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  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationNOVEMBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 3 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
Fields of Fuel - By Bethany Halford
Higher Ambitions - By Alvin P. Sanoff
The Burden of Plagiarism - By Thomas K. Grose

REFRACTIONS: Identifying Ourselves - By Henry Petroski
LAST WORD: Gender Bias in Academe - By Alice Merner Agogino

Piecing It All Together: The Learning Factory provides engineering students with a more hands-on learning experience. By Lynne Shallcross
Book Review: The Dance of Molecules: How Nanotechnology Is Changing Our Lives - Reviewed By Robin Tatu
YEAR OF DIALOGUE: A Conversation With a Center- By Karl A. Smith
On Campus: Winning Combination - By Lynne Shallcross


TURBINES - Blowing in the Wind

General Electric is betting on wind as the answer to our questionable energy future. It recently entered into a $27 million research partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop offshore wind turbines capable of generating 5 to 7 megawatts of power; its current biggest turbines peak at 3.6 megawatts. Wind today provides less than 1 percent of the world’s energy needs, but GE thinks that could grow to 15 percent. And a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may have solved one of the biggest problems with offshore wind turbines: that they’re an eyesore that no one wants off their coast. Paul D. Sclavounos’ solution is to place the turbines on massive floating platforms 100 miles out to sea, where they’re invisible from shore and there’s more wind to harvest. That far from the coast, Sclavounos says, “there’s plenty of space and lots of wind.” Typically, wind turbines are on towers buried deep into the ocean floor. That means they can be in water no deeper than 45 feet—in other words, close to shore and highly visible. His floating turbines would use steel cable tethers anchored to concrete blocks on the ocean bed. They would move from side to side, but not up and down. Because they make use of buoyancy, they’re cheap to erect, he says. Each platform could hold a turbine of at least 5 megawatts, like the ones GE is planning. A floating wind farm of 400 turbines could provide enough juice to power 700,000 homes. Sclavounos reckons the turbines would be built onshore and towed to deep-water wind farms by tugboats. —Thomas K. Grose



QYOTED: “He’s a smart engineer. He understands how to make money, and he understands marketing and what it takes to push something out the door.” —SANDY MUNRO, PRESIDENT OF MANUFACTURING CONSULTING FIRM MUNRO AND ASSOCIATES, IN RESPONSE TO ALAN MULALLY’S APPOINTMENT AS FORD MOTOR CO.’S NEW CEO. The seven schools that comprise the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) are notoriously difficult to get into. IIT is considered the MIT of India, and it sets its standards extremely high. Each year, around 230,000 students take the entrance exam, and only 5,000 are accepted. And, as BusinessWeek noted in a recent article, many of those students come from middle-class families and have paid for extra tutoring. But the article also highlighted a special, tiny school in Patna, in one of the country’s poorest regions. The Ramanujan School, created three years ago by two local math mavens, each year accepts 30 smart but low-income students, gives them free lessons and housing and tutors them in math. The result: 16 of the first class of 30 got into IIT; 22 of last year’s did; and this year, it expects all 30 will make the grade. Santosh Kumar, 19, who comes from an impoverished farming family, told the magazine that when he learned about the Ramanujan School, he rushed over to apply. He whizzed its entrance exam, then spent seven months studying hard. It worked. Kumar came in 3,537 out of 5,000 and earned a place at the IIT in Kharagpur.—TG


TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER - Finding Gold in Fighting Mold  

Millions of dollars are pouring into the Department of Energy’s research labs to develop ways to combat terrorism threats. But U.S. technology-transfer laws require government labs to make an effort to commercialize their discoveries. That’s having an impact. Ten years ago, DOE’s 21 labs earned $5 million from licensing technology. Last year, they took in $27 million. A recent example: Scott’s Liquid Gold Mold Control 500. The product, which cleans and controls mold, is being sold by a company that made its name selling furniture polish. But the cleaner comes from DOE’s Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia researchers developed the cleanser as an anti-anthrax spray for protective suits. But they eventually realized it also killed mold. So Sandia put out word that it was seeking a commercial partner. Scott’s Liquid Gold quickly got in touch. —TG


