Archive for the 'NPR' Category

02
Apr
14

DECISION POINT on STEM

0414MEM_Cover4There are times when it seems you can’t turn around without hearing about STEM. But tracking the roots of the acronym, which refers to fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math wasn’t easy. Wikipedia hints that STEM may have its origins with the National Science Foundation, and The Winona Daily News, in Minnesota, reported a few years ago that the term was indeed coined by the NSF—well sort of.

Back around 2001 former Winona State University president Judith Ramaley was director of NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate and was developing curriculum to improve education in science, math, engineering, and technology. So the acronym for these disciplines became “SMET.” But Ramaley didn’t like the sound of it (and who could blame her?), so she changed it to STEM, and the rest is history. (Interesting enough, there’s some dislike for the STEM moniker as well in some circles, including deep inside the White House, because of the potential confusion with “stem cell.”)

The newspaper in Winona quoted Ramaley suggesting that in STEM, science and math serve as bookends for technology and engineering. Science and math are critical to a basic understanding of the universe, she said, and engineering and technology are means for people to interact with the universe.

For middle schoolers of my generation it was math and science; engineering was a nebulous career destination far into the future and technology was but a burgeoning amorphous term with no clear identity. The educational landscape has changed.

What hasn’t changed is that, generally speaking, engineering students are good at solving problems. Clearly, as a society, we need as many individuals as possible with the types of skills to wrestle down the challenges that exist locally as well as globally. Thus the push toward an emphasis on STEM in K–12—and I would argue especially in middle school—makes sense. The point is not to force-feed STEM over subjects like history, art, and literature, but to even out the level of instruction and ensure that the teachers who are responsible for it have the right tools, and the right skills, motivation, and drive to motivate students.

Seeing firsthand the drive behind the work of engineers, especially the rigor of those who work on building solutions in developing countries, is hugely inspirational. The landscape of problems facing the proliferation of STEM education is complex because it’s inherently difficult to fix problems comprising, in part, elements of human behavior.

Some of these are the issues to be examined at this month’s taping of the ASME Decision Point Dialogues, which will take place on the 23rd. This dialogue is being held prior to the opening of the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference, in Washington, D.C. STEM Solutions precedes the USA Science and Engineering Festival. John Hockenberry, host of the National Public Radio program “The Takeaway,” will moderate the ASME dialogue. The Decision Point Dialogues will be broadcast on ASME.org beginning in June.

From Winona, Minn., to both coasts of this country and beyond U.S. borders, the conversation over STEM is being heard. It’s time for actions to speak louder than words.

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12
Mar
12

Japan’s Energy Conundrum

Post from Jean Thilmany:

This past weekend, many news outlets marked the one-year anniversary of the Japanese 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused great damage to the country and 19,000 deaths, and that destabilized the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

With one year’s distance, the news outlets have checked in also with the state of Japan’s power industries. In an attempt to meet climate change goals set under the Kyoto Protocol, Japan had planned to increase nuclear power capacity to more than half of its total electricity requirement by 2030.

But with the earthquake, all that has changed.

A story on National Public Radio on March 10 reported that, according to an analysis by the International Energy Agency, replacing the electricity from idled nuclear plants is costing Japan an extra $100 million a day. Then there are the climate effects. The nuclear reactors were not emitting carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Oil, coal, and natural gas do.

Japan’s goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is now shelved. In fact, emissions are going up, Jesse Jenkins, an energy analyst at a research group called the Breakthrough Institute, told NPR. That’s because Japan is swapping fossil fuels for nuclear and that’s driving up their CO2 emissions and the carbon intensity of their electricity supply.

Most of the new fuel is liquefied natural gas. It’s cleaner than coal or oil, but Laszlo Varro, with the International Energy Agency, said Japan would need almost 20 percent of the entire global market of liquefied natural gas if it doesn’t return to nuclear power.

But buried amid the report—indeed little highlighted in any new commemoration of the earthquake, but there reported nonetheless—is this tidbit: The Japanese government has expressed a strong sentiment to adopt a new energy mix that relies mostly on wind and solar power.

That will take decades, though. Renewable energy in Japan now provides about 2 percent of the nation’s electricity; nuclear provided 30 percent. Still, there’s a great deal of hope for success. Last month, Japan’s environment ministry announced plans to allow power generation by extracting geothermal heat from the nation’s national parks.

According to the NPR report, Japanese engineers are second to none. American engineers may resent the hubris. But as Japan begins its recovery and starts turning its attention toward renewable energy sources, engineers around the globe may begin sharing strategies and projects to move all nations toward renewable sources.

And Americans, who will need to rely more on renewable energy themselves in the near future, can only benefit as Japanese engineers pour their own energies into investigating new technologies that will allow them to source these projects.




The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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