mystery electrons in question exist in Earth’s inner radiation belt, but their origins were unclear for the past 60 years, according to a Wednesday CU news release.” The data from the device “showed the electrons are created by cosmic rays stemming from explosions of supernovas, said the study’s lead author, Professor Xinlin Li who teaches in CU’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.”
BMW Invests $118 Million In Autonomous Vehicle Test Track.
Digital Trends (12/16, Chang) reported BMW “is investing more than 100 million euros (or $118 million) into” a new autonomous and electric vehicle test track in the Czech Republic, “and is said to be creating ‘several hundred jobs’ in the process.” In a statement, Dr. Herbert Grebenc, BMW’s Senior Vice President of Real Estate Management, said, “We found the ideal conditions and grounds we need for vehicle testing in Sokolov. … Opening our first development location in Eastern Europe will create new opportunities and marks a milestone in the history of our company.” According to Reuters (12/15, Cremer), the company explained “BMW-owned properties near its Munich headquarters, in France and in Sweden are no longer sufficient to accommodate the carmaker’s expanding tests of self-driving vehicles.”
NASA Successfully Tests Orion Parachutes.
The AP (12/15) reported that on Friday NASA “successfully dropped a replica Orion spacecraft from an Air Force transport aircraft to a southwestern Arizona desert site to test the craft’s ability to cope with a partial parachute failure.” Two of the three parachutes were used to “simulate the failure of the third and still sufficiently slowed the spacecraft for a landing.” According to NASA Systems Engineer Jim McMichael, the test was the fifth of a series of eight Orion parachute tests that will continue until late 2018.
Researchers Develop Prototype Portable Chemical Detector.
Engineering360 (12/15, Treacy) reported researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a prototype chemical sensor that can identify “single-fingerprint quantities” of substances over 100 feet away. The device “could be used to identify traces of drugs and explosives” and potentially speed analysis of medical samples, and “could be mounted on a drone or carried by users like doctors, police, border officials and soldiers.” The sensor uses a new optical fiber-based laser “that combines high power with a beam that covers a broad band of infrared frequencies – from 1.6 to 12 microns, which covers the mid-wave and long-wave infrared.” The project is a collaboration of the University of Michigan, Leidos, IRflex, CorActive, and Omni Sciences, and was built with “off-the-shelf fiber optics and telecommunications components, with one custom–made optical fiber.”
Science Daily (12/15) reported the device’s “developers are working to shrink it to the size of a shoebox.”
NASA To Purchase Earth Science Data From Commercial Smallsat Companies.
Space News (12/15, Subscription Publication) reported that NASA “expects to purchase Earth science data from constellations of commercial satellites early next year to see how useful they are in meeting the agency’s research needs.” The agency released a request for information December 5, and the deadline for responses is December 22. NASA Earth Science Director Michael Freilich said that the agency would like to work with industry “to purchase those data products in a pilot to then evaluate their worth in advancing our NASA program. This is an attempt to develop a relationship, with money coming from us to you and data coming from you to us, to allow us to figure out whether what you are producing is useful for our science or not.”
Scientists Develop Process To Enclose Metals In Graphite.
Nanowerk (12/18) reports scientists at the Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory “discovered a new process to sheathe metal under a single layer of graphite which may lead to new and better-controlled properties for these types of materials.” Nanowerk says the research “suggests that this method will work with a wide variety of metal and graphite combinations, opening up the possibility of diverse applications including quantum computing, solar cells, catalysis, and sensing.”
Gartner: AI-Driven Tech Will Create More Jobs Than It Kills In Next Three Years.
The Wall Street Journal (12/15, Loten) reports that a new report by Gartner finds that artificial intelligence (AI) capability, driving new enterprise technologies, will be responsible for creating more jobs than it destroys over the next three years, and may result in 2 million new jobs by 2025. Gartner Vice President of Research Svetlana Sicular said, “Many significant innovations in the past have been associated with a transition period of temporary job loss, followed by recovery, then business transformation and AI will likely follow this route.”
Iraq Plans To Build Oil Product Pipeline Network.
Reuters (12/16) reported that on Saturday, Iraqi Oil Minister Jabar al-Luaibi said that the country plans to build a pipeline network to transport oil products across, rather than rely on more hazardous and expensive transport by tanker truck. The planned pipeline “network is part of a ‘strategic’ plan for oil transportation that includes pipelines to deliver crude and oil products to neighboring countries, he said.” Only one crude pipeline currently operates in Iraq, connecting Turkey’s Mediterranean coast to Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. All the country’s “other crude pipelines were shut down or destroyed in the past 35 years as a result of wars and conflicts.”
Engineering and Public Policy
Congress Tax Bill Preserves Renewable Energy Credits.
