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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationOCTOBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 2 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: BANGALORE-JOLT - INDIA’S RAPID HIGH-TECH GROWTH HAS FUELED A HUGE DEMAND FOR WELL-TRAINED ENGINEERS. STARTUPS, INDUSTRY, RETURNING EXPATRIATES AND EVEN A SPIRITUAL LEADER—THE ‘HUGGING SAINT’—OFFER INNOVATIVE WAYS TO FILL THE VOID. BUT ARE THEIR EFFORTS ENOUGH? BY LUCILLE CRAFT
FEATURE: 2 FOR 1 - IN PUTTING ITS BUSINESS AND ENGINEERING SCHOOLS UNDER ONE ROOF, PENN STATE BEHREND AIMS TO FOSTER CREATIVE TEAMWORK WHILE MAKING ITS STUDENTS ATTRACTIVE TO INDUSTRY.  BY MARY LORD
FEATURE: EDUCATOR FOR THE REAL WORLD - JIM MELSA WANTED TO CHANGE HOW ENGINEERING IS TAUGHT, EVEN IF IT MADE HIM ‘A PAIN IN THE NECK.’ BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: LAUNCHING A CAREER - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Saving the Marriage - BY PAUL PEERCY

TEACHING TOOLBOX
Walking the Line - Ethics courses give students an understanding of the dilemmas they will face in the workplace—and the confidence to make wise choices. BY ALICE DANIEL
JEE SELECTS: The Case for Inductive Teaching - BY RICHARD FELDER AND MICHAEL PRINCE
ON THE SHELF: Stunning Growth, Stubborn Problems - BY ROBIN TATU


BACK ISSUES







 
BRIEFINGS: KILLER CLOTHES + A STAND-UP NERD + EASY VACCINE  
BRIDGES - HANGING OUT - By ROBIN TATU BRIDGES - HANGING OUT - By ROBIN TATU

Visitors to the Grand Canyon can now stroll out 70 feet beyond its western rim to gaze upon the Colorado River—some 4,000 feet below. The engineering marvel that makes this possible is the Skywalk, a cantilevered, horseshoe-shaped bridge with special 3-inch-thick glass floors. Secured by steel rods set nearly 50 feet into the canyon wall, the Skywalk was built to withstand an 8.0-magnitude earthquake, 100-mile-an-hour winds, and 71 million pounds of pressure. Since its opening in March, the $30 million wonder has been attracting some 2,000 visitors a day. The scene is so vast that the helicopter at right appears bird-sized.—ROBIN TATU

 

 
HEALTH CARE -  Prosthesis Gets a Grip - BY THOMAS K. GROSEHEALTH CARE -  Prosthesis Gets a Grip - BY THOMAS K. GROSE
 

The i-LIMB Hand, which uses human thought and muscles to move, is the world’s first commercially available bionic hand. The amazing prosthetic device is the invention of David Gow, an engineer who works for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). “It’s the first hand to come to the market that’s actually had bending fingers, just like your own hand,” Gow, head of rehabilitation engineering services for the NHS in Lothian, Scotland, told the BBC. Each of the artificial hand’s four fingers and opposable thumb has three articulated joints, just like real digits. And each is powered by its own individual motor. Movement is controlled by myoelectric sensors (myo is Latin for muscle) that pick up electrical signals from the arm’s remaining muscles. As a result, the prosthetic hand has a very human-like grip, and users are able to master it within minutes.

The i-LIMB Hand was tested at a prosthetics center within the engineering department of Scotland’s Strathclyde University. The manufacturer and distributor is Touch Bionics of Edinburgh. One of the amputees who tested the device is retired U.S. Army sergeant Juan Arredondo of Universal City, Texas, who lost his left hand in Iraq. Says Arredondo: “Every day I have the hand, it surprises me.” —THOMAS K. GROSE

 

 
SIMULATION - The Ultimate Tanning Salon - BY THOMAS K. GROSEExterior view of the SPHERE.
 

Human skin and plastics have one thing in common: Both are highly susceptible to the sun’s UV rays, which they are inclined to absorb. Damage begins once skin or plastic soaks up UV light, because the rays break the bonds that hold molecules together. But different forms of plastic may react differently, posing a challenge for manufacturers that want durable products.

