Skip to Content
ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationDECEMBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 4 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: Why Won’t She Listen? - JUST WHEN WOMEN START TO MAKE THEIR MARK AS ENGINEERING EDUCATORS, YOUNG FEMALE STUDENTS ARE TUNING THEM OUT. - BY MARGARET LOFTUS
FEATURE: A Practical Visionary - RICHARD LIEBICH BROUGHT BUSINESS SAVVY TO THE TASK OF PREPARING YOUNG STUDENTS FOR COLLEGE ENGINEERING. - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS
FEATURE: Taking the Plunge - THE FIRST ENGINEERING GRADUATES OF OLIN COLLEGE SAY THE SCHOOL’S EMPHASIS ON TEAMWORK AND INNOVATIVE PROBLEM SOLVING GAVE THEM A LEG UP ON CHALLENGING CAREERS.  - BY ANNA MULRINE

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: Becoming an Engineer - BY HENRY PETROSKI
ASEE TODAY
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Not Just for Sports - BY CATHY PIERONEK

TEACHING TOOLBOX
TEACHING TOOLBOX: You Know It. Can You Write It? WITH ENGINEERS EXPECTED TO BE NOT ONLY SMART BUT ABLE TO COMMUNICATE WELL, EDUCATORS FIND NEW WAYS TO TEACH THE SECOND 'R.' - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
TEACHING TOOLBOX: ON THE SHELF: The Human Impact of Rapid Change - BY ROBIN TATU
TEACHING TOOLBOX: JEE SELECTS: Give Them a Reason to Learn - BY MATTHEW MEHALIK, YARON DOPPELT AND CHRISTIAN SCHUNN


BACK ISSUES







 
BRIEFINGS: SLICKER SKIS + SEE-THROUGH FROGS + JERUSALEM GATE  
PORT SECURITY: Containing a Threat by Thomas K GrosePORT SECURITY: Containing a Threat by Thomas K Grose
 

Each year, 11 million containers unload at U.S. ports, many arriving from 40,000 cargo ships that criss-cross the world’s seas. That creates opportunity for the smuggling of bombs or chemical/biological weapons into the country. Indeed, it was a merchant ship that delivered the materials used in the 1988 bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Working with the Department of Homeland Security, a Santa Clara, Calif., company, iControl, has developed a satellite-based global positioning system (GPS) to track individual containers. No bigger than a pack of cards, the Marine Asset Tag Tracking System (MATTS) device is affixed to a container to track its location and store that history on a chip. Once within range of an Internet-equipped ship, terminal or cell phone tower, the data is collected and analyzed. The system links to a security device that can determine if a container has been tampered with or opened and then alert authorities to problems. Such technology should help render foreign trade shipshape and safer.—Thomas K. Grose

 

 
EDUCATION: Subtraction by Chris PritchardEarth
 

AUSTRALIA—Universities down under are cutting back mathematics departments because fewer students want to study the subject. Seven of Australia’s 39 universities axed math teachers in the past 18 months, according to a recent survey. Alarmed, Engineers Australia, the nation’s main group for the profession, has called on the government to arrest the dwindling of the math skills base. It warns that fewer math students will mean fewer engineering graduates—this, at a time when Australia already relies on immigrants to fill a severe shortage of qualified engineers in the booming mining industry.

Aerospace engineers are in particularly short supply. Vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner of the most important feeder school for the aerospace industry, Melbourne-based RMIT University (formerly the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology), has urged the government to boost the numbers of engineering students by offering more scholarships and other incentives. —Chris Pritchard

 

 
SPACE: Bargain Flight by Pierre Home-DouglasMars image from NASA
 

CANADA—At a time when the mantra “faster, better, cheaper” dominates NASA’s interplanetary missions, Canada’s project Northern Light will likely make the U.S. space agency green with envy. Instead of the usual several hundred million dollar cost per mission, a Canadian public-private industry consortium and more than 50 scientists at 12 universities from across the country plan to land a rover on Mars in 2010 for a mere $20 million. According to Brendan Quine, director of space engineering at Toronto’s York University, Northern Light is able to save money because team members and partners are donating their time. In addition, York, which is supplying the landing system for the project, already owns a space test facility, which will also help trim costs. The mission will conduct an array of tests on the Martian surface, subsurface and atmosphere. Its rover features a rock-grinding and digging tool and a ground-penetrating radar that can provide fine-scale imaging to a depth of up to 20 meters in rocky terrain and up to 100 metres on permafrost or ice. This is Canada’s first attempt at an interplanetary mission. —Pierre Home-Douglas

 

 
AUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERING: Driving for Green by Thomas K GroseAUTOMOTIVE ENGINEERING: Driving for Green by Thomas K Grose  

Ten years ago, the Toyota Prius drove onto the scene as the world’s first hybrid car. Ever since, it has come to define hybrid technology: cars that drastically cut harmful emissions. So green is its street cred that Prius is the car of choice for many eco-conscious celebrities. But a new study by Cardiff University suggests that while Prius remains the cleanest vehicle in its family-car class, many smaller cars are now less polluting. Done in conjunction with automotive consultants Clifford Thames, the Cardiff study found that Mercedes’ super-mini Smart car, BMW’s Mini Cooper and the Yaris, another Toyota model, emit less pollution than Prius. And over the next 18 months, technologies developed for traditional gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles may also make certain larger cars using conventional powertrains more efficient than the Prius.

