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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationNOVEMBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 3 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY:  ‘PATCH AND PRAY’ - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
FEATURE: GM SHIFTS GEARS - BY MARY LORD
FEATURE: EYE ON THE WORLD - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: Thinking Simple - HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Don’t Overlook Industry - By DONALD A. KEATING & EUGENE M. DELOATCH

TEACHING TOOLBOX
TEACHING TOOLBOX: Knowledge Builders - WITH ‘ELECTRIC PICKLES,’ SPACE-SHUTTLE TILES AND OTHER ATTENTION-GRABBING STRATAGEMS, COLLEGE AND GRADUATE STUDENTS SEEK TO INSPIRE A YOUNG GENERATION OF POTENTIAL ENGINEERS. BY BARBARA MATHIAS-RIEGEL
JEE SELECTS: The Habit of Learning - SCOTT JIUSTO AND DAVID DIBASIO
ON THE SHELF: Our Town, Our World - ROBIN TATU


BACK ISSUES







 
BRIEFINGS: SLICKER SKIS + SEE-THROUGH FROGS + JERUSALEM GATE  
ASTRONOMY - Mapping the Stars - By ROBIN TATU ASTRONOMY - Mapping the Stars - By ROBIN TATU

Hubble Space Telescope: Launched: April 24, 1990 - Cost to build: $1.5 billion - Orbiting position: 357 miles from earth; circles globe every 97 minutes - Size: equal to a school bus - Distance it can see: Billions of light years - Equipment: Includes multiple advanced 
cameras; batteries with 22 cells and heaters; numerous mirrors; gyroscopes.Google has brought the heavens down to earth. With a click of a button, users of the popular computer program “Google Earth” can now switch from viewing close-up satellite images of locations around the world to gazing at the constellations, planets, and galaxies suspended in the skies above. Available in 13 languages, the newly-launched “Sky in Google Earth” employs images from NASA, the Hubble Space Telescope, and several observatories worldwide. One hundred million stars and 200 million galaxies are depicted, and detailed information, simulated tracking, and additional websites are available for several of the celestial bodies. The possibilities for sky-exploration are enough to make anyone starry-eyed..—Robin Tatu

 

 
AGRICULTURE - Good Green vs. Bad - By Chris Pritchard - Michele Constantini/ZenShui/gettyAGRICULTURE - Good Green vs. Bad - By Chris Pritchard - Michele Constantini/ZenShui/getty
 

AUSTRALIA— Weeds are a nuisance for everyone, but in major crop-exporting nations such as Australia, they eat into profits. Recently, a photonics engineering professor devised an effective way to kill weeds, while reducing herbicide use by 80%. Distinguishing between “good” green crops and “bad” green weeds, an intelligent laser system developed by Kamal Alameh of Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia, operates via computer screens, pinpointing differences in color, texture and leaf size. “It tells green from green,” says Dr Alameh, director of the Electron Science Research Institute at Edith Cowan. “No commercial technology in the world does this.” Existing products see only green crops and brown earth. The device, funded by the government and a private firm, Photonic Detection Systems, lets farmers target weeds instead of spraying entire areas. “Less herbicide saves money and the environment,” notes Alameh. Prototypes have proven 98 percent accurate. Beyond agriculture, Alameh envisages use on golf courses and along highways and railroads. Field models are now being tested, mostly with cotton and sugar, before commercial development. —Chris Pritchard

 

 
SATELLITE TECHNOLOGY - Source of Relief? - By THOMAS K. GROSESATELLITE TECHNOLOGY - Source of Relief? - By THOMAS K. GROSE
 

Still waters run deep, indeed. The site of a long-buried, massive lake in the north of Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region has been discovered by Boston University researchers. Buried some 5,000 years ago by desert sands, it is the remnants of Lake Ptolemy, once an 11,873-square-mile body of water, about the size of Lake Erie. Farouk El-Baz, head of BU’s Center for Remote Sensing, says chances are good that, deep underground, there’s a reservoir of long-lost water at the site. If so, he says, it could encourage an end to the fighting and bloodshed in Dafur. One of the causes of the ongoing, four-year civil war was drought conditions and scarce water supplies. The conflict has claimed at least 200,000 lives and turned 2.5 million people into refugees.

