Prism - January 2002
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By Erin Drenning

United we Stand

Hundreds if not thousands of students across the nation packed more than a suitcase full of clothes to go home this winter break. Boxes of bedding, computers, textbooks, stereos, and TV equipment littered the sidewalks in front of dormitories in mid-December, waiting to be put into storage for another semester. Another year. Another day that may never come.

Indeed, many schools felt the impact of September's terrorist attacks, as Middle Eastern students fled to their homes across the Atlantic and Arab Americans simply stayed home to avoid anti-Muslim retaliation. Five miles from the Pentagon building at American University in Washington, D.C., for example, 32 international students left, most returning to the Persian Gulf, within 10 days of the attacks.

But at City College, a City University of New York school located little more than two miles from Ground Zero in Manhattan, students have overcome fear, uncertainty, and homesickness to show the rest of the nation that they will not be intimidated.

Mohammad Karim, CCNY dean of engineering, says, "I have checked around both in our graduate and undergraduate offices. I would be inclined to state that NO ONE has dropped out from our engineering programs."

This is particularly surprising in light of the large contingency of international students at CCNY. The college "truly offers diversity," says Karim, who claims that none of the 51 Arabic-speaking engineering students withdrew from school. "I'm very proud to be a part of this." Out of tragedy comes a cohesive bond that will not be severed.


Teaming Up Against Terrorism

Eight university-based research teams have been awarded a total of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to assess damages and disaster response resulting from the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Groups at George Washington University and the University of Colorado at Boulder are studying the collaboration and initial response of emergency, medical, law enforcement, military, and NSF-supported research center personnel.

At the universities of Maryland and California at Berkeley, researchers are examining the structural performance of the towers from impact to collapse. Teams at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the State University of New York at Buffalo are focusing on collateral damage to the area surrounding Ground Zero.

University of Florida engineers are working toward disaster prevention by using a laser system to produce high-resolution views of damaged buildings to pinpoint structurally compromised areas of both the interior and exterior. At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, they are concentrating on infrastructure interdependence, such as the effect of power loss on control systems.

The awards were dispensed within two weeks of the tragedy "so the researchers could collect perishable data--such as the condition of the steel or evidence of temperature changes--before the building materials and debris were removed from the site," according to Amber Jones, public affairs specialist at the NSF.


Eye on the Enemy

The producers of the reality-based TV show "Big Brother" have nothing on Terrance Boult. The Lehigh University computer science and engineering professor has developed a tracking system that provides constant, uninterrupted surveillance with a 360-degree field of view.

Boult, with the help of Columbia University computer science professor Shree Nayar, has greater aspirations for the Lehigh Omnidirectional Tracking System (LOTS) than keeping an eye on wacky TV contestants.

When operational, LOTS will allow the American military to locate and track remote enemy soldiers attempting to infiltrate U.S. positions. The software enables users to view moving targets and to eliminate the distortion of the omnidirectional camera. It is designed to alert users of enemy presence with a pop-up icon on an electronic map.

The Army has already tested the surveillance system in trials to see if troops can sneak by undetected. The U.S. Navy has an interest in revamping LOTS as an appendage to submarine periscopes.

Boult and Niyar are working on an infrared system to incorporate into LOTS, allowing U.S. troops the same surveillance capabilities at night. The technology is not currently employed by the United States military, but Boult states he has been asked to work on further technology, including a modified form of the LOTS system for a cave-exploring robot to carry.


Cool Runnings

What do you get when you cross the Flintstones with escaped convicts and lederhosen?

No, not the Jailhaus Bedrock. These were the themes adopted by the winning teams at the 2001 Great Northern Concrete Toboggan Race in Kingston, Ontario, last January.

At the end of this month, more than 600 students from Canada, Europe, and the United States will descend upon the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg to try and outdo their previous year's performance in the 28th annual GNCTR, the largest civil engineering student competition in Canada.

The contest objective is to design and construct a toboggan that meets safety and dimensional requirements and maintains a braking system that can withstand two races down a steep, icy hill. The vehicle must weigh less than 135 kilograms (almost 300 pounds) and accommodate five people. Any surface that touches the ground must be concrete.

Students at the GNCTR are judged by a variety of criteria—some less technical than others—from the quality of their concrete mix design to the creativity of their uniforms. Last year, the University of British Columbia "Fugitives," decked out in orange jumpsuits and handcuffs, took home first place in the overall competition and clocked the fastest speed at 46 kilometers per hour (close to 30 mph). The University of Alberta's design was anything but prehistoric as the Flintstone "Bedrockers" bedazzled the judges with the Best Boggan.

The crowd favorite in 2001 combined students from three German and Austrian universities. The "Euroboggan" team, dressed in traditional Oktoberfest outfits complete with hats, suspenders, and lederhosen, was recognized with the People's Choice and Best Uniforms awards.


Check This Out

If your kids slip "surprise" boxes of sugar-coated cereal and funky-colored condiments into your grocery cart, you'll find relief from sky-high bills in the latest student design at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Anant Panday and Ram Viswanathan have developed and patented a smart cart that price-scans items before customers take them to the checkout counter.

The pair incorporated an optoelectronic device with wireless technology to design the cart through RPI's summer Undergraduate Research Project. The students' product could be in grocery stores as early as next year.

Panday believes that other applications exist for his and Viswanathan's concept. Their technology may be used to control and monitor electric devices such as lights and TVs in the home from cell phones and Palm Pilots around the world.

The students joined with three friends and several advisers in early 2000 to found the company ImagenAR at the Rensselaer Incubator in Troy, N.Y., where they strive to come up with technology that will "simplify the life of an average person."


Erin Drenning is an associate editor for Prism. She can be reached at






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