PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo FEBRUARY 2005 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 6
Special Double Issue: 2005 ASEE Annual Conference - June 12-15 - Portland, Oregon


Feeling overworked? That's probably because you are. A new report, "Overworked Faculty: Job Stresses and Family Demands," finds that the average workweek for academics is 50 hours-plus, and a third of you put in more than 60 hours a week. Some of the extra time may be self-imposed by professors who enjoy their work and want to ensure they're performing at acceptable levels. But there's no doubt that academics also feel time-squeezed by job demands, including research, publishing, classroom time, and endless meetings. Jerry A. Jacobs, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist who co-wrote the report—which is based on Department of Education statistics—thinks most professors are overworked mainly because of increasing demands. Those who work the longest hours report the most job dissatisfaction. "The common view that academics work such long hours because they love their work so much does not fit with that finding," he says. Other possible factors include poor time-management and technology making "it hard to turn off the constant flow of information." One positive result of long workweeks: Professors who put in the most hours are the most productive. The study didn't, however, measure the quality of their work. "In general, it's assumed that there is a correlation between publishing more" and quality, Jacobs says. One bright spot is the flexibility of academic schedules and the ability to often work from home.
Thomas K. Grose


The University of Southern California's (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering is creating a center to not only help academics across the campus commercialize their research but to teach engineering students the basics of the commercial fruits of their labors. Footing the bill for the $22 million institution is hugely successful venture capitalist Mark Stevens, who earned a B.S. in electrical engineering and a B.A. in business at USC, as well as a master's in computer engineering. He's now a partner at Sequoia Capital, which helped finance the startups of such tech stars as Google, Yahoo!, and Cisco: companies that all had their genesis in campus labs. Locating the Mark and Mary Stevens Institute for Technology Commercialization (SITeC) within the school of engineering makes the USC technology transfer program unique. Too many engineers "know how to build a widget, but they have no idea how to build a company," Stevens says. The processes of patenting, manufacturing, selling, and marketing often are mysteries to engineers who learn it "by accident, or by osmosis, or just on their own. The learning's not very structured and formalized." And he hopes the center will change that for USC engineering graduates. The institute will stress an interdisciplinary approach, which Stevens says is the future of most campus research. He hopes the institute will take "ideas from the business school, ideas from the engineering school, ideas from the cinema school, or the medical school" to develop a range of technologies. Grateful as USC undoubtedly is for Stevens's generous gift, it stresses that neither he nor Sequoia will receive special consideration in the commercializing of promising USC research. —TG


Using off-the-shelf sensor technology, engineers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn., are developing a national system for issuing warnings of chemical, biological, or radiological attacks by terrorists. Packages of sensors would be placed on buildings and cellphone masts to gather data on a local and regional basis. And those local systems would be linked together to form a national network. "Think of it like the Internet," explains Frank Denap, manager of the SensorNet program. The system would have two components. Interdiction: Trying to detect dangerous materials at choke points—doorways or Interstate highway weigh stations—before they can be let loose in the atmosphere. And consequence management: If something nasty is detonated, getting the pertinent information to law enforcement officials pronto. Sensors would measure atmospheric conditions like wind direction to estimate the size potential of any noxious plume and where it's likely headed. Oak Ridge researchers are developing algorithms to quickly turn all the data collected into useful information. They're also setting standards so that all sensors are compatible with the system, regardless of their manufacturer. The technology is available, but how soon the network could be up and running depends on funding. And, Denap admits, it's anybody's guess how much the whole thing could cost. —TG


Buro Happold and Lifschutz Davidson's series of three flattened-tube-like and linked buildings on legs. DESIGN - PUTTING RESEARCH ON ICE

It's called the Brunt Ice Shelf. It's located at the bottom of the globe, in Antarctica, and it's easily one of the most inhospitable places on earth: Average daily temperatures midsummer are around 23 degrees Fahrenheit. The mercury drops to an average (and icy) -22 degrees in winter, when about 5 feet of snow accumulates. But for nearly half a century, the British Antarctic Survey has operated the Halley Research Station on this no-man's land, conducting cutting-edge environmental research. The station has a year-round staff of 16, which swells to 52 during those balmy summer months when temperatures creep past 0 degrees. Given the harsh conditions, it's not surprising that the station needs to be replaced from time to time. The current facility is the fifth. And the Survey hopes that its successor—Halley VI—will be in place by late 2008. Complicating the plans: There is only one major resupply mission each Antarctic summer, which begins in late December. The Survey wants the new station to last about 20 years, be aesthetically stimulating and functionally efficient, have minimal environmental impact, and cost no more than about $37 million. Oh, and it would be great if it were mobile, too. The shelf is slowly inching out to sea and each year calves off huge icebergs. They'd like to be able to move it from harm's way if the edge gets too close. To find the right engineers and architects to handle such a daunting project, the Survey concocted a design contest. Some 86 companies entered the competition. The competitors were whittled down to a shortlist of six, and in November, the Survey's panel of experts picked three finalists: Buro Happold (engineers) and Lifschutz Davidson, for a series of three flattened-tube-like and linked buildings on legs; FaberMausell (engineers) and Hugh Broughton Architects, for a complex that looks like two Star Wars battle machines; and Hopkins Architects and Expedition Engineers, for a pair of "walking" buildings. Each team made a site visit to the shelf in January, and it's expected all three designs will be updated and enhanced. The panel, however, won't select a winner until September. —TG


