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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationJANUARY 2008Volume 17 | Number 5 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: Game of Chance - TO STAY COMPETITIVE, AMERICA NEEDS A LEADER COMMITTED TO MAKING SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY A PRIORITY, EDUCATORS SAY. BUT NONE OF THE 2008 CANDIDATES OFFERS A SURE BET.  - BY JEFFREY SELINGO- BY JEFFREY SELINGO
FEATURE: Extreme Learning - CAR BOMBS, TSUNAMI SHELTERS, SPACE ROBOTS—UNIVERSITY LABS ARE MAKING THE STUDY OF ENGINEERING EVER MORE REAL. WHO WOULDN’T GET DRAWN IN WITH HANDS-ON PROJECTS LIKE THESE?   - BY MARY LORD
FEATURE: Too Little Respect - BRITISH ENGINEERS, ONCE THE PRIDE OF AN EMPIRE, ARE TYPECAST BY THE PUBLIC AND RARELY REACH THE EXECUTIVE SUITE. EDUCATORS EXPLORE CURRICULUM CHANGES TO GIVE THE PROFESSION A BOOST.   - BY THOMAS K. GROSE

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: Changing Study Habits - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
INTERACTIVE SKILLS: An Engineering Necessity – BY DR. LEE HARRISBERGER
LAST WORD: A Friend, Indeed - BY JAY BANERJEE

TEACHING TOOLBOX
TEACHING TOOLBOX: Fast and Curious - OFFER STUDENTS THE CHANCE TO WORK ON DESIGN WITH A LEGENDARY SPORTS CAR MAKER, AND THEY’LL SIGN UP—A GRAN VELOCITÀ.  - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS
TEACHING TOOLBOX: ON THE SHELF: Terrible Twins - BY ROBIN TATU
TEACHING TOOLBOX: JEE SELECTS: It’s About More Than Numbers - BY MAURA BORREGO


BACK ISSUES







 
BRIEFINGS: Erasable Tattoos + Mona Lisa’s Secrets + Virtual Surgery  
MICROSCOPY - COLORS OF THE BRAINBOWMICROSCOPY - COLORS OF THE BRAINBOW
 

Harvard researchers have devised an ingenious way to illuminate the complex gray tangles of the brain. The technique, called “brainbow,” is being used on mice whose neural cells have been genetically engineered to express fluorescent proteins of red, blue, and green. Each neuron lights up in a distinct combination of the three colors, producing a rich medley of some 90 separate hues. So, too, does the movement of cells. The vivid map of activity will allow scientists to track the brain’s and nervous system’s circuitry with much greater specificity than has been previously possible. They will be able to see intricate neural connections and development and even the entry of viruses into a single cell. While the imaging is performed only on the brains of mice, the research has clear implications for study of the human brain, which operates in similar ways. Brainbow’s luminous display is also dazzling to behold.—Robin Tatu

 

 
INKS: Good RiddanceINKS: Good Riddance
 

Life can be tough for the young, beautiful and hip. Consider Angelina Jolie. When her main man was actor Billy Bob Thornton, she had his name emblazoned on her arm. When she took up with Brad Pitt, Thornton’s name had to come off. Typically, removing tattoos is a difficult process requiring multiple laser treatments.

Fortunately, help is on the way for tattoo wearers who want a new look. A new technology developed by Edith Mathiowitz, professor of medical science and engineering at Brown University, could result in inks for tattoos that are much easier to erase.

The process is called microencapsulation—that’s the use of microcapsules of polymers to coat tiny particles, such as molecules. In this case, the microcapsules are filled with dye molecules and mixed in a solution. Though just as durable as traditional inks, Mathiowitz’s are safer and more easily removed. They’re free of heavy metals and toxins, so they’re also less likely to cause allergic reactions. More important, once zapped in a single laser treatment, they break open and the body can safely absorb the ink. Says Mathiowitz: “It’s terrific that my technology has such a cool consumer application.” Still, she stresses it also has “enormous possibilities” for drug delivery. New York company Freedom-2 has licensed the technology, which it funded, to make the inks. So, Angelina, it may soon be safe to get Brad’s name tattooed on your other arm. —Thomas K. Grose

 

 
EDUCATION - Windfall for ResearchRendering of the new KAUST school
in Saudi Arabia
 