El-Baz, who worked in NASA’s Apollo space program, is a leader in using satellite technology to search for potential water sources in desert areas. Already, an initiative to drill 1,000 wells into the ancient lake bed has been launched. Of course, there’s no guarantee that there’s any water left, and the site is hundreds of miles from the refugee camps. So any water found would have to be piped long distances. Another big worry: water is such a precious commodity in Darfur, any potential source, particularly such a promising one, could give rise to new conflicts or escalate existing ones. —THOMAS K. GROSE

 

 
DIVERSITY - Workplace Woes - By THOMAS K. GROSEPHOTO COURTESY OF NASA  

The number of African American workers in information technology (IT) is disproportionately low and dropping. The IT business journal CIO Insight reports an almost 26 percent decline since the decade began.

African-Americans comprise just 6.5 percent of IT managers and professional staff, though they represent 11 percent of the overall U.S. workforce. The ratio for Hispanics is also low, with 5.2 percent of IT workers as opposed to 13.7 percent in the total workforce. For whites, it’s 75.2 percent IT to 82.1 percent total workforce. And though Asian-Americans comprise only 4.6 of professionals, they represent 16.3 percent of IT workers.

A 2005 survey conducted by Global Lead Management Consulting provides some explantion for the decline in black IT workers. Of the African-American respondents, more than half indicated a lack of trust in their work peers, and 43 percent felt they had to make personal adjustments to fit in. Only 44 percent felt minorities in IT were treated fairly and equitably, while fewer than half believe their chances for advancement are good. A troubling 56 percent considered leaving their jobs in 2005. The key in retaining talent clearly lies in “building deeper and more effective” work relationships within organizations, says Arlene Roane, Global Lead’s managing director of marketing. —T.G.

 

 
SPORTS - Waxing for Gold - By THOMAS K. GROSESPORTS - Waxing for Gold - By THOMAS K. GROSE  

GREAT BRITAIN—If Britain’s downhill ski team comes up golden at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, a pair of chemical engineers may deserve some of the credit. Professors Peter Styring, of the University of Sheffield, and Alex Routh, of the University of Cambridge, have invented a self-waxing ski that boosts the speeds of downhill racers. Wax has long been applied to skis to reduce friction and make skis run faster. But as it wears off, skiers lose momentum, particularly in the final stages of a race. Styring and Routh’s self-waxing ski keeps the lubrication flowing continuously.

Here’s how it works: Liquid wax rests in a reservoir beneath the ski boot and is released by the pressure exerted by skiers when they turn, flowing up a 250-micron tube to each ski tip. Forward motion spreads the wax down the undersides of the skis. The design doesn’t run afoul of Federation International du Ski (FIS) regulations that prohibit external devices on skis, because it doesn’t rely on pumps run by compressed air or batteries.

When tested on Austrian ski runs, the skis improved performance by 2 percent. That may not sound like much. But as Styring notes, in the Winter Olympics the difference between a Gold Medal and 15th place usually hovers around just 2 percent. And he thinks, in the future, using different waxes may produce even greater speeds. Jokes Styring, a former competitive skier: “It’s good to see our research going downhill fast.” —TG

 

 
EMPLOYMENT - Luring Graduates - BY THOMAS K. GROSEEMPLOYMENT - Luring Graduates - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

Aerospace rivals Boeing and Lockheed Martin not only compete in the marketplace, they compete for top engineering grads. And according to an annual survey of undergraduates, engineering students give Boeing a slight edge. Boeing came in first, Lockheed Martin a close second, among engineering majors in the 2007 Universum IDEAL Employer Survey. Last year, Lockheed Martin edged out Boeing.

The survey by branding consultant Universum Inc. got responses from 44,064 students at 184 schools, of which 6,783 were engineering students. The results reveal that innovation, ethical standards, attractive locales, industry leadership and financial strength are all characteristics engineering students seek in companies—and Boeing scored high in all these areas. Other top companies for engineering grads: Northrop Grumman, Toyota, Raytheon, GE, BMW, Google, GM and Walt Disney. The number one career goal of engineering students is balancing their professional and personal lives. Other top goals include building a strong financial base, pursuing further education, contributing to society, and working with cutting-edge technology. —TG

 

 

 
EDUCATION - Math in Vogue - BY THOMAS K. GROSEEDUCATION - Math in Vogue - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

File under: “Who Knew?” Turns out television actress Danica McKellar—best known for playing middle-schooler Winnie Cooper on the ‘80s and 90s hit show, The Wonder Years—is a math whiz. Now 32, she received her undergraduate degree in math from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1998, and is coauthor of the Chayes-McKellar-Winn mathematical physics theorem.

