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American Society for Engineering EducationSEPTEMBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 1 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
What Price Security? - By THOMAS K. GROSE
Team Player - ALVIN P. SANOFF
A Network of a Different Stripe - By DON BOROUGHS

Refractions: Confusing Calendars - By Henry Petroski

Click. Build. Learn. Digital K-12 engineering courses expand with stress on quality, fun. BY BARBARA MATHIAS-RIEGEL
JEE SELECTS: The ‘Random Madness’ of Work - BY JAMES TREVELYAN


ENERGY - Solar Means Business - By Thomas K. Grose ENERGY - Solar Means Business - By Thomas K. Grose

There are few places in the world sunnier than southern Portugal—which makes it a great locale for a new, $75 million solar-power plant built by General Electric, PowerLight and Catavento, a Portuguese utility. Set on 90 acres near the town of Serpa, the plant consists of 52,000 photovoltaic panels comprising nearly 4 million solar cells. Sensors monitor the weather and tilt the crystalline silicon panels to capture as much sunlight as possible. Despite its high cost, GE expects the facility to turn a profit because of the large number of customers it serves. It’s producing 11 megawatts of power, enough electricity for around 8,000 homes. —Thomas K. Grose


CAREERS - Engineered LaughterCAREERS - Engineered Laughter

Who says nerds can’t be funny? Don McMillan is a confessed nerd and former engineer who is also a professional comedian. A 1982 Stanford University grad, he worked for 10 years as an electrical engineer for companies like IBM and AT&T Bell Labs before realizing his true calling at a Bay Area comedy club’s open-mike night. Initially, McMillan built his act around the fact that he is 6-foot-5, has red hair and freckles, and is, well, nerdy. But his “Technically Funny” routines now fully embrace his engineering pedigree: He never works without PowerPoint, for instance.

McMillan still does comedy clubs and some TV (“The Tonight Show,” a Budweiser ad), but mostly he does corporate events—about 70 a year. They’re hard work, he says, because he researches each company beforehand and tailors his act accordingly. He also likes to make fun of techie jargon (“MP3 is 3 o’clock in the afternoon to a dyslexic”). McMillan hopes to develop a TV sitcom based on an engineer, which would be a first. He notes that the only time engineers appear on TV now they’re the “nerdy sidekick.” Nevertheless, McMillan still embraces his core nerdiness: He plays with electronics to relax and admits to keeping a copy of Scientific American beneath his bed. —TG


MEDICINE - Melt-in-Your-Mouth Vaccines

Many of the world’s poorest areas are plagued by the rotavirus, a particularly nasty bug that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting in infants. Annually, 600,000 die from it. The rotavirus vaccine is a liquid that’s administered orally, which makes it difficult to give to babies. Aridis Pharmaceuticals of San Jose, Calif., realized that a good alternative would be a strip of film that dissolves in the mouth like those used in breath fresheners.

The company asked Hai-Quan Mao, a biomaterials expert at Johns Hopkins University, to develop a way to get the swallowed vaccine past the stomach acids to the small intestine. Mao handed the problem to a seven-member team of biomedical engineering undergraduates. They succeeded in finding an FDA-approved biocompatible polymer to coat the vaccine that protects it in the stomach and releases it in the small intestine. And, unlike the liquid vaccine, the strips need no refrigeration, which cuts shipping costs for developing countries. The strips need further modification and testing, but Aridis is confident the students’ solution will work. —TG


ROBOTICS - A Lighter Touch  

Surgeons often have to work in the tiniest of spaces, and that requires special microsurgical tools. Now, they’re literally getting a helping hand—albeit a small one—from a University of California, Los Angeles, mechanical engineer. Chang-Jim Kim is the lead inventor of a pneumatic robotic hand that’s a mere millimeter wide. The microhand has four “fingers,” each composed of segmented slivers of silicon. At each joint, polymer balloons act as muscles. By inflating or deflating the balloons, the fingers can be manipulated to open and close. Because it’s powered by air and uses no electricity, the microhand can work safely in liquid environments. Kim’s now working on a new version that incorporates optic fibers to act as a miniature “eye” that will give doctors more control of the device. High five, Kim! Er, make that a high four. —TG


TEXTILES - Protective GearTEXTILES - Protective Gear - Design student Olivia Ong with her nanoparticle dresses. -  Anne Ju/Cornell Chronicle  

Ong presented the dress and a metallic denim jacket at the annual Cornell Design League fashion showPlans for chip-embedded clothes that will monitor our health have gotten headlines. But how about clothes that actually help ward off infections? Researchers at Cornell University teamed up with design student Olivia Ong to do just that. They treated the top of a gold-colored cotton dress with electrostatically charged silver nanoparticles that can kill harmful bacteria and viruses. Silver is a natural antiseptic—a quality that’s enhanced at the nano level. Because the fabric kills bacteria, it doesn’t need washing and is stain-resistant.

