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American Society for Engineering EducationJANUARY 2007Volume 16 | Number 5 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
21st Century Prof. - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
Counting on Them - BY THOMAS K. GROSE

LAST WORD: Lessons From the Sandbox - BY JACQUELYN F. SULLIVAN

Monsters on the Move - A slew of schools are preparing students to work in the computer game industry. - BY CORINNA WU
BOOK REVIEW: Power, Speed, and Form: Engineers and the Making of the Twentieth Century - REVIEWED BY ROBIN TATU


HIGH-TECH FENCE - Blocking the Border

Just south of Tucson, work is underway to build the first section of a planned 6,000-mile long “virtual fence” along the U.S. border with Mexico to keep out illegal aliens. Aircraft maker Boeing last September won the $2.5 billion contract from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to build the high-tech barrier. Initially, however, DHS is giving Boeing “just” $70 million to build the first 28-mile stretch in Arizona. Boeing ultimately envisions a network of 1,800 surveillance and communications towers, each packed with high-powered radar and electronic optical infrared cameras that work at night. Border agents will be alerted via special satellite video-phones that never lose their signal. Agents will also be able to launch and control small drones that can track people within a six-mile radius. DHS says it wants a system that will know when anyone or anything crosses the border. Past efforts to use electronic surveillance along the border proved costly and futile, rendered useless by too many false alarms. Boeing, however, claims its system is more sophisticated and won’t easily be fooled. We’ll find out fairly soon: DHS wants the test fence, which will require nine towers, fully operational by May. –Thomas K. Grose


COMPUTERS - Quick Trip for Chips COMPUTERS - UCSB professor John Bowers holds a hybrid silicon laser chip

Faster, cheaper silicon chips that could pave the way for more powerful computers and communication devices may be the result of a breakthrough in chip technology by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Intel: a photonic laser chip. A standard silicon chip, etched with dozens to hundreds of minuscule grooves, is topped with a wafer of indium phosphide that emits light when hit with an electrical charge. The chip’s grooves then guide the light beams, which can be blinked on and off billions of times a second. That could make the transmission of data from chip to chip—which is now done by wired connections—100 times faster. Laser light is used to transmit data long distances at lightning speed via optical fiber cables, but the speeds are cut to a virtual crawl once the information has to jump from one chip to another. “This marks the beginning of highly integrated silicon photonic chips that can be mass-produced at low cost,” says John Bowers, UCSB professor of electrical and computer engineering. Past efforts to fuse silicon with indium phosphide failed. But Santa Barbara’s team devised a workable, low-temperature bonding method using electronically charged oxygen. —TG


AUTOMOBILES - Dream WheelsAUTOMOBILES - Dream Wheels  

Fans of Grand Prix racing take note: The world’s first “street-legal” (well, it is in the United Kingdom) roadster that’s loaded with Formula One materials-technology, design and performance is on the loose. The Caparo T1 is the handiwork of two former McLaren F1 engineers, Brits Ben Scott-Geddes and Graham Halstead. They’re marketing it as “an engineer’s dream built without compromise.” But engineering dreams don’t come cheap. Want one? Be ready to pony up around $311,000. The car boasts an aluminum V8, 480-h.p. engine that can rocket it from zero to 60 mph in under 2.5 seconds and to 100 mph in 5 seconds. Top speed: 200 mph. Its carbon fiber body, like those used in F1 racing, offers high-speed crash protection, yet is ultra-lightweight. Actually, the materials are the point of this adrenaline-pumping exercise. Caparo Vehicle Technologies sees the T1 as a calling card in its effort to become a leading supplier of advanced composite materials. Scott-Geddes says lightweight composites can help automakers cut carbon emissions without sacrificing performance. Caparo hopes to sell the T1 in the United States later this year. Just the thing for quick weekend getaways. Really quick ones.—TG

AUTOMOBILES - Dream Wheels

FACULTY - Equity? Not for Women  

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has compiled, in a new report, sets of “gender equity indicators” garnered from more than 1,400 U.S. colleges and universities. The number-crunching exercise’s bottom line? Women are still lagging behind men in the academy. Congress abolished sex discrimination in education in 1972, yet 35 years later only 24 percent of full professors are women—up from 9 percent in 1972. As the report notes, the first step toward gaining tenure is a full-time job. But only at the associate degree level are women holding their own among full-time faculty members. At that level, nearly 51 percent of profs are women. At the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, only about 42 percent of full-time faculty members are women; at the Ph.D. level, just 34 percent are. The percentages of women among part-time faculty were higher at all levels. The study notes that while the number of women obtaining doctorates is booming, their representation among tenured faculty “remains below expectations, particularly at research universities.” Only 25.8 percent of tenured teachers at the Ph.D. level are women; nearly 41 percent are tenure-track, but more than 52 percent are nontenure-track. The AAUP says it hopes the report will “promote discussion of faculty gender equity at the local level” where existing strategies to increase female profs’ numbers are best evaluated.— TG