Now’s she’s published book aimed at girls aged 9 to 12 to demonstrates that crunching numbers can be fun and easy. Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math is written in the style of a teen magazine, using fashion, horoscopes and testimonials to make its points. McKellar says she wants young girls to realize that being fashionable and intelligent needn’t be mutually exclusive ideals. University of Iowa professor of epidemiology Tara C. Smith gave the book a rave review, noting that it shows girls “that math is accessible and relevant, and even a little glamorous.” Time for Gucci to bring out a line of calculators. —TG

 

MARINE ENGINEERING - Fin-tastic - BY THOMAS K. GROSEMARINE ENGINEERING - Fin-tastic - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

Most anglers know the bluegill sunfish as a popular and tasty freshwater game fish, common to North American lakes. To a team of engineers at MIT’s Bio-Instrumentation Systems Laboratory, however, the bluegill is an efficient swimmer whose fins may inspire a new way to propel autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). Propeller- driven AUVs are used for many undersea chores, including ocean-floor mapping and surveying shipwrecks. But MIT researchers want to build a better AUV, one that can be used by the military to sweep for mines and inspect harbors, and that can hover, turn and store energy, as a fish does. When humans do the breaststroke, they create drag during each stroke’s recovery phase. Yet a bluegill’s fins allow it to constantly thrust forward without any backward drag. An early MIT version of the fin worked well, but was motorized, and so, too noisy for an AUV. The most recent prototype is made from a thin, flexible polymer that conducts electricity. When an electric current is applied to the fin’s base, the fin sweeps forward, like a bluegill’s.

Researchers will also investigate how bluegill fins interact with each other and the fish’s body. If they succeed, robotic subs may someday swim like a fish—and look a bit like one, too. —TG

 

 
Astronomy - Hot Photos - BY THOMAS K. GROSEAstronomy - Hot Photos - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

In 1990, Boston University scientists discovered a huge gas cloud next to Jupiter. If it were visible to the naked eye, the cloud would be the largest, permanent visual object in our solar system. The unlikely source is tiny Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, which is only fractionally larger than the Earth’s sole moon. Yet as Michael Mendillo, a professor of astronomy and electrical and computer engineering at Boston University, explains, Io is the most volcanically active place known anywhere.

In 2000, a four-meter class telescope operated by the Air Force in Maui, Hawaii, captured 62,500 images of Io in an hour’s time, using exposures of just 1/60th per second to compensate for turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere and to garner a few sharp images. This year, BU doctoral student Sophie Laurent devised a signal-processing technique that combed through the database of images, selected the best ones, and perfectly combined and centered them. That resulted in the first clear images of Io, which revealed the sources of the sodium clouds. Says Mendillo: “It was an innovative use of a relatively standard signal-processing method applied to a completely different environment.” One that’s literally out of this world. —TG

 

INFRARED TECHNOLOGY - It’s Done with Mirrors - BY THOMAS K. GROSEINFRARED TECHNOLOGY - It’s Done with Mirrors - BY THOMAS K. GROSE

Much of the Netherlands is land reclaimed from the sea, held back by a network of ingeniously engineered dikes. Accordingly, a lot of the country’s subsoil is poor—damp and sandy. That’s why so much of Amsterdam is built on stacks of underground wood piling, some it dating back to the 17th Century. So when the city began construction of a new north-south subway line, engineers knew they had to be extremely careful. Officials didn’t want to repeat the disruptions of previous subway excavations. Moreover, no one wanted to damage any of the city’s treasured buildings, like historic Centraal Station, which sits atop Line 52. So, to monitor building movement along the 2.4 miles of line below ground, engineers came up with an inspired solution. They attached mirrors in groups of three—7,000 in all—to buildings along the route, and they zap them once every hour with infrared beams. Measuring devices monitor the beams’ reflections, then the measurements are fed into a computer capable of detecting movement as slight at 0.5 millimeters. The mirror system has worked well, giving workers a heads up when their excavation caused some nearby buildings to sway. When the engineers discovered that their drills had hit some old wood pilings in a section where they thought there was only sand, a different type of drill was devised. Once the digging recommenced, the buildings held firm. —TG

 

 
BRIDGES - Dramatic Entrance - BY JOSHUA BRILLIANTBRIDGES - Dramatic Entrance - BY JOSHUA BRILLIANT  

Jerusalem—A 387-foot angled white pylon is rising at Jerusalem’s main entryway. Part of the controversial, cable-stayed Chords Bridge, it promises to become one of the Holy City’s attractions. The $55 million span was designed by Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, whose other works include the Atlanta Symphony Center and Chicago Spire. Due to be completed in December, it will eventually support a light rail line and pedestrian walkway.

