|Good morning || May 21, 2020|
Leading the News
Virgin Orbit Plans To Attempt First Launch Of Demonstration Payload Into Space This Weekend
The AP (5/20, Antczak) reports that Virgin Orbit “is targeting the coming weekend for its first attempt to launch a demonstration payload into space aboard a rocket released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747.” The “air launch is scheduled for Sunday off the coast of Southern California,” weather permitting. The company said Wednesday, “Although air-launched systems like ours are less vulnerable to bad weather than fixed ground-launch systems, we’ll be watching the weather closely and being cautious for this maiden flight. Should our flight slip, we have a launch window open at a similar time on May 25th.”
BBC News Online (UK) (5/20, Amos) reports that the mission will involve the “former Virgin Atlantic jumbo [aircraft], now named Cosmic Girl,” which “will carry the rocket, dubbed LauncherOne, to an altitude of about 35,000ft (10km), where it will drop the liquid-fuelled booster into a freefall.” Approximately “four seconds into that fall, as Cosmic Girl banks hard to the right, LauncherOne will ignite its Newton Three engine to begin the climb to orbit. The dummy payload atop the rocket’s upper-stage will be released after 32 minutes.”
CNBC (5/20, Sheetz) reports that Virgin Orbit’s “modified aircraft is scheduled to take off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 1 p.m. EDT and fly out over the Pacific Ocean. If all the company’s systems are ready, the aircraft will release the LauncherOne rocket, which will then fire its engine and head for space.” The “company has a four-hour window in which to launch on Saturday, as well as Sunday and Monday.”
Models Forecasting Surge In Coronavirus Cases Prompt Universities To Alter Fall Schedules
The Hill (5/20, Wilson) reports universities across the country are “changing their fall schedules in hopes of avoiding what models forecast as a surge in coronavirus cases likely to sweep through the United States in early December.” In fact, several “prominent schools – Notre Dame University, the University of South Carolina, Perdue University in Indiana and Marquette University in Wisconsin – have already informed students that they will not hold classes in December.” The plans are “less dramatic than steps taken by the California State University system, which said it would cancel almost all in-person instruction in the fall.”
Still, reiterates the Chronicle of Higher Education (5/20), “hundreds of institutions have pledged to return to in-person classes in August.” While some of those colleges “intend to return to normal operations, others have configured their calendars with earlier start and end dates.” For instance, Rice University will have an “abbreviated fall semester. While students will report to campus as scheduled, the semester will end in November – about a month earlier than usual.”
Many schools have also “canceled a fall break that usually occurs in mid-October to prevent students from traveling and returning to campus en masse,” Inside Higher Ed (5/20) reports. With these decisions, “if a second surge occurs around Thanksgiving, your child will already be safely at home,” Regis officials wrote in a message to parents. But epidemiological models “can be messy,” with scientists predicting varying levels of severity. Meanwhile, universities also are still “at the mercy of elected officials in their states, who have the power to override decisions from a college administration.” Business Insider (5/20, Perrett) provides additional coverage.
Community Colleges More Likely To Continue With Virtual Instruction In The Fall
Inside Higher Ed (5/20) reports as “spring stretches into summer, colleges keep announcing their plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall” and a “few trends stick out.” While many of the institutions “planning to return in the fall are four-year colleges and universities,” the institutions “planning to stick with virtual instruction are predominantly two-year public colleges.” On the “flip side, some community colleges are committing to reopening campuses in the fall.” Ivy Tech Community College, Indiana’s “system of two-year institutions, plans to provide flexibility to students.”
Growing Numbers Of Current Students, Graduating High School Seniors Switching To Community Colleges
The Hechinger Report (5/20) reports “growing numbers of current students and graduating high school seniors who are hesitant to go to, or return to, four-year campuses in the fall are switching to community colleges, officials at those institutions say.” Even before the coronavirus outbreak, a “small but growing number of university students looking for a cheap way to knock off a few general education requirements took them at their local community colleges in the summer.” The “strategy even has a name: ‘summer swirl.’”
