Friday, October 12, 2012

A World-wide Community of Energy Researchers

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy lately as the search for sustainable energy sources and more efficient methods for energy usage become more and more important drivers of engineering innovation. Just yesterday, LCS faculty received $450,000 to study two different aspects of energy: cooling technology for data centers filled with energy-hungry computer servers, and new nano materials which can dramatically improve the efficiency of heat exchangers (Click here for more about how heat exchangers work).  And today, the College was visited by famed combustion researcher Dr. Suk Ho Chung of King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), who is here to discuss his recent work on efficiency-limiting factors for gasoline engines.

These projects are only the tip of the iceberg (the melting iceberg, that is!). It is dizzying to consider the tens of thousands of engineers and scientists around the world engaged in energy research, with discoveries and improvements, new product development and the launch of energy-based technology companies occurring simultaneously in thousands of venues. Engineering schools are deeply involved in these efforts, sometimes independently and often in collaboration with industry partners or international groups of researchers. At LCS and elsewhere, researchers are exploring energy-related questions that impact all types of powered devices: What new lightweight materials can be developed to reduce the fuel requirements for aircraft? What software is required to minimize the power needs of wireless sensors used for everything from sensing pollutants in the environment to detecting intruders in secure facilities? How can sewage treatment plants be turned into energy generators rather energy consumers? Invention and ingenuity cross political boundaries; answers and new approaches to what is arguably the most urgent engineering concern of our time are coming from across the global community of energy researchers.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to explore how individuals view their own personal energy consumption. We know that consumers have poor intuition about how much energy they actually use in everyday life. LCS faculty member Cliff Davidson and colleagues have shown that people consistently underestimate the amount of energy consumed by commonhousehold appliances. Happily, studies of consumer behavior after the installation of smart grid systems show that when people are made aware of their energy usage in real time, they become much efficient in their energy usage. At LCS, our new smart grid laboratory serves as a training ground for engineering students to test energy-saving devices, while our other laboratories are learning centers for combustion and fuel cell technology and the thermodynamics of biofuel conversion. You can read more about our smart grid research in our Syracuse Engineer magazine and you can explore the latest international news on smart grid technology from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers here.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Presenting at Society of Women Engineers Conference

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to address more than 300 engineering professionals and engineering students at the annual conference of the Mid-Atlantic Section of the Society of Women Engineers held at Columbia University. I called the talk: “The Changing World of Engineering Practice: How can Women Prepare for Success?" You can read an abridged version of it below.

It is a real honor for me to be here and to be speaking at this SWE conference in New York City. Indeed, it was New York City itself that inspired me to be an engineer. I loved to see the monumental structures of the city – the stunning Verazzano Bridge, the historic iron-trussed Brooklyn Bridge. And there was the wonder of the subways, a spaghetti of intersecting train lines filled with endlessly interesting characters. I also liked practicing keeping my balance as the train accelerated and slowed, getting an early lesson in momentum and F=MA. So, it’s probably no surprise that I went on to become a civil engineer.

It is a truly wonderful time to be an engineer, isn’t it? Opportunities to create, design, and build are all around us, technology is revolutionizing the world at a dizzying pace. Economists talk about inventions that create whole new economies, and form the basis for decades of new economic growth. These “General Purpose Technologies” are so powerful that they disrupt and accelerate the expected trajectory of economic progress. Economists call them “innovational complementarities” meaning that their effects spread through the economy, improving productivity and fostering innovation across many sectors of the economy.

Right here in NYC, the mayor decided that the city needed a new economic growth engine, to complement Wall Street, the media industry, and other cornerstones of the New York City economy. He sent his economic advisor around the city talking to community and business leaders asking them what was missing from the NYC landscape. They said: we need more engineers in the city. We need to a way to become a center of the 21st century economy, and bringing engineers and applied scientists together with the city’s entrepreneurs and financiers is the way to do this.

In Washington, President Obama has taken the bully pulpit to endorse the STAY WITH IT program organized by the Jobs Council. This program provides incentives for college engineering students to complete their degrees. The goal is to increase the size of next year’s graduating class of engineers by 10,000, to augment the 75,000 that we normally graduate. In fact, at a speech he gave to engineering deans last month which I was privileged to attend, he talked about the “doers and tinkers” that helped build this country and how we need the same now.

