susceptible to broken jaws are said to have glass jaws,
glass being a material that's commonly viewed as easily shattered.
So, irony upon irony, researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla
are experimenting with special glasses that could be used to repair
broken or diseased bones. They are mixing finely crushed, bioactive
glasses with a polymer that could be injected into damaged bone. As
the mixture hardens, it fills the cracks and acts as a super paste,
adhering the reconnected bones to one another. Delbert Day, Curators'
Professor Emeritus of ceramic engineering at Missouri, says these oxide
glasses are not foreign to the body, like metals or pure
polymers, because their ionic bonding is similar to natural bone. The
glasses react with bodily fluids to form hydroxyapatite, a mineral component
of living bone. This is probably one reason why the family of
bioactive glasses is not rejected by bone, Day says. Glass gives
the mixture increased mechanical strength and keeps the polymer composite
from shrinking. Its reaction with bodily fluids also spurs the growth
of new boneso, in short, the glass acts as a template where bone
cells can attach and multiply.
holder of 42 patents, was co-inventor of TheraSphere, a radioactive
glass microsphere that's used to treat liver cancer patients. He
is now developing radioactive glass spheres that could be injected into
arthritic joints. The biodegradable orbs, each no more than one-fifth
the diameter of a human hair, would safely deliver the radiation treatment,
then dissolve. Tests on animals are promising, he says, but no human
tests are in the offing any time soon. Injecting arthritic joins with
radioactive particles is widely accepted in Europe as a treatment, but
is not approved for humans in the United States. Thus, he suggests,
it could be up to 10 years before the microspheres are commercially
available. It took over 15 years for TheraSphere to reach commercial
use in humans. The wheels turn slowly, Day notes. He has also
worked on hollow, biodegradable microspheres filled with drugs, which
gradually deliver therapies as they dissolve to precisely targeted areas
of the body.
Space Walk for
Canadian-designed experiment aboard the International Space Station
(ISS) is using technology that is helping to advance the treatment of
cancer patients on earth. Since February 2002, nine astronauts aboard
ISS have worn a .04-inch square silicon chip dosimeter that measures
the levels of radiation they are exposed to during space walks. Similar
devices are being used now in 400 cancer clinics worldwide to measure
the radiation that patients receive. The chip is attached at the end
of a strip of 1/16- inch-wide circuit-board tape that leads to instruments
that record the radiation levels. The tape is small enough that
it doesn't absorb, deflect, or change the radiation beam at all,
says Ian Thomson, president of the Ottawa-based company Thomson Nielsen
that developed the device. In recent experimental cases, the chip even
has been inserted inside patients through catheters to measure radiation
levels in sensitive internal organs. It's a quality assurance
thing, Thomson says. It helps fine-tune the treatment.
And what about those astronauts? So far, results have shown that astronauts
receive 4.5 milliSieverts (mSv) per monthmore than double what
a radiation worker is allowed on Earth.
The Art of Doing
ago, Silicon Valley startup entrepreneur Tom Bakey watched a group of
disabled students struggle through an art class. It occurred to him
that the students' self-gratification would increase if they could
make more life-like pictures, and that one way to achieve that would
by be using computer graphics software. Then, he reckoned, all they
would need was a basic ability to manipulate a mouse to compose realistic-looking
paintings. He took his idea to local authorities in San
Jose, but was told by the bureaucrats that it was too costly.
People thought I was crazy, he recalls. So he called on
a few of his Silicon Valley pals who let him use some of their companies'
computers during evening hours, when they were idle. A decade later,
nearly 500 disabled students ranging in age from six to their mid-20s
have learned to paint with computers at CADartists Inc.,
the nonprofit organization Bakey founded. It now has its own facility
in San Jose and access to around 200 computers donated by local businesses.
The studentswho have disabilities ranging from autism to Down's
Syndromeare taught by volunteers, mostly business folks from the
community. Their computer paintings have won kudos from the likes of
Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. A recent series of paintings about the
space shuttle was presented to NASA, and one of the works of art may
be taken aboard an upcoming space shuttle flight.
also are becoming teachers. They recently began teaching elderly residents
of local nursing homesincluding one woman who is 106how
to paint with computers. These kids have latent talents that no
one was tapping before, says Bakey, whose last startup was Tricad,
a company that specializes in three-dimensional, computer-aided design.
