Leading the News
Trump Halts Funding For Offshore Drilling Safety Study.
The Hill (12/21, Cama) reports the Trump Administration has halted “its funding for a major study meant to improve how regulators enforce offshore oil and natural gas drilling safety.” On Thursday, the “congressionally chartered” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement “sent a stop-work order for the study earlier this month.” In a statement the National Academies said it is “disappointed” that the “important study has been stopped.” The Washington Post (12/21, Fears) reports Interior spokesman Gregory Julian “said the study was suspended because it might not be needed.” On Thursday afternoon he stated, “Simply put, we paused the study because it appeared to be duplicative of ongoing work.”
The AP (12/21, Michael Virtanen) reports a Dec. 7 letter from the bureau “ordering the suspension of all work under the contract said that within 90 days the department would decide whether to lift the order or terminate the study altogether.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune (12/21, Schleifstein) reports Jacqueline Savitz, “senior vice president for U.S. oceans with the environmental group Oceana,” said, “One thing we should all be able to agree on is that safety is of paramount importance, so preventing a study like this simply flies in the face of common sense.”
Sutherland Institute Backs Higher Education Reform And Opportunity Act.
Christine Cooke, education policy director at the Sutherland Institute, writes in a piece for The Hill (12/21) about the need for reform in the student loan process, touting Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-UT) 115th Higher Education Reform and Opportunity (HERO) Act, “a proposal that, among other things, attempts to tackle the student loan beast and transform accreditation so that students can access a range of innovative educational opportunities.” Cooke writes that while higher education can lead to financial success, “the high cost of a university education forces crippling levels of debt on many of those who acquire a degree.” She writes that Lee’s bill “seeks to reform student loan policies in a few ways: Universities would be required to be more transparent about student outcomes; federal loans would be capped, with longer repayment periods; and institutions would be obligated to repay a chunk of student default amount.”
Accreditation and Professional Development
Workshops Aim To Train Architects, Engineers On Solar Basics.
Renewable Energy World (12/21, Guth) says a US Department of Energy-funded solar energy training course for architects and other professionals teaches trainees “how to speak to clients about the technology’s advantages, and where to find information on financial incentives.” The article also mentions the benefits of the TVA’s Green Power Providers program, which allows participating business owners to be “paid a retail rate for every kWh generated by solar, wind, biomass or hydropower systems rated at 50 kW or less.”
Research and Development
Jansky VLA Captures Image Of “Mysterious” Galactic Filament.
Newsweek (12/21, Hignett) reports that the National Science Foundation’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array has captured “the highest-ever resolution” image of “a mysterious cosmic twine [which] cuts through the heart of the Milky Way. The string has baffled astronomers since its discovery in 2016.” Astronomers hope the new image will help them learn more about the nature of the phenomenon. Newsweek reports that the images were published earlier this month as part of a paper in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
University Of Nebraska Medical Center Lab Pioneers Artificial Joint Testing.
The Omaha (NE) World-Herald (12/21) reports that the growing demand for artificial joints means “makers of new-and-improved implants have to design, develop and test them to make sure they’ll withstand the wear and tear of everyday life and then submit reams of data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to try to get them approved.” The paper reports that “recently, about a dozen implant reviewers from the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health visited the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Biomechanical and Advanced Surgical Technologies Laboratory to study the latest implant testing techniques. The UNMC lab, established by Director Hani Haider and his team over the last two decades, develops new testing methods and works with regulators and industry to establish them as industry standards.”
Apple Patents Autonomous Navigation System.
CNBC (12/21, Balakrishnan) reports, “A patent application published on Thursday revealed details on Apple’s autonomous vehicle research, which CEO Tim Cook has called the ‘mother of all AI projects.’” Apple submitted a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration one year ago and said the company was investing in transportation automation. CNBC states, “The patent comes after a Bloomberg report last year that said Apple was using virtual reality to test self-driving cars.”
Qualcomm Receives California Permit To Test Autonomous Vehicles.
CNBC (12/21, Novet) reports online that California regulators approved Qualcomm’s application to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. Qualcomm vice president of product management for automotive Nakul Duggal says, “We certainly expect to be a key player in the autonomous space.”
High-Resolution Scanner May Revolutionize How Eye Diseases Are Diagnosed To Prevent Vision Loss, Developer Says.
