Exploring the Frontiers of Engineering

Editor's Note

Every year the US Frontiers of Engineering (FOE) Symposium brings together approximately 100 outstanding young engineers, ages 30 to 45, to share ideas and learn about cutting-edge research on a wide range of engineering topics. A unique characteristic of the symposium series is that participants are competitively selected from researchers working across the spectrum of engineering disciplines in academia, industry, and government. FOE provides these emerging engineering leaders with a rare opportunity to learn about the latest research in engineering areas other than their own and to meet and network with promising engineers working in different fields. The meeting is truly memorable, and I encourage you to nominate your eligible colleagues. I attended my first US FOE symposium in 1998 as a new assistant professor, and it is now my great privilege to serve as chair of the organizing committee and meeting.

The eighteenth US FOE Symposium was held September 13–15, 2012, at General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. It was organized into four sessions with the following themes: climate engineering, vehicle electrification, serious games, and engineering materials for the biological interface. Seven papers based on this year’s presentations are included in this issue of The Bridge.

The session on climate engineering was organized by David Sholl of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Armin Sorooshian of the University of Arizona. Climate engineering is the concept of proactively and artificially modifying the Earth system in ways that might combat human-induced changes in the planet’s radiative balance. Two presentations from this session are included in this issue. Eli Kintisch, of Science Magazine, provides an overview of climate engineering and of important considerations before such intervention is undertaken. In the second article, Lynn Russell, a researcher at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, describes the role of atmospheric aerosols in climate engineering and gives examples of recent field projects that have attempted to shed light on the basic science and physics of cloud brightening.

The second session, chaired by Michael Degner of Ford Motor Company and Sanjeev Naik of General Motors, was about advances in vehicle electrification. Presentations focused on current research on, and challenges in, technology enablers such as energy storage systems, electric machine drives, and electrical system integration and control. In Keeping Up with the Increasing Demands for Electrochemical Energy Storage, Jeff Sakamoto of Michigan State University reviews recent improvements in automobile electrical energy storage systems, where reductions in cost, size, and weight are necessary to increase the adoption of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles (PHEVs and BEVs). He describes some of the recent improvements in battery technologies, industry targets to enable widespread adoption of PHEVs, and some of the ongoing research to meet these targets.

Today’s drivers have high expectations for the safety, reliability, comfort, and connectivity of their vehicles. Rahul Mangharam of the University of Pennsylvania discusses technical approaches to enhance vehicle safety through remote diagnostics, networking, recalls, and software upgrades. He and his colleagues are working on several products to enhance traffic networking that will suggest alternate routes to avoid congestion, expedite auto safety recalls and system repairs, and support vehicle-to-vehicle communications that alert drivers to sudden braking or accidents on the road ahead.

Serious games were the focus of the third session, chaired by Li-Te Cheng of Google and Ben Sawyer of Digitalmill. The term—best understood as a medium of many design, engineering, and technical domains rather than a specific technology—applies to the increasing use of video game technologies in nonentertainment domains. Initially, serious games were a training tool, with a second wave of applications in therapeutic and health behavior change efforts. A new generation of serious games supports innovative crowd sourcing activities that tackle scientific, organizational, and social challenges through video game play. In Playing to Win: Serious Games for Business, Phaedra Boinodiris of IBM provides pointers for the adoