|PHOTO OF THE MONTH:
DEEP SEA FISHING - A microplankton sample pulled from the
depths of the Antarctic Sea was captured by a scanning electron
micrograph. The photograph, which won honorable mention in this
year's International Science and Engineering Visualization
Challenge, was taken by Dee Breger, director of microscopy in
the department of material science and engineering at Drexel
The pectoral fins of the humpback whale look like one of
nature's hideous mistakes. The fins' leading edge
is not smooth like all other known sea animals' fins
and flippers, but is scalloped with a series of protrusions
known as tubercles. These bumps run counter to the "dogma"
of aerodynamics, says Laurens E. Howle, a Duke University
fluid dynamics engineer, which says air foils need to be smooth
to avoid producing air disturbances, which cause turbulence.
That's why airplane wings have smooth surfaces. But
research conducted by Howle and colleagues at West Chester
University and the U.S. Naval Academy, which tested 22-inch
scale models of humpback whales' bumpy fins, came to
a surprising conclusion: The scalloped fins actually increased
lift, decreased drag, and could better withstand stall.
Howle doubts the findings will likely change the design of
commercial aircraft wings. "Most wings are not operating
close to stall," he says, and scalloped wings would
be costly to build. But it could lead to changes in the design
of helicopter wing tips and propellers, as well as racing
yacht rudders. A bumpy-edged rudder might allow for tighter
turns. Indeed, even though they're huge critters, humpbacks
are very agile swimmers.
—Thomas K. Grose
America's entire science and engineering workforce
totals 4.7 million, according to statistics recently released
by the National Science Foundation. But surprisingly, more
than a fifth of those workers do not have at least a four-year
degree: 811,000 have associates' degrees, and 225,200
have just high school diplomas. The majority of the workforce,
48 percent, have bachelor's degrees. Twenty-two percent
have master's, 7 percent have earned doctorates, and
2 percent professional degrees. Most of those without a four-year
degree—492,900—work in engineering, although they
represent just 20 percent of the 2.5 million workers classified
as having engineering jobs. Another 454,200 work in math and
computer science jobs, but they comprise 40 percent of the
1.15 million workers in that category. Only 29,000 employees
in the life sciences have less than a bachelor's degree.
Gender doesn't seem to matter: About a fifth of the
3.6 million men employed in science and engineering, and about
a fifth of the 1.1 million women, haven't earned four-year
Got any underachieving students in your classes? Show them
this. Maybe it'll motivate them. According to census
numbers of average annual salaries of American adults, as
crunched by the American Council on Education, the average
salary of bachelor's degree holders in 2002 was $51,194;
88 percent more than the $27,280 earned by high school graduates.
The gap 20 years ago—using current dollars—was
only 60 percent. If you had a graduate degree in 2002, your
average salary was $72,824, or 167 percent more than what
high school grads were earning. Workers with nary a diploma
earned on average a measly $18,825. The good news for female
college grads: the $37,909 they earned was 79 percent more
than the $21,141 paid to women high school graduates. The
bad news: It was 67.5 percent less than the $63,503 earned
by their male college-educated peers. Male undergraduate degree-holders
earned 94 percent more than the $32,673 paid to male high
school grads. —TG
The Hubble Space Telescope has not only been a scientific
success story since its launch in 1990—helping to achieve
a number of major discoveries—but it's also captured
the public's fancy, giving much beleaguered NASA a much
needed public-relations winner. But
Hubble's gyroscope and batteries are starting to wane,
and the telescope will likely stop functioning sometime between
2007 and ‘08. Four times in the past, Space Shuttle
missions sent astronauts up to the telescope to do the maintenance
necessary to keep it aloft. But in the wake of the 2003 Space
Shuttle Columbia disaster, NASA last January canceled a planned
2006 shuttle maintenance mission to Hubble. Too risky, NASA
said. Moreover, scheduling had become a problem. As it is,
NASA now says the earliest the shuttles will fly again is
next May, and it takes at least 18 months to prepare a mission.
But NASA is becoming more convinced by its engineers at the
Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland that a robotic mission
to Hubble—once considered a pipe dream—could succeed.
Indeed, in October, NASA awarded a contract worth around $144
million to Canada's MD Robotics to build a "Dextre"
robotic space arm to handle the repair tasks. MD Robotics
was selected because its technology was more fully advanced
than other robots under development.
Goddard spokesperson Susan Hendrix says it will be late summer
or early fall of 2005 before NASA decides if a robotic mission
can succeed. Meanwhile, at the urgings of Congress and the
National Academies of Science, it is still considering a shuttle
mission to the station. Also to be determined is whether any
mission will simply replace Hubble's gyroscope and batteries
or also bolt on two new instruments that have been built to
further improve the space telescope. But a robotic mission—if
Congress will pony up the necessary $1 to $1.6 billion it
will cost—seems the most likely outcome. Edward J. Weiler,
Goddard's director, says the technology to salvage Hubble
robotically is off-the-shelf. "The real challenge is
putting it together as a system." —TG
AUSTRALIA—Engineering schools are worried that outbursts
of racism could hurt their efforts to attract foreign students.
Several African students attending the University of Newcastle
have been attacked recently, and a few similar incidents have
been reported in other parts of the country.
Attracting foreign students is important for universities
down under. The government has forced the schools to increase
self-funding and rely less on subsidies. Last year, foreign
students contributed the equivalent of $1.4 billion U.S. dollars
to university coffers.