CTV News (CAN) (12/21) reports that Prof. Marinko Sarunic of Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, a Canadian “engineering science professor, has developed a high-resolution scanner that he says will revolutionize how eye diseases are diagnosed to prevent vision loss.” About the size of a “shoe box,” the scanner uses “optical coherence tomography for 3-D cross-sectional images of the retina.” Sarunic has licensed the technology “to a British Columbia-based startup company that’s working on commercializing it with the help of an American backer.”
Energy Department Research Examines Formation Of Nanoparticle Colloidal Gels.
Nanowerk (12/21) reports about a study from a research team at the Energy Department’s Advanced Photon Source on the “Dynamic Scaling of Colloidal Gel Formation at Intermediate Concentrations .” According to Nanowerk, “colloidal gels exhibit physical behavior that can help address challenging scientific problems such as the formation, stability, and dynamics of glasses,” and this study examined why “nanoparticle gels take so long to form after a quench even though the constituent nanoparticles are rapidly diffusing through the suspension.”
NASA Accepting Astronaut Safety Research Proposals.
USA Today (12/21) hosts a video detailing a NASA initiative to determine “how long periods of space travel will affect the human body.” NASA will accept scientists’ research proposals through January 4. The agency plans “400-day deep space missions” that will “be the foundation for round-trip missions to Mars.” NASA will use “up to 30 astronauts” for the missions, which will last two months, six months, and one year. The missions will also collect data that will be studied in addition to existing data from astronauts who have stayed aboard the ISS.
World’s Largest Spark Plug Manufacturer Prepares For Pivot To Electric Vehicle Batteries.
Reuters (12/22, Tajitsu, Shiraki) reports the world’s largest producer of spark plugs, NGK Spark Plug Co., “is turning its focus to a component it believes will be just as vital in the coming era of electric vehicles – next-generation all solid state batteries.” The development of solid state batteries will “offer more capacity and better safety than conventional lithium-ion batteries by replacing their liquid or gel-like electrolyte with a solid, conductive material.” NGK Spark Plug R&D manager said the company realized around 2010 “its main business faced obsolescence.”
Engineering and Public Policy
FERC To Consider Gas Pipeline Approval Process Change.
The Hill (12/21, Cama) reports that on Thursday the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission signaled “it would review its nearly two-decade-old policy for approving natural gas pipelines.” The announcement is a “win” for environmentalists given the frequent claims that FERC rubber stamps projects and ultimately approves an excess of gas lines. Democratic Commissioner Rich Glick said, “the commission should assess whether its current approach for evaluating environmental impacts for a proposed pipeline, including potential greenhouse gas emissions, requires modification.”
The Washington Examiner (12/21, Siciliano) reports President Trump’s selection to the FERC Chairman Kevin McIntyre “announced the pipeline review at his first public meeting as chairman.” McIntyre said, “I am approaching this topic with an open mind and want the staff and the Commission to take a fresh look at all aspects of the issue.”
Platts (12/21, Melvin) reports that McIntyre became the Chairman on Dec. 7. Regarding the review, McIntyre said “I guarantee, whatever it is, it will be open and transparent and thorough, and it will invite the views of all stakeholders to ensure we are doing everything we can to accurately and efficiently assess pipeline applications that we receive and process.”
NPR (12/21, Hurdle) reports that although McIntyre did not provide a specific reason to conduct the review, he did say that “much has changed” since FERC started the policy in 1999 to review natural gas pipelines proposals. Washington DC Lawyer Carolyn Elefant said the review could be a result of FERC’s concern over lawsuits challenging eminent domain’s constitutionality.
E&E Publishing (12/21, Subscription Publication) also reports.
Northeastern States Consider New Vehicle Fuels Program Targeting Carbon Emissions.
Bloomberg BNA (12/21, Silverman) reports that Northeastern states that already cap carbon emissions in the power sector through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are considering a new vehicle fuels program that would target the transportation sector. Supporters of a regional transportation initiative — which includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia — “hope that a memorandum of understanding could be signed by the end of 2018, with state-by-state legislative and regulatory actions in 2019.” The fuel industry, the political challenge of gaining approval from seven states, and the logistics of regulating a mobile source of emissions are the main obstacles to establishing such a program.