For doers and tinkerers, the 1800’s was a special time. This was when they learned how to harness steam power, how to create electricity, and how to design and build the internal combustion engine. This was the era of the Brooklyn Bridge. These “General Purpose Technologies” were the foundation of the Industrial Revolution and led to the growth of the modern city. And the last few decades have seen the enormous impacts of the newest General Purpose Technology: the semiconductor, and the computerization that followed. With computerization came miniaturization and incredible capacities for data analysis. New, nano-based materials followed. They can do extraordinary things like self-heal or extract energy from sunlight in thin films that can be applied directly to windows. We are also using these new technologies to sense EVERYTHING, improving our knowledge of natural sciences and using control mechanisms to adaptively manage engineered systems.

For example, at Syracuse University the Center of Excellence and the College of Engineering and Computer Science has built a building which has sensors throughout, including a totally instrumented green roof to measure humidity, soil moisture, evaporation, and other design parameters that will ultimately lead to more effective green roof designs.

And, surely something that all of us as engineers who have struggled through semesters of calculus, physics, and countless laboratory sessions can appreciate: engineering seems to be the new cool occupation. I get a big kick out of hearing the “logistics” jingle from UPS on TV; I never thought mathematical programming would achieve such heights of commercial success. IBM advertises its efforts to build “A Smarter Planet.” As the Dean of an engineering school, I am gratified that kids have begun to realize that if they really want to help the world solve its, engineering is a direct path to success.

So, new technologies generated from the semi-conductor and computerization are revolutionizing the work engineers do. As we all know, these advances in technology have also helped to propel the globalization of the world’s economy. So, now Boeing for example has operations in 70 countries around the world. IBM does 64% of its business overseas, and design companies work 24/7 with engineers working around the clock from one time zone to another. Even small engineering firms in Syracuse may have projects in Europe and in Asia.

What does all this mean for engineers, and women in particular?
I will discuss two of the many relevant issues here. They are the need to be creative and to take risks, and the need to engage young women in engineering.

Creativity and Risk Taking
IBM did a study of CEOs
and asked them what the most important attribute for a CEO was likely to be in the coming decade. Integrity and vision were important, but the most important characteristic the CEOs described was creativity. And creativity is the key to innovation. So, if you want to be an engineer who solves problems in new and different ways, being able to tap into your creative instincts is important. Psychology studies have shown, however, that while no gender differences in creative aptitude are discernible in children, by the time women are adults, they are often more inhibited than men about sharing their creative ideas. They may have less ambition to excel in creative endeavors than do men. These differences of course reflect cultural practices that are acquired in upbringing, education, and the freedom of action that a child is allowed. But there are also “creativity killers” that have been identified in the workplace. They include having a difficult supervisor; fearing failure, judgment, or appearing foolish; feeling you have to find “the right” answer (think about how many times you struggled in engineering class to do just this); and working under time pressure. Some of these may be unavoidable in the engineering workplace, but if your work is often constrained by these factors, it is likely that you are not able to do your most creative work.

And, of course using creativity implies that new ideas may emerge, and the innovator needs to be able to pursue this, and she needs to have the courage to make others believe in it. In other words, taking advantage of your creativity can mean taking risks. What does it mean to take risk? Risk occur in everyday life -you can practice taking risks every day. Take a class in art if you haven’t learned to draw, stand up to the guy in the next office who makes disparaging remarks about colleagues, or volunteer for that temporary assignment overseas.

So, nurturing your creativity, choosing a workplace that encourages creative thinking, finding the inner courage to take risks and believe in your ideas, and communicating your thoughts persuasively are going to important to you as you move through your career.

Recruiting of women into the Profession
Less than 10% of the engineering workforce are women while the percentage of women in engineering school is about 18%. At Syracuse, we have a very female-friendly faculty and a supportive environment for both men and women, and about 25% of our students are women.
The pipeline for women moving forward in engineering has many points at which women may opt in or opt out.

