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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationSUMMER 2008Volume 17 | Number 9 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: Earth, Wind and Science - IN JUST SEVEN YEARS, SUSTAINABLE ENGINEERING—TECHNOLOGY TO PROTECT THE PLANET WHILE RAISING LIVING STANDARDS—HAS CAUGHT FIRE WITH STUDENTS AND PROFESSORS ACROSS THE U.S. - BY CORINNA WU
FEATURE: Double Whammy - SOUTH AFRICA IS DESPERATE FOR TRAINED ENGINEERS, BUT ITS STUDENTS FACE MAJOR OBSTACLES: POOR HIGH SCHOOL PREPARATION—A LEGACY OF APARTHEID—AND LOSS OF INSTRUCTORS TO HIGH-PAYING INDUSTRY JOBS. - BY DON BOROUGHS
FEATURE: 3…2…1…- LURING WEALTHY THRILL-SEEKERS INTO SPACE, AN EXPANDING GROUP OF COMPANIES OFFERS OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD ADVENTURES, PRICED FROM $100,000 TO $100 MILLION.

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
ASEE TODAY
BRIEFINGS
REFRACTIONS: Forgetting the Present BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Key Members of the Team BY SANDEEP DILWALI

2008 Annual Conference
2008 ASEE Annual Conference - A glimpse of what's to come in Pittsburgh.


BACK ISSUES







 
BRIEFINGS: Israel plugs in + broadband sewers + energized fabric  
AEROSPACE ENGINEERING - Skin-spirationAEROSPACE ENGINEERING - Skin-spiration
 

Sharks! They’re fierce, but more important, they’re fast. Now Amy Lang, assistant professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics at the University of Alabama, is studying the creatures for insights on aerodynamic drag. Lang believes the fastest-swimming sharks bristle their scales for a unique skin pattern that reduces resistance. She’s testing her theory with a model covered in simulated shark skin. If she’s right, the technique could lead to aircraft outer skin that cuts drag by as much as 30 percent. Reduce drag by a mere 1 percent and commercial aircraft could save 25,000 gallons of fuel a year, while limiting the emission of pollutants. Now that’s sleek.—Thomas K. Grose

 

 
NANOTECHNOLOGY: Dressed for PowerNANOTECHNOLOGY: Dressed for Power
 

The dreaded “low battery” message and darkened screens of cell phones and other hand-held devices may soon be consigned to tech history. A Georgia Tech researcher, Zhong Lin Wang, is developing a “nanogenerator” that would provide ongoing power for small devices by capturing the kinetic energy released by body movement. A network of zinc oxide nanowires would be woven into the fabric fibers of clothing to collect and then convert physical motion to electrical energy. These nanostructures have unique piezoelectric and semiconducting properties, so that when flexed, they produce small electrical charges. Wang, a professor of materials science and engineering, has embedded pairs of nanowires into Kevlar fibers, with one of each pair coated in gold to act as an electrode. He theorizes that one square meter of fabric could generate around 80 milliwatts of power. But as zinc oxide loses its effectiveness in water, Wang still has to find a way to protect his wired cloth from the damage of washing machines.—TG

 

 
PETROLEUM ENGINEERING: A Gusher in JobsPETROLEUM ENGINEERING: A Gusher in Jobs
 

The amount that greenhouse gases would increase over 30 years with the use of corn-based ethanol, compared with gasoline, as a result of widespread land-use changes needed to grow the corn, according to a controversial study reported in Science. The researchers at Princeton and Iowa State universities and the Woods Hole Research Center argue that the land-use changes would release sequestered carbon. - 93%In the mid-1980s, the petroleum and gas industry’s boom went bust and oil prices tanked, skidding to a low of $12 a barrel. By 2000, the industry had cut its workforce by 60 percent. Now oil’s king again, with a barrel of crude going for around $100. That’s left the industry scrambling for engineers. And it’s a need that could intensify as Baby Boomers start to retire, says Lloyd Heinze, chair of the petroleum engineering department at Texas Tech University.