SAUDI ARABIA—The Arab world has not been a hotbed of innovation. Indeed, over the last 30 years, it’s spent huge sums importing science and technology. No region in the world spends less on research and development, according to UNESCO. Several Arab countries are trying to change that, particularly oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Last autumn, it broke ground on a $2.5 billion research school in the Red Sea coastal city of Thuwal. The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will cover 36 million square meters when it opens in September 2009. KAUST’s goal is to be a world-class, independent research center that will support existing Saudi industries and create new knowledge-based ones. It will be a graduate school focusing on four interdisciplinary sectors: resources, energy and the environment; bioscience and bioengineering; engineering and materials science; and applied mathematics and computational science. It will also be coeducational, the first such public university in the country, where the sexes are typically segregated in public. The first tranche of students will number 500, but the school expects a population of 2,000 students and 600 researchers within eight years. The faculty will be drawn from 60 different countries. Creation of the school’s framework is being overseen by an international panel of academics. —TG

 

 
FACTOID: 3.5 million - Number of college students—one in five—who took at least one online course in the fall of 2006, according to a survey. SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES

 

 
SOFTWARE - Almost Driver-proofSOFTWARE - Almost Driver-proof  

The backseat driver is about to go virtual. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are developing software that will enable cars to analyze driver behavior and alert drivers to potentially hazardous situations. The program could determine if a driver’s becoming too tired or sleepy. During particularly tense situations, it could put a cellphone on hold to diminish distractions. Sandia’s team, which began the project five years ago, has software that puts to use data already collected and stored on car computers, such as brake pedal force, acceleration and steering wheel angle. Other sensors track head and body movements. Says Kevin Dixon, principal investigator: “If our algorithms can identify dangerous situations before they happen and alert drivers to them, we will help save lives.” That is, smart cars for dumb drivers. —TG

 

 
RETENTION - WOMEN MOVING ONRETENTION - WOMEN MOVING ON  

It’s long been suspected that women engineering graduates are less likely to remain in the field than men, but the evidence has been anecdotal. Now a new study commissioned by the Society of Women Engineers confirms that retention of professional women engineers is a problem for industry. The study of 6,293 engineering alumni, conducted by Harris Interactive, discovered that while 91 percent of men reported staying in the profession, only 76 percent of women did. The main reasons for leaving cited by both sexes were better pay, improved advancement opportunities and more interesting work in other occupations, though men were somewhat more likely to seek more money than women. Eighty percent of men left for a better paycheck, while just 71 percent of women did.

The most common nonengineering job chosen by women was teaching (11 percent); for men it was finance (22 percent). Women were more likely—28 percent to 14 percent—to say having to balance work and family was a career obstacle. They were also more likely to believe that workplace inequities exist: 39 percent to 20 percent. Nearly twice as many men—34 percent to 18 percent—were earning more than $100,000. And nearly twice as many women—15 percent to 7 percent—were earning less than $50,000. One upbeat finding: Of those women who did remain in engineering, 78 percent said they were very satisfied or satisfied with their jobs. —TG


 

 
POLYMERS - Hold On TightMessersmith Research Group  

Phillip B. Messersmith was inspired by mussels—not by their taste, but by their amazing ability to stick to nearly any surface with great tenacity. Now the Northwestern University biomedical engineer has developed a coating solution that replicates mussels’ stubborn sticking power and can be applied to any solid object, of any size or shape. The building block for the polymer coating is dopamine, a small molecule that’s usually thought of as a neurotransmitter and is not found in mussels themselves.

Just a few drops of dopamine added to a beaker of water, a few adjustments of the water’s pH and—voila! The resulting solution is called polydopamine. “This is an astonishingly simple and versatile approach,” Messersmith says.

Possible applications include flexible electronic displays, biosensors, medical devices and water-treatment processes (removing heavy metals from contaminated water). Sounds like an invention that will, ahem, stick around for years to come. —TG


 

 
PROSTHETICS - Affordable ReliefPROSTHETICS - Affordable Relief  

CANADA—Every year, more than 25,000 people in developing countries are mutilated by land mines. For most, high-tech prosthetic limbs are prohibitively expensive, often costing more than $1,000 each. Enter Sébastien Dubois, a Quebec industrial designer. The artificial foot he created weighs less than a pound and uses materials readily available in poor countries—a combination of fiberglass, rubber, glue, and high-density polyethylene. Cost: $8. Dubois’s design earned the former mechanical engineering student from Quebec’s Université de Sherbrooke the 2007 first prize from INDEX, a Copenhagen-based, nonprofit organization that recognizes designs for improving human life worldwide.