Stretching 1,181 feet, the bridge will curve almost 90 degrees to link a major east-west road with a north-south route. Its cable stays will connect the pylon to only one side of the planned bridge; the other will remain free.

Critics complain the structure will be “a monster” in a congested area, in one place just 13 feet from a building. But a suggested tunnel alternative was rejected because another tunnel already exists and two others are planned for the area—one for a major rail line and the second for a massive nuclear-bomb-proof underground shelter.
The municipality’s chief architect, Ofer Manor, expects the bridge to be a new symbol of the tradition of “ascending to Jerusalem,” with rough-edged Jerusalem stone covering the bridge’s concrete base. The walkway and banister will be made of glass, providing a striking modern contrast to the biblical landscape. —Joshua Brilliant

 

 
ELECTRICITY - Paper Power - BY THOMAS K. GROSEELECTRICITY - Paper Power - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

Talk about a flexible power source. Literally. Students at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a battery that’s 90 percent cellulose, basically paper. It’s embedded with carbon nanotubes that act as electrodes and soaked in an ionic solution, which functions as an electrolyte.

Unlike conventional batteries, all the paper battery’s components are integrated in a single structure. Robert Linhardt, the engineering professor who head RPI’s Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, says the integrated design is very efficient—less power is lost because it’s not being transferred from component to component. It’s also lightweight, can be folded and trimmed to fit any size, and could be manufactured with a special printer, just like a newspaper. The stamp-sized RPI version releases a mere 2.3 volts. But the paper can be easily stacked into reams to increase power output, perhaps even to levels capable of running a car. Yet some experts note that carbon nanotubes are quite expensive, so commercializing paper batteries won’t be a snap. —TG

 

 
GENETICS - Baring All - BY LUCILLE CRAFTGENETICS - Baring All - BY LUCILLE CRAFT  

Japan—Researchers are getting a jump on diagnostic techniques after breeding the world’s first frogs with transparent skin. Hiroshima University’s Institute for Amphibian Biology—billed as the only center devoted to the study of the croakers—was able to produce 20 see-through frogs via artificial insemination. But the next round of research will exploit genetic engineering techniques to breed hundreds of the mutant ninjas, using African clawed frogs.

“Once the procedure is established, we can regularly produce these kinds of frogs,” says Prof. Masayuki Sumida, who heads the project. With “genetic engineering, it’s easier to operate a chromosomal set.”

The special-skinned frogs will be used to study the effects of toxic environmental substances on the body. With their insides on view, the frogs could also be injected with a luminiscent protein that would light up when a gene turns cancerous.

Having the frogs’ eggs, organs and blood vessels clearly visible mitigates the need for dissection in tracking the development of cancers and the maturation of organs. —LUCILLE CRAFT

QUOTED: Traumatic brain injury “is going to be the signature injury of the [Iraq] war, and the consequences are going to far outweigh Agent Orange from Vietnam.” —Kevin Kit Parker, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Harvard University who served with the Army in Afghanistan. His lab is working to understand how improvised explosive devices cause TBIs.  SOURCE: ABC NEWS WEBSITE

 

 
AWARDS - Three Professors Honored - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  


A trio of engineering professors were among the recipients of two prestigious—and financially lucrative—awards in September.

Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Tech, was one of 24 winners of the “genius grants” awarded annually by the MacArthur Foundation. Winners receive $500,000 over five years. Edwards, 43, is a leading expert on urban drinking-water quality and lead levels in water. In 2003, he discovered extremely high levels of lead in Washington, D.C.’s water system, and helped the city revise its testing procedures and safety recommendations. His work led Time magazine to dub him the “Plumbing Professor” when it named him a national “Innovator” in 2004.

Hugh HerrHugh Herr, a professor of biomechatronics at MIT, and Bernard Amadei, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder, both received awards from the Heinz Family Foundation, which recognizes pioneering achievements and gives $250,000 to winners in five categories. Herr won the technology award, which recognized his breakthrough innovations in prosthetics and orthotics. His work has resulted in prosthetics that more smoothly merge with human limbs, providing wearers a more natural gait. Foundation chair Teresa Heinz, calls Herr, who was just 17 when he lost both his legs below the knee in a mountain-climbing accident, “an expression of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.”

Bernard AmadeiAmadei shared the environment award with another recipient for his work in improving the quality of life in the world’s poorest communities. Seven years ago, with the help of colleagues, students and professional engineers, Amadei installed an inexpensive, sustainable water-delivery system in the Mayan village of San Pablo, Belize. That inspired him and his cohorts to launch Engineers Without Borders-USA, which coordinates and funds projects in 43 countries.—TG

 

 


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