In particular, as you may be aware, we have learned that girls start thinking about careers in middle school. In addition, this is a time when they are vulnerable to turning off to math and science. And so they may start down a path that takes them away from the possibility of a degree in engineering. Every time I teach a course, I ask the students what got them interested in engineering. I am especially interested in the girls’ responses. I have found, and this is backed up studies, that a common response is that their father or uncle is an engineer. Once in a while now, I hear that it is because their mother is an engineer. I am hoping that over time I will hear more of that response, but I am not sure I will because we have not been increasing the number of women in engineering schools.

So, in your lives as mothers or older sisters or aunts, I encourage you to engage with the girls around you and show them the pleasures that being an engineer holds for you.

It is my belief that lots of girls who could enjoy engineering don’t see it as a career option. It reminds me of when I was young and we discussed which one we wanted to be: a nurse, a secretary or a teacher. Engineering needs to broaden the kinds of kids it draws from; focusing more on what an engineer can accomplish in her career, rather than on the math and science qualifications that are needed to enter the field.

At the Syracuse University LC Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, we are trying to be part of the solution. This summer, we are partnering with Siemens Foundation to offer two weeks of an introduction to engineering for 7th and 8th grade girls on Syracuse University’s campus. The program is called Project ENGAGE: Empowering the Next Generation, Advancing Girls in Engineering. The program is highly selective: it is aimed at high-achieving girls who have demonstrated leadership ability and broad-based interests. The hope is to both educate the girls about engineering and also expand their consideration of career options to include the possibility of include engineering.

The program is completely free, and takes girls from NY, NJ, and PA. For seventh grade girls, it focuses on Energy and Sustainability and for eighth grade girls, we will be focusing on Engineering and the Human Body. Syracuse is located in the heart of the women’s rights movement of the 19th century, so we will also be taking all the girls on a trip to the National Museum of Women’s Rights in Seneca Falls NY. We are still recruiting students so if this sounds like it might be interesting to a girl you know, please go to this website for more information.

What conclusions can we draw from all I’ve said today?

We live in a time of great technological change. This provides many opportunities for engineers to innovate, and the nation is looking towards engineering for its competitive advantage in the 21st century. Women have a major role to play in this. It is a time for us to be creative risk-takers, to approach the job market flexibly, and to do what we can individually and collectively to encourage girls and other under-represented minorities to explore the rewards that an engineering career can bring.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you.

Friday, February 17, 2012

President Obama and American Industry Want 10,000 More Engineering Graduates

Last week, the White House held a reception to celebrate the importance of engineering education to the nation’s future. As part of the group of invitees, I was treated to a convivial gathering of engineering deans, industry leaders, National Science Foundation staff, and administration officials, all discussing the key role that engineering education plays in creating the next generation of American leaders.

The occasion was an exciting one for the deans. In addition to Paul Ottelini, CEO of Intel, we also met Secretary of Energy Steven Chu (a former Berkeley professor and Nobel Prize winner for Physics) and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

We also had a very special guest star: President Obama popped into the reception for a surprise appearance. You can watch a short video of the President addressing our group by clicking here.

Dean Steinberg (at left, in red) with Arne Duncan (at back, left); Richard Taylor of Intel; Subra Suresh, Director of NSF; Dean Gary May of Georgia Tech; and President Obama.

The president talked about the need for engineers as a key source of technical and management talent, saying that we need 10,000 more like Steve Jobs in this “new world economy.” He talked about how the founders of our country “were tinkerers and doers and believed in the capacity of people to improve themselves through scientific inquiry.”

The President also described the Science Fair at the White House he had just attended. He recounted his conversation with a team of three girls who built prize-worthy rockets and couldn’t afford to make any design errors because they only had enough money for a single test shot. He also described a young man who had designed a marshmallow catapult, which the President seemed to enjoy a lot.

