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Big Impact

Mark Matthews

Subra Suresh took over as director of the National Science Foundation intent on “tearing down disciplinary barriers,” as he told Prism in 2011. It’s hard to find a more vivid example than origami engineering, a new initiative that NSF is funding to the tune of $16 million, with more expected. Inspired by traditional Japanese artistry, it has pulled together engineers, medical researchers, computer scientists, mathematicians, and yes, even artists, to develop materials that self-fold into all manner of shapes and sizes. This exciting new field is a long way from yielding commercial products, Don Boroughs writes in our cover story, but possibilities range from infinitely small medical devices to giant collapsible telescopes.

Some research breakthroughs never make it out of the lab – not for lack of commercial potential, but because industry never hears about them. One reason for this has been the lack of a pathway into industry for graduate engineering researchers. Now some engineering schools are creating one. Amid a weak academic job market and a growing recognition that a knowledge economy depends on research-based innovations, they’ve developed Ph.D. programs that combine lab research with training in business skills. As Beryl Benderly reports in our feature “The New Ph.D.,” students are responding with enthusiasm.

As this is written, Washington is just a few weeks away from the “fiscal cliff,” barring an 11th-hour tax-and-spending deal between the White House and Congress. ASEE, for its part, is determined to finish the current fiscal year in the black. So as not to reduce the quality of Prism’s features or illustrations, we’ve decided – as in 2011 – to reduce the number of issues this year from nine to eight and combine the March and April issues. Also, Henry Petroski’s regular column won’t appear in February. Fortunately, it will resume in the combined issue and again in our summer issue.

We hope you enjoy the January Prism. As always, your comments are welcome.

Mark Matthews


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