Sunday, May 19, 2019

Ivory Coast, VCU form partnership to improve access to lifesaving medicines

Officials representing Virginia Commonwealth University and the government of Ivory Coast have signed an agreement to train researchers in the West African country to develop high-quality pharmaceutical manufacturing capabilities. VCU and its College of Engineering is home to the Medicines for All Institute, which is dedicated to improving access to lifesaving medications for HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases around the world. Under the three-year agreement, the university will help Ivorian chemists and engineers gain the necessary expertise to produce medicines in their home country.

P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., VCU vice president for research and innovation; Barbara Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of the College of Engineering; and Abdallah Albert Toikeusse Mabri, M.D., the minister of higher education and scientific research of Ivory Coast, signed the agreement. “Students will come from Ivory Coast to our school and learn the techniques ... and take them back to Africa to improve the production of these drugs in a place where they really are needed,” Boyan said.

The university will also provide research and planning expertise to help the government create a new research institute on the campus of the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Ivory Coast, and consult in the development of a drug research facility. The initiative seeks to reduce global dependence on a few manufacturers while empowering countries such as Ivory Coast to be self-sufficient in providing high-quality health care to their own citizens.

Mabri says the impact of the program with VCU would ripple far beyond the nation’s borders to greater Western Africa and beyond. Patients with malaria take up half of the hospital beds in Cote D’Ivoire, he says, and HIV is also a major problem because of the high local cost of medication. “We are working together to build a better world,” he says.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Schnabel Engineering employees serve in key DBIA-MAR leadership positions

Schnabel Engineering’s commitment to the Design-Build Institute of America (DBIA) continues, as three employees will serve in key leadership positions in the mid-Atlantic region. The DBIA Mid-Atlantic Region covers the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland, offering activities and events for those interested in learning more about design-build project delivery or advancing its use.


Recently elected as DBIA-MAR board president, Mary Anderson, F. SAME, serves as the primary liaison between the regional and chapter leadership and serves on the board of directors for the region. She represents the chapter at regional DBIA meetings and workshops, schedules and presides over meetings and events, and presents chapter issues in regional DBIA forums. Anderson, a 30-year industry veteran, senior associate, and senior vice president at Schnabel, leads business development efforts for the firm’s federal government market. Anderson has also served in numerous leadership roles with the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME), including regional vice president for the Middle Atlantic Region and post president for the Northern Virginia Post.

Anderson comments, “This is an exciting time to fully engage with DBIA, as we are moving into the next era, following our 25th anniversary.  All of our construction industry market sectors are reporting growth, and all states in the Mid-Atlantic Region are touting major economic development announcements. Within the DBIA-MAR, we are fortunate to have a wealth of opportunities and examples of ‘Design-Build Done Right.’ I look forward to supporting DBIA-MAR and working with my design and construction colleagues.”

Sherry Miller, office manager to Schnabel Engineering’s Sterling, VA office since 2001, joins Mary as an executive member of the DBIA Mid-Atlantic Region’s board of directors, serving as secretary for the chapter. Miller maintains the chapter’s formal documentation, prepares and issues minutes, and maintains documentation of board and chapter meetings and other events, including approved decisions and actions. She is also responsible for coordination with the region on administrative matters affecting the chapter.

As chair of the DBIA Central Virginia Chapter Membership Committee, Muriel Rodriguez-Franqui, associate and vice president at Schnabel, works to recruit new members and retain existing members of the chapter. A key business development professional for Schnabel since 1988, Rodriguez-Franqui has held numerous leadership and committee positions with industry organizations and now brings that experience to DBIA Central Virginia. “I am very excited to help grow this multi-discipline, newly formed DBIA Central Virginia Chapter,” she says. “We are already off to a great start with programs and sponsorship opportunities for 2019.”

Newly established in 2018, DBIA’s Central Virginia Chapter provides programming, networking, and educational programs related to the fast growing design-build project delivery method and advancing its use in the Commonwealth. The Central Virginia Chapter joins the Hampton Roads and Maryland Chapters as part of the DBIA-MAR.

As an engineering and environmental firm, Schnabel Engineering provides specialized expertise for the planning, study, design, and construction of geotechnical, dam, and tunnel engineering projects in the United States and abroad. The employee-owned company has worked in more than 140 countries since its founding in 1956 and has pioneered the use of new technology, foundation systems, and sustainable infrastructure. Headquartered in Glen Allen, Virginia, Schnabel’s workforce exceeds 350 people in 19 locations.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Nine renewable energy highlights of 2018

By Jeff Deyette

Despite the Trump administration's ongoing attempts to prop up coal and undermine renewables—at FERC, EPA and through tariffs and the budget process—2018 should instead be remembered for the surge in momentum toward a clean energy economy. Here are nine storylines that caught my attention this past year and help illustrate the unstoppable advancement of renewable energy and other modern grid technologies.