The celebration was sponsored by the President's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness (Jobs Council) led by GE's Jeffrey Immelt. The Jobs Council has pulled together a group of over 70 companies who have pledged to work towards graduating another 10,000 engineering students in the next year. As part of this, the group is sponsoring the Stay With It program, designed to encourage engineering students to stick with their engineering education. LCS will be participating in this innovative program.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Engineering Recognized for Saving the World

Many students come to LCS and study engineering in order to help solve the world’s most challenging problems. From healthcare to alternative energy to water supply, the know-how of engineers puts ideas into practical use. So I wasn’t surprised when I stumbled across a recent report by Money magazine that listed the “20 Best Jobs in America for Saving the World” and found that the list included environmental engineer, civil engineer, mechanical engineer, and nuclear engineer. Here are some comments from career profiles in the report:

Environmental engineer: "If you relish the challenge of coming up with evironmentally sound solutions to real-world problems; this is a job for you. As world population spurs more concerns about the impact of human activity on the environment, this profession will be in high demand."

Mechanical engineer: "Whether building a prototype car or a robot for space exploration, mechanical engineers take far-out ideas and make them reality."

Civil engineer: "Masterminds behind the nation's bridges, roadways, water and sewer systems and other public works, civil engineers design infrastructure that's critical to our daily lives. You get to leave your mark while enjoying a workday that requires creative, hands-on problem solving."

Aerospace engineer: "Aerospace engineers are at the forefront of innovation, applying advanced technologies to make air and space travel faster and more efficient."

Nuclear engineer: "Nuclear engineers look for ways we can benefit from nuclear energy and radiation. You may find yourself designing reactors or developing new medical imaging technology."

There’s also a great website that describes occupations in the “Green Careers” sector of the economy. Browse the Bureau of Labor Statistics website to read about green careers in recycling, electric vehicles, green construction, solar power, and wind energy.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

I just had occasion to watch the movie Dolphin Tale. This true story of a boy, Sawyer, who rescues an injured dolphin and helps it re-find its swimming ability, is both a coming-of-age tale and an ode to the power and lure of engineering.

In the movie, Sawyer finds a dolphin washed up on shore and injured from an apparent encounter with a commercial fishing boat. Sawyer helps get the dolphin taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where an attentive doctor and staff decide they must amputate the tail to save the dolphin, lovingly dubbed “Winter” by Nathan and the staff.

However, dolphins being dolphins, Winter needs to swim and he adopts a unique twisting movement around his spine. While this “work-around” devised instinctually by Winter allows the dolphin to happily swim around his rehab pool with Sawyer, the doctor soon realizes that this motion will slowly kill Winter. So, the search is on to create a prosthetic tail that can be attached to the abbreviated end of Winter’s body.

Now, the Tale turns to design engineering. Several prototype tails are devised, presumably by off-screen engineers, although credit in the movie is given to a local VA hospital where Morgan Freeman portrays an eccentric doctor who specializes in creating prosthetics for war veterans.

The various prototypes differ by material (a special type of sheathing material must be devised that will be acceptable to Winter’s super-sensitive epidermis; solved using a “silicon elastomer … soft as a lamb’s bottom”) and by mechanical design (how to devise a prosthetic tail which transfers the momentum of Winter’s up and down movements to a forward swimming motion). Careful attention is also paid to the flexible connection between the body sheath and the prosthetic.

An iterative design process is undertaken, and young Sawyer’s empathy and understanding of Winter’s reactions to the various designs (Winter rejects one device after another until the successful design is found) helps to guide the designers in their efforts. Finally, when success comes, Winter is able to swim effortlessly with the prosthetic tail, and becomes an inspiration to disabled people around the world, including disabled US veterans. Indeed, Winter can be found today swimming for the crowds at the Clearwater Aquarium and her story is told on her own website.

This is truly a compelling story about how engineering changed the life of one dolphin; captivated a small boy, a marine hospital staff, and a VA clinic; inspired the disabled and families of the disabled around the world; and resulted in the discovery and production of a silicon gel that is now used in wide variety of biomedical applications.

For those of us of an earlier generation, this is a The Right Stuff type of movie for today. I recommend all who wonder how they can make a difference in the world by using their intellect, passion, and instinct, see this movie. And, be sure to check out the credits at the end of the movie; there are terrific scenes of computational finite element analysis, prototype design, and human-marine life cooperation. And, the clips seem to feature real-life scientists and engineers in these clips. See for yourself!