Enter the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). This government agency in Gaithersburg, Md., has produced the SPHERE, which stands for “simulated photodegradation by high-energy radiant exposure.” It’s another way of saying that this device is capable of simulating the sun’s effects at mach speed. Covered in specially coated aluminum, the SPHERE contains six mercury lamps that generate 36,000 watts of power. The light it emits is 22 times the strength of the sun’s. Twenty-four hours inside the fake sun would be tantamount to spending 35 days basking ‘neath the rays of the real ol’ sol.

The SPHERE is used to test plastics and coatings, to see how they hold up under unrelenting sunlight. Everything from paint to body armor to outdoor furniture and firefighters’ overcoats has been tested within the SPHERE. “You don’t want to wait 15 years to find out if your material will last 15 years,” NIST materials engineer Joannie W. Chin told the Washington Post. Another NIST researcher calls it the ultimate tanning booth—though, clearly, spending just a few seconds inside the SPHERE would send you diving into the nearest pool. —T.G.

 

 
CLIMATE - Not-So-Silver Lining - BY THOMAS K. GROSEPHOTO COURTESY OF NASA  

Is it better to switch to alternative fuels to combat global warming or simply cut use of fossil fuels? It doesn’t matter, say a growing number of scientists; there’s too little time either way. Instead, these scientists propose various climate engineering methods to cool off the Earth—essentially, applying advanced technologies to control the weather.

In a lengthy article in the Wilson Quarterly, James R. Fleming, a professor of science, technology and society at Maine’s Colby College, highlights some proposals—but injects a note of skepticism.

Ideas include shooting millions of tons of material—perhaps specially engineered nanoparticles—into the stratosphere above the Arctic to deflect the sun’s heat and bulk up the ice cap; or building giant pumps and “eggbeaters” to froth the ocean to make thicker, more reflective clouds. Fleming’s article also recounts the rather stormy and dubious history of weather control (weather weapons have long been a military dream) and warns against such “quick fix” measures. For one thing, he notes, there’s a dearth of evidence that the billions of dollars spent over many decades to manipulate the Earth’s complex weather system actually produced results.

Even if some methods proved effective, Fleming says, there’s no way to predict unintended—and possibly nasty—consequences. And he asks who’ll decide when and how to use them, as there’s never going to be global unanimity on what constitutes good climate. One person’s garden-saving rains are another person’s ruined weekend. —T.G.

 

 
EDUCATION - Too Much Coming and Going - BY LUCILLE CRAFTEDUCATION - Too Much Coming and Going - BY LUCILLE CRAFT  

JAPAN – At a time of growing international collaboration in science, Japan is missing out. So argues Peter Osborne, a neuroscientist at Asahikawa Medical College in Hokkaido. He is well-placed to make a comparison, having lived and researched not only in Japan but in a half-dozen other locales. While Japan offers an impressive array of fellowships, grants and other support to attract foreign academics, these programs are of brief duration. Researchers tend to leave after three years or less, with the result that permanent foreign staff are a rarity at Japanese universities. The heavy turnover not only disrupts the pursuit of science but also prevents most Japanese students from ever hearing a lecture by a foreign scientist. Recent university belt-tightening has exacerbated the problem, according to Osborne.

In a recent Japan Times article, Osborne urged a major change: Given the heavy investment of time necessary to become proficient in the Japanese language—essential as most classes are still taught in Japanese—Japan needs to invest in retaining foreign staff over the long term. Universities can’t afford it, so the government-subsidized Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science ought to pick up the tab, he writes. —Lucille Craft

 

 
VA TECH  - Site of Killings Partially Reopens - BY THOMAS K. GROSEVA TECH  - Site of Killings Partially Reopens - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

Last April 16, a mentally ill student went on a shooting rampage that left 32 students, faculty and staff dead and 25 wounded on the campus of Virginia Tech. Among the slain were three engineering professors. The bulk of the violence occurred in Norris Hall, which houses engineering classrooms and labs. It has since been reopened on a limited basis, with offices and 16 labs back in operation. However, all of its classrooms remain shut, and there are no plans to use them this fall. VA Tech spent $400,000 giving the 45-year-old building a fresh coat of paint and installing new floors. Ishwar K. Puri, head of the engineering, science and mechanics department, told the Washington Post that he wanted there to be no visual reminders of that day.

Some victims and relatives have lobbied to have Norris Hall demolished and replaced. But as Puri explained to the Post: “The faculty members we lost died as heroes. We would not be honoring their heroism if we decided to quit. If we didn’t move back, I think we would have been defeated.”