Australia's image as a good place to study was tarnished
in the mid-1990s during the short-lived prominence of a populist
right-wing politician with strident anti-immigration views.
The country currently has good race relations with its large
immigrant population. —CHRIS PRITCHARD
New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating
the Next Job Market - by Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane.
Princeton University Press.
Computers have not created mass unemployment, but they have
created a major upheaval in the nature of human work,"
write authors/economists Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane
in their book, The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are
Creating the Next Job Market. Levy, of the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, and Murnane, of Harvard, say there's
a growing divide between those who can and cannot "do
valued work in an economy filled with computers." Yes,
kiss goodbye to most blue-collar and clerical jobs. But, they
claim, there will be loads of high-salary jobs for people
who can think expertly and solve problems, for those adept
at complex communications, and who can explain and interpret
information. The skills needed for a cybereconomy can be taught,
especially literacy and numeracy, Levy and Murnane conclude.
But they take aim at standards-based curricula that stress
learning facts that computers can learn in a nanosecond. —TG
standard incandescent light bulb will glow for about 500 hours.
A fluorescent tube light might last 5,000. But now researchers
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute say they've developed
a LED (light-emitting diodes) bulb that will burn brightly
for 50,000 hours—that's nearly 6 years, if left
burning continuously. LED lights—which are tiny granules
of semiconductor chips covered with arrays of plastic bulbs—have
long life spans, and consume less electricity than standard
lighting. That's why they're increasingly used
for traffic signals and signs, and automotive lighting. But
current versions aren't bright enough to replace standard
bulbs. To increase LED brightness, the light generated has
to be reflected inside the chips, and reflectors so far haven't
been up to the task. But a team led by Renssalaer's
Fred Schubert invented what it calls an ODR, an omni-directional
reflector that reflects the light at nearly 100 percent. An
ODR bulb, Schubert says, will consume half as much electricity
as today's bulbs, making them a green option. Certainly
LED lights will cost more, but consumers will have to factor
in how much they'll save on electric bills. He's
close to signing a deal with a major Asian LED manufacturer.
Marc Prensky, an expert in the use of computers for education,
says we fall into two categories: digital natives and digital
immigrants. Most of us fall into the latter camp; we didn't
grow up with computers. But about 95 percent of today's
students are digital natives. A survey of 4,374 freshmen and
seniors at 13 colleges, conducted earlier this year by the
Educause Center for Applied Research, underscored Prensky's
point. Nearly all of them own computers and use them constantly
for writing reports, sending E-mails, and classroom activities.
But surprisingly, only 12.7 percent of the respondents say
computers improve classroom learning. A plurality of 48.5
percent say classroom computers are a boon mainly because
they make things more convenient. The study says that while
students have keen application skills, they're not particularly
good at using computers to solve problems. As they learn to
put their computers to better use, the machines should become
better teaching tools. Not surprisingly, engineering students,
followed closely by business students, were the most enthusiastic
about computers in the classroom. Nearly 68 percent of engineering
students had a strong preference for high-tech teaching methods.
The world's fastest train is racing over steep grades
and through tunnels on a short experimental track in central
Japan. While backers of the exotic transit technology known
as Magnetic Levitation (Mag Lev) struggle to find followers
across the car-fixated United States, transportation experts
in Japan are confident the ultrafast rail system will eventually
make it off the drawing board and into commercial use.
It was Americans who invented a system of superconducting
magnets to lift trains inches above their tracks and send
them hurtling along a guideway. But it took the Japanese—creators
of the enormously successful, high-speed Bullet Train—to
perfect a floating train propelled by supercooled magnets.
In effect, the Mag Lev "flies" at low altitude,
zooming at speeds of up to 361 miles per hour. That's
more than twice as fast as the Acela, America's quickest
"The Mag Lev consumes only half as much energy as an
airplane, and with only about one-quarter the carbon emissions,"
says Satoru Sone, professor of electrical engineering at Tokyo's
Kogakuin University. "And for distances of 300 miles
or less, traveling by Mag Lev actually saves time because
you don't have to get to and from an airport. So it's
definitely faster than a plane."
Building concrete guide ways, tunnels, and rolling stock
for the levitated train system could hit a mind-boggling $90
billion, though researchers are struggling to trim billions
by stretching out the snout to cut wind resistance, and mass-producing
parts. The national government hasn't yet decided to
provide critical startup financing. But Japan's rail-friendly
constituency seems pre-disposed to support the plan.
Given Japan's aging and shrinking population, and uncertain
prospects for the economy ahead, some argue Japan doesn't
need a Buck Rogers floating train. Mag Lev advocates—while
conceding there's still no guarantee the system will
ever be built—remain confident the project will stay
"Around the world, man has always sought ways of getting
from point A to point B quicker," says Noriyuki Shirakuni,
manager of the Yamanashi Mag Lev Test Center. "So as
long as mankind harbors a desire for faster travel, the Mag
Lev's day will definitely dawn."
Japan's Mag Lev system is being studied in the United
States. But if the Mag Lev is ever built, the only location
on the planet sufficiently rich and crowded enough to support
it may be the few hundred miles of real estate between Tokyo
and Osaka, Japan's two biggest cities. If—and
when—Japan decides to break ground on its futuristic
train technology, the Mag Lev will take at least 10 years
to complete. —Lucille Craft