Ong presented the dress and a metallic denim jacket at the annual Cornell Design League fashion show. “We think this is one of the first times that nanotechnology has entered the fashion world,” says Juan Hinestroza, an assistant professor of fiber science who collaborated with Ong. For the time being, however, only the wealthiest fashionistas will be able to buy germ-fighting garments: a square yard of nanoparticle-infused cotton costs $10,000. —TG

QUOTED: “Science and engineering research are different from other government expenditures because the products of research are the engine that drives the economy.”  —BRENT L. IVERSON, A PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY AND BIOCHEMISTRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN,


EDUCATION - Shaking Things UpEDUCATION - Shaking Things Up  

JAPAN—A former University of California professor has been tapped to help overhaul Japan’s university system in a drive to promote creativity and entrepreneurship. Physician Kiyoshi Kurokawa (top right), 70, joins six other luminaries from industry and academia on the “Innovation 25” strategy council, set up out of fear that a graying and shrinking population will cause Japan’s productivity to decline against that of global competitors like China.

Unusually outspoken in a society that still values conformity, Kurokawa has criticized the rigidity of Japanese university education and its hierarchical research system. Kurokawa also says Japanese schools should drastically boost their international enrollment, ideally to a 70-30 ratio of Japanese to foreign students. According to 2006 statistics from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, the percentage of foreign students in Japanese universities stood at 2.7—well below the rich-country average of 6.5 percent. Japanese engineering professors have long lamented that their universities are too insular and lack the stimulation of their more ethnically diverse U.S. counterparts.

The innovation campaign coincides with a transitional period for Japan’s university system, which is suffering a severe drought of students. Next year, for the first time ever, the number of college applicants will equal the number of places available. —Lucille Craft


TELECOMMUNICATIONS - Ancient Game, New Venue TELECOMMUNICATIONS - Ancient Game, New Venue  

Mobiraba (above), and creaters Christian (left), Vannucci and Mwakabaga. SOUTH AFRICA— Morabaraba, a board game that is like an elaborate, thought-provoking version of tic-tac-toe, has been played in Africa since the age of Ancient Egypt. As a child in Tanzania, Teddy Mwakabaga and his friends played it using the ground for a board and bottle caps for pieces. South African David Vannucci learned to play at university, with plastic pieces on printed cardboard. But today, these two Ph.D. engineering students at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand are taking morabaraba into the digital age. Together with colleague Rolan Christian, they invented Mobiraba™, a mobile phone application that allows people across the world to play each other. In February, their cellular Internet game won the 12,000-euro second prize at the SIMagine 2007 Awards in Barcelona, Spain.

The idea grew out of Vannucci’s frustration, after returning from a national morabaraba tournament, when he could no longer compete against skilled opponents from around the country. The three developed the game on their own time, but drew on their telecommunications studies. Now they are forming their own company, with Mobiraba™ as their first product. —Don Boroughs


AEROSPACE - Away From It AllBlast-off! Oklahoma’s Rocketplane Kistler K-1, and below, the VSS Enterprise (middle picture) and New Shepard.  

Blast-off! Oklahoma’s Rocketplane Kistler K-1, and below, the VSS Enterprise (middle picture) and New Shepard.Space—that final frontier—has lured astronauts for 46 years. Now, here come the tourists. British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial space flights in 2009 at $200,000 a pop. His ship, VSS Enterprise, will carry two pilots and six passengers, soar 68 miles into suborbital space and hit a speed of 2,500 mph—nearly three times the speed of sound. It was designed by Burt Rutan and is modeled after his SpaceShipOne, which captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin project intends to start weekly flights by 2010. Its planned ship, New Shepard, aims to take three passengers 62 miles up into zero gravity territory for a few seconds of thrills before heading back to Earth. Last November, Blue Origin successfully launched a cone-shaped test vehicle to a height of 285 feet before gently landing. Another group, Oklahoma’s Rocketplane Kistler, also wants to launch tourist flights by 2009 in a plane that will haul three passengers and a pilot. Can space motels be far behind? —TG

FACTOID - CEOs of S&P 500 companies 
with an undergraduate degree in  ENGINEERING -  Followed by: Economics (13%)  and Business Administration (12%)


ENVIRONMENT - Not Green Enough  

AUSTRALIA—This country’s arid interior may be photogenic shades of ochre, but climate change and drought are making Australians think green. Now a researcher is prodding engineering schools to lead the way in making the land Down Under more environmentally friendly.

“Half greenhouse gas emissions come from built environments and infrastructure, so what engineers do is incredibly important,” argues Michael Smith, a chemist and mathematician. He is research director of the Natural Edge Project, a group of engineers and scientists aiming to develop training programs to achieve more sustainable engineering practices.