HOMELAND SECURITY - Fighting Terrorism on the Cheap  

In August, British investigators foiled what they say was an Islamic terrorist plot—possibly Al Qaeda-sanctioned—to use hard-to-detect conventional, liquid explosives to blow up as many as 10 U.S.-bound airliners. Meanwhile, the U.S. federal government agency in charge of researching ways to stop terror attacks will likely have its fiscal 2007 budget nearly halved by Congress. Critics of the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate say it won’t be a big loss, given that the agency has been riddled with mismanagement and poor fiscal control. A Senate budget report called the directorate a “rudderless ship.” The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) told the Washington Post that the agency places too much emphasis on countering nuclear and biological weapons, while giving a low priority to efforts to combat conventional weapons aimed at commercial aircraft—like those the suspected terrorists in Britain were allegedly planning to use. In 2003, more than half the money that was earmarked for finding ways to detect conventional explosives was instead siphoned off to pay for airport screening personnel. It’s expected that Congress will give the agency around $700 million in 2007, down from $1.3 billion in ’06. But, AAAS says, conventional weapons deterrence will still get short shrift: More than half that money will be used for biological and chemical weapons detection. —TG


AUTOS - Hot Wheels Go GreenResearcher Peter Pudney spearheaded the development of the electric car, Trev.  

AUSTRALIA – It’s not just the United States that’s focusing on more energy-efficient automobiles. In Australia, an electric car called Trev (Two-seater Renewable Energy Vehicle) is generating lots of excitement. The Trev team is headquartered in the engineering school at the University of South Australia. “Solar racing cars have shown they can travel over 450 miles a day at typical highway speeds powered exclusively by sunlight,” says Wasim Saman, who’s supervising the project and heads the University of South Australia’s division of information technology, engineering and the environment. “So we decided to try similar technologies to build an electric-powered car for daily commuting but without the noise and pollution of gasoline-fueled engines.” The sleek, three-wheeled Trev has two comfortable seats, one behind the other, “since surveys show up to 97.5 percent of urban trips have only one or two people in the car.” Trev might not be the best pick for long-distance family vacations, but the luggage space is adequate for two overnight bags. Trev also features energy-efficient tires, brakes and suspension. And because it’s constructed of fiberglass and aluminum it’s as quiet and efficient as possible. Even better, the car consumes less than 20 percent of energy typically required by conventional cars, and it can be recharged using electricity from sources such as solar power and wind. —Chris Pritchard


BIOMED - Brand-New Bladders  

Human organ transplants are a risky business. First of all, the body often rejects them. Moreover, available organs aren’t easy to come by. More than 90,000 Americans are, at any given time, in need of a transplant; each day, 17 of them die because no organ was available. Anthony Atala, a pediatric urologist and tissue engineer at the Wake Forest University Medical Center, is working to remedy that problem with technology that lets humans grow their own replacement organs. In humans, his greatest success so far has been with bladders. Atala harvests the most basic of bladder cells from patients, urothelial cells, and cultures them inside a biodegradable scaffold that’s bladder shaped and is implanted onto the unhealthy bladder. As the cells grow a new bladder, fed by blood vessels, the scaffold harmlessly disintegrates. Earlier this year, he reported in the medical journal The Lancet that seven young patients implanted with the self-grown bladders seven years ago have survived and are doing well. A big factor in the process’ success: Because the bladders are derived from the patients’ own cells, there’s no risk of rejection. In addition to growing bladders, Atala’s team has also had successes in humans with urethras, blood vessels, cartilage and small sections of skeletal muscle. In animals, he’s also grown vaginal, penile and kidney tissues. Atala’s convinced that all human organs can someday be grown using his methods. If he’s right, it’ll render organ transplants—and the dangers they entail—unnecessary and save many thousands of lives. —TG


PHYSICS - World’s Most Expensive HoleThe Large Hadron Collider could provide clues to how the universe began.  

