ASEE Prism On-line, February 2000
R & D
And the Awards Keep Coming...

Andrew Slocum is a 39-year-old, snowboarding, high-school dropout who signs off e-mail messages with phrases like, "way cool, dude." But he is no middle-aged slacker. He's also the recipient of three mechanical engineering degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including a doctorate. He has taught at MIT since 1986 and is currently a full professor and a MacVicar Faculty Fellow.Illustration By Joe Rivers Recently, he and fellow researchers from the Ford Motor Co., and Aesop Inc., won an R&D 100 Award, an annual presentation from R&D magazine to the year's 100 most technologically significant innovations.

Amazingly, it's the ninth R&D 100 Award Slocum has won. This year's trophy is for the Kinni-Mate Coupling system, which uses three spherical pegs to align an engine block's two main components when they are fit together. Traditionally, the job has been done using eight dowel pins. But the Kinni-Mate Coupling technique gives a much more precise fit, which means the motor runs better. Originally, Slocum says, he thought the application would be used to align steel casting molds.

Although he has won numerous times, Slocum says that each one is special. "It feels just as good as the first time, which sounds like a country music song, doesn't it?" A central theme to his work is "making things more precise." All of his previous awards were also for precision-machine retooling components, including hydrostatic bearings and damped structural kinematic couplings. Working on aligning automobile engine components was a treat because "I used to build hot rods and I've always been a car freak," he relates.

Slocum isn't at liberty to discuss his current project, though he says it's "hot, really hot . . . it transcends automobiles into biotechnology." Sounds like the editors at R&D might as well ready a 10th award for Slocum. Way cool, dude.

Absence-Minded Professors

Career-minded academics know that the old saw, "publish or perish," remains as true as ever. That, of course, requires their spending a fair amount of time conducting research in the lab, the library, and the field. But Ohio professors must now contend with a 1993 state law, recently upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court, that could cut into their research time by keeping them chained to the lectern. The law says that faculty workloads are not a matter for collective bargaining, giving college governing bodies a free hand in determining how much time teachers should spend in classrooms.

Legislators were alarmed by a study that found that, over a decade, professors were spending 10 percent less time in classrooms. To comply with the law, tiny Central State University in Wilberforce—a school with 1,000 students—dictated that its profs must spend 15 hours a quarter in the classroom, up from 12 hours. Claiming that the law was unconstitutional, CSU's American Association of University Professors took the matter to court, only to lose.

"In the long term, we are concerned about its impact on research," says Robert L. Marcus, head of Central's AAUP unit, and a professor of mathematics and computer science. It's good that lawmakers want to maintain teaching quality, he says, but time spent on research can make professors better teachers. He's also worried that the law will mainly hit smaller schools, which have less leeway in setting schedules.

Marcus is hopeful that legislators will listen to nonlegal arguments—like the potential effect on researchers—and eventually modify the law. But until that happens, the new academic maxim in Ohio is, "show up or shove off."

Military Recruiters Still Welcome

Given the high-tech aspect of today's military it's no surprise that technical colleges and other science-oriented universities are popular recruiting grounds for the Pentagon. But many students and academics don't like the military's anti-homosexual policies, which they feel are discriminatory. And since most U.S. schools forbid discrimination against gays, some institutions believe it's hypocritical to allow military recruiters and Reserve Officer Training Corps units on campus.

In the past, the so-called Solomon Amendment meant schools that barred recruiters faced a cutoff of federal aid. Recently, however, President Clinton signed legislation that amends Solomon and allows schools to ban military recruiters and ROTC units without putting their federal student aid funds at risk.

But a spot check of several tech schools around the country found that none are planning to take advantage of the legislative change. "To the best of my knowledge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is not considering barring military recruiters, or in any other way changing its current policies as a result of this legislation," says Les Norford, head of MIT's ROTC Oversight Committee.

Lt. Col. William Adams, head of the ROTC unit at Duke University, says there will be no change of policy there. He points out that the student newspaper, the Duke Chronicle, editorialized in favor of military recruiting as a way of "respecting diversity." And the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute "wouldn't consider a policy change. The military has always been welcome." Spokesman Bruce Adams says that while many students and faculty would be concerned about anti-gay sentiment in the military, Rensselaer, as a tech school, has never been a hotbed of protest. Explains Adams: "Generally, the students are too doggone busy."

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