ASEE Prism Magazine - October 2002
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Engineering the Next Generation

Henry Petroski's column in the May/June Prism caused me to wonder how many of our generation followed the same path for the same reasons he did. I was a senior in high school when Sputnik was launched—and a paperboy, and I was fascinated with the workings of the New Departure brake on my bicycle.

I hope that Petroski is correct—that many current high school students consider engineering as a career because of the increased attention due to 9/11. I hope that many students decide to pursue that goal, not because a building was demolished but because a career in engineering provides the opportunity for interesting and meaningful work.

David Olson
Professor, College of Engineering
College of DuPage (Ill.)


Car Concerns

As an engineer who has had a long interest in the confluence of transportation, technology, ecology, and the bounds of performance, economy, and design, I found “Down the Road” in the March issue of Prism to be of high quality compared to most.

However, my concerns about “tomorrow's car” are many:

We talk about hydrogen as the clean fuel, but where does hydrogen come from? It has to be generated either by electrolysis (burning fossil or nuclear fuel) or reformulation, and most reformulation involves capturing the energy of the unburned carbon and turning it into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Thus, hydrogen is almost as polluting as burning the fuel directly.

The hybrid cars of today run at far from optimum efficiency. A proper hybrid would use stored energy (battery or perhaps even flywheel) to power the car. The IC engine (Otto or Diesel) would run at optimum efficiency and only run as needed to restore the stored energy. It would not be operated under varying load.

As to shedding pounds, automotive engineering seems to have little sense of history. The 1958-‘59 era Berkeley was the smallest and lightest sports car of the post-WWII period. It weighed in at 725 pounds and could reach 80 miles per hour in street tune. It was unit construction in fiberglass with aluminum bulkhead stiffeners.

The issue that is emotional to me is the gross promotion of larger vehicles and the heavy stand against improving fuel efficiency. Today, with reasonable performance small cars, we manage to get economy in the mid-30s for our suburban environment. We also have the comforts and good handling of vehicles built in the past five years.

Rick Dill
Distinguished Engineer
IBM Corporation