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American Society for Engineering EducationSEPTEMBER 2006Volume 16 | Number 1 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
Woman of the World - BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS
Getting in Gear -     BY JEFFREY SELINGO

REFRACTIONS: Engineering and the City - By Henry Petroski
ASEE TODAY: President's Letter - Conference Highlights - 2006 Awards - Calls for Papers
LAST WORD: Closing the Gender Gap - BY RAYMOND SIMON

YEAR OF DIALOGUE: A Focus on Scholarship - BY RONALD E. BARR
BOOK REVIEW: Leonardo's Lost Robots - BY ROBIN TATU
ON CAMPUS: Ready, Get Set, Go!



In the last “Harry Potter” film, the boy wizard ate a plant called “gillyweed” so he could temporarily sprout gills and conduct a lengthy underwater rescue mission. Gillyweed is pure fantasy, of course, but a Case Western Reserve engineer is working with the firm Infoscitex, of Waltham, Mass., to develop artificial wearable gills for humans. The gills could let people remain submersed for several days. Fish gills efficiently extract relatively small amounts of oxygen from large volumes of water. So Case Western’s Harihara Baskaran and Infoscitex are designing a polymer membrane mask that will likewise reap oxygen from water. The mask would utilize thousands of minute channels created using the same techniques used for making computer chips. Given the gills’ obvious military uses, the Pentagon is funding the research. Indeed, it’s also funding research that could make yet another “Harry Potter” plot device a reality: an invisibility cloak. No word yet if the military’s also looking into flying broomsticks. —Thomas K. Grose


R&D - Labs Land on Foreign Soil  

Manufacturing and technical support jobs are not the only ones migrating overseas. Increasingly, multinational corporations are moving their research and development centers offshore, too. Historically, large global companies have usually based their R&D facilities in their home markets or key overseas ones. But a recent study by consultants Booz Allen Hamilton finds R&D sites have been shifting to an expanding number of global locales for more than 30 years. The study looked at 186 companies from 19 countries that account for 20 percent of the world’s R&D spending. It found that between 1975 and 2005, the percentage of R&D sites outside their home markets jumped 21 points to 66 percent. The automotive, electronics and chemical industries were least tied to their corporate homes. The reasons are mighty familiar: rising costs in the West and a lack of engineers and scientists; the opening of the Chinese and Indian markets; and advances in information technology. —TG


ELECTRICAL - More Light, Less Energy  

Now here’s a bright idea: super-efficient light bulbs that require less energy to burn bright. Most of today’s incandescent light bulbs have an efficiency of about 15 lumens per watt, University of Michigan engineer Stephen Forrest notes in a recent article he wrote. But his team at Michigan (where he’s also vice president for research) has lab tested a bulb that reaches nearly 30 lumens per watt, and the team thinks 50 or 60 lumens are possible. Twenty-one years ago, researchers in a Kodak lab devised light-emitting devices that used thin films of fluorescent organic molecules. To make them work, they needed to be injected with electrons from electrical contacts on the surface of the film. But only one in four of the electrons produced light, so the organic light-emitting devices (OLEDs) were not very efficient. When Forrest was at Princeton University in 1998, he was part of a group that got all of the electrons to produce light by adding a heavy-metal atom to the mix. Now Forrest’s Michigan group has combined OLEDs with conventional fluorescence to create a device that’s twice as effective as today’s interior lights. Forrest concludes that “OLEDs may play a vital role in the effort” to reduce energy use with more-efficient lighting. –TG


WORKPLACE - Homeward Bound  

Michael Fields calls it “backshoring” and says it could soon replace offshoring in the software industry as many U.S. companies begin to realize that hiring programmers in places like India costs more money than it saves. Fields, the former president of Oracle and now CEO of KANA, a maker of business services software, told Fortune magazine that “for companies our size, sending jobs to India just doesn’t make economic sense.” Having programmers overseas and designers and project managers in the United States is a recipe for mistakes and poor productivity, he contends. Moreover, intellectual property is very much at risk in a country like India, where piracy is widespread and corporate loyalty is nonexistent. Nonetheless, for now, offshoring remains a potent force. A million U.S. jobs are expected to migrate to India this year, triple the number from just three years ago, and 25 percent of them in the high-tech industry. —TG


ENGINEERING FEAT - The Train to Tibet  

The world’s highest railway made its way to the isolated Himalayan region of Tibet in July. The 710-mile line, which at its highest point rises to almost 17,000 feet, links mainland China to the remote territory. The railway couldn’t have been built without engineers. The tracks were laid over permafrost, which melts and refreezes frequently. To keep the tracks from shifting, engineers drove cooling columns deep into the surface so that the ground would stay frozen and installed giant sunshades to make sure it doesn’t thaw. —Jo Ann Tooley