The decision to reopen Norris Hall is a practical one, too. Officials say tearing it down would have meant closing labs containing millions of dollars of equipment for several years, which would severely damage the engineering program. While there was also a campaign to rename Norris Hall after Liviu Librescu, the 76-year-old aeronautical engineer who died barring his classroom door so that students could escape through the windows, officials say that’s not going to happen. Once a building’s been dedicated, its name can’t be changed.—T.G.

 

QUOTED: “For now and for at least the short term, these applications will be cheaper and probably better in Japan.” —ROBERT PEPPER, SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL TECHNOLOGY POLICY AT CISCO SYSTEMS INC., DESCRIBING HOW JAPAN’S MUCH FASTER BROADBAND SERVICE ALLOWS IT TO OUTPACE THE UNITED STATES IN TELECONFERENCING, TELEMEDICINE AND TELECOMMUTING. - SOURCE: WASHINGTON POST

 

 
MINING  - Toxic Treasure - BY - PIERRE HOME-DOUGLASMINING  - Toxic Treasure - BY - PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS - PHOTO COURTESY OF NASA  

CANADA – The soaring price of gold in the past decade has expanded interest in finding more reserves of the precious metal. It has also created a serious side effect: Some 15 million small-scale gold miners around the world use mercury, a toxic substance, to trap fine particles of gold. The amalgam is then heated up in bonfires to separate the two metals. This process not only puts miners’ health at risk but releases 1,000 tons of mercury into the environment each year, affecting up to 100 million people, according to Marcello Veiga, a mining engineer at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

For the past five years, Veiga and members of the Global Mercury Project have worked in six countries—Brazil, Indonesia, Laos, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe—to reduce the use of mercury in mining and teach miners how to work more safely. In field demonstrations, the team teaches the miners simple new techniques, such as heating mercury in a covered bowl to prevent the spread of toxic fumes.

Veiga, a Brazilian native, hopes the United Nations-backed project can be expanded to 20 countries in Asia, Africa and South America. “Governments and companies don’t recognize the problem because it’s largely part of an illegal, informal economy,” he says. “The time for analyzing the situation is over; it’s time for action.” —Pierre Home-Douglas

 

DIGITALIZATION  - A Fast Read - BY THOMAS K. GROSEDIGITALIZATION  - A Fast Read - BY THOMAS K. GROSE  

In one fell swoop, a recently signed agreement has given Google’s Book Search Library Project a big boost, allowing it to digitalize an additional 10 million books. The agreement ups the number of universities involved in the project from 15 to 25. The deal was made with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a 12-member group that includes the University of Chicago and the 11 members of the Big 10 Conference. (Two members, the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, had already joined the project.) Google’s goal is to digitalize every book printed—both public domain and copyrighted—making them all searchable by word or phrase. Toward that goal, it’s already digitalized a million books. While publishers of copyrighted books are critical of the plan and have sued, Google argues that only small portions of copyrighted books can be read online. Barbara McFadden Allen, the committee’s director, says that despite the controversy, the project is exciting.

“In seconds, we’ll be able to browse across the content of thousands of volumes,” using just a key word or phrase to make links between them, she says. That’s an effort that would otherwise take months or years to accomplish. Call it super-speedy scholarship. —T.G.

FACTOID: Cost of hardware components inside each $399 Apple iPhone*: $220 *September 2007 retail price - Sources: Portelligent and EE Times Asia

 

 
IMAGING - Live-Action X-Rays - BY THOMAS K. GROSEScientific rotoscoping of an alligator walking on a treadmill.  

A revolutionary scanner being developed by Brown University researchers will mimic Superman’s X-ray vision powers, says Elizabeth Brainerd, the biologist leading the team of engineers, physicians and computer scientists working on the project. “Imagine animated X-ray movies of flying bats or flexing knees. It’s very cool technology that’s also very important from a biomedical standpoint.” Called CTX, it’s a new class of high-speed, high-resolution imaging technology that will allow researchers to peer through skin and muscle to see human or animal bones moving in three dimensions.