CAMERAS - Powering Down PixelsIMAGE taken with a regular camera; with the image below it taken by a single pixel camera  

Few things suck up battery power faster than a digital camera. A megapixel camera captures millions of points of light, feeding them to an equal number of sensors that record the amount of color in each one. Then a chip processes the data and turns it into a photograph. All that requires a lot of power. Rice University researchers, however, have come up with a more efficient way to capture images digitally—a single-pixel camera. The sole pixel captures one point of light, which is then recreated several thousand times by a digital micromirror device, a chip encrusted with thousands of microscopic-sized mirrors that move in two directions: making them either dark or bright, thus mimicking the computer processor language of 1’s and 0’s. It sends that combination of pixel values to a single sensor. The lab prototype—built by electrical engineering professors Richard G. Baraniuk and Kevin Kelly—currently takes five minutes to take a snapshot. For now, the Pentagon-funded research is looking at mainly scientific uses. The single-pixel camera can capture images outside the visual spectrum, in the terahertz, the part of the electromagnetic spectrum between microwaves and infrared. A multipixel camera capable of working in that spectrum would be prohibitively expensive. Baraniuk says a terahertz camera could “see” through suitcases and clothes and might serve as a useful security tool. So don’t expect a consumer battery-saving version anytime soon. — TG

COMMUNICATION - Writing on WaterCOMMUNICATION - Writing on Water  

Remember “new wave” music? Now ready to make a splash: “new wave” writing. Researchers in Japan have developed what they call a wave pen that can form letters on the surface of water. Built by Akishima Laboratories, with assistance from Osaka University, the wave pen is like a kid’s wading pool filled with a foot of water. Fifty computer-operated wave generators simultaneously create small waves that come together to form the shapes. It can write the entire Roman alphabet and many Japanese kanji characters. Each letter takes 10 to 15 seconds to form. But, blink and you’ll miss it. The shapes melt back into the surface within a few seconds. Can you spell ephemeral? — TG

TEACHERS - Unbalanced Equation  

AUSTRALIA—A shortage of high school science and math teachers has Australian educators worried. According to a recent study, 40 percent of high school students are learning physics from teachers who majored in other fields, and the situation is no better in math. The shortages are a relatively recent phenomenon brought on by the retirement of many senior teachers. More recent math and science majors are taking better-paying industry jobs. The shortages may already be having an effect. There are fewer students taking IT courses at universities. Additionally, a shortage of engineers bedevils a booming mining sector. In an effort to churn out more engineers in every discipline, universities are adding slots for 500 more engineering students, beginning in 2008. But given the nation’s high academic standards, educators fear that not enough students will qualify for the openings. Engineers Australia, the discipline’s largest professional association, says the shortage of math teachers is “depressing,” and its chief executive, Peter Taylor, says the situation should trigger
“immediate alarm bells.” Without proper mathematics skills, many students will “stare at failure at university,” he says.—Chris Pritchard

“If I was the owner of this house and I was in California, I would probably sleep in the backyard for a couple of nights and get an engineer to check it out.” - Andre Filiatrault, engineering professor at the University of Buffalo.


CHEMISTRY - Move Over, Clorox  

A disinfectant more powerful than chlorine bleach but as harmless as water? That’s what Oculus Innovative Sciences, of Petaluma, Calif., has devised. Microcyn is a superoxidized water—meaning it’s lacking ions—that kills antibiotic-resistant bacteria, as well as viruses, spores and fungi. In various countries, ranging from the United States to Mexico to Italy, Microcyn is being used for such medical applications as cleaning wounds, treating burns and diabetic ulcers. But Oculus thinks it’ll be effective in fighting superbugs and dangerous viruses like Ebola. It may also prove to be a highly effective hospital hand wash. Superoxidized water has been around for awhile, but it usually loses its effectiveness within a few hours. But Oculus’ reformulated version retains its germ-fighting properties for a year. Moreover, it’s pH-neutral and can’t hurt healthy tissue. Bad bugs, beware.— TG

NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING - Change at the TopCharles M Vest, president emeritus of MIT  

It looks as if Charles M. Vest, president emeritus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will succeed William A. Wulf as president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Vest, 65, was unanimously recommended by an NAE nominating committee. If the group’s membership agrees in a March vote, Vest will take over July 1 for a six-year term. He’s been an NAE member since 1993 and sits on its governing council. Last year, he was part of the National Academies’ team that authored the seminal report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” which motivated the White House and Congress to pour more resources into engineering and physical sciences research and education. Vest received his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 1963; he earned a master’s a year later and a Ph.D. in 1967, both from the University of Michigan. He headed MIT from 1990 to 2004.—TG