Not surprisingly, the industry is making a huge effort to attract more students, pouring money into academic programs and offering starting salaries of $100,000. Last year, Exxon Mobil spent $125 million on a national science-and-math initiative. It’s working. Petroleum engineering enrollments are soaring as students flock to this discipline where jobs and solid paychecks are guaranteed. Heinze says there now are 3,700 undergraduates enrolled in 16 accredited programs across the nation. Now the demand has created a new problem: a faculty shortage. But future professors might well be asking: How long will this boom last?—TG

 

 
CHEMICALS: TIME AND MONEYCHEMICALS: TIME AND MONEY  

Waste not, want not. The old adage is being put to use at the University of British Columbia, where a Chemical Exchange Database (CED) helps engineers and scientists find chemicals that were bought by the university but never completely used. Whether seeking quantities of methylimidazole or orthophosphoric acid, researchers can purchase them through CED, which provides storage for surplus chemicals from numerous on-campus laboratories. Established in 2004 by Burdena Shea and Andre Liem of UBC’s Health Research Resource Office, CED lists more than 200 substances. Not only does it save researchers money, but, says Ph.D. candidate Jonathan Chong, “It is faster than submitting a purchase order and waiting for chemicals to be shipped.” —Pierre Home-Douglas

 

 
WIND POWER: A SMALL TOWN'S BIG IDEACourtesy: National Science Foundation Credit: Jiong Tang, University of Connecticut; Yu Ding, Texas A&M University  

One hundred-sixty miles east of Denver, Colo., a wind-swept prairie town named Wray and its school district have been hard-pressed for cash. As the town’s population has aged, student numbers have dropped to just 620, one hundred fewer than 10 years ago. That hurts when state funding is based on student headcounts. So to save on electric bills, agriculture teacher Jay Clapper suggested building a makeshift windmill and hooking it to nearby power lines.

The idea blossomed into a plan to build a 250-foot-tall windmill with a 900 kilowatt turbine — at a cost of $1.8 million. The district ponied up a million, a local trust chipped in $200,000 and a state clean-energy grant provided another $350,000. That left the project $270,000 short. Then power company NativeEnergy agreed to spend that amount on renewable energy credits, paying up front for the electricity it’ll purchase over the windmill’s 20-year lifespan. The turbine should crank out enough energy not only to cover the district’s electric bill — around $80,000 a year — but also to power 20 percent of the town. There may even be enough surplus to finance other educational needs. For Wray, the answer to its money woes was a-blowin’ in the wind. —TG

 

 
AEROSPACE: TURBULENCE AHEADAEROSPACE: TURBULENCE AHEAD  

U.S. aerospace sales are rocketing — up 8 percent last year to $198.8 billion, and projected to rise to $211 billion this year. But manufacturers face a potentially crippling manpower shortage, one that could affect both commercial and military production. The Aerospace Industrial Association (AIA) estimates that around 25 percent of the 642,000-strong aerospace workforce could retire this year.

Despite the industry’s work on futuristic civil and military aircraft and NASA spacecraft, and the good paying jobs it offers, one economist told the Seattle Times that many young Americans view it as an “old-fashioned industry.” The AIA’s not sure how many aerospace engineers are close to gold-watch time, but spokesman Matt Grimison says the number is likely to be huge. And the poor state of science and math at the K-12 level could mean even fewer future aerospace engineers. So industry giants like Boeing and Lockheed Martin are increasingly funding programs to bolster the skills of American students.—TG

 

 
AUTOS: Plug In and Power UpAUTOS: Plug In and Power Up  

ISRAEL—Americans think they have it bad at the gas pump. But in Tel Aviv, with the cost per gallon hovering at U.S. $6.30, Israelis have more reason to gripe — and to seek alternatives to petrol fuel. Now Israel plans to support the first nationwide system to power electric cars. The state is working with the automotive alliance Renault-Nissan to launch a line of electric sedans, ready for sale by 2011. Rather than buying the 440-pound lithium ion batteries, at $15,000 per battery, drivers can lease them from the California-based firm Better Place, paying only according to how much they drive. The innovative scheme has been compared to the rental of cell phone airtime.

Commuters will be able to plug in their cars while at work to generate enough power to drive 120 miles, and can pull into charging stations for replacement batteries when theirs run low. The company will start with 100 charging stations, with plans for many more. A similar project is in the works for Denmark. Despite the excitement, some Israelis question whether the country’s electricity grid will be up to the task of powering so many cars.—Joshua Brilliant

QUOTED: It's important to understand the risks associated with new technologies before they become widely deployed - Tadayoshi Kohno, a University of Washington computer scientist who worked on a study of implantable wireless heart devices. The study revealed that skilled hackers can manipulate the devices 
and even program them to give the user a high-voltage shock.