Current computed tomography (CT) scanners can capture detailed 3-D images but not those of moving subjects. Cinefluoroscopy, a technology that snaps X-rays in quick succession, produces video images but only in two dimensions. CTX combines the two processes, using animation software to merge CT scanner data with cinefluoroscopy’s X-ray tracking images. CTX images should help doctors devise better therapies for bone, joint, ligament and back ailments. They will also enable scientists to more closely study the biomechanics of animals, from slithering snakes to leaping frogs to soaring birds—T.G.

 

BIO-FUELS - Light From Rubbish - BY THOMAS K. GROSEBIO-FUELS - Light From Rubbish - BY THOMAS K. GROSE - Prof.  Zhang with her processor.

Since it began operating a year ago, an anaerobic digester built by University of California, Davis, researchers has been producing up to 600,000 liters of bio-gas a day—both methane and hydrogen. The resulting fuel is used to make electricity to power a nearby wastewater treatment plant, but it’s also enough to light 80 homes.

Anaerobic (oxygen-free) digesters rely on gas-producing microbes to break down matter, and they’re fairly common at wastewater treatment plants and livestock farms. But the Davis processor—designed by Ruihong Zhang, a professor of biological and agricultural engineering—is different. It works with both solid and liquid wastes, mainly food scraps and yard clippings, as well as animal manure. In addition, it’s 50 percent more efficient than other digesters, which also only produce methane. The hungry-bug technology is environmentally friendly on two fronts: it produces clean fuels, and it could greatly reduce the amount of rubbish that now ends up in landfills. —T.G.

 

 
EDUCATION  -Far Horizons - BY CHRIS PRITCHARD AND ROBIN TATUEDUCATION  -Far Horizons - BY CHRIS PRITCHARD AND ROBIN TATU  

AUSTRALIA– Universities in Australia are joining the global mix in establishing campuses abroad, though with varied results. Two months after its gala opening, Sydney’s University of New South Wales enrolled half the projected number of students at its new facility in Singapore and abruptly shut it down. UNSW faces continuing disputes over some $US 11.3 million in startup funds and costs of dismantling its structure. Overseas campuses operated by Melbourne-based Monash University—one in South Africa, the other in Malaysia—are also losing money. Yet the school, among Australia’s biggest and wealthiest, says it has no intention of shutting them down. By contrast, Australia’s University of Newcastle plans to expand its successful engineering and IT undergraduate programs at Singapore’s PSB academy, while Western Australia’s Edith Cowan University has newly inaugurated the Center for Security and Aviation Excellence in Dubai, a joint venture with the Emirates Group. Clearly, overseas partnerships beckon Australia, despite operational difficulties.—Chris Pritchard and Robin Tatu

 

 
IMMIGRATION  - Family Comes First - Destination USA - Role Reversal - BY THOMAS K. GROSEPHOTO COURTESY OF NASA  

Family Comes First

What’s the biggest reason foreign engineers and scientists immigrate to the United States? According to a recent National Science Foundation survey, 37 percent, the single largest segment, moved to America for family reasons. That mainly means they were traveling with their parents. Many were under 18 when they immigrated. Education was the second-most-cited reason: Thirty percent came to the United States to study. Economic opportunity was the third-most-popular reason, claimed by 21 percent. Of the approximately 21.6 million engineers and scientists working in the U.S., 3.3 million are immigrants. Fifty-six percent are Asian, while nearly 19 percent are European.

Destination USA

South Korean students are increasingly opting to study overseas. In 2005, 214,000 Korean students were enrolled in foreign schools; that’s nearly double the 1998 figure of 109,000. Destination of choice? the United States. In the 2005-06 school year, 58,847 Koreans were attending U.S. universities, an annual increase of 10.3 percent, according to the Institute of International Education. Experts say many top Korean students head abroad because their own educational system stifles innovative thinking. The Hyundai Research Institute reports that nearly 50 percent of Koreans who receive Ph.D.s in engineering and science at American schools opt to remain in the U.S.

Role Reversal

Outsourcing has generally meant U.S. firms sending work overseas. But several Indian software-writing companies—including Infosys Technologies, Wipro and Tata Consultancy Services—are ramping up hiring in the United States. Wipro expects to open two centers in the United States and says its goal is to increase its non-Indian global workforce within a few years from 2.5 percent to 10 percent. About 10 percent of Tata’s U.S. workforce is American, but the company plans to hire 2,000 more Americans by 2010. Economic factors, including the weak dollar, make U.S. employees an attractive option. The hiring spree may also help ease American concerns over outsourcing. —T.G.

 


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