WATER - Pulling it out of Thin Air  

One thing often common to war zones and disaster areas is a lack of potable water—especially in arid regions like Iraq. So the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) sought a new way to get water to thirsty troops. The answer came from Miami Beach-based Aqua Sciences. It’s built a mobile machine that can extract drinking water from the air—from between 350 to 1,200 gallons a day. Other companies have used large dehumidifiers to suck water from air, but they don’t work in dry areas. The Aqua Sciences technology drives the air through a liquid salt solution that attracts the water molecules found in all air. The collected water is separated from the saline solution and purified through filters that use everyday table salt. The machines are low-energy and jettison no toxic byproducts. Aqua Sciences is now under contract to provide water to troops in Iraq. Each gallon extracted costs approximately 25 cents. That’s pretty cheap. Especially considering that using cargo planes and trucks to transport water to troops costs $30 a gallon. And, let’s face it, most of us have paid a buck or more for a small bottle of branded mineral water.— TG

NOISE - Can You Turn That Thing Down?The SAX-40 will significantly reduce aircraft noise in the future.  

Anyone who has lived or worked near an airport, especially below the flight paths, can tell you that earsplitting takeoffs and landings are one of the worst forms of noise pollution. Now comes a possible solution: the SAX-40, a conceptual design for a passenger jet that would reduce aircraft noise by a factor of 3,000. Folks on the ground would hardly hear a thing. The SAX-40 is the result of the three-year-old Silent Aircraft Initiative, a joint project funded by the United Kingdom government and involving Cambridge University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and about 30 aviation companies, including Boeing and Rolls-Royce. The SAX-40 certainly looks radical. The fuselage and bat-like wings blend together, creating a delta-shaped body that has no tail. That enables the entire aircraft to provide lift. The engineers used a variety of design concepts to turn down the decibels. The wings have no flaps. The engines are embedded in the body itself, to help muffle them. They also have variable-sized jet nozzles so the plane could use less propulsion for takeoffs and landings, but still have plenty of power for more efficient cruising speeds. While the main rationale for the SAX-40 was cutting noise, the plane would also be more fuel efficient, using 25 percent less fuel than today’s air carriers. Colin Smith, director of engineering and technology at Roll-Royce, says the initiative suggested “some highly innovative ideas.” Clearly, he says, low-noise solutions will require the integration of “engine and aircraft design and operation.” Engineers caution it will take until 2030 to bring the SAX-40 or some of its design elements to commercial fruition. So, if you live near an airport, don’t toss away your earplugs anytime soon.—TG


EDUCATION - Top Pay for Top Job  

The hours are long and the work grueling, but there are compensations for college and university presidents according to an annual survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2004-05, there were 42 public university presidents earning more than $500,000. The Chronicle says the median compensation for leaders of public-research universities and public college systems this year amounted to almost $375,000. The highest earner honors went to University of Delaware President David P. Roselle, whose total package, including deferred compensation and the use of a house and car, came to just under a million dollars. The top pay for a private university president went to Wilmington College’s Audrey K. Doberstein, whose annual compensation in 2004 totaled $2,746,241. Wilmington is primarily a commuter school with campuses across Delaware. Apparently, the nation’s first state is a good place to head an institution of higher learning. —JO ANN TOOLEY


K12 - Sounding the Alarm on Teacher Preparation  

FACTOID: Percentage of engineering teaching personnel by rank: 39% full professor, 21% assoc. prof., 18% asst. prof., 6% non-tenure track, 15% part-time.It’s no secret that the nation’s schools are suffering from a shortage of qualified teachers in math and the sciences, a situation that helps explain widespread student underperformance and lack of interest in these disciplines. But it is not just in math and the sciences that the qualification of teachers has come into question. A new foundation-funded report sounds a warning about the preparation of teachers in all disciplines. “Educating School Teachers,” written by Arthur Levine, former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, concludes that the overwhelming majority of the more than 1,200 teacher preparation programs in the nation’s colleges and universities range from mediocre to poor. Based on extensive survey research and visits to 28 education schools throughout the country, the report faults teacher education programs for being insufficiently engaged with the nation’s schools, and, as a result, failing to prepare graduates for the realities of the classroom.

The report says that in education, unlike other professions, there is lack of agreement on what aspiring graduates need to know as well as on whether preparation should take place at the undergraduate level, graduate level or both. “At the moment, teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world,” Levine writes. “Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and disordered.”

The report says that too many teacher education programs suffer from low admission standards and are used as “cash cows” by their parent institutions, which often care more about generating income than improving program quality. Standards need to be raised, Levine says, and teacher education programs need to be five years long and combine study in an academic field with work in pedagogy and child development.

Levine says that each state needs to rigorously assess how good of a job teachers who graduate from institutions within its borders do in enhancing the education of their students. This will require states to develop K-12 longitudinal data systems that track student achievement and growth in each classroom. Only a few states now have such systems in place.
Ultimately, says the report, teacher education programs that don’t measure up should be closed, while promising programs are strengthened. If universities are unwilling to act, Levine says, then “the states must do so through their power to authorize academic programs.”—ALVIN P. SANOFF




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American Society for Engineering Education