CHEATING - Do I Hear $20CHEATING - Do I Hear $20  

Students who cheat can be very innovative and imaginative in finding ways to beat the system. Indeed, if they applied those same skills to their coursework, they probably wouldn’t have to resort to cheating. So what is their latest gambit? A new study by British researcher Thomas Lancaster indicates that students have found a new way to use the Internet to scam their teachers: putting their homework out to tender. Lancaster, a computer scientist at the University of Central England, calls the disturbing trend “contract cheating” and says it could be going on at such a scale that it risks devaluing university degrees. Students are using legitimate Web sites used mainly by businesses to contract out project work to freelance code writers, translators and Web designers. But the students are instead asking code writers to write their homework assignments, then opting for the lowest bidder—usually someone from a developing country whose first language isn’t English. Lancaster found the rates ranged from $5 to $50, with $20 being the average price paid. That, he notes, “is not a great deal of money for such a task.”

On one site he monitored,, he determined that 1 in 10 tenders were from students. Moreover, Lancaster found that most cheating students had used the site two to seven times before. “This form of cheating is becoming habitual,” he warns. And it’s not just in the United Kingdom. He found students from the United States, Canada and Australia using tender sites. Lancaster stumbled upon the ploy by happenstance. He was looking at one of the Web sites when he spotted a description of an assignment he had given his class. Lancaster worries that contract cheating is so far under the radar that most profs and schools don’t even know it exists. He’s sounding the alarm. —TG


MANUFACTURING - Worker-Friendly WorkplaceMANUFACTURING - Worker-Friendly Workplace  

HAMAMATSU, Japan – For years, companies aspiring to manufacturing perfection have trooped to central Japan, headquarters for Toyota Motor. But recently this city southwest of Tokyo has become a new mecca for futuristic assembly. It wasn’t always so. When quality control engineer Shinichi Seki arrived at Roland D.G., a maker of high-end industrial printers, in the mid-1990s, defects were so common that returned merchandise occupied an entire room. Engineers blamed workers for being lazy or careless. But Seki wouldn’t buy this.

The real culprit, he decided, were instruction manuals so complicated that only engineers could decipher them—and a workplace routine so numbingly tedious it seemed designed to manufacture failure. “People are not robots,” he says. “These workers are doing jobs only human hands can do.”

He radically reorganized the line so that each worker assembles an entire product herself—at her own pace. A computer screen gently guides workers through each step. Systems of carousels and sensors ensure no screw is left unturned. And so far the new system is working great. Defects are history and sales are soaring.—Lucille Craft


PROFILE - The Guy Who Just Wouldn’t LeavePROFILE - The Guy Who Just Wouldn’t Leave  

Most scholars could print this slogan on their business cards: “Have advanced degree; will travel.” The academic life is often an itinerant one, as career opportunities can require hopping from one school to another. But James H. Aylor, 60, is a notable exception. He first set foot on the lovely Charlottesville, Va., campus of the University of Virginia as a youngster: His dad was a mathematics professor there. Aylor obviously liked the atmosphere. He stayed at UVa to earn his bachelor’s in electrical engineering in 1968. He remained in situ for three more years, earning a master’s, then a doctorate in 1977. The following year, Aylor joined the faculty of UVa’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. He’s never left, excepting a year’s stint in 1981 at IBM Corp. as a visiting scientist. From 1996-2003, Aylor was chairman of the electrical and computer engineering department, then was promoted to associate dean of academic programs. In 2004, he was appointed interim dean of the school, after Richard Miksad retired. And in July 2005, Aylor was named dean.

UVa’s engineering school has a long and storied history. It dates back to 1836 and is one of the nation’s first three engineering programs. But, during his reign so far, Aylor has worked to further improve the school’s good standing. And, indeed, it has since risen eight places in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings, to 34th nationally. Aylor says he wants to continue the school’s advancement up the ranking table by adding more tenure-track and research faculty. Earlier this year, it opened the 99,000 square-foot Wilsdorf Hall, now home to its nanoscience and engineering programs. There are also plans to build new information technology and bioengineering facilities. Clearly, once Dean Aylor finally retires, UVa’s School of Engineering will not only bear his stamp, but the campus will look very different than it did when he first arrived there as a boy.—TG

QUOTED: “The ‘good ole boy’ system, whether levees or coastal restoration, failed us; we need a totally new model.” —Ivor van Heerden, deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center, who is leading an investigation of Katrina levee failures.


EARTHQUAKES - Shaking It Up Down Under  

AUSTRALIA – An advertisement ripped from a newspaper brought Michael Griffith back to Australia 18 years ago. Basketball had been the attraction the first time this American lived there. He had played for a minor league team in the mid-1970s, met his future wife and took her back to the United States so he could study civil engineering at Washington State University. Subsequently, he completed an engineering Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. A friend spotted an advertisement for a position in Australia and the rest is history. He was offered a job as a civil engineering lecturer at the University of Adelaide.