His suggestions: more courses in how to build longer-lasting buildings and infrastructure, in energy-efficient strategies and in retrofitting factories to build cars that last 20 years. —Chris Pritchard


EDUCATION - Pooling Talent

The center’s advisory board will be headed by someone who knows firsthand the value of innovation, sleek designs and entrepreneurship: inventor James Dyson of vacuum cleaner fame.UNITED KINGDOM—a 2005 report on the state of creativity in British business made for gloomy reading. Out of 300 companies analyzed in the government-funded study, many hadn’t released a new product or service for two years. To maintain Great Britain as an innovation leader, London’s Imperial College recently joined forces with the Royal College of Art (RCA) to create a new, $11.6 million interdisciplinary center, Design-London at RCA-Imperial.

The new “innovation triangle” will combine the talents of RCA designers, Imperial engineers and technicians, and business experts from Imperial’s Tanaka Business School. Entrepreneurial-minded graduates will have the chance to develop ideas there. And through research, they plan to learn how to integrate design more effectively with technology and business to create world-class products and services. The center’s advisory board will be headed by someone who knows firsthand the value of innovation, sleek designs and entrepreneurship: inventor James Dyson of vacuum cleaner fame. —TG


EDUCATION - Pooling Talent  

The center’s advisory board will be headed by someone who knows firsthand the value of innovation, sleek designs and entrepreneurship: inventor James Dyson of vacuum cleaner fame.CANADA—“Most people look at pavement and just see black and white,” says Susan Tighe, right, a civil and environmental engineering professor who holds the Canada Research Chair in Pavement and Infrastructure Management at Waterloo University in Waterloo, Ontario. Tighe sees a lot more—like all the elements that go into cost-effective, efficient and long-lasting roads for heavy 21st Century traffic. “Canada spends conservatively $12 billion a year on pavement,” Tighe points out. “If every single road we design lasts three to five years longer, that will represent a huge saving.” She is currently working to design quieter pavement using different stone shapes and sizes—and adding recycled tire to the mix—to reduce the need for noise barriers in urban areas. She is also experimenting with crushed-up concrete recycled from old sidewalks and bridges to build new roads. Tighe, who spent four years following her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering as a junior field engineer with the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario,  says she typically subjects her designs to “environmental torture testing” at a university lab before an actual field test. The lab includes a full-size walk-in freezer—an essential research tool in a country where freezing and thawing plays havoc with road longevity. —Pierre Home-Douglas


TECHNOLOGY - Using What’s At Hand  

Installing solar panels on laboratory roofA lantern built from bamboo, an old soda bottle and rechargeable solar panels may sound like a kid’s project. But the clever device is actually the brainchild of student engineers at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York. It’s part of a program to help provide rural villages in northern Ghana with affordable water, energy and shelter. Begun by Toby Cumberbatch, an electrical engineering professor reared in Ghana, the program sends undergraduates on a two-month field trip to the area each year. This year’s group included four engineering students, one architectural student and an art student. Cumberbatch’s students also developed a water filtration system that uses laterite, a common rock in the region that’s heavily laced with iron and aluminum. Its pump is powered by solar panels, which also run a laptop that monitors the system. Students also helped redesign mud huts to make them less susceptible to deterioration from the elements. Cumberbatch says previous trips enabled students to make strong contacts with local communities and understand “the right types of projects” to develop. —TG


MEMORIALS - Tribute to a Gunman’s Victims  

Virginia Tech plans to erect a permanent memorial to the 32 students, faculty and staff slain last April 16, when a mentally ill student, armed with two handguns, went on a campus shooting rampage. Among those killed were three engineering professors.

Liviu Librescu
Liviu Librescu
, 76, was a highly regarded aeronautical engineer who joined the VA Tech faculty in 1985. A Holocaust survivor, Librescu spent his childhood in a Jewish ghetto in Romania. He received his Ph.D. at Romania’s Academy of Science and immigrated in 1978 to Israel, where he spent seven years at Tel Aviv University. Librescu died a hero: He was shot while blocking the door to his classroom so students could escape through windows. He is survived by his wife, Marlena, and sons Joseph and Arieh.


G.V. Loganathan
G.V. Loganathan, 53, was a respected civil engineer, an expert in hydrology and water-resources systems, and a much-praised educator (he had received several teaching awards). Born in India, he earned his doctorate at Purdue University. Loganathan had been at Virginia Tech since 1981. He is survived by his wife, Usha, and daughters Uma and Abhi.



Kevin Granata
Biomechanical engineer Kevin Granata, 45, was considered a leading expert in movement dynamics in cerebral palsy. He joined VA Tech in 2003 and established and co-directed the Musculoskeletal Biomechanics Laboratory. A Toledo, Ohio, native, Granata earned his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Ohio State University. He is survived by his wife, Linda, and children Eric, Alex and Ellen. All three men were showered with tributes from colleagues and students, both current and past.—TG






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American Society for Engineering Education