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NPS team makes key breakthrough on path to electric aircraft propulsion

As an institution renowned for innovation efforts grounded in education and research, the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has often been called upon to…



As an institution renowned for innovation efforts grounded in education and research, the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has often been called upon to tackle some of the most difficult technological challenges facing the Navy and the nation.

Credit: Javier Chagoya, Naval Postgraduate School

As an institution renowned for innovation efforts grounded in education and research, the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) has often been called upon to tackle some of the most difficult technological challenges facing the Navy and the nation.

Such a challenge emerged in 2020, when NASA charged NPS and two other research teams with solving a critical barrier facing the development of electric aircraft propulsion (EAP): the creation of a circuit breaker that could support large electric platforms running on direct current (DC) electricity. Thanks to the efforts of a diverse team of faculty and students, as well as several Navy and academic research partners, NPS delivered an innovative working prototype.

This past March, the successful test of the “Navy High Speed Solid-State Fault Management System for Electric Aircraft Propulsion” confirmed the breakthrough results. The NPS-led design was able to provide a viable DC circuit breaker to NASA, pushing the project development forward to Level 6 on the Technology Readiness Level scale – a 9-level measurement system used to assess the maturity of a particular technology.

The effort to research and design the DC circuit breaker for EAP was led by Dr. Di Zhang, NPS Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with a team of NPS students. Zhang, who came to NPS in 2019 after working on electric power converter designs with General Electric’s Global Research Center, is widely considered one of the nation’s leading experts on large electric vehicles.

As a result of his team’s work, Zhang was awarded a $750,000 research grant by NASA to continue his research with a goal to refine the weight and performance of the team’s initial breaker design.

The breakthrough achieved at NPS could be a critical step in the development of EAP, one of many emerging technologies receiving increased attention due to the emphasis placed by the Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, on accelerating innovation throughout the Department of the Navy.

“We are indeed in an innovation race — and it is one we must win,” said Del Toro during remarks at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 28. “Innovation must permeate every aspect of our Department’s approach to the delivery of the technologies and capabilities at a speed and scale necessary for our Navy and Marine Corps to confront the challenges of today and the future.”

NPS will play a significant role in supporting the development of EAP technology and other relevant innovation efforts following the establishment of the Naval Innovation Center (NIC) at NPS. First announced in December 2022, the NIC will leverage NPS education and research to drive “ideas to impact,” bringing research concepts out of the lab and into the field faster by empowering students, faculty and partners across the entire Naval Research & Development Establishment (NR&DE) to work with the naval innovation ecosystem and industry.

Accelerated innovation for technologies such as EAP is also facilitated through the Secretary of the Navy’s “Climate Action 2030” policy, which prioritizes the development of systems that are not dependent on fossil fuels, expanding the use of renewable energy and electric propulsion.

In addition to supporting Climate Action 2030 and similar policy goals, EAP can also enable numerous new design freedoms and functions, leading to lower energy consumption and higher propulsion efficiency. And, of course, the noise signature of combustion engines could be all but eliminated utilizing EAP, enhancing stealth capabilities of future systems.

“Electric propulsion technology is crucial for future Navy capabilities, offering enhanced design flexibility, supporting power-intensive advanced systems, and ensuring stealth, efficiency, and adaptability in evolving naval environments,” said Zhang. “The technology’s integration also paves the way for the adoption of emerging energy sources, solidifying the Navy’s technological edge.”

Zhang and his NPS student team were joined in their research efforts by partners from Virginia Tech, Clemson University and the University of Connecticut, and received engineering support from Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in China Lake, Calif., and the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Philadelphia division.

According to Zhang, one of the fundamental questions when looking at utilizing electric power is the distinction between products that run on direct current and alternating current (AC).

“A hundred years ago, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison had a battle over the advantages of AC versus DC electric power. Tesla won, and now much of what we use and see is running on AC power,” said Zhang.

