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FROM THE PUBLISHER
Frank Huband

SPREADING DROUGHT


Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” So wrote the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797 as he doomed the Mariner to watch shipmates die of thirst aboard a ship becalmed at sea. In literature and film, it has often appeared a tragic irony that much of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, most of it undrinkable. Today, with the world facing an increasing shortage of potable water, literary irony has transmuted into real-life concern. And the United States won’t be spared. Indeed, it is projected that by 2012, 36 states will suffer drought. The country’s southeast and western states already face arid conditions. This month, our cover story, “While Supplies Last,” looks at how engineers are working to forestall what some see as a looming and inevitable water crisis. Many are convinced that science and technology can come to the rescue, but others note that research on improving such techniques as desalination will first have to become a federal priority.

Coming to the rescue and solving problems may be what engineers do best. And with the power of the Internet, whole global networks of engineers and scientists can now be enlisted. “Working the Crowd” describes Innocentive, a company whose website posts competitions with tough problems that seek technical solutions worldwide. One recent challenge summoned designs for a solar-powered wireless router, part of a solution sought by Ray Umashankar, associate dean of engineering at the University of Arizona. Umashankar wants to help girls trapped in the sex trade in rural India gain new livelihoods through technology skills training. The combined efforts of academics, Innocentive, and the digital-age phenomenon of crowdsourcing may soon power the Indian countryside with Internet access.

In response to the growing demand for engineers with a well-rounded education, increased attention is being paid to engineering programs that incorporate the liberal arts. This trend is examined in “Polymers to Poetry.” A number of engineering schools are including some liberal arts with their technical offerings, and a handful of traditionally liberal arts colleges are offering engineering majors. As a serendipitous benefit, it appears that many women prefer a course of study that strikes a balance between the humanities and engineering, thus giving diversity a needed boost.

As always, our goal is to provide you with a variety of stories of current interest. I would be interested in any comments or suggestions you may want to share.

 

Frank L. Huband
Executive Director and Publisher
f.huband@asee.org

 

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