PRISM - American Society for Engineering Education - Logo SUMMER 2005 - VOLUME 14, NUMBER 9


Most academics today face family as well as career demands. That's particularly true of women, and it's a reason why they are underrepresented in full-time tenure positions. Women account for only 38 percent of full-time faculty positions, although they receive 51 percent of all doctorates. Now a panel of top American university officials is recommending an overhaul of the tenure system to accommodate the twin pressures of work and home. Its report, Agenda for Excellence: "Creating Flexibility in Tenure-Track Faculty Careers," warns that if U.S. schools want to attract and retain top teachers and researchers, they must "create more flexible career paths for the tenure-track professoriate to enter, thrive in, and retire from academia." Too many talented Ph.D.'s are sidestepping the tenure track, it says, and it urges universities to find out why and eliminate the reasons.

Among its many recommendations: the creation of re-entry opportunities for doctorates who seek tenure-track posts late in their careers; allowing tenure-track faculty to work up to five years in a part-time position to accommodate personal needs; granting candidates multiyear personal leaves; and establishing longer, more-flexible probationary periods during the tenure review process. —TG


The endowment funds of North American colleges and universities climbed considerably last year. In its annual report on endowments, the National Association of College and University Business Officers found that assets climbed an average of 15.1 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2004. Almost 750 colleges and universities reported a total of $267 billion in endowment assets. Still, the average amount of growth over the past five years was a measly 3.8 percent; only slightly better than the rate of inflation during that period: 2.7 percent.

Schools with total endowment assets of more than $1 billion averaged gains of 17.2 percent. But second-tier schools with funds totaling between $500 million and $1 billion scored gains of 17.9 percent. That's not too far behind the S&P 500 index, which rose 19.1 percent in the same period. Schools with more than a billion in assets were more likely to take risks, placing on average 20 percent of their cash in hedge funds and 3.5 percent into venture capital investments. Second-tier schools' hedge-fund and venture capital investments averaged only 14.4 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively.

Harvard University leads the pack with total endowment assets of $22.1 billion, up 17.5 percent last year. One of the biggest gainers was the University of Virginia, which saw its endowment fund swell an amazing 55 percent to $2.8 billion. —TG

"Everybody wants to hear that robots are going to take over the world, but it's not going to happen. You get a lot of scientists, particularly American scientists, saying that robotics is about at the level of the rat at the moment. I would say it's not anywhere near even a simple bacteria."

Noel Sharkey, a professor of computer science at England's Sheffield University and a robotics expert who built his first robot in 1989.


Photograph by Mark PhilbrickIt sorta looks like it was cobbled together with an Erector Set. But odd as it looks, the IsoTruss mountain bike is lighter, stronger and more aerodynamic than most other super-light mountain bikes on the market. IsoTruss is a building technology developed by David W. Jensen, a professor of civil engineering at Brigham Young University. Based on the reinforcing strength of pyramids and triangles—and constructed of carbon fiber and Kevlar string—it's an open tubular lattice design that Jensen developed to build lightweight but strong towers and utility poles that Utah company IsoTruss Structures is licensed to manufacture. But a team of BYU engineers, looking for new IsoTruss applications, managed to shrink the geometric, hollow structure from between 5 to 18 inches in diameter to one inch, without losing its properties. That made it useable for a bike frame. Current models weigh 3.25 pounds, and researchers say a frame weighing less than 3 pounds is achievable. Ultra-light carbon bikes often cost more than $5,000. That's because the Kevlar must be threaded through the carbon by hand. But BYU's team is working to develop a manufacturing process that will automate the weaving of the Kevlar, thus cutting costs. That should make the IsoTruss bikes a lighter touch on bikers' wallets. —TG


When the United States clamped down on immigration in the wake of 9/11, among the most profoundly affected were American engineering and other science programs. As we reported in Prism in February, applications from abroad to U.S. graduate engineering schools declined 36 percent between 2003-2004. But America's loss has been a gain for engineering schools overseas. From London to Singapore to Sydney, engineering schools have seen enrollments soar as international students, discouraged by the glacial and labyrinthine American visa application process, increasingly head for greener campuses elsewhere.