There are certain advantages to using AC electricity, he says. AC generators are the primary source of electric power, which are driven by steam, nuclear, or other power sources. AC can be transmitted across great distances and is also easily changed to different voltage levels through the use of transformers that can step voltage up and down. As its name implies, AC has an alternating current that runs in a sinusoidal pattern; this makes AC electricity relatively safe and easy to interrupt with a circuit breaker as the waveform naturally crosses zero.

Direct current has its own advantages that are rising in importance as technology looks to the future. DC systems require less cabling and can be smaller and lighter than AC systems, as well as more power efficient. Clean sources of energy – like wind and solar – store power in photovoltaic grids and batteries which are inherently DC compatible. Electric cars that use DC power are also able to use regenerative braking to return energy to their batteries, and they are run in a compact space that does not require long distance transmission.

“The trend we’re seeing in energy industries and in electric vehicles is this switch to DC, and that’s why it is so important to look towards this electric aircraft design,” explained Zhang. “With DC, we can make a design lighter and smaller with the same power which is critical for aviation and Navy applications. The target for this DC breaker design is to get the same amount of power while cutting the weight to one tenth of what’s been developed.”

One thing that doesn’t get smaller and lighter with DC systems is the circuit breaker. The challenge that NASA posed to NPS was to create a circuit breaker that could shut down an electric aircraft running at maximum power in a safe, simple – and size-efficient – way.

“Think of electricity flowing like water through a pipe. A circuit breaker is the tool you need to shut that water off. With DC, high amounts of current and voltage equate to a huge flow of water that is hard to shut down quickly,” explained U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Michael Smith, an NPS electrical engineering graduate. “That quick change from a high to low voltage, or high to low current, creates an electromagnetic field that can interfere with other electric systems.”

Capt. Smith is one of five NPS students who worked on the project with Zhang. Since his graduation in September 2022, he now applies his degree as an Expeditionary Energy Officer for the Marines. His master’s thesis focused on testing circuit boards to ensure they could withstand the electromagnetic interference of a large-scale DC circuit breaker, and he was able to successfully identify manufactured circuit boards that would function under the required conditions.

“The trick to reaching industry standards is in the balance,” said Zhang. “You need to design something new, but not too new or it is unproven and risky. You cannot only be innovative; you must also be practical. So, we had three years during a global pandemic, which hindered manufacturing and access to technology, to produce a result that is as safe and simple as possible.”

In spite of those challenges, the team was able to successfully meet the deadline. While Zhang is pleased with the achievement of his students and the positive feedback from NASA, he is far from done with this research.

“I’m very proud of the students that I’ve worked with who have shown great ability with hands-on research,” said Zhang. “I’m also proud of my team and colleagues here at NPS who have such strong industry experience and perspective towards electrical engineering. It’s with this perspective that we’re able to deliver something so practical, useful, and impactful.”

NPS Vice Provost for Research Dr. Kevin Smith complimented Zhang and his research team, noting the achievement as an exemplar of how basic and applied research at NPS leads to relevant technology solutions.

“Di Zhang’s accomplishment is a great example of how our faculty lead interdisciplinary research at NPS, leveraging our students’ operational insight and our innovation ecosystem of academic and industry partners to solve problems and drive concepts to capability,” said Dr. Smith.

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Las Vegas Strip faces growing bed bug problem

With huge events including Formula 1, CES, and the Super Bowl looming, the Las Vegas Strip faces an issue that could be a major cause for concern.



Las Vegas beat the covid pandemic.

It wasn't that long ago when the Las Vegas Strip went dark and people questioned whether Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, and other Strip players would emerge from the crisis intact. 

Related: Las Vegas Strip report shares surprising F1 race news

In the darkest days, the entire Las Vegas Strip was closed down and when it reopened, it was not business as usual. Caesars Entertainment (CZR) - Get Free Report and MGM reopened slowly with all sorts of government-mandated restrictions in place.