Bakey, who has an electrical engineering degree from Northeastern University
in Boston, says he went into engineering to ensure that he would have
a marketable skill. But I've had a lifelong interest in art,
he adds. And now, thanks to Bakey, hundreds of disabled students are
learning that making good art needn't be a struggle.
Quick, Nurse, a
has been in use for many years now, and it's proven to be a boon in
giving physicians an inside look at our innards. Ultrasound bombards
the body with high-frequency sound waves. When they bounce back, they
can be read to provide a detailed image of muscle, blood vessels, and
other soft parts of our anatomy. But ultrasound still has
drawbacks when used to guide doctors during invasive procedures, like
needle biopsies, catheterizations, surgery, or just giving injections.
That's because it requires them to look away from the patient and at
a computer screen.
researcher in Pittsburgh is developing what he calls the Sonic Flashlight,
which uses a half-silvered mirror to reflect back onto the patient the
image showing up on the flat-screen monitor. The image superimposed
on the patient, in real time, corresponds precisely to the part of the
body being scanned. This will allow doctors to keep their eyes glued
on the patient, and simultaneously see what they're doing both externally
and internally. George D. Stetten, a bioengineer at both the University
of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, has devised two versions
of the Sonic Flashlighta larger stationary machine, and a portable,
handheld device for use in doctors' offices. He calls the process tomographic
reflection and is encouraged by experiments on butchered meat
and a cadaver. We are proposing animal tests to the NIH,
says Stetten, who is also a medical doctor. No license for the technology
has yet been issued, so he guesses it will be a number of years
before it may become standard equipment.
Less Paper for
subscription costs for prestigious academic journals have spurred support
for electronic publishing in Australia. And engineering educators are
among the most enthusiastic backers.
publications come from the United States and Europe, which means they're
paid for in U.S. dollars or Euros. Increasingly unfavorable exchange
rates are putting Australian universities at a distinct disadvantage.
Worse, these higher costs have come at a time of belt- tightening at
many school libraries.
we opt not to renew a subscription, those affected protest loudly,
says Colin Steele, the director of scholarly information strategies
at the Australian National University in Canberra. The University of
New South Wales chief librarian Andrew Wells notes that the buying
power of our budgets is decreasing significantly as the (Australian)
dollar's value against foreign currencies stays low.
is that Australian universities are increasingly turning to IT and encouraging
e-publishing. The global trend is toward electronic solutions,
says Steele. He says engineers and IT types are the most comfortable
with new technology, while the those in the arts still prefer hard copy.
number of academics publishing electronically still remains tinyfar
less than one percent of the total, says Steele, but e-publishing
is rising rapidly. He sees many papers being published directly on the
Internet, with the hard copy journals perhaps concentrating on really
major pieces of research.
the Australian National University launched the country's first
academic electronic archive, encouraging authors to store papers, books,
and monographs there. It currently houses little more than 100 documents
because, says Steele, we've been going such a short time.
We expect a big spurt of interest over the next couple of years.
The University of Melbourne and University of Queensland have followed
the ANU's lead, and others are poised to launch.
a long haul, says Steele, but with ballooning library costs,
we have no choice.
Industry Ties Stronger
comes to working with industry on commercializing research, European
academics tend to be more wary than their American counterparts. There
is still a bit of an us-versus-them mentality. They're still
having to get used to the idea, says John L. Anderson, dean of
the College of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. Nevertheless,
when it comes to having input in the classroom, industry has a bigger
say at European tech schools, according to a new study, Successful Practice
in International Engineering. The survey, which interviewed 1,000 professors
at 10 leading tech institutions in America and Europe, as well as company
managers and experienced graduate engineers, found that in creating
curricula, European schools forge closer links to industry than do their
American counterparts. The survey included Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and
Georgia Tech, as well as seven European schools, including Imperial
College in England, France's Ecole Centrale Paris, and the Kungle
Tekniska Hogskolan in Stockholm, Sweden.
difference is the European emphasis on internships. Students in a five-year
engineering program in Europe may be required to spend 26 weeks working
in their field. We do it on an ad hoc basis, Anderson says.
Some (American) kids get a lot of experience, some get none.