1. California Goes All-In for Carbon-Free Electricity

In late August, California—the world's 5th largest economy—committed to the target of fully decarbonizing its power sector by 2045. The landmark legislation also strengthens the state's renewable portfolio standard (also known as a renewable energy standard, or RES) from 50 to 60 percent by 2030. What's more, at the bill signing, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order that establishes a goal of achieving carbon-neutrality across all sectors of California's sprawling economy by 2045, cementing the state's place as a global leader in climate action.

2. Several States Strengthen Their RES Requirements

State-level renewable electricity standards continued to be a primary driver of new renewable energy development in 2018. In addition to California, legislatures in New Jersey (50 percent by 2030), Connecticut (40 percent by 2030) and Massachusetts (35 percent by 2030) all adopted stronger targets for renewable energy, accelerating their states' transitions away from fossil fuels. In addition, voters in Nevada overwhelmingly approved a measure to increase their state's RES to 50 percent by 2030 (the measure must be approved again in 2020 to officially become law).

3. Clean Energy Champions Win Gubernatorial Races

One of the bright spots in November's election results was the number newly elected governors who campaigned on aggressive clean energy and climate change agendas. Newly elected governors in at least 10 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin, have pledged to accelerate clean energy and carbon reductions in their states by supporting U.S. commitments to the Paris agreement, joining the U.S. Climate Alliance and/or calling for renewable energy targets of 80 to 100 percent. These election results demonstrate the widespread support for greater investments in renewable energy and signal the push for even stronger clean energy policies in the coming year.

4. Record Low Prices for Renewables

Innovation, growing economies of scale and attractive financing continued to drive the costs down for renewables in 2018. Power purchase agreements for wind and solar projects in states like Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas have reportedly ranged between $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour, well below the cost of natural gas generation—and the technologies are positioned for further cost reductions to continue to be low-cost options even as federal tax incentives change. What's even more exciting is that the many of these low-priced projects also include energy storage components, increasing their value to the grid.

5. Major Utilities Commit to Low-Carbon Portfolios

Earlier this month, Xcel Energy became the first major utility to commit to a completely carbon-free electricity supply across the eight states it operates in. In doing so, it joins a growing number of utilities that are committing to phasing out their use of coal and transitioning to substantially lower carbon energy portfolios. Also this year, both Consumers Energy in Michigan and NIPSCO in northern Indiana announced plans to phase out coal generation and utility giant American Electric Power announced a goal of reducing its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050. What's especially exciting about these utility actions is that they are driven primarily by economics, clearly demonstrating the competitiveness of clean energy technologies.

6. Corporate Renewable Energy Purchases Keep Growing

Low renewable energy prices continue to attract major corporations looking to save money and achieve ambitious sustainability goals. As a result, direct corporate purchases of renewable energy have become a major driver of renewable energy deployment. In 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute reports, corporate renewable energy purchases—led by companies like Facebook, Walmart, ATT and Microsoft—reached more than 6.4 gigawatts (GW). The number of corporations investing in renewables expanded at a record pace this year as well, with nearly two-thirds of Fortune 100 and nearly half of Fortune 500 companies now having set ambitious renewable energy goals.

7. Offshore Wind Moves Forward

While no new offshore wind projects came online in the U.S. this year (the next project—off the Virginia coast—is scheduled for 2020), the industry did take some big leaps toward becoming a major player in the nation's power supply. For example, the winning bid for Massachusetts' first request for offshore wind proposals to help meet the state's offshore wind requirements passed in 2016 went to an 800-megawatt project from Vineyard Wind at a shockingly low price of about 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. In addition, the latest U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management auction for leasing parcels of water for future projects resulted in 11 bidders and $405.1 million in winning bids, both smashing previous records. And strong state policies, including new offshore wind requirements in New Jersey and elsewhere, mean that there's a lot more action to come.

8. Storage Steps Into the Spotlight

Once a fringe player in the electric power sector, the energy storage industry is quickly emerging as a game changer in the transition to a clean energy economy as a tool for integrating much higher levels of renewable energy. In 2018, the pipeline for new storage projects doubled to nearly 33 GW as more utilities are investing in the technology thanks largely rapidly falling prices and growing support from state policies. While California has led the nation in storage deployment to date, New York recently established the strongest storage requirement in the country at 3,000 MW by 2030. Earlier this year, New Jersey set an ambitious storage target of 2,000 MW by 2030 and Massachusetts significantly increased its storage requirement to 1,000 megawatt-hours by 2025. At the federal level, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Order 841, which directs regional grid operators to set market rules that allow energy storage to participate on a level playing field in the wholesale energy, capacity and ancillary services markets.