Now Griffith heads the school’s civil and environmental engineering program, where he is one of the nation’s leading authorities on earthquakes. Australia isn’t associated with major earthquakes, although one did strike Newcastle, New South Wales, in 1989—killing 13. But Australian construction generally doesn’t consider potential earthquake damage. “There’s too much unreinforced masonry,” Griffith says. His laboratory is filled with chest-high brick walls, replicating construction in miniature so that earthquake damage can be simulated and monitored.

“The eastern United States and other low-risk places like most of Australia are likely to suffer more damage in the event of earthquakes than places such as California or New Zealand, where risk is known to be higher and building codes have been toughened,” Griffith says. —Chris Pritchard


AUTOMOTVE - The Third WheelAUTOMOTVE - The Third Wheel  

England once produced the Reliant Robin, a three-wheeled car that featured a fiberglass body and a noisy, fumous engine. It was the butt of many jokes—mostly about its proclivity for tipping over as it rounded corners. But now a pan-European initiative, led by a Bath University design team, has developed a sleek-looking, three-wheeled two-seater that’s also environmentally friendly. The Compact Low Emission Vehicle for Urban Transport (CLEVER) car combines “the efficiency of a motorcycle with the comfort and safety of a car,” says Ben Drew, who with fellow Bath mechanical engineering student Matt Barker designed a tilting technology that lets the CLEVER car easily and safely glide around the corners and curves that give robins fits. The micro-mini—it’s about 3 feet wide—can hit speeds of 60 mph. It runs on compressed natural gas, so it emits about a third less carbon dioxide than the average car and gets the equivalent of 108 mpg.

The $2.9 million, three-year project was funded by the European Union and other partners, including BMW, the Techische Universitaet Berlin and the Institut Francais Du Petrole. The French engineers developed the 218cc engine from a BMW C1 scooter motor. And unlike the Robin, it’s very quiet. Clearly, the CLEVER car is no joke. —TG

19.5: Percentage of UNDERGRADUATE DEGREES in engineering awarded to women in 2005. 17.5: Percentage of UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS enrolled in engineering who are women.


Obituary - Engineering Pioneer Dead at 46Denice Dee Denton  

Denice Dee Denton once referred to herself as a “bulldozer” for others, especially women and minorities, in a field dominated by men. And clearly she was an agent for change. An accomplished electrical engineering researcher and educator, Denton loved engineering and science and was driven to demonstrate to the underrepresented and disadvantaged the wonderful career opportunities those fields afforded. In February 2005, she was named chancellor at the University of California, Santa Cruz after nearly 10 years as dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Washington. It proved a short and tumultuous move, however: Denton, 46, died in June, committing suicide by leaping from the roof of a high-rise apartment building in San Francisco.

Denton’s mother said her daughter had been very depressed by both personal and professional problems. At Santa Cruz, a school of 15,000 students, she’d been criticized for expensive renovations to her university-owned house and for securing an administrative job for her partner, Gretchen Kalonji. It was an unexpected and tragic end for a woman who had spent most of her life overcoming challenges and encouraging others.

Denton grew up in a rural Texas town near Houston, a place she says was riddled with racism and sexism. Her love of science and math was nurtured by her mother, a high school calculus teacher, and by an uncle who was a NASA researcher. She went on to earn a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Her first teaching job was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; she was the only woman among 180 engineering faculty. There she famously won a battle of wills against a crotchety male colleague who locked her out of her lab. Indeed, Denton won tenure after only five years and was named the IEEE Professor of the Year, one of many professional accolades she earned. Throughout her teaching career, she started support groups for women and worked to help more women gain tenure. Vicki Bier, an engineering professor at Wisconsin, told a Seattle newspaper that Denton influenced the careers of many women. More recently, Denton gained headlines for her criticisms of former Harvard President Lawrence Summers’ comments implying there might be gender reasons for the dearth of women scientists.

At Washington, Denton became the nation’s first female engineering dean at a top research school. Under her leadership, the college increased its numbers of women and minority students and faculty and became a national model of diversity. In 2004, she won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring for those achievements. Earlier this year, she was given the Maria Mitchell Women in Science Award for advancing opportunities in the sciences for women and girls.

Denton’s death unleashed an avalanche of plaudits from current and former colleagues, students and friends. Howard Jay Chizeck’s, an electrical engineering professor at Washington, was typical. In a posting on the college’s Web site, he recalled Denton as a “courageous leader, with backbone and integrity,” who had overcome “adversity and achieved excellence at each step in her career.” Perhaps Denton provided her own best epitaph in a 2001 Prism profile. “I have always had a really strong sense of social justice and equity,” the article quoted Denton as saying. “As long as I can remember, I have seen people around me being excluded and known that it wasn’t right.” —TG



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