The ties to industry in Europe seem especially close in the areas of
computer and electrical engineering. Courses in Europe are much more
applied, more about process and equipment, Anderson explains, while
American classes focus on modeling. Industry in Europe is influential,
he says, because it pours so much money into research. But that's
not necessarily good, he adds. An American student, with a broader
education, may not know every piece of equipment or process when he
or she starts a job, but that's easily learned. On the other hand,
he says, they can do a wider variety of jobs. Moreover,
the influence its money buys may be self-defeating for European industry.
Corporate America has learned that by giving schools more autonomy,
students often come up with things that are not only useful but unexpected.
For example, Ford Motor Co. underwrote the cost of an undergraduate
course at Carnegie Mellon, then left it alone. The upshot: Three undergraduates
came up with novel ideas that Ford ended up patenting. Sometimes it
pays off for industry donors to put up and then shut up.
Buzzing the Enemy
James Bond. The next generation of super spies may be micromechanical
blow flies. Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley are
developing the Robofly, a 100-milligram robotic fly that the Pentagon
hopes will someday be used to buzz across enemy lines to pick up valuable
intelligence. Also dubbed the Microfly, the critter is the result of
research led by Ron Fearing, a professor of electrical engineering.
He joined forces with two other Berkeley colleaguesprofessors
Arun Majurndar and Michael Dickinsonin 1998 to sell the idea to
the Office of Naval Research, which has spent about $2.5 million on
the project. Key to the bug's development is research by Dickinson
on how insects fly so expertly. For his efforts, Dickinson last year
won a $500,000 genius award, a MacArthur Fellowship that's
annually given to a handful of researchers. A zoologist, Dickinson studies
the nerves and muscles that enable insects to fly. Three years ago,
he concluded that flying insects use three, complex wing motions. The
aerodynamic models from Professor Dickinson are critical for obtaining
sufficient flight forces, and hence have guided our electromechanical
thorax design completely, Fearing says. To achieve flight, the
Robofly needs to have proper wing motion at a high frequency, 150 Hz,
and the lab prototype is closing in on that goal. So far, it's
attached to an apparatus that gives it balance and stability. Power
and control come from offboard wires. But Fearing says they'll
devise and install integrated electronics in the coming months, and
free flight may be achieved in about a year. The Microfly's actuators
are made of piezoelectric ceramic; its structure is ultrafine stainless
steel; and its joints and wings are polyester. Its weight will include
a 30 milligram battery that Fearing hopes will provide 10 to 20 minutes
of flight time.
defense uses, Fearing thinks his Microfly could be handy for many other
chores, including crop monitoring, artificial pollination, pest management,
fire detection, air-quality monitoring, search-and-rescue needs, games,
and kid-tracking. Electronic blow flies might even become popular as
companions, he suggests. But would you pet it or swat it?
at the Spy Museum
Hammurabi, the Trojan Horse, and a through-the-wall camera? They're
all part and parcel of the history of intelligence gathering and counterintelligence
on display at Washington, D.C.'s newest museum, the International
Spy Museum. The earliest recorded evidence of espionage dates back some
38 centuries to the era of the Babylonian king. The legend of the Trojan
Horse, allegedly used by Greek soldiers to gain entry to Troy, was an
ancient example of battlefield subterfuge. And the Czech-invented camera
was used by Stasi, the East German secret police, to photograph through
walls. While the museum is a paean to sleuthing, it's also a historical
record of clever science and amazing engineering. If the Trojan Horse
really existed, it was a prime feat of mechanical engineering. Most
of the real tools of tradecraft are a testament to engineering ingenuity.
Gadgets such as the lipstick pistol, the ring gun, the microdot camera,
and the electric lock-pick are scattered throughout the building.
engineers play a big role in spying, as well. The Chu Chi tunnels were
used by the Vietcong in an area between Saigon and the Cambodian border
during the Vietnam War. During the Cold War, CIA agent William Harvey
designed and built a 500-yard tunnel into Communist-controlled East
Berlin to listen in on phone messages between the German city and Moscow.
Harvey's Hole, as it was called, operated for a year
before it was raided by Soviet troops. But great engineering isn't
always enough to ensure success. A British agent, George Blake, informed
the Soviets about the tunnel before it was finished. From the start,
the only intelligence gathered there was disinformation created by Soviet
counterintelligence. The West shouldn't have been surprised: Many
a good tunnel is home to a mole. For information about the museum, visit
the Web site, www.spymuseum.org.