Archive for October, 2005

Helping the Blind See

Retina

New innovations in medical technology are always crucial to the success of our economy’s biomedical sector. Until recently, work in biomedical engineering has been primarily auxiliary in nature – from high-tech wheelchairs and breathing aids for paraplegics to chirping traffic signals to help the blind cross the street safely. Thanks to the newly established Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems (BMES) Engineering Research Center at USC, biomedical engineers, electrical engineers, and research physicians will undertake research that might eventually lead to a better understanding of how the brain and physical tissue work together, and perhaps lead to cures for currently incurable maladies. “Our very ambitious goal is to help the blind see, the paralyzed walk, and to restore the function of memory,” says C. L. Nikias, dean of the University of Southern California (USC) College of engineering. Learn more about this in PRISM, ASEE’s award-winning magazine.


Engineering is History!

Antikythera mechanism
Engineering history is certainly making a comeback these days. Looking back to the past sometimes helps to see just how far we’ve come and can perhaps guide us in the future. A newly unveiled reconstruction of the Antikythera mechanism reveals how advanced ancient Greece was in mechanical engineering. Experts disagree as to whether this machine that calculates the positions of planets constitutes a computer or a glorified clock, but no doubt remains as to whether the Greeks were well ahead of their time. Great feats of engineering are also making their way into historical fiction, like in Clare Clark’s aptly-named The Great Stink, about the building of the London sewer system. Follow the main character, engineer William May, as he helps construct a labyrinth of pipes through 19th century London in an attempt to save the city from cholera.


Engineering Sends China Into Orbit

After successfully completing its second launch into space, China has once again demonstrated its position as a world power by showing how its engineering educational system has paid off. More so than in the United States, a unique public consensus for investing heavily in engineering education already exists in China. Grounded in a culture that celebrates craftsmanship, the engineering profession enjoys strong patronage from the state. China has successfully retailed the idea that the very act of choosing an engineering or other scientific career is an expression of patriotism, potent incentive in a country where nationalism is as much a part of growing up as dozing through ideology sessions and mastering the brush strokes needed to be literate in a written language running to thousands of letters. “Government has promoted the notion of using science and technology to save China,” says Li Gong, 43, general manager for Sun Microsystems’ China Engineering & Research Institute. Learn more about China’s engineering schools in PRISM, ASEE’s award-winning magazine.


Learning from the Past to Rebuild the Future

Assessing the Damage

Weeks after the initial devastation of Hurricane Katrina, local and federal officials still question whether it is feasible to rebuild the areas of New Orleans hardest hit by the storm. While rebuilding is possible, officials cannot make firm plans until engineers have their say. They must survey damaged areas of the city to assess what can be rebuilt and how it can best be rebuilt to better withstand future hurricanes. Civil engineers have begun looking into what factors affected how floodwalls and buildings held up during the hurricaine.

When faced with the daunting problem of rebuilding an entire city, engineers look to past disasters and their solutions to formulate the best plan of action. Recently, engineers traveled along the coast of Indonesia to investigate the damage of the shocking tsunami that hit Southeast Asia last year. By using new data as well as data gathered from a large wave that struck Indonesia in 1992, engineers have designed permanent buildings that will stand up better to the destructive power of another tsunami. In turn, the data gained from Indonesia’s coast may help engineers form the blueprint for reconstruction in New Orleans. Read more about how engineers helped repair and prepare for this natural disaster in Southeast Asia in PRISM, ASEE’s award-winning magazine.


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