Prism Magazine - February 2002
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On Campus By Marie Horrigan

Two is better than one

Virginia Tech didn't have a medical school facility—except for its veterinary program—and Wake Forest University lacked an engineering school. And both schools saw the future of medical and engineering technology in biomedical engineering—a discipline that seeks to improve human health through the cross-disciplinary integration of engineering, biology and biomedical sciences.

This problem was solved this past October by an agreement between the two schools that paves the way for the creation of a jointly-run Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. The new school, which Wake Forest associate professor of medical engineering Peter Santago says he hopes will have a “national impact,” plans to focus first on the areas of biomechanics, tissue and cell engineering, and bioimaging and signal processing. Later the school intends to expand its research into the areas of nanobioengineering, microelectrical machines, bioinfomatics,
and biomaterials.

Students enrolled in the program can study at either campus, depending on their adviser's location, and will have access to biomedical engineering courses at both universities via distance learning. The new school will be run jointly by Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, its Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Faculty members from each university will be granted adjunct appointments on the other campus.

The University School plans to offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biomedical engineering and aims to become the focus of collaborative research. The school hopes to jointly admit the first students in the fall of 2002 and expects between 80 to 100 students within five years.


Back to the Future

Today's middle school students are tomorrow's engineers. At least that's the idea behind the National Engineers Week Future City Competition, which drew around 30,000 seventh and eighth graders from across the country during preliminary contests this fall.

Competitors work in teams of three under the guidance of a teacher and an engineer to create their vision of the city of tomorrow, first on the computer and then as a 3D scale model. Ideas from the past have ranged from solar powered monorails to communication chip implants under every citizen's fingernails at birth.

This year's specific task is for teams to utilize an energy source that is cheap, efficient, and environmentally safe.

Students spent the fall semester planning, designing, and building their models. Twenty-seven teams were selected in the January regional competitions to travel to Washington, D.C., February 19 for the national finals. The winning team receives a trip to space camp, while runners-up are awarded cash grants to improve their schools' technology programs.

Carol Rieg, national director for the competition, said that it provides students from different backgrounds the opportunity to learn about the practical applications of their math, science, and technological skills. “Students learn long after the competition is over,” she said.

In its tenth year, the contest strives to introduce a new generation of young people to engineering, which might lead them down a career path they otherwise might not consider.

Opening More Doors

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is working to create a “living laboratory” for gender equity in the areas of engineering and science. They aren't going to be growing women in petri dishes—but thanks to a new $3.75 million National Science Foundation grant, the College of Engineering will be able to create a Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI).

This institute will be developed to “coordinate activities and research on getting more women recruited, retained, and advanced in academic science and engineering,” said Molly Carnes, professor of medicine at UW and director of the UW Center for Women's Health.
Among the planned programs and services are leadership development for women faculty and staff, endowed professorships for women in science, and grants to help women manage junctures where careers and family conflict.

This program builds on an already innovative WISE program at UW. Their Women in Science and Engineering Residential Program, in its fifth year, provides housing as well as social and academic support for women studying science and engineering. Over 100 women currently participate in this program, which the university claims has led to a lower drop-out rate from science and engineering majors as well as higher average grade-point averages among participants.

Chancellor John Wiley expressed his pleasure at the opportunity before UW. “WISELI represents a major step toward improving the campus climate,” Chancellor Wiley said. “With their grant, NSF is turning to us for leadership on the issue of women in science.”


Out of this World

Call it cosmic hitchhiking. When the shuttle Endeavor took off on December 5, three Penn State experiments hitched a ride.

Students at Penn State took advantage of NASA's Get Away special program, which allows groups to send canisters up with shuttle launches for a fee. Lockheed-Martin donated the space for three experiments to the school's College of Engineering for the December launch. This is Penn State's third foray with the program—the school sent up experiments on the 1986 Columbia shuttle and on board the 1996 launch of Endeavor.

This time around, their capsule traveled aboard the Endeavor on its 10-day mission to the international space station. During that time, the projects that the students designed were executed and the results were recorded by a computer program designed by electrical engineering junior Mike Wyland.

The three experiments, one measuring orbital debris, a germination experiment, and another using a magnetometer, are the end result of over five
years of work. They were designed and implemented by more than 75 students across the College of Engineering and other academic disciplines.

“It's not every day you work at something that will leave the planet. It's been an incredible experience,” said Wyland. Additionally, these projects may have far-reaching effects. NASA has expressed interest in the results of the orbital debris experiment, which used an accelerometer to register and measure the amount of microfragments hitting the ship's hull. Since this cosmic debris degrades the surface of the spacecraft, understanding the mass and amount of microfragments a space ship encounters may be the first step in creating a new, stronger material to combat the elements.


Marie Horrigan is an editoral intern at Prism magazine.
She can be reached by e-mail at

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