• L.A. to catalog buildings at risk of collapse during a major earthquake

    After years of efforts to get officials to catalog buildings at risk of collapse during a major earthquake, Los Angeles City Council late last month instructed building officials to establish a database of such buildings. About 29,226 buildings built before 1978 are subject to survey, but city officials would use mapping programs to narrow down which structures need further field inspection. The city estimates roughly 5,800 buildings are at risk, and an additional 11,690 buildings will need inspection on site to determine whether they are soft-story buildings or not. Los Angeles has yet to decide what to do once it compiles the list, and whether to require retrofitting of vulnerable buildings, but seismic experts and policymakers insist that finding out which buildings are vulnerable is a necessary first step.

  • Urban man-made drainage may increase risk of flooding

    Installing drainage systems in developing towns and cities can cause water to reach rivers more quickly, potentially raising the risk of flooding, say scientists. They suggest that, in some cases, storm drains may do more to increase the risk of flooding than changes in the land surface.

  • New, more effective teaching approach for engineering education

    Purdue University researchers who developed a new approach more effectively to teach large numbers of engineering students are recommending that the approach be considered for adoption by universities globally. The system, called the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom, allows students to interact with each other and faculty online while accessing hundreds of instructional videos and animations. The approach also might be used for any large STEM-related courses.

  • Better building design, maintenance would cut building sector’s emissions by around 80%

    The construction industry, which uses half of the 1.5 billion tons of steel produced each year, could slash its carbon emissions by as much as 50 percent by optimizing the design of new buildings, which currently use double the amount of steel and concrete required by safety codes. If buildings are also maintained for their full design life and not replaced early, the sector’s emissions could in total be cut by around 80 percent.

  • Foreign graduate enrollment in science and engineering continues to rise

    The number of citizens and permanent residents enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) graduate programs in the United States declined in 2012, while the number of foreign students studying on temporary visas increased, according to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • Active learning of STEM subjects improves grades, reduces failure

    A significantly greater number of students fail science, engineering, and math (STEM) courses which are taught lecture-style than fail in classes incorporating so-called active learning that expects them to participate in discussions and problem-solving beyond what they have memorized. Active learning also improves exam performance — in some cases enough to change grades by half a letter or more so a B-plus, for example, becomes an A-minus. The researchers found that, on average, in a STEM course with 100 students signed up, about 34 fail if they get lectured to but only 22 fail if they do active learning. If the failure rates of 34 percent for lecturing and 22 percent in classes with some active learning were applied to the seven million U.S. undergraduates who say they want to pursue STEM majors, some 2.38 million students would fail lecture-style courses vs. 1.54 million with active learning. This 840,000 additional students failing under lecturing, a difference of 55 percent compared to the failure rate of active learning.

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  • Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • Wisconsin YES youth business plan contest helps promote STEM education

    The number of skilled individuals needed in STEM industries is enormous, and growing, making it more and more crucial to promote the education of students in these disciplines. Wisconsin Yes! Aims to foster interest in science and tech education and encourages students to be independent, creative thinkers capable of problem solving. The statewide Wisconsin YES! youth business plan contest will close to entries 5 p.m. Monday, 17 March. Public, private, and home-schooled students across Wisconsin are eligible to turn their science- and tech-related ideas into business plans and compete for cash and prizes.

  • Connecting individual K-12 STEM subjects for better results

    A new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council examines current efforts to connect the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in K-12 education, both in formal classroom settings and informal learning environments, and suggests research to help determine the conditions most likely to lead to positive outcomes such as greater student retention and achievement, improved college-readiness skills, and increased interest in pursuing a STEM-related career.

  • Unsupervised robotic construction crew to build flood defenses

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    On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil — an 8-foot-tall “lung” for their underground nest. They do so without a supervisor, foreman, or CEO to tell them what to do. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will erode the structure, and yet the colony’s life-sustaining project will continue. Harvard researchers, inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, have created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots — any number of robots — that cooperate by modifying their environment. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars.

  • Limitations and side effects of large-scale geoengineering

    Despite international agreements on climate protection and political declarations of intent, global greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased, and with the accelerating industrialization of emerging markets, are not likely to any time soon. Therefore, large-scale methods – called geoengineering or climate engineering — artificially to slow down global warming are increasingly being discussed. Scientists say that the long-term consequences and side effects of these methods have not been adequately studied.

  • Dassault Systèmes, Georgia Tech expand STEM education collaboration

    Dassault Systèmes the other day announced that the Georgia Institute of Technology will adopt the company’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform for 10,000 users (students and educators), including its range of capabilities in the design authoring, digital manufacturing, collaboration, scientific simulation, and visualization fields. The announcement comes after nearly twelve years of collaboration, in which Georgia Tech and Dassault Systèmes have partnered to establish an ambitious science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education program.

  • Lockheed Martin launches updated, expanded Engineers in the Classroom (EITC) toolkit

    This week is National Engineers Week, and Lockheed Martin, a company which employs 60,000 of them, is marking the week by launching an updated and expanded Engineers in the Classroom (EITC) toolkit created in partnership with National Geographic. These materials, which can be found on Lockheed Martin’s EITC Web site, will help engineers and scientists engage students in hands-on, creative activities with a goal of inspiring them to consider careers in STEM.

  • Transfer of knowledge learned key to improving science education

    Attendees of a workshop at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science were  immersed into “active learning,” an approach inspired by national reports targeting U.S. science education in general, and, more specifically, the 60 percent dropout rate of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The workshop focused on how science students learn material, but, more importantly, how well they transfer the concepts they have learned into their next class — in the same or a different discipline — or into their jobs.

  • Math is important but should it be compulsory?

    There was much discussion recently about making it compulsory for year 12 students in New South Wales, Australia to study some mathematics. Over the past ten years at least, the total proportion of students studying Year 12 math has remained stable at around 80 percent, but the trend around the country has been for students studying math to take lower levels of math. The problem of declining math skills is complex and its solution will not be easy, quick or as straightforward as making math compulsory. At the very least the solution will require qualified math teachers in all math classrooms, an engaging curriculum that has clear relevance to the multitude of pathways that students might pursue, including trades and business as well as science, and clear statements from colleges and universities detailing the essential prerequisites that students require for their programs.