Dubois says the structure of the “energy-return” prosthetic foot stores the energy of the patient and propels it. This principle significantly improves the amputee’s walking and reduces his or her effort. One of INDEX’s jury members, Ignaas Verpoest, praised Dubois’ ability to simplify the production process: The fiberglass is placed in a wooden mold, impregnated by hand, and put in a plastic bag, from which the air is extracted during curing. “These are all extremely simple operations, which can be carried out by anyone with a little technical aptitude and which require only a small investment,” Verpoest said. —Pierre Home-Douglas

 

INVENTIONS - Gag Orders IncreaseINVENTIONS - Gag Orders Increase  

As of the end of fiscal year 2007, 5,002 inventions filed by private inventors with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office were being kept under wraps by the government using orders authorized by the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951. That’s up from the 4,942 inventions under gag orders the previous year, according to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS). FAS campaigns to increase public access to government technical and scientific information, believing that much of what’s kept undercover can be aired without jeopardizing U.S. security. Private inventors are individuals or companies whose discoveries were not supported or funded by the government, but they’re still subject to federal security restrictions. FAS says that the orders “are a constitutional anomaly, since they appear to infringe on private speech. But their constitutionality has never been successfully challenged in court.”—TG

 

 
The Political Orientation of American Professors - SOURCE: NEIL GROSS AND SOLON J. SIMMONS, “THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL VIEWS OF AMERCIAN PROFESSORS,” A SURVEY OF 1,417 FULL-TIME INSTRUCTORS AT 927 COLLEGES OF ALL TYPES, and the chronicle of higher education (October 19, 2007).

 

 
ENERGY - Return of the ReactorENERGY - Return of the Reactor  

It’s baaaack: nuclear power. NRG Energy of Princeton, N.J., recently became the first power company in nearly 30 years to file an application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to build a new reactor. NRG plans to add two reactors, capable of generating 2,700 megawatts of power, to two existing ones at its South Texas Project plant. “It is a new day for energy in America,” said NRG CEO David Crane, noting that nuclear power offers the only large-scale, viable alternative to greenhouse-gas-spewing fossil fuel plants.

That was the rationale behind a 2005 act that subsidizes the costs of building nuke plants. Ergo: The NRC says it eventually expects applications to add another 29 plants to the existing104 sites in the U.S. High construction costs, delays and the nuclear-plant accidents at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986 killed the nuclear power industry. And critics say all the old issues—safety, cost, and the difficulty in disposing of radioactive wastes—remain unsolved.

NRG wants to start construction in 2010 and go online by 2015. But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service reckons that the government approval process could take 15 years.TG

 

CAMERAS - Did She, or Didn’t She?http://www.lumiere-technology.com/Pages/Download/download.htm

Casual lovers of art tend to focus on the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece of a 16th-century merchant’s wife. But more serious aficionados have long wondered why she has no eyebrows or lashes. Now comes the claim that she once did. French engineer Pascal Cotte, using a 240- megapixel digital camera he designed, says his scans of the famous portrait reveal that da Vinci originally painted her with both brows and lashes. Also, in earlier versions, the famous smile was wider and “more accentuated”. Overall, Cotte says his device uncovered 25 secrets about the Mona Lisa, including an earlier, slightly different position of her left hand. Time, varnish and restoration efforts caused not only the eyebrows to fade but lace on her dress and a blanket on her lap.

A light and optics expert, Cotte spent 3,000 hours analyzing the data from scans. In its current state, the painting is dominated by dull greens, yellows and browns. But Cotte’s research indicates da Vinci originally used brilliant whites and light blues. Says he: “With just one photo you go deeper into the construction of the painting and understand that Leonardo was a genius.” But we knew that, didn’t we? —TG

 

 
SOLAR - Getting IntenseIsrael’s Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center  

ISRAEL—Although solar power is gaining in popularity amid concern over greenhouse gases emitted by conventional power plants, standard solar panels using costly silicon make it comparatively expensive. So in the sun-scorched Negev desert, scientists are testing ways to make solar power as cost effective as power from fossil fuels.

One alternative being tested by Israel’s Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center is a system designed and marketed by Solel Corp., an Israeli firm. It includes a 100-meter-long parabolic trough that concentrates sunlight on a central tube. The tube contains fluid that is heated to some 700°F and  “transfers its heat to water that flashes into steam. The steam then drives a conventional turbine,” says the center’s director, David Faiman. A 550-megawatt power plant using this technology is planned in California.

Another system looks like a satellite dish and points directly at the sun, moving with it. Its steel frame contains hundreds of curved glass mirrors that bounce the sunlight onto a 4-by-4-inch solar cell module. A standard-size solar cell can produce one watt in bright sunlight. But by first concentrating the light with mirrors, “we were able to produce 1,500 watts. That, I believe, is the key to making solar power completely competitive with fossil fuel,” Faiman says. The system was built with help from European partner laboratories.