Coal Production In Pennsylvania Slows, But Still Up.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (12/21, Bowling) reports that according to the Energy Information Administration, production of bituminous coal in Pennsylvania “slowed slightly in the week that ended Dec. 16 but remains above 2016 levels.” The Tribune-Review adds “miners produced 981,000 short tons of coal last week compared to 999,000 tons the week before.”
Massachusetts High School Students 3D Print Prosthetic Arm For Rhode Island Boy.
ABC News (12/21) reports that a group of engineering students at Scituate High School in Scituate, Massachusetts has “given a 9-year-old Rhode Island boy a special Christmas gift: a prosthetic arm.” The students “presented Ollie Mancini Thursday with a prosthetic arm that they created using a 3-D printer.”
North Carolina District Implements New Common Core-Aligned Math Materials.
The Raleigh (NC) News & Observer (12/21) reports the Wake County Public Schools System in North Carolina “began rolling out this school year new classroom materials from the Mathematics Vision Project, a nonprofit education group that provides resources designed to align with the Common Core learning standards.” Teachers and school leaders said “the new materials have led to major changes in how math classes are run to shift from lecturing to having students work in groups to learn concepts through problem solving.” The News & Observer says math and English/language arts instruction became the “focus of parent and legislative fury after North Carolina joined many other states in 2012 in using the Common Core standards.” Parents and teachers complained that the new math standards, “designed to emphasize critical thinking over memorization,” left them frustrated and confused. State lawmakers “tried to force changes with the State Board of Education voting to modify the math standards in high schools and elementary and middle schools.”
Portland State University To Fund Computer Science Diversity Program With NSF Grant.
In a piece for the Portland (OR) Skanner (12/21, Bedell), Kurt Bedell of Portland State University’s Media Relations says PSU Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science associate dean James Hook is hoping to address the lack of diversity in the tech industry “by getting more students interested in computer science.” The National Science Foundation awarded Maseeh College with a $1 million grant to “fund Computer Science for Oregon, a professional development program that will train, develop and coach Oregon high school teachers to deliver entry-level computer science coursework to their students.” The goal, Bedell says, is “to bring inclusive computer science curriculum to high school students of all backgrounds across Oregon, particularly those who have been historically underrepresented in these classes.” The program will use a curriculum called Exploring Computer Science, which was developed by University of Oregon education studies associate professor Joanna Goode and “has been adopted by urban school districts in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.”
Illinois High School Hosts FIRST Lego League Tournament.
The Chicago Tribune (12/21, Sharos) reports Naperville North High School’s Robotics Team sponsored a FIRST Lego League tournament on Saturday “as a FIRST Illinois Robotics initiative.” More than 300 fourth- through eighth-grade students participated. Learning Commons student adviser Carol Naughton said Naperville North’s robotics program is unique “in that it’s not just science or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) but the whole kid,” as the competition considers “core values and all of the ‘soft skills’ used in business, including communication, organization, time management and leadership as well as the STEM skills.” Naughton said the competition’s theme was hydrodynamics, and participating students designed, built, and programmed robots offering unique solutions to water problems.
West Virginia State Program Announces STEM Mini-Grant Awards.
The Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch (12/21) reports that on Tuesday, West Virginia state Secretary of Education Gayle Manchin announced that on behalf of the Governor’s STEM Initiative, more than $200,000 in mini-grant funding will be awarded to 84 schools and organizations across the state to facilitate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) instruction. The Herald-Dispatch notes the Governor’s STEM Initiative was established in 2015 under then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin “to reinforce and create opportunities for hands-on scientific education in West Virginia’s schools as a means to help develop the state’s economy through its workforce.” Since its inception, the initiative has “distributed more than $1 million to 47 of the state’s 55 counties.”
Thursday’s Lead Stories
• Tax Overhaul Bill Lifts Ban On ANWR Drilling.
• ED Announces New Policy On Debt Relief For Corinthian Students.
• DARPA Funding Unhackable Computer Hardware.
• Finnish Researchers Claim To Have Autonomous Vehicle That Can Handle Snow.
• Sony Looking To Revitalize Bottom Line With Sensors For Robots, Self-Driving Cars.
• Delay Over BLM Methane Regulations Spurs New Lawsuits.
• West Virginia Announces Governor’s STEM Initiative Grants.