Next year, beneath the Jura mountains along the Swiss-French border outside Geneva, the world’s largest particle accelerator will open at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN). The $8 billion Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a 17-mile-long circular track through which subatomic particles are hurled against one another at blinding speeds. When it comes online, U.S. domination of particle physics will cede to Europe. Particle accelerators attempt to recreate the split seconds of the dawn of the universe to answer questions like: How did the universe begin and how will it likely evolve? Physicists expect the LHC will provide clues to solving such questions but say an even more powerful accelerator—with more precise and sensitive instruments—is needed to provide full answers. So, on the drawing board is the $12 billion International Linear Collider (ILC), which will feature a straight, 19-mile track and fling electrons and positrons at each other at velocities approaching the speed of light. And a commission of the National Research Council argues the United States should spend whatever it takes to win the right to build the ILC here. Not only would that allow the United States to regain the lead in nuclear research, it says, but it would make America a mecca for all the physical sciences, drawing top scientific talent to U.S. shores. The country that wins the bid to build the ILC will likely have to foot half the construction cost, which might be a sticking point for Congress. The United States, of course, began building the underground Superconducting Supercollider in Texas in the mid-1980s, but Congress pulled the plug on the $10 billion project in 1993. —TG


Tamara MooreENGINEERING EDUCATION - Rolling Off Its First Ph.D.  

In 2004, Purdue University created the nation’s first department of engineering education. In 2005, it established the first engineering-education degree program. This year, it granted the country’s first doctoral degree in engineering education. The recipient: Tamara Moore, of Indianapolis. Purdue’s program prepares students to pursue careers in academia, business, government or foundations. Moore, whose earlier degrees were in math, has accepted an assistant professorship in mathematics at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education. “Engineering education is in its infancy right now,” Moore says. “I felt having an expertise in both math and engineering would make me more marketable.” She hopes, as well, to encourage students who are planning to teach at the preschool- to 12th-grade level to incorporate more engineering concepts in their classrooms. “If someone asked me what an engineer does when I was 14 years old, I would not have known the answer. That is something I want to help change.” —TG


GERMANY - Help Wanted: More Engineers  

America isn’t the only country facing an engineering shortage. So is Germany, a country synonymous with engineering excellence. The German Association of Engineers says that the country this year faces a shortfall of 18,000 engineers and that 30 percent of German employers can’t find enough engineers to fill job openings. The number of German students studying engineering at universities is half what it was a decade ago. To get youngsters excited again about engineering, science and technology, a coalition of 80 businesses, universities and research institutes earlier this year created “Do Things.” The campaign sponsors projects, awards, scholarships and internships and is aimed at students ranging from kindergarten to college level. “If we don’t succeed in making young people enthusiastic about technical jobs again,” Do Things spokesman Markus Roeser told the Christian Science Monitor, “we’re running the risk of losing our place as the world’s leading exporter” of innovative goods and technologies. That’s a worry to chill the heart of every Porsche owner. —TG


CAD - Shape of Things to Come  

Two former Iowa State University professors hope their new company will become the Google of the CAD world. iSEEK, a startup founded by Don Flugrad, 60, and Abir Qamhiyah, 38, uses algorithms to search for and inventory geometric shapes, in the same way online search engines like Google use algorithms to comb through text. CAD, or computer-aided design, is used by most equipment manufacturers to create products and parts. Big manufacturers create or buy hundreds of thousands of parts, but when engineers are assigned to design new ones, it’s difficult for them to know what already exists. That results in an awful lot of duplicate parts being designed unnecessarily. iSEEK’s technology, CADseek, can, within seconds, assign a three-dimensional code to each part, from washers and bolts to pins and gears, and then create a quickly searchable parts library. And each 3-D virtual part can be rotated on a computer screen 360 degrees. That information should save companies time and money. Deere & Co., the $22 billion farm- equipment maker, thinks so. It recently signed a one-year contract to test CADseek. Flugrad and Qamhiyah, who left Iowa State to devote their full attention to iSEEK, can only hope their new search tool wows the CAD community. —TG


FACTOID: Fastest-growing engineering discipline: BIOMEDICAL - 137% increase in B.S. degrees since 1999




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American Society for Engineering Education