Opinion: Colleges, Universities Need More Financial Relief
In a piece published by CQ Roll Call (5/20), Reps. Daniel Lipinski and Susan W. Brooks say “nearly every sector of our society has been affected” by the coronavirus pandemic, including America’s colleges and universities. Citing the 2008 economic downtown, the legislators say they “already know what happens when the federal government does not make a strong commitment to invest in students and our higher education system during a crisis.” The CARES Act “took a positive first step toward providing relief to struggling students and institutions,” but this funding was “only intended to cover a portion of immediate costs, not to address the needs of students and imperiled institutions going forward.” Families and higher education institutions are “grappling with the difficult realities created by this pandemic, and need a more substantial investment of $47 billion to meet the growing financial needs of families and schools as they prepare for the next academic year.”
Opinion: ED Should Require Universities To Disclose More Information About What Students Actually Pay
In a piece published by the Washington Post (5/20), Yale law professor Ian Ayres and Penn State’s Martin Skladany say the cost of attending college varies widely and the pandemic is “likely to make things worse.” The pair go on to say that students can be “misled by the sticker price.” So to “aid decision-making, the Education Department should mandate that colleges and universities disclose more information about what students actually pay net of scholarships and grants.”
ASEE's 2020 Annual Conference Now a Virtual Experience
Lots of great content - none of the travel!
The 2020 ASEE Annual Conference is an online event. See all the details here.
Special Call for Papers - Covid Edition
ASEE's Journal of Engineering Education and Advances in Engineering Education are issuing a special call for papers. Learn more here.
Computing Innovation Fellows Program
The Computing Research Association (CRA) and Computing Community Consortium (CCC) announce the Computing Innovation Fellows (CIFellows) Program, recognizing the significant disruption to the academic job search caused by COVID-19 and associated economic uncertainty. It provides career-enhancing bridge experiences for recent and soon-to-be PhD computing grads. The program offers 1-2 year postdoct opportunities in computing, with cohort activities to support career development and community building. Read the details here.
ASEE Resource Central
ASEE Resource Central is now live. This site provides resources for online teaching promising practices, remote work advice, student support strategies, and insights on virtual labs and capstones. Topics are searchable and organized by category. The site is continuously updated with new resources, leveraging the expertise of ASEE members and our community.
Research and Development
Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company Receives Federal Contract To Make Active Ingredients For Medicines Used To Treat COVID-19 Patients
The Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch (5/19, Blackwell) reports a new “Richmond-based pharmaceutical manufacturing company has received a $354 million federal contract to help build a strategic, national reserve of essential medications and to make active ingredients for more than a dozen medicines used to treat patients with COVID-19.” Phlow Corp., “led by a doctor trained at Virginia Commonwealth University and working with the Medicines for All Institute at VCU’s College of Engineering, will develop a domestic supply of pharmaceutical ingredients by using advanced manufacturing processes that it says also will lower drug costs.” And the ingredients will be “made at a pharmaceutical plant in Petersburg, which could create about 350 jobs.” VCU professor Frank Gupton said the federal contract is “important for the Richmond area, Virginia, and the nation.”
Pandemic May Help Spur Development Of Technological Innovations
The Albany (NY) Times Union (5/15) reports numerous technological innovations may “emerge from the current fight against the coronavirus.” While World War Two “spurred development of technologies like radar, synthetic rubber, computers, and nuclear power, the coronavirus may well lead to medical advances, including methods of sanitizing and disinfecting our living and workspaces.” Deepak Vashishth, director of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Center for Biotechnology & Interdisciplinary Studies and a biomedical engineering professor, said: “This will all come in the future.” Notably, the “school is working on a number of initiatives including a new technique that may allow rapid sterilization of N95 face masks.”
Florida State University Distributing $400,000 To Fund 27 Pandemic-Related Research Projects
WCTV-TV Tallahassee, FL (5/19, Wheeler) reports researchers at Florida State University are “digging deeper in to the various impacts of COVID-19 in our society.” The university is “distributing $400,000 to fund 27 research projects related to the pandemic.” For example, Dr. Yanshuo Sun, an assistant professor of industrial manufacturing engineering, is “helping lead a project looking at how COVID impacts hurricane evacuation, and how people might respond.”