Hybrids rely on both gas engines and battery- powered motors to cut fuel consumption and emissions. But instead of just examining emissions, Cardiff evaluated total environmental impact, including production, raw materials, and end-of-life costs. Says Richard Baber, a Clifford Thames director: “The current focus on tailpipe emissions does not necessarily fully reflect a vehicle’s true carbon footprint.”
We may soon catch Cameron Diaz in a Smart car. —TG

 

 
THE ENVIRONMENT: River Check-Up by Thomas K Grose  

The Hudson River flows 315 miles, from the Adriondacks to New York City and the sea. New technologies will soon allow researchers to monitor the health of the historic waterway, checking temperature, salinity and pH levels to determine concentrations of pollutants and how well aquatic life is faring, from large fish to microscopic organisms. Joining together academic, nonprofit, and corporate researchers, the project will deploy a network of hundreds of sensors along the river’s length, sometime within the next two years. Some will be affixed to buoys or set into the riverbed. Others will ride aboard an underwater robotic vehicle designed by scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

The amount of data will be vast—and that’s where IBM comes in. Big Blue is providing a new data acquisition and analysis system that employs both distributed-processing hardware and analytical software to sort through and analyze the material.

That’s an important step, says University of California computer scientist David Culler. Speaking with Technology Review magazine, he noted that while academic researchers are making great strides with sensor networks, they haven’t tackled the “making-meaning part,” culling and prioritizing massive amounts of data. Once it’s up and running, the system will also include visualization technologies to let researchers study a 3-D model of a virtual Hudson River. —TG


 

 
EDUCATION: Nickel and Dime by Thomas K Grose  

Many U.S. universities are seeking to ease tight budgets by instituting a variety of fees. In the 2005-06 school year, fee increases at four-year public schools exceeded the rate of inflation, jumping on average from 8 percent to 11 percent. Schools say they’ve no choice because many state legislatures have cut higher education budgets and eschew tuition hikes. Yet schools are free to set fees on their own. So students now find appended to their tuition bills technology, healthcare, energy and student activity fees. Speaking to the New York Times, University of Oregon President Dave Frohnmayer suggested that one benefit is that students can see how the money is being used: “We’re pretty above board about what we do and why we do it.” But many students complain that fees aren’t clear and are often unexpected. Fees have become, say critics, a form of stealth tuition. —TG


 

 
SPORTS: Every Move You Make by Thomas K GroseSPORTS: Every Move You Make by Thomas K Grose  

Using technology to measure how well an athlete performs is not a new idea, but it’s one that’s been hindered by the artificial nature of the tests. Athletes had to wear several wired sensors and be tested in a lab—not much of a reproduction of the physical and mental stresses they experience in real training or competition. That’s about to change. Guang-Zhong Yang, a computer scientist at London’s Imperial College, has developed a miniature, wireless activity recognition sensor. It’s worn just above the ear, like a hearing aid; hence its name, the e-AR. The name is also apt because the e-AR works by mimicking the human inner ear, which measures the shockwaves that run through our bones when we move, helping the brain track our movements. The e-AR measures shockwaves by picking up minute changes in speed, then a processor makes sense of the data and transmits it to a coach’s pda. The coach can then determine each stride’s length, pace and force, and how much the runner is swaying. Because it’s small and wireless, the e-AR can monitor athletes during actual training in real time, allowing coaches to devise individual training programs fine-tuned to each athlete. Beyond runners, Yang says the e-AR could also help skiers, rowers and tennis players. Come the Beijing Olympics, some athletes could be winning by an ear. —TG

 

HELMETS: Measuring the Blow by Thomas K GroseHELMETS: Measuring the Blow by Thomas K Grose  

Brain trauma from bomb blasts has become an increasingly frequent and serious battlefield injury for US troops in Iraq. And because bombs throw off shockwaves traveling at nearly the speed of sound, even if a soldier doesn’t suffer obvious physical injuries, blast effects can damage the brain’s soft tissue. Yet head injuries often go unnoticed until victims begin displaying short-term memory loss or changes in attitude. Now the Army has awarded a $932,000 contract to Simbex, a Lebanon, N.H., sports technology firm, to devise helmets that measure the amount of blast shock a soldier has received. The helmets will produce military versions of Simbex’s Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System, which is already used in football helmets. Eight accelerometers in the helmet liner measure the amount of force dealt to the head, and a pressure transducer monitors the extent of the shock waves. Simbex also plans to develop a system for extracting, storing and analyzing the data, all with the aim of better understanding the impact of severe head injuries. —TG

 

 
METALS: Vintage Solution by Chris PritchardMETALS: Vintage Solution by Chris Pritchard  

