PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo NOVEMBER 2005 - VOLUME 15, NUMBER 3


More than 30 colleges and universities were severely damaged and up to 100,000 students displaced as Hurricane Katrina ripped through the Gulf Coast in late August. Tulane University and the University of New Orleans—both of which have engineering schools—are hoping to reopen for the spring 2006 semester. Tulane University has set up headquarters in Houston while the University of New Orleans, which hopes to begin online courses this month, has established temporary headquarters in nearby Baton Rouge. Tulane’s engineering dean, Nicholas Altiero, sent out an urgent e-mail asking other universities to allow Tulane students to attend classes at their institutions for the fall semester. More than 300 schools responded, including Stanford, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State University. Nine of the leading higher education associations have adopted guidelines for institutions to accept students affected by Hurricane Katrina. They include admitting students only on a visiting or provisional basis and not charging students who have already paid tuition at their home institution. The Department of Education has announced a series of special rules that explain how institutions can provide aid to students affected by the disaster. –Robert F. Malgieri


AUSTRALIA—Bigger is better, say proponents of a plan to merge three universities in the country’s far West. The schools—Curtin University of Technology, Edith Cowan University and Murdoch University—all have engineering programs, and a merger would mean consolidating some of the courses offered now. Called the University of Perth, the new school would enroll 70,000 students.

Mineral-rich and bigger than Texas, western Australia covers one-third of the nation, but fewer than one in 10 of the nation’s 20 million inhabitants lives there. The idea behind the merger is that a single school would be cheaper to operate and could offer expanded programs. Another argument is that the new school—in this case, the nation’s largest—would have more clout with the federal government in faraway Canberra.

Higher education down under has become more businesslike in recent years. To raise money, administrators work hard to attract foreign students and to commercialize research developed on campus. The merger situation is being monitored by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a federal agency. And if it does happen, it won’t be for another three or four years. —Chris Pritchard

""The United States has conducted 145 manned spaceflights in 44 years. A student pilot has taken an airplane off the ground and landed it more times than that by the time he gets his ticket. We are at the dawn of this enterprise, not its maturity. "

—NASA Administrator Michael Griffin


Protesters hate them. But that hasn’t slowed the advance of genetically modified (GM) crops eight years after they were first commercialized, according to a University of Minnesota study funded by an industry group. Bioengineered crops are now grown in 18 countries, and research and development into GM foods are being carried out in 45 other nations. The commercial value of GM crops totals $44 billion, with 98 percent of that amount produced by five countries: the United States, Argentina, China, Canada and Brazil. But that figure should, within a decade, reach $210 billion, with much of the growth driven by developing countries. Indeed, only the United States spends more than China on bioengineering R&D. Meanwhile, a recent U.K. study quashed fears of GM crops creating superweeds immune to herbicides. Chances of transferring GM properties to weeds were slim, according to the study. And if a herbicide-resistant weed did emerge, it would “underperform” compared with wild weeds. In other words, it would quickly die out. —Thomas K. Grose


Federal spending for academic research hit a record $24.7 billion in fiscal year 2003. That was a 13 percent increase from 2002, according to the National Science Foundation’s annual report on research and development funding. Washington provides the lion’s share of money for academic research—almost 62 percent. The main provider is the Department of Health and Human Services, which doled out nearly $11 billion. Total R&D spending by American universities in FY ’03 increased 10.2 percent to $40.1 billion. Federal funding for engineering research totaled $3.6 billion, and $1 billion of that money came from the Department of Defense. Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University grabbed the largest amount of federal cash: $1.1 billion, an increase of 8.3 percent—but more than half was earmarked for the new Applied Physics Laboratory. The University of Washington came in second with $565.6 million (a jump of 16 percent), followed by the University of Michigan with $516.8 million (an increase of 16.3 percent). Schools that saw big jumps in federal funding included the University of Hawaii, Manoa (up 29.5 percent to $143.6 million) and Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University (up 28.4 percent to nearly $222 million). —TG


Soccer playing took to the field in Osaka, Japan, this summer in the ninth RoboCup competition. This year’s championship attracted 400 teams from 35 countries. The idea behind the fun and games is serious: the advancement of robotic technology and artificial intelligence. Getting robots to kick, score and play as a team requires cutting-edge technologies. The games are divided into five leagues, from small (18 centimeters in diameter) to humanoids. There’s also a league devoted to toy robotic dogs, along with a simulation league that features software agents that play on a virtual computer field. A team from Georgia’s Spelman College made history: It was the first all-female team, and the first from a historically black college, to reach the cup finals. Vying for the four-legged cup, Spelman’s team didn’t win any games but improved its performance in each match. Hometown favorites Team Osaka’s VisiON robots won the high-profile humanoid championship, beating the NimbRo robots of Germany, 2-1. —TG


TOKYO—Japan’s prestigious University of Tokyo is taking an ax to its curriculum. The overhaul, with a back-to-basics emphasis, will start with the freshman class of 2006. The move coincides with widespread dissatisfaction among educators and parents with the recently reformed public school system.