TEACHING: INNOVATORS HONOREDTEACHING: INNOVATORS HONORED  

“I hear . . . I forget, I see. . . I remember, I do . . . I understand.” The Confucian adage heads the website for the Integrated Teaching & Learning (ITL) Program and Laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder. It’s an apt epigram for a program developed to incorporate hands-on experiences in the theory-based curricula of engineering. ITL students work on actual industrial projects, using a team-oriented problem-solving approach. The National Academy of Engineering calls ITL “exceptional” and has presented the program’s co-directors with this year’s $500,000 Bernard M. Gordon Prize, an award that recognizes innovation in engineering and technical education. Jacquelyn F. Sullivan, a professor of environmental engineering, and Lawrence E. Carlson, a professor of mechanical engineering, were cited for a program that can “motivate and prepare tomorrow’s engineering leaders.” The two will split half the award; the rest goes to the university.
Beyond its work with Boulder undergraduates, ITL runs 65 weekly classes for 1,800 public-school students, grades 3 to 12, as well as “deep dive” summer programs for kids and teachers. Sullivan and Carlson also co-teach a popular freshman course, First-Year Engineering Projects, which has helped to improve retention of engineering students at Boulder.

Sullivan, who earned her Ph.D. at the University of Detroit, is also founding chair of the ASEE K-12 Engineering Division.—TG

 

 

 

 
WATER TECHNOLOGY: Desalination on DemandWATER TECHNOLOGY: Desalination on Demand  

A Texas-headquartered company plans to build and operate ships that desalinate seawater and pump it to cities experiencing water shortages. The firm, Water Standard Co., says its vessels would be able to pump up to 75 million gallons a day and operate from as far as 5 miles offshore. According to the online publication IEEE Spectrum, the company claims several advantages over land-based plants: the ships can be dispatched to handle water crises that occur during natural disasters; they use less energy; and they wreak less havoc with marine life, since they don’t need to suck in seawater as quickly.

 

CONSTRUCTION: Russian IconCONSTRUCTION: Russian Icon  

Designed to rise like a giant steel and glass Christmas tree from a peninsula along the Moscow River, Crystal Island, if built, would be the world’s biggest building as measured in floor space—four times the size of the mammoth Pentagon. Foster + Partners, the British firm that designed it, calls it “a city in microcosm,” with hotels, apartments, offices and shops. The superstructure would act as a thermal buffer, sealed to prevent heat loss during the cold Russian winter and open to breezes in the summer. Moscow, enjoying oil- and gas-fueled prosperity, is in the midst of a construction boom.

 

 
CONSTRUCTION: Russian IconBIOMECHANICS: ALL THE RIGHT MOVES  

UNITED KINGDOM—A great deal of material on the Internet could be classified—charitably—as “sewage.” But if a British tech company has its way, U.K. Internet traffic will literally be in the sewer. The company, H2O Networks, wants to run superfast broadband connections by way of Britain’s 360,000 miles of sewage pipes.

The method of running fiber optic cables through existing wastewater lines is quicker, cheaper, and less intrusive than the traditional method of digging up roads to lay down cables, the company says. In addition, H2O’s cables provide broadband speeds of some 100 megabits per second — far faster than the average U.K. broadband speed of 4 megabits per second. H2O Networks claims it can place 1.2 miles of cable within four hours, while excavating that much road would take months. British Telecommunications, which is under government pressure to install a faster broadband infrastructure, estimates that rewiring all the U.K. could cost around $30 billion; H2O claims its method could cut that amount by 70 to 80 percent.

H2O has wired the universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Bournemouth through their sewage pipes, and has contracts to wire the cities of Bournemouth, Dundee and Northampton. Company founder Elfed Thomas says the technology was easy to conceive; the hard part is persuading wastewater companies to allow cables through the effluent. —TG

 

 
COMPUTER SCIENCE: Delayed GratificationCOMPUTER SCIENCE: Delayed Gratification  

Microsoft isn’t a company always beloved by consumers. But engineers and scientists may feel more kindly disposed, since the software giant is one of the few big firms that invests in basic research—the kind that may not pay off for years. In July, Microsoft is opening its sixth basic research lab in Cambridge, Mass., next door to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the idea of forging links to the many top schools in that region.

The multidisciplinary lab will focus on core computer science, particularly algorithms, and on bringing CS closer to the social sciences. It will also feature a small design group. Jennifer Tour Chayes, a former math professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who will direct the lab, says it will conduct “fundamental research that can lead to deeper insights and better computing experiences in an increasingly online world.” —TG

 

 


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American Society for Engineering Education