Some 20,000 dishes, each producing 50 kilowatts, would be needed for a 1,000-megawatt plant. They would cover 12 square kilometers. Joshua Brilliant

 

 
ENVIRONMENT - Rebuilding on Solid GroundPERU: PHOTO COURTESY OF NASA  

PERU—Last August 15, a magnitude 8.0 quake struck the coastal area of central Peru, killing more than 500 people. Several cities were hit especially hard, including Pisco, Tambo de Mora, Ica and Chincha. And though Brent Rosenblad is an earthquake expert, he was stunned when he arrived in October. “It was worse than I imagined,” says Rosenblad, a civil and environmental engineer at the University of Missouri’s Institute for Interdisciplinary Geotechnics. Rosenblad took a team of two grad students and former colleague Jim Bay, now at Utah State University, to put to use technology he devised that determines the safest areas to rebuild. “They don’t want to put structures on unstable ground.” Instead of drilling holes to determine soil density, Rosenblad places seismic sensors on the ground, then drops heavy weights. Surface waves recorded by the sensors can be analyzed to determine the soil’s firmness. “The measurements went well,” he says. “I think we will be able to provide valuable information on soil properties at the sites of schools and hospitals that will help in the design and reconstruction of these buildings.” And for Rosenblad,“The most valuable insight was just experiencing firsthand how devastating a large earthquake can be.” —TG

 

 
MARS: PHOTO COURTESY OF NASA  

Manned flights to Mars are on NASA’s long-term wish list. Of course, Mars’s thinner atmosphere is not conducive to supporting human life. But in a recent lecture, Purdue chemist Joseph S. Francisco suggested that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, could help make Mars habitable. Back here on Earth, greenhouse gases wreak havoc on our atmosphere, causing global warming. But on Mars, Francisco says, they might be used to engineer a Martian atmosphere that’s more Earthlike and supportive of life. The notion isn’t entirely new. Francisco was one of several authors of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science in 2001 that first suggested the possibility. —TG

 

 
NANOTECHNOLOGY - Weird WiringNANOTECHNOLOGY - Weird Wiring  

SCOTLAND—Strange things happen at the nano-level. One example is the development of tiny microchips needed for handheld computers or to make cellphones as powerful as PCs. These will require microscopic wires 1,000 times as thin as a human hair. But when European researchers, led by engineers at the University of Edinburgh, studied the behavior of nanosize wires, the results were startling. “What we found is when we made these wires smaller and smaller, they started to behave in a very funny way,” Michael Zaiser, a professor of engineering and electronics at Edinburgh, told the BBC. Bending the nanowires into rings caused them to take on “very weird shapes.”

Zaiser’s team has now developed a computer program to predict when the odd behavior will occur and how to rectify it. That means chips with nanoscale wiring could become a reality. —TG

 

 
Presidents or Coaches: Guess Who Makes More? Here are the 10 highest-paid presidents of public universities with NCAA Division I-A football programs, and the compensation for the head football coaches on those campuses.  NOTE:  ALL FIGURES FROM 2006-7. ALTHOUGH ALMOST ALL OF THE LISTED PRESIDENTS AND COACHES RECEIVED BONUS PAY, THE SURVEY WAS CONDUCTED BEFORE THOSE AMOUNTS WERE DETERMINED. SOURCE: USA TODAY (NOVEMBER 16, 2006) AND THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION (NOVEMBER 16, 2007).

 

 
ROBOTICS - SURGEON’S LONG REACHROBOTICS - SURGEON’S LONG REACH  

Late last September, two surgeons at the Hospital Privado Del Sur in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, flawlessly performed a laparoscopic gastric sleeve procedure—gastric bypass surgery to facilitate weight loss—on a 39-year-old woman. It was the first time that Drs. Sergio Cantarelli and Gabriel Egidi had attempted the procedure, but they were guided every step of the way by an American expert, Dr. Alex Gandsas, a bariatric surgeon at Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital—even though Gandsas was 5,400 miles away. Gandsas was virtually there via RP-7, a remote-presence robot manufactured by InTouch Health of California, which he controlled using a joystick.

The 5-foot, 5-inch robot has two-way cameras, microphones and a high-speed Internet connection. Gandsas was able to manipulate the robot so that he could watch the surgeons from different angles and zoom in on the patient and monitors. The device allowed him to assess continually how things were going and offer advice and encouragement. Having Gandsas “looking over our shoulder during the surgery greatly enhanced our comfort level,” Cantarelli admits. The RP-7 was also used to train Cantarelli and Egidi ahead of the surgery.

InTouch says the technology may help hospitals with limited resources obtain cost-effective, cutting-edge training of its doctors. —TG

 

 


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