Starting with the next school year, in April, the required course load will be boosted for all students regardless of major. Grading will be tougher and fitness for graduation more closely scrutinized, says the university, in order to provide a “guarantee of student quality.”

In the early 1990s, reacting to charges that Japanese public schools were obsessed with rote memorization and weak at instilling creativity and analytical skills, Japan’s Ministry of Education cut the school week from five and a half days to five, and slashed the required curriculum by 30 percent—more like the American school system.

But detractors say that instead of producing a generation of innovative self-starters, the earlier reforms succeeded only in dumbing down the public schools, leaving students unprepared for high school and college. Tokyo University said the new curriculum is not remedial high school training but is intended to “cultivate highly educated and refined human resources.” —Lucille P. Craft


Google Scholar is a relatively new search tool (it’s still in a beta format) offered by the ubiquitous search engine, letting you comb through peer-reviewed articles, as well as theses, books, abstracts, technical reports and other types of scholarly literature. And it’s starting to click with some university libraries. A number of academic libraries’ Web pages offer links to Google Scholar. Some, like those of the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina, feature the instantly recognizable Google logo. Others, like Georgia State University’s, merely list Google Scholar with other scholarly databases. Google doesn’t know how many universities offer the link, but schools are increasingly signing on. Is there an advantage to using the search engine via a library Web site? You bet. Some articles are in publications that require a paid subscription. If the university library whose Web site you use is a paid subscriber, you get free access. —TG

Percentage of engineering faculty members who are women: 10.4

Statistics compiled by Michael Gibbons for the American Society for Engineering Education. Learn more at:


University of Florida (UF) engineers have developed a liquid rinse compound for washing machines—one they hope will get people out of the laundry room faster and save millions in energy costs every year.

The compound, created from a mix of common detergents and fabric softeners, forces clothes to shed 20 percent more water during the washer’s spin cycle, shortening the time the load needs in the dryer. The mix, which is added before the spin cycle, loosens the force between water molecules.

Researchers Dinesh Shah, professor of chemical engineering and director of the UF Center for Surface Science and Engineering, and Daniel Carter, a doctoral student in chemical engineering, say a 10 percent reduction in drying times would save consumers $266 million annually. But they say they can do even better.

Shah and Carter will publish a second article about their research in Langmuir, a surface science journal. The university has applied for a patent on the research, which was funded with $200,000 from Procter & Gamble. —Lynne Shallcross


L. Barry HetheringtonSmall, lightweight robotic devices are proving to be valuable tools in helping stroke victims regain movement in damaged nerve cells. Therapists have long relied on repetitive training, which “teaches” other neurons to take over for the damaged ones. But most patients stop improving after three months. Now mechanical engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working with physicians at a Veterans Health Administration research facility in Baltimore, have developed a prototype machine, dubbed “Anklebot,” that helps stroke victims re-learn ankle movement control so they can walk again. The device monitors, then guides and assists a patient’s ankle in repetitive exercises. The $50,000 prototype uses a technology similar to the MIT-Manus, a robotic device the MIT team developed seven years ago to help stroke victims regain arm movement. The MIT-Manus has been through six successful clinical trials, involving 300 patients, and it has been found to work twice as well as conventional therapies. Researchers envision in the not-too-distant future entire gymnasiums full of robotic therapy machines that help patients regain control over various body parts. Says MIT mechanical engineering professor Hermano Igo Krebs: “We are at the cusp of a revolution in the way rehabilitation medicine is practiced.” —TG


If you’ve ever wondered how geckos can climb on a surface, hang from just one toe and then detach themselves without breaking a sweat, you’re not the only one. A team of polymer researchers from the University of Akron and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute wondered the same thing. The researchers are studying the powerful adhesion abilities of geckos in hopes of advancing adhesives for microelectronics and space applications. The lizards’ five-toed feet are covered with microscopic elastic hairs called setae, which split at the ends to form spatulas and hold the feet in place. From studying the geckos, the researchers are developing synthetic hairs from carbon nanotubes that have adhesion forces 200 times greater than gecko foot hairs, which could lead to reusable dry adhesives for microelectronics, robotics and other areas. —LS


OPENING DOORS - By Alice Daniel
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TECH VIEW: Think Big, Teach Small - By Mary Kathleen Flynn
CIRCLE OF SUPPORT - Engineering schools are developing programs to help their female students fit in. - By Margaret Loftus
BOOK REVIEW: The World Is Flat - By Robin Tatu
RESEARCH: A More Perfect Union - By Gary S. Was
ON CAMPUS: A Human Touch - By Lynne Shallcross
LAST WORD: All in the Family - By Gary A. Gabriele and Jennifer Currey


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