AUSTRALIA—A little wine can be good for you—particularly if you’re a mining engineer or geologist seeking minerals. That’s the finding of a prominent down-under researcher, who says that wine and soda pop can serve as inexpensive extraction materials, particularly effective at finding elevated levels of silver, copper, zinc and nickel. That’s because both contain the same substances used to dissolve weakly-bound metals. Specializing in soil chemistry and hydro-geochemistry at Canberra’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Dr. Ryan Noble conducted his study in his spare time because he felt it might be deemed frivolous. Even after his success, he suspects that “exploration engineers won’t convince managers and stockholders it’s as effective as traditional methods. “ For most mineral extraction, aqua regia, or other strong acid digestions, such as hydroxylamine hydrochloride or hydrogen peroxide are used. But, says Noble, “when you mix drinks with soil, acids dissolve some of the metals into a solution. They’re easily detected.” Perhaps it’s time to belly up.CP

 

MEDICINE: Getting the Bugs Out by Thomas K GroseMEDICINE: Getting The Bugs Out by Thomas K Grose

Superbugs, disease-causing bacteria that have mutated into strains resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics, are becoming a growing menace. But
Boston University researchers may have found a backdoor approach to drug development that could leave most superbugs impotent. Led by James Collins, a renowned biomedical engineer, the team has unlocked the workings of antibiotics, which may lead to considerable improvements.

There are three classes of antibiotics: one impairs DNA replication; another blocks protein-building; the third halts its ability to construct cell walls. The BU researchers found that all three trigger changes in the genes responsible for energy production and iron intake. That means they churn out more free-radical molecules to attack DNA, proteins and membrane limpids.

Current antibiotics may not generate enough free-radicals to kill all the bacteria. Yet Collins’s group theorizes that if the effect can be ramped up, or bacteria cells’ genetic defenses can be weakened, antibiotic-resistant bacteria could become history. The research opens the door to rendering current drugs more effective and developing new antibi-otics that can’t be outsmarted by mutant superbugs. —TG


 

 
EMISSIONS: Less of the Hard Stuff by Don BoroughsEMISSIONS: Less of the Hard Stuff by Thomas K Grose  

In the dentist’s chair we call it laughing gas, but when nitrous oxide reaches the atmosphere, it’s no laughing matter. Pound for pound, N20 is some 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, enduring for more than a century. It is the third-largest contributor to global warming after CO2 and methane. So South African petrochemicals giant Sasol had reason for mirth this year when it found a way to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 85 percent—and get paid to do it.

As one step in the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer and explosives, the production of nitric acid releases significant amounts of N20 when ammonia is oxidized by a catalyst. Now Sasol has added a second catalyst—recently developed by the German company Heraeus—that splits the molecule into harmless nitrogen and oxygen.

Sasol expects to slash its emissions by the equivalent of nearly a million tons of carbon dioxide a year at its two nitric-acid plants. That reduction is worth approximately $10 million at current prices for carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a system that allows reductions in greenhouse gasses made in developing countries to be paid for by companies pressed to cut CO2 emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. —Don Boroughs

 

 
THEORIES: Secrets of St. Nick by Thomas K GroseTHEORIES: Secrets of St. Nick by Thomas K Grose  

Santa Claus may seem a right magical old elf to millions of children. But Kris Kringle is actually one very tuned-in techie, scientifically speaking. What’s really in his bag of tricks is a firm grasp of heavy-duty science, including electromagnetic waves, the space/time continuum, nanotechnology and genetic engineering.

Or so says Larry Silverberg, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at North Carolina State University.

Using verifiable science and technologies, Silverberg and his graduate students provide feasible explanations for Santa’s so-called magical feats. For example, they theorize that Santa combines technologies used in cellphones and EKGs to tune into children’s thoughts. He then runs the raw data through a powerful signal-processing system that filters out irrelevant facts (like visions of sugar plums) and hones in on key facts: addresses, what each kid wants for Christmas, and how naughty or nice each one has been. The data is then plugged into his sleigh’s guidance system. How does Kringle cover 200 square miles and 80 million homes in a night? Actually, it takes him months. It only seems like one night because savvy Santa both understands and manipulates the theory of relativity, making use of rips in time to make it appear as if he’s done it all in 24 hours.

Silverberg got into Santa research more than 10 years ago, when the NCSU press office asked academics to devise explanations for Santa’s stunts. He’s been updating the research ever since, “and obviously it’s gotten out of control.” However, his grad students love it and Silverberg finds it a good way to get them thinking about useful science. The latest “discovery”? “We finally figured out how Santa grows the presents under the tree using nanotechnology, through which irreversible thermodynamic processes can be converted into reversible thermodynamic processes,” Silverberg explains. “It’s not to be believed!” Quite. —TG

 

 
FACTOID: 419 - Number of college presidents who, as of October 24, had signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging to assess their schools' greenhouse gas emissions and develop a strategy for reducing them.  


 

 


TOPˆ

 

 
 


ADVERTISEMENTS
Learn about diversity at ASEE
ASEE would like to acknowledge the generous support of our premier corporate partners.

   

American Society for Engineering Education