9. PG&E Turns Down the Gas With Storage and Renewables

In one particular sign of what's to come in 2019 and beyond in terms of how these technologies fit together to displace fossil fuels, one of the most exciting regulatory decisions I saw this year was the California Public Utility Commission's approval of PG&E's plan to use energy storage to replace retiring gas generators. One of the key barriers to fully transitioning to a carbon-free economy is replacing natural gas generation and the ancillary services they provide to the power grid. This decision, which marks the first time a utility will directly replace power plants with battery storage, should spur many more similar projects to move forward in California and across the country and open the door for integrating much higher levels of renewable energy onto the power grid.

These nine stories are just a sampling of what occurred in 2018 to further the clean energy transition. As the year comes to a close, UCS will continue to work hard to keep up the clean energy momentum in 2019.

Jeff Deyette is the director of state policy and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists.



Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Why we need more STEM students to study abroad

Contributed by Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College
Students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are much less likely to participate in study abroad programs during their college years than students in other majors.
According to Open Doors 2018, the Institute of International Education’s most recent survey of U.S. study abroad, less than 2 percent of all college students studied abroad in 2016-17, and of that small number of participants, only 5.3 percent were engineering majors and 2.8 percent were math or computer science majors. The report highlights that while the number STEM majors in programs has increased over the past decade, STEM fields continue to be the most underrepresented fields in study abroad.
Yet international experience is vital for STEM students, who will be creating technologies that may impact the entire world. U.S. scientists and engineers also must be able to collaborate on multicultural, international teams to be successful in their careers and tackle global challenges together.
What holds STEM students back from studying abroad? STEM students often have a harder time fitting a semester abroad into a tightly sequenced required program of study, according to IIE’s 2009 white paper, Promoting Study Abroad in Science and Technology Fields. Other reasons named in the report include a lack of encouragement from academic advisors, difficulty in obtaining credit at the home institution for STEM courses taken abroad, and fewer science- and engineering-related study abroad programs overall. Yet another hurdle is language. Because STEM students often have to take more courses in their major, they don’t have as much opportunity to take a series of language courses, and that often limits their study abroad options.
Recognizing the challenges, many colleges and universities have been working to expand study abroad opportunities for STEM students such as making STEM curricula more flexible, weaving opportunities into the curriculum, and creating new programs.
At Harvey Mudd, where we only offer STEM majors, we’ve worked hard to increase participation in study abroad. We were sending on average only 5 percent percent of our junior class on study abroad programs in the early 2000s; now we send 15-18 percent of our juniors abroad.
Engineering major Rikki Walters with her host family in Nepal
I spoke with Harvey Mudd director of study abroad Rhonda Chiles about the challenges and benefits of study abroad and with engineering major Rikki Walters, a student who recently returned from a semester abroad.
Maria Klawe:  Rhonda, what are some of the initiatives that have helped us increase participation in study abroad?
Rhonda Chiles:   We’ve been partnering more closely with our study abroad program providers, meeting with them and telling them our STEM-related needs. They work with schools from around the world to create a portfolio of programs, and we can choose which ones work best for our students. Over the past decade, our providers have worked hard to create more opportunities for STEM majors. It’s still going to be more challenging for STEM majors, but that challenge is less than it was before. Students can say, hey, I want to do this, I can do this, it’s really possible.
We’ve also started to do our own course matching. We work with program providers to get course descriptions and syllabi from the programs and then have our departments look at which ones will match up.  That makes a huge difference.
Klawe: Rikki, why did you want to study abroad?
Rikki Walters: I spent last semester in Nepal, living with a host family and taking classes from Nepali teachers, including intensive Nepali language. Studying abroad was something I always knew I needed to do and wanted to do. You become a more global citizen, you understand different perspectives—it’s invaluable.
Klawe: Was it difficult to fit a semester abroad into your engineering major requirements?
Walters: I knew when I started college that I wanted to be an engineer and I wanted to study abroad. So, I started planning from the day I got here. It's totally possible to do, but it took a lot of planning. The Nepal semester program is run by Pitzer College, and they have been working over the past few years to make it possible for Harvey Mudd students to participate by bringing in professors from the local universities to teach STEM courses. Since I was the only student that semester taking an engineering class, I was able to provide the professor with Harvey Mudd’s textbook so that he could cover all my required material. It also helped that I took summer math courses and went on a summer engineering program to China, which helped me add credits towards my graduation requirements and gave me some room in my schedule.
Klawe: How important do you think it is for STEM majors to study abroad?
Walters: I think nowadays, STEM workers probably have the largest effect on society. We enable so many different ways to manipulate the things in this world. As the designers and creators rather than the salesmen and businessmen, we don’t always see how the technology we create affects the world, and we’re not always the ones choosing how that technology is applied. Even if we read about the impact of technology from international news, we can’t fully understand it without physically going to another country, experiencing the society for ourselves and talking with the people there. With the tendency to believe more technologically advanced correlates to a better, more knowledgeable and wise society, we lose the ability to listen. It’s essential to listen because otherwise we don’t really know what people in other countries need—we’re just trying to make their society look more like ours. If we really want to help people, then we need to listen to them.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Interdisciplinary UA researchers get tangled up in quantum computing

Good neighbors often share resources: a cup of sugar, extra lawn chairs, a set of jumper cables. Researchers across campus at the University of Arizona will soon be able to share a less common but far more valuable resource to help them further their research: entangled photons, or interlinked pairs of light particles.