Expert Explains UV Light Could Help Kill COVID-19 At Airbnbs
Mashable (5/20, Chu) reports, “Airbnb needs people to feel safe” and “the company added new cleaning guidelines and a 72-hour buffer between stays.” But “people are understandably paranoid about staying in a stranger’s home.” That is “probably why you’ve seen ads for UV light products online, like wands that promise to kill viruses and bacteria.” But “can UV rays kill COVID-19? … The short answer: probably.” Andrea Armani, a professor of chemical engineering and material science at the University of Southern California, said, “Thermal destabilizations are much slower. They happen but they take longer. … UVC is a chemical rearrangement — so it can be fast.” Mashable adds “It might be a good idea to pack a UVC light wand along with some disinfectant wipes so you can get that Airbnb as clean as possible.”
Waymo Develops AI To Simulate Autonomous-Vehicle Sensor Data For Driving Simulations
VentureBeat (5/20, Wiggers) reports Waymo researchers are starting “to leverage AI to generate camera images for simulation by using sensor data collected” by the company’s autonomous vehicles, with a paper published by company researchers outlining their SurfelGAN technique that “uses texture-mapped surface elements to reconstruct scenes and camera viewpoints for positions and orientations.” With SurfelGAN, Waymo researchers pull from “feeds from real-world lidar sensors and cameras” that the system then “renders...from various distances and viewing angles.” In an emailed statement to VentureBeat, a Waymo spokesperson explained, “In simulation, when a trajectory of a self-driving car and other agents (e.g. other cars, cyclists, and pedestrians) changes, the system generates realistic visual sensor data that helps us model the scene in the updated environment.”
Polls Show Americans Planning To Switch From Public Transit To Cars
Reuters (5/20, Bellon) reports several opinion polls “show Americans plan to avoid trains and buses as stay-at-home orders ease, with some city dwellers buying a car for the first time,” which may prove to be a “potential boon to coronavirus-battered automakers,” but “the shift poses a challenge to city planners end environmental goals.” And “if officials fail to convince the public that public transportation is safe, we could see a permanent shift away from transit,” said Dan Work, a professor at Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering and one of the study’s co-authors.
And if “they’re in single-occupancy vehicles, then we’re looking at a post-pandemic reality where traffic is worse,” the New York Post (5/19, Meyer) quotes Work as saying. The paper also takes a look at what the “future of commuting in New York City could look like” after officials start easing some lockdown ordinances. According to one survey, “almost half of New York City residents plan to avoid mass transit” until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available.
GM Chief Of Global Product Development Highlights GM’s Autonomous Future At Citi Symposium
The Detroit News (5/20, Payne) reports General Motors Chief of Global Product Development Doug Parks revealed upcoming plans for the automaker’s autonomous offerings at the Citi 2020 Car of the Future Symposium. In addition to developing a “semi-autonomous system for its passenger cars” called Ultra Cruise, GM’s Cruise Origin autonomous vehicle could be used for package delivery in addition to autonomous ride-hailing. Regarding the effect of the pandemic on GM’s autonomous ambitions, Parks said, “There (have been) no changes over last two months except some slight austerity. We absolutely still believe in this future. We think it will dramatically change the way people and packages move around.” The Detroit News calls GM’s Super Cruise autonomous system a “market leader” along with Tesla’s Autopilot “in bringing driver-assist, so-called Level 2 driving to passenger cars” but says the envisioned Ultra Cruise system “aims to expand Super Cruise’s highway autonomy to all roads.”
GM, LG Chem Start Construction On Joint Battery Plant In Ohio
The Hill (5/20, Kelley) reports General Motors and LG Chem “are now beginning construction” of a battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio as part of their joint venture Ultium Cells LLC. The facility “will cost about $2.3 million” to set up and will make batteries for GM’s electric vehicles, with the aim of making “enough battery technology to power 22 new electric vehicles by 2023.” GM has said it is still working quickly to develop electric and autonomous vehicles despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, the automaker said, “The Cruise Origin [autonomous vehicle] was revealed in San Francisco earlier this year, and production timing remains on track for the yet-to-be-revealed Cadillac Lyriq and GMC HUMMER EV, all powered by the Ultium battery system.”
NASA Astronauts Arrive At Kennedy Space Center A Week Before SpaceX Crewed Launch
The AP (5/20, Dunn) reports that on Wednesday, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken arrived at Kennedy Space Center, “exactly one week before their historic SpaceX flight.” The launch “will be the first time a private company, rather than a national government, sends astronauts into orbit.” It will also mark the first crewed launch to take off in the US since 2011. Hurley “was one of the four astronauts who arrived at Kennedy on July 4, 2011, for the final space shuttle flight, ‘so it’s incredibly humbling to be here to start out the next launch from the United States,’” he said. Behnken said, “We feel it as an opportunity but also a responsibility for the American people, for the SpaceX team, for all of NASA.”