The first months of the Strip's comeback featured temperature checks, a lot of plexiglass, gaming tables with limited numbers of players, masks, and social distancing. It was an odd mix of celebration and restraint as people were happy to be in Las Vegas, but the Strip was oddly empty, some casinos remained closed, and gaming floors were sparsely filled. 

When vaccines became available, the Las Vegas Strip benefitted quickly. Business and international travelers were slow to return, but leisure travelers began bringing crowds back to pre-pandemic levels. 

The comeback, however, was very fragile. CES 2022 was supposed to be Las Vegas's return to normal, the first major convention since covid. In reality, surging cases of the covid omicron variant caused most major companies to pull out.

Even with vaccines and covid tests required, an event that was supposed to be close to normal, ended up with 25% of 2020's pre-covid attendance. That CES showed just how quickly public sentiment — not actual danger — can ruin an event in Las Vegas.

Now, with November's Formula 1 Race, CES in January, and the Super Bowl in February all slated for Las Vegas, a rising health crisis threatens all of those events.

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Covid left Las Vegas casinos empty for months.

Image source: Palms Casino

The Las Vegas Strip has a bed bug problem   

While bed bugs may not be as dangerous as covid, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV),  Legionnaires’ disease, and some of the other infectious diseases that the Las Vegas Strip has faced over the past few years, they're still problematic. Bed bugs spread easily and a small infestation can become a large one quickly.

The sores caused by bed bugs are also a social media nightmare for the Las Vegas Strip. If even a few Las Vegas Strip visitors wake up covered in bed bug bites, that could become a viral nightmare for the entire city.

In late-August, reports came out the bed bugs had been at seven Las Vegas hotel, mostly on the Strip over the past two years. The impacted properties includes Caesars Planet Hollywood and Caesars Palace as well as MGM Resort International's (MGM) - Get Free Report MGM Grand, and others including Circus Circus, The Palazzo, Tropicana, and Sahara.

VISIT LAS VEGAS: Are you ready to plan your dream Las Vegas Strip getaway?

"Now, that number is nine with the addition of The Venetian and Park MGM. According to the health department report, a Venetian guest reported seeing the bloodsuckers on July 29 and was moved to another room. An inspection three days later confirmed their presence," reported.

The Park MGM bed bug incident took place on Aug. 14.

Bed bugs remain a Las Vegas Strip problem

Only Tropicana, which is soon going to be demolished, and Sahara, responded to about their bed bug issues. Caesars and MGM have not commented publicly or responded to requests from KLAS or

That makes sense because the resorts do not want news to spread about potential bed bug problems when the actual incidents have so far been minimal. The problem is that unreported bed bug issues can rapidly snowball.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shares some guidelines on bed bug bites on its website that hint at the depth of the problem facing Las Vegas Strip resorts.

"Regularly wash and heat-dry your bed sheets, blankets, bedspreads and any clothing that touches the floor. This reduces the number of bed bugs. Bed bugs and their eggs can hide in laundry containers/hampers. Remember to clean them when you do the laundry," the agency shared.

Normally, that would not be an issue in Las Vegas as rooms are cleaned daily. Since the covid pandemic, however, some people have opted out of daily cleaning and some resorts have encouraged that.

F1? SUPER BOWL? MARCH MADNESS? Plan a dream Las Vegas getaway.

Not having daily room cleaning in just a few rooms could lead to quick spread.

"Bed bugs spread so easily and so quickly, that the University of Kentucky's entomology department notes that "it often seems that bed bugs arise from nowhere."

"Once bed bugs are introduced, they can crawl from room to room, or floor to floor via cracks and openings in walls, floors and ceilings," warned the University's researchers.  



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Americans are having a tough time repaying pandemic-era loans received with inflated credit scores

Borrowers are realizing the responsibility of new debts too late.



With the economy of the United States at a standstill during the Covid-19 pandemic, the efforts to stimulate the economy brought many opportunities to people who may have not had them otherwise. 

However, the extension of these opportunities to those who took advantage of the times has had its consequences.