With approximately $1.4 million in funding – $999,999 from the National Science Foundation and about $400,000 from the UA – professor Zheshen Zhang is leading the construction of the Interdisciplinary Quantum Information Research and Engineering instrument, known as Inquire, at UA. Inquire is the world's first shared research and training instrument to help researchers in diverse fields benefit from quantum resources, including those with no expertise in quantum information science.

Zhang is an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and optical sciences and the leader of the Quantum Information and Materials Group at UA. Co-investigators of the Inquire project include Ivan Djordjevic, professor of electrical and computer engineering and optical sciences; Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute and professor of biomedical engineering, biosystems engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and optical sciences; Nasser Peyghambarian, professor of optical sciences; and Marek Romanowski, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and materials science and engineering. 

A network of fiber-optic cables will connect an automated quantum information hub in the basement of the Electrical and Computer Engineering building to four other buildings on campus: Biosciences Research Labs, Mines and Metallurgy, Physics and Atmospheric Sciences, and Meinel Optical Sciences.

Barton comments. "It seems like science fiction, but Zheshen is building a facility that will create quantum-entangled photons, then deliver them via fiber optics halfway across campus, right into the Translational Bioimaging Resource in the Biosciences Research Labs building."

"This is an exciting project that perfectly represents some of the key themes underlying our strategic plan," says UA President Robert Robbins. "To be a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must leverage collaboration, stay ahead of the technology curve and provide a high-powered environment where researchers have the tools they need to solve the world's grand challenges. I look forward to seeing the new opportunities this facility brings once it is completed." Construction on the project already has begun with an expected completion date of September 2021.

Seeing Individual Photons
Much like an atom is the smallest unit of matter, a photon is the smallest unit of light. So while we can see the light of tens of billions of photons in a room lit by a lamp or a courtyard lit by the sun, the human eye – and most microscopes – can't see individual photons. But sometimes this too-small-to-see information can be important. For example, a biomedical engineering lab might be doing an imaging study on a protein or an organic molecule that's emitting a signal too weak for traditional cameras to see. "You can send your photons to the core facility, which is equipped with an array of ultrasensitive cameras that can see things at the single photon level," Zhang said.

Traditionally, researchers used high-powered lasers to illuminate these biological samples, which were sometimes damaged in the process. Using entangled photons as an illumination source provides higher sensitivity, less illuminating power, and the same – or even higher – resolution. "Two entangled photons can be worth a million of their classical brethren, potentially allowing us to image deeper without harming tissue," Barton said.

High-Precision Probing
These fiber-optic cables are a two-way street. Researchers can send their photons into the central hub to be imaged by the high-tech microscopes, but the center can also share entangled photons with labs across campus.

Entangled photons are interlinked pairs. Even when they're separated by large distances, anything that happens to one photon in an entangled pair will be transferred to the other one as well.
This relationship has several uses. For example, researchers can use photons as probes to help determine the nature of unidentified materials. The changes a material introduces to a photon, such as a change in color, provide clues to the material's identity. When one entangled photon in a pair is used as a probe, the material introduces changes to both photons in the entangled pair. "Now you can perform a measurement on both photons to learn about the sample being probed," Zhang said. "You can have twice as much information about the way the material is affecting the photon."

Secure Communications
Entangled photons can also be used in quantum communication, a secure method of sending and receiving data that's designed to preclude eavesdropping. Before Party A shares any sensitive information with Party B, Party A sends a "quantum key," a series of entangled photons that serves as the code for decrypting future transmissions. Quantum keys are designed so that the very act of decrypting or reading their contents changes their contents.

If the quantum key arrives with any parts decrypted, the communicating parties know not to use that part of the key to encrypt future transmissions, because it has been "read" by hackers. The communicating parties can simply cut out that part of the key and use a new, shorter quantum key they know is secure.
Party A and Party B in the above example don't need to be quantum information scientists. Researchers across all kinds of disciplines can benefit from the unique features of entangled photons, and Inquire's aim is to allow for just that.

"This is a key area the National Science Foundation identifies as one of its 10 Big Ideas and really wants to push forward because it is so interdisciplinary," Zhang says. "It involves researchers across the boundaries of science, engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, math, optics – everywhere. The key question is 'How can everybody speak the same language, and how can they benefit from the progress made in other areas?'"