Great Britain is the world's second most popular destination after the United States for foreign study. "The most profound increases between 2001 and 2003 have been from India and China," says Toshie Hidaka, education promotion manager, Japan, for the British Council.  Indian and Chinese enrollments in all disciplines have jumped by about 80 percent, Hidaka notes. In 2004, Japanese exchange students in Great Britain were up 11 percent over the year before. 

The U.S. State Department recently (February) relaxed its tough visa rules on foreign science students, announcing that existing visa holders will no longer be compelled to renew them annually. The move could hurt foreign schools. But educators in Singapore, which has been aggressively building a university system geared to expatriate students, aren't worried.  "We have not seen a corresponding drop in foreign students choosing to study in Singapore," says Tracy Won, a spokeswoman for the island-state's Economic Development Board. Singapore aims to boost the current 60,000 foreign students studying there to 150,000 by 2012. Singapore's assets: A location seven hours or less from other Asian cities; a roster of alliances with name-brand universities, including engineering schools from M.I.T. and Stanford; and a sweat-free visa process. –Lucille Craft


Bernard M. Gordon PrizeA decade ago, Purdue University electrical and computer engineering professors Leah H. Jamieson and Edward J. Coyle decided their students needed to get out more. So they launched EPICS, or Engineering Projects in Community Service. The program's goal, Jamieson says, was "teaching our students leadership skills in conjunction with real-world experiences. At the time, this challenged traditional engineering education, in which students are given hypothetical problems to solve and write about." And, as the title suggests, they also wanted the projects to benefit the community. The initial program had 40 students in five teams. Past projects include constructing wetlands and introducing engineering principles to elementary school students. This year, 400 students in 20 teams are enrolled in EPICS. Projects include efforts to trim home construction and energy costs for Habitat for Humanity and designing special toys for learning-disabled children. Moreover, EPICS is now offered at 15 other universities, with more than 1,350 students participating.

That success led the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) to award Jamieson, Coyle and William C. Oakes with the 2005 Bernard M. Gordon Prize, which recognizes innovation in engineering education. The prize includes a $500,000 cash award, split evenly between the recipient and his or her institution. Jamieson, EPICS' director Coyle, who heads EPIC's Entrepreneurship Initiative, and Oakes, EPICS's codirector. declined to pocket their prize cash, so the entire $500,000 went to Purdue, which—of course –used it to the endow the EPICS program. —TG


Happiness: Lessons From a New Science
By Richard Layard, Penguin Press

Happiness: Lessons From a New Science - By Richard Layard, Penguin PressDo nations place too much emphasis on Gross National Product, the creation of wealth, when they should be more concerned with GHQ: the gross happiness quotient? British economist Richard Layard in a new book, "Happiness: Lessons From a New Science," argues that a half century of amassing wealth and doubling incomes hasn't made the developed world any happier. Surveys reveal people are more depressed than ever. And with richer societies have come increases in divorce, alcoholism, and crime. So. Money really doesn't buy happiness. And the economic treadmill most of us are on rarely satisfies us; it just wears us out. Governments should worry less about making people richer and concentrate more on cheering them up, he says. Well-being indices that track happiness levels within a population the way financial ones chart economic growth should be key tools for forging public policy, Layard says. It's not the economy, stupid. It's the feel good factor. —TG

Number of engineering degrees held by new NASA Administrator Mike Griffin: 3

(Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, and master's in civil engineering and electrical engineering.)


Bridges collapse. Buildings fall. Motors jam. Accepting and understanding failure—and importantly learning its lessons—are a major part of engineering. Indeed, Lehigh University has a senior-level undergraduate course called "Failure Analysis," which makes use of the school's leadership in electron and light optical microscopy. Students study specimens of materials from real failures: parts of machines or buildings. This year's class of 14, however, will be investigating pieces of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated upon reentry over the skies of east Texas in January 2003. The tragedy, which killed all seven astronauts on board, scattered debris across a wide area, but some 84,000 pieces were recovered. Now, 50 of those mangled pieces are under study at Lehigh. The Pennsylvania school is the first university to receive Columbia debris for study from NASA. Arnold Marder, the professor of materials science and engineering who heads the class, got Lehigh involved last spring when he spent a sabbatical at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

"I thought that having our students work on parts of the failed Columbia shuttle would be a perfect way to accomplish the goals of the course while giving our students a real-world application," Marder says. NASA agreed.