Related: American Express reveals record profits, 'robust' spending in Q3 earnings report

Credit Crunch

GLASTONBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 12: In this photo illustration the Visa, Mastercard and American Express logos are seen on credit and debit cards on March 14, 2022 in Somerset, England. Visa, American Express and Mastercard have all announced they are suspending operations in Russia and credit and debit cards issued by Russian banks will no longer work outside of the country. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A report by the Financial Times states that borrowers in the United States that took advantage of lending opportunities during the Covid-19 pandemic are falling behind on actually paying back their debt.

At a time when stimulus checks were handed out and loan repayments were frozen to help those affected by the economic shock of Covid-19, many consumers in the States saw that lenders became more willing to provide consumer credit.

According to a report by credit reporting agency TransUnion, the median consumer credit score jumped 20% to a peak of 676 in the first quarter of 2021, allowing many to finally have “good” credit scores. However, their data also showed that those who took out loans and credit from 2021 to early 2023 are having an hard time managing these debts.

“Consumer finance companies used this opportunity to juice up their growth at a time when funding was ample and consumers’ finances had gotten an artificial boost,” Chief economist of Moody’s Analytics Mark Zandi told FT. “Certainly a lot of lower-income households that got caught up in all of this will feel financial pain.”

Moody’s data shows that new credit cards accounts that were opened in the first quarter of 2023 have a 4% delinquency rate, while the same rate in September 2022 was 4.5%. According to the analysts, these levels were the highest for the same point of the year since 2008.

Additionally, a study by credit scoring company VantageScore found that credit cards issued in March 2022 had higher delinquency rates than cards issued at the same time during the prior four years.

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Credit cards were not the only debts that American consumers took on. As per S&P Global Ratings data, riskier car loans taken on during the height of the pandemic have more repayment problems than in previous years. In 2022, subprime borrowers were becoming delinquent on new cars loans at twice the rate of pre-pandemic levels.

S&P auto loan tracker Amy Martin told FT that lenders during the pandemic were “rather aggressive” in terms of signing new loans.

Bill Moreland of research group BankRegData has warned about these rising delinquencies in the past and had recently estimated that by late 2022, there were hundreds of billions of dollars in what he calls “excess lending based upon artificially inflated credit scores”.

The Government's Role

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 29: U.S. President Donald Trump's name appears on the coronavirus economic assistance checks that were sent to citizens across the country April 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The initial 88 million payments totaling nearly $158 billion were sent by the Treasury Department last week as most of the country remains under stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Because so many are failing to pay their bills, many are wary that the government assistance may have been a financial double-edged sword; as they were meant to alleviate financial stress during lockdown, while it led some of them to financial difficulty.

The $2.2 trillion Cares Act federal aid package passed in the early stages of the pandemic not only put cash in the American consumer’s pocket, but also protected borrowers from foreclosure, default and in some instances, lenders were barred from reporting late payments to credit bureaus.

Yeshiva University law professor Pam Foohey specializes in consumer bankruptcy and believes that the Cares Act was good policy, however she shifts the blame away from the consumers and borrowers.

“I fault lenders and the market structure for not having a longer-term perspective. That’s not something that the Cares Act should have solved and it still exists and still needs to be addressed.”

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Inflation: raising interest rates was never the right medicine – here’s why central bankers did it anyway

We need to start cutting rates, but there’s something that has to happen first.

Pain, no gain? Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey. IMF, CC BY-SA

Inflation remains too high in the UK. The annual rate of consumer price inflation to September was 6.7%, the same as a month earlier. This is well below the 11.1% peak reached in October 2022, but the failure of inflation to keep falling indicates it is proving far more stubborn than anticipated.

This may prompt the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) to raise the benchmark interest rate yet again when it meets in November, but in my view this would not be entirely justified.

In reality, the rate hikes that began two years ago have not been very helpful in tackling inflation, at least not directly. So what’s the problem and is there a better alternative?

Right policy, wrong inflation

Raising interest rates is the MPC’s main tool for trying to get inflation back to its target rate of 2%. The idea is that this makes it more expensive to borrow money, which should reduce consumer demand for goods and services.