Bloomberg News (12/15, Natter, Martin) reported Congress reached a deal preserving a $12 billion source of financing for wind and solar developers. The provision would preserve most of the renewable energy tax credits that developers use to raise funding from large financial corporations. The incentives were threatened by the Senate’s tax measure, which had included a minimum tax on foreign transactions, limiting the amount companies can write off. The final version allows corporations to offset up to 80 percent of their foreign transaction tax with renewable energy credits. Reuters (12/16, Volcovici) reported the compromise tax bill also removed the alternative minimum tax, which would have reduced the value of the credits. American Council on Renewable Energy President Gregory Wetstone said, “We are grateful for the elimination of provisions that would have decimated future renewable energy growth and even penalized past investment in wind and solar power, but we remain concerned about the potential impacts of the new BEAT (tax) on renewable energy finance.” The Washington Examiner (12/15, Siciliano) reported the BEAT provision is included in an effort to discourage large multinational corporations from keeping money offshore, but it would also reduce the tax deductions used to fund offshore renewable energy projects. Wetstone said, “Many tax equity investors are potentially subject to the BEAT tax and will only be able to determine if they are covered under the complex formula in the new law once they have completed their year-end tax calculations.” The AP (12/15, Daly) reported the bill also preserved a $7,500 tax credit for purchases of plug-in electric vehicles.
The New York Times (12/16, Plumer, Subscription Publication) reported the changes show the growing influence of the wind and solar industries in Washington. Dan W. Reicher, director of the Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford, said, “As wind and solar projects have soared in the U.S., in both red and blue states, so has the industry’s influence in Washington, D.C., on both sides of the aisle.” Several Republican senators, including Charles Grassley and Dean Heller, opposed the House bill’s changes to the renewable energy sector. The Houston Chronicle (12/15, Osborne) reported Liam Donovan, an energy lobbyist with Bracewell said, “All the energy changes [under consideration], it’s almost all gone. … No news is good news.” He went on to say, “It depends on what your tax situation is now, but energy companies are paying a reasonable effective tax rate as it is. … It’s the companies that have a low effective rate whose taxes are probably going to go up.”
Environmentalists Launch Effort To Block ANWR Drilling Provision In Tax Bill.
The Washington Times (12/17, Wolfgang) reports that the final tax reform package includes a “controversial provision” to allow a section of ANWR “to be opened to oil exploration,” and environmentalists “over the weekend launched a last-ditch effort to halt the initiative, though their efforts almost surely will be in vain.”
The Hill (12/15, Henry) reported that most of the House Republicans that are against ANWR drilling say the inclusion of the provision in the tax bill is not a deal-breaker. Environmentalists are planning a series of advertisements and awareness campaigns to pressure lawmakers to vote against the provision. The Wilderness Society’s senior managing director for government relations Drew McConville said, “Our message is pretty consistent and clear: a vote for this bill is a vote to drill in the ANWR. … I know there are other issues in this bill, but we fully expect that this is a big part of the calculation: You can’t be for preserving the refuge and vote of this bill.” The AP (12/15) also provided coverage.
Southern California Gas Starts Using Fiber Optics For Pipeline Safety.
Natural Gas Intelligence (12/15, Nemec, Subscription Publication) reported that on Wednesday, Southern California Gas “launched the use of fiber optics to monitor segments of its largest high-pressure and transmission pipelines at least 12 inches in diameter.” The technology is being used for the first time on a new pipeline in Bakersfield. The fiber optics system “is designed to provide an early warning system to detect unauthorized construction work that could damage the pipeline and indicate changes in pressure that may identify a leak.” SoCalGas Director of Gas Engineering Deanna Haines said, “it can help prevent damage to our lines and help us mitigate leaks more quickly.”
UC Davis Updates K-14 STEM Platform.
THE Journal (12/14) reports that the C-STEM Center at UC Davis “has updated its free STEM platform for grades K-14. Version 4 of the C-STEM Studio software suite includes new and updated curriculum and programs for Lego Mindstorms, Barobo Linkbots, Raspberry Pi computers and Arduino control boards.” The portal “combines computer programming and robotics to help students learn STEM subjects through project-based computing and robotics activities by solving complex, real-world problems.”
Michigan Middle School Students Participate In State Robotics Championship.
The Port Huron (MI) Times Herald (12/17, Ervin) reports that middle school robotics teams from Algonac, Memphis and Marysville “competed in the FIRST in Michigan FTC State Championship” over the weekend. FIRST, the Times Herald notes, is “an international organization that holds a variety of robotics competitions for different age groups” beginning in kindergarten.
New Jersey School Brings “Star Wars” To Classroom.
The AP (12/16) reports students at Tabernacle Elementary School in New Jersey, ahead of Friday’s release of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” designed and began crafting “mobile makerspace carts paying tribute to their favorite” “Star Wars” characters. Crafting the carts has been “an engineering lesson for students, from tracing the wood shapes to drilling them to the cart.” The project should be completed in early January.
Friday’s Lead Stories
• DeVos Speaks At Summit On Need To “Overhaul” System For Meeting Workforce Needs.
• Two Lawsuits Filed Against ED, DeVos Over Backlog Of Student Loan Forgiveness Claims.
• NASA Discovers Two New Planets, Using Google AI.
• Trucking Industry Looks To Improve Female Driver Outreach.
• Chinese Tech Giant Tencent Opens Seattle Research Lab.
• Samsung Among Partners To Build Business Apps On IBM Quantum Computers.
• Mathews: California Needs More Immigrants.