BBC News Online (UK) (5/20, Amos) reports that the Falcon rocket and Dragon crew capsule “will be wheeled out to the spaceport’s famous launch pad – complex 39A – in the next few days for its static fire test.” Hurley and Behnken, “together with ground-support staff, will also conduct a ‘crew dry dress’ rehearsal. This will involve the men suiting up, riding out to the pad and even climbing into their capsule as a dummy run to ensure everyone understands their role.”
Engineering and Public Policy
NYTimes Analyses: Federal Reserve Paints “Relatively Bleak Picture” Of Path To Recovery
The New York Times (5/20, Smialek) reports Federal Reserve officials “are painting a relatively bleak picture” of the economy’s “path forward amid the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that activity may take time to bounce back even as lockdowns lift and warning that second-wave outbreaks could inflict serious damage on businesses and the labor market.” While the Administration “has been suggesting a more positive outlook” for the economy, the Fed “has taken a much more cautious view, warning that the bounce back may be halting and that a full recovery cannot take hold until the health threat posed by the deadly virus is under control.” Notes from the Fed’s April 28-29 remote meeting released Wednesday show that Fed officials “discussed ways in which the sharp economic decline already underway could create longer-lasting fallout.”
CNBC (5/20, Cox) reports on its website that minutes from an April 29 Federal Reserve meeting released today show that Fed officials “worried about longer-lasting impacts from the pandemic including a second round of infections and the burden that low-income households would face. ... ‘Participants commented that, in addition to weighing heavily on economic activity in the near term, the economic effects of the pandemic created an extraordinary amount of uncertainty and considerable risks to economic activity in the medium term,’ the minutes said.” According to CNBC, “One area of particular concern is what should happen in the event that coronavirus infections should surge later in the year. The minutes noted that the ‘more pessimistic’ outlook for a rebound was probably as likely as the baseline forecast for improvement.”
NYTimes Poll: Americans Do Not Expect A Rapid Economic Recovery. The New York Times (5/20, Casselman, Tankersley) reports that according to a poll conducted this month for the Times by the online research platform SurveyMonkey , “even those financially unaffected by the coronavirus shutdown don’t foresee a rapid rebound for the economy.” According to the poll, “only one in five Americans expects overall business conditions to be ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ good over the next year. ... Sixty percent said they expected the next five years to be characterized by ‘periods of widespread unemployment or depression.’” The Times adds that the findings are “little changed from a month earlier, and may even reflect a slight decline in outlook, signaling that the reopenings and federal and state political moves to deal with the pandemic have had little impact on confidence.”
Computer Coding Program Still Open To Students In Underserved Chicago Neighborhoods Despite Pandemic
The Chicago Tribune (5/20, Cheung) reports two years ago, Brianne Caplan launched Code Your Dreams, an “after-school program built out of her side job as a tutor.” The initiative was “self-funded...with the help of a few donors and her paycheck working as a data scientist for Edovo,” but the pandemic has “taken a financial toll.” Enter CoderHeroes. It has “two services meant to help students citywide learn how to code, while also giving parents a little respite from the challenges of parenting under the stay-at-home order. Its buy-one-give-one model means that families who pay for classes are helping to fund Code Your Dreams programs for students in underserved neighborhoods.”
Also in the News
Rate Of Fatal Automobile Crashes Up Despite Stay-At-Home Orders
The AP (5/20) reports, “The rate of fatal automobile crashes in the U.S. jumped dramatically in March, even though the number of miles driven plummeted due to coronavirus stay-home orders.” The National Safety Council “said Wednesday that based on preliminary figures from states, the number of fatal crashes per 100 million miles driven rose an “alarming” 14% compared with March of 2019.” Earlier this month, the NHTSA “estimated that traffic deaths fell 1.2% last year to 36,120,” but the safety council “said that even with the number of highway deaths declining in March, they were up about 2% for the first three months of the year.” This “reverses a downward trend in fatal crashes, the council said.”
Wednesday's Lead Stories
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