The trouble is that the type of inflation recently witnessed in the UK seems less a problem of excessive demand than because costs have been rising for manufacturers and service providers. It’s known as “cost-push inflation” as opposed to “demand-pull inflation”.

Inflation rates (UK, US, eurozone)

Graph comparing inflation rates of UK, US and eurozone
UK = dark blue; eurozone = turquoise; US = orange. Trading View

Production costs have risen for several reasons. During the COVID-19 pandemic, central banks “created money” through quantitative easing to enable their governments to run large spending deficits to pay for furloughs and other interventions to help citizens through the crisis.

When countries started reopening, it meant people had money in their pockets to buy more goods and services. Yet with China still in lockdown, global supply chains could not keep pace with the resurgent demand so prices went up – most notably oil.

Oil price (Brent crude, US$)

Chart showing price of Brent crude oil
Trading View

Then came the Ukraine war, which further drove up prices of fundamental commodities, such as energy. This made inflation much worse than it would otherwise have been. You can see this reflected in consumer price inflation (CPI): it was just 0.6% in the year to June 2020, then rose to 2.5% in the year to June 2021, reflecting the supply constraints at the end of lockdown. By June 2022, four months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, CPI was 9.4%.

The policy problem

This begs the question, why has the Bank of England (BoE) been raising rates if it’s unlikely to be effective? One answer is that other central banks have been raising rates. If the BoE doesn’t mirror rate rises in the US and eurozone, investors in the UK may move their money to these other areas because they’ll get better returns on bonds. This would see the pound depreciating against the US dollar and euro, in turn increasing import prices and aggravating inflation.

Part of the problem has been that the US has arguably faced more of the sort of demand-led inflation against which interest rates are effective. For one thing, the US has been less at the mercy of rising energy prices because it is energy self-sufficient. It also didn’t lock down as uniformly as other major economies during the pandemic, so had a little more space to grow.

At the same time, the US has been more effective at bringing down inflation than the UK, which again suggests it was fighting demand-driven price rises. In other words, the UK and other countries may to some extent have been forced to follow suit with raising interest rates to protect their currencies, not to fight inflation.

What next

How harmful have the rate rises been in the UK? They have not brought about a recession yet, but growth remains very weak. Lots of people are struggling with the cost of living, as well as rent or mortgage costs. Several million people are due to be hit by much higher mortgage rates as their fixed-rate deals end between now and the end of 2024.

UK GDP growth (%)

Chart showing the annual rate of GDP growth
Trading View

If hiking interest rates is not really helping to curb inflation, it makes sense to start moving in the opposite direction before the economic situation gets any worse. To avoid any damage to the pound, the answer is for the leading central banks to coordinate their policies so that they cut rates in lockstep.

Unless and until this happens, there would seem to be no quick fix available. One piece of good news is that the energy price cap for typical domestic consumption was reduced from October 1 from £1,976 to £1,834 a year. That 7% reduction should lead to consumer price inflation coming down significantly towards the end of 2023.

More generally, the Bank of England may simply have to hope that world events move inflation in the desired direction. A key question is going to be whether the wars in Ukraine and Israel/Gaza result in further cost pressures.

Unfortunately there is a precedent for a Middle East conflict leading to a global economic crisis: following the joint assault on Israel by Syria and Egypt in 1973, Israel’s retaliation prompted petroleum cartel OPEC to impose an oil embargo. This led to an almost fourfold increase in the price of crude oil.

Since oil was fundamental to the costs of production, inflation in the UK rose to over 16% in 1974. There followed high unemployment, resulting in an unwelcome combination that economists referred to as stagflation.

These days, global production is in fact less reliant on oil as renewables have become a growing part of the energy mix. Nonetheless, an oil price hike would still drive inflation higher and weaken economic growth. So if the Middle East crisis does spiral, we may be stuck with stubborn, untreatable inflation for even longer.

Robert Gausden does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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