AUSTRALIA—A declining interest in engineering careers is a growing concern in this country, and the government recently launched a "national skills audit" to find out how serious the problem is. Australia currently has 37 engineering schools, and at the start of the 2004 academic year, there were 1,700 unfilled spots in engineering courses. Three schools say they may soon discontinue their programs. A staffing shortfall in the red-hot IT industry can be only partly solved by immigration, and experts fret that further growth will stall unless more Australians decide to pursue engineering or science degrees. University research is suffering because would-be graduate students see greater potential in the private sector, with many fleeing to better-paying jobs overseas. "The United States continues to compete aggressively here for scientific personnel to fuel its economy," says Fiona Wood of the University of New England in New South Wales. —Chris Pritchard


Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a
Edited John Brockman; Pantheon Books

Are great scientists born or made? Editor John Brockman asked 27 prominent scientific experts to relate in detail the childhood experience that made them decide to put on a lab coat. The result is Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist. It's an entertaining read that proves there's no single path to scientific greatness. Physicist Lee Smolin was suffering from a broken heart, so he picked up a tome by Albert Einstein to take his mind off his suffering, and got hooked. Stanford University biologist Robert Sapolsky found his calling after arguing a biblical passage with a rabbi. London School of Economics psychologist Nicholas Humphrey recalls growing up in a large extended family that on both sides was crowded with top-flight scientists, including his grandfather, the Victorian engineer Herbert Humphrey, whose many inventions included a one-man submarine. Psychologist Steven Pinker warns that childhood memories often are somewhat embroidered and suggests that all the stories—his own included—be regarded with some skepticism. Perhaps. But Curious Minds proves that great scientists can also be great storytellers. —TG


Basketball is a physical game, but it also requires keen cognitive skills. Top players are constantly making instant decisions, analyzing opponents' moves as well as teammates'. Now an Israeli startup, Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE), is marketing a computer game that teaches players how to sharpen their mind game just as they practice to improve their physical skills. IntelliGym is based on software first developed by Daniel Gopher, an industrial engineering professor at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, to help train Israeli fighter pilots. ACE, which has enlisted Gopher as a consultant, realized the cognitive skills needed by pilots and cagers were somewhat similar. It claims IntelliGym improves player performance within six to eight weeks. Early in the game, when players are strong, they tend to make decisions logically, but later on when they're tired, their decisions tend to come from the gut. The new software trains them how to act on instinct. —TG


When it comes to protecting personal information like medical, financial, and library records, the federal government stumbles badly. That leaves the job to the states, which have a mixed record when it comes to safeguarding private data, says privacy rights advocate Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of the monthly newsletter, Privacy Journal ( The newsletter's website publishes a color-coded map—the result of 10 years of research and updated regularly—that ranks the 50 states by how rigorous their privacy laws are, placing them into one of five tiers. Top tier states include California, Wisconsin, New York, and Illinois. Among the second tier states are Georgia, Oklahoma, and Maine. Bottom - ranked states include Texas, Missouri, Delaware, and Mississippi. The absolute worst state: Wyoming. It has no protections for Social Security numbers, bank accounts, library records, or medical records including genetic data, and has no right-to-privacy law on its books. Rankings are not set in stone. New Hampshire, for instance, recently moved to the second tier after enacting tougher medical-law protections and some limited safeguards on Social Security numbers. Smith blames "corporate lobbyists" in Washington, D.C., for defeating or diluting federal legislation to erect some protections. He notes that some particularly interested industries, including list brokers and credit bureaus, were major contributors to President George W. Bush's successful re-election campaign. State lawmakers, he surmises, rely on a smaller and more diverse base of contributors, so are more immune to lobbying, which is why a fair number of states have strong to good privacy laws. A big concern is that without safeguards, identity theft crimes will continue to grow largely unabated. —TG


The Smithsonian Institution's new National Museum of the American Indian.The Smithsonian Institution's new National Museum of the American Indian is an amazing edifice. The five-story, 450,000 square- foot structure's outside walls are undulating bands of roughcast limestone, the color of prairie honey, that connote the wind-sculpted canyon walls of the southwestern United States. Its pièce de résistance, however, is the gravity-defying slab of limestone that hangs, unsupported by visible columns, 130 feet over the main entrance. But though the $200 million NMAI—which opened last fall—is a beautiful addition to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., its construction required several feats of engineering derring-do. The overhang, for instance, is a limestone-clad, V-shaped 750-ton steel arm connected to a massive steel beam that's sunk into a 30-foot hole. The first version of the arm was too heavy and it took engineers four months to solve the weight problem. "It was like making a diving board that only King Kong could flex," V. George Conard, a vice president of Clark Construction Group, told the Washington Post. Other hurdles included slotting in a massive steel dome atop the building's atrium, and ensuring that the wavy, curving walls of concrete lined up. Clark had 21 engineers on site to check the walls' geometry. To "save time," the building's basement hole had been dug several years before construction began. But the hole actually caused delays because years of wind and rain left the bottom covered in a thick, soggy "black muck." Sand, dirt, and gravel by the truckloads were required to solve that problem. George Gustav HeyesNot only is the NMAI an engineering marvel, but it owes its existence to an electrical engineer, George Gustav Heye, a turn-of-the-century railroad magnate and investment banker. Most of the museum's 800,000 artifacts and 125,000 historical pictures came from his private collection. Heye (pronounced "high"), collected his first item, a deer-skin shirt, in 1897. And what started as a hobby became an obsession. When he died in 1957, Heye had accumulated more than a million items. Although Heye was mostly unconcerned with the plight of Native Americans, if not for his passion, much of this historical record would now be lost. —TG


Difficult Crossing - By Jeffrey Selingo
Engineering's New Look - By Thomas K. Grose
The Big Squeeze - By Mary Lord
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TECH VIEW: Rebuilding After 9/11 - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
SPECIAL DOUBLE ISSUE: 2005 ASEE Annual Conference - June 12-15 - Portland, Oregon
SPECIAL DOUBLE ISSUE: 2005 ASEE Annual Conference - June 12-15 - Portland, Oregon

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