Among the parts received by Lehigh are windshield glass, ceramic thermal protection tiles, and reinforced carbon carbon composite (RCC) from the wing's leading edge. The students will be looking for how the materials reacted to hypersonic re-entry. Although the students are just learning this technology, they'll be keenly supervised by Marder and two others, including Arlan Benscoter, a world-class microscopist. And they can also consult with other materials faculty experts.

Says Scott Thurston, who was Columbia's vehicle manager: "NASA would hope that data (from Lehigh) would help us design a better spacecraft." That's certainly Marder's goal, as well. "We are very hopeful," he says, "that we can make a contribution to the future of space flight." —TG


Infrared microscope image shows a cantilever during heating. The microcantilevers are engineered such that the temperature increases only near the free end. Dip pen nanolithography (DPN) is the etching of nanoscale patterns on various surfaces. It's accomplished by the dipping of an Atomic Force Microscope's tip, or cantilever, in a special liquid ink. But the technology has limitations that make it useless for manufacturing semiconductors. For one thing, DPN doesn't work in a vacuum because the ink evaporates. Another drawback: Once the ink starts flowing, it can't be turned off and back on, which limits the kinds of patterns it can make.

But now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Naval Research Laboratory have developed what they call tDPN—thermal dip pen nanolithography—which uses a heated cantilever and a solid ink that liquefies when warmed. The result is a DPN method that can be turned on and off. It also works in a vacuum (because the solid-to-liquid ink immediately bonds to the surface). The tDPN has other features that make it ideal for chip fabrication. The tip "can touch a surface without contaminating it, allowing in-situ metrology," says William P. King, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech who is heading the research.

The tDPN is also proving to be a much finer tool than its predecessors. Most DPN patterns are around the 100 nanometer level; the tDPN has already produced patterns at 65 nanometers, and King is certain he'll attain 50 nanometers by this summer—a level that's considered the "magic number" for semiconductors. Ultimately, researchers think tDPN is capable of producing patterns at the 10 nanometer level. To put that in perspective, a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers wide. —TG


Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering and Saudi Arabia's Effat College, a privately funded women's college, are joining forces to create the first undergraduate engineering curriculum for women in Saudi Arabia. Until now, Saudi women have not been permitted to study engineering. Unrelated men and women are only allowed to interact on a limited basis, and male and female students attend gender-segregated schools from the primary grades through college. This move may reflect the country's need to build a more technology-literate population.

The two schools signed an agreement to work together on the curriculum effort, which is slated to be in place at Effat by fall 2006. "Partnering with Effat College is particularly meaningful for Pratt, as we have a very high percentage of women on faculty and women students at both the undergraduate and graduate level," says Kristina Johnson, the first female dean of Duke's engineering school.

The new major, a bachelor's degree-level program in computer engineering, will be designed to complement Effat's existing program in computer science and will include courses adapted from Duke's electrical and computer engineering curriculum. Johnson says that Duke faculty and students have already traveled to Effat to begin gauging the needs of potential engineering students and working on the new curriculum. —Lynne Shallcross


AUSTRALIA—A team—including IT engineers at a leading Australian research facility—recently developed video annotation technology to make hunting for video clips much easier. "Practical applications— besides entertainment—include finding scientific, medical and other research information on demand," says Silvia Pfeiffer, head of the team and computer scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Canberra, the Australian federal capital.

The new technique, called Annodex, allows users to submit text queries and provides seamless hyperlinks to other video, audio, or Web sites. Users can navigate Annodex-compatible video files as easily as they would Google for Internet pages, its developers say. The plug-in is available for download at along with a demonstration of how Annodex works. –Chris Pritchard



THE REAL WORLD - By Anna Mulrine
MAKING IT BIG - By Corinna Wu
RISING AGAIN - Photographs by Sylvia Plachy
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REFRACTIONS: Teaching for Posterity - By Henry Petroski
LAST WORD: Time for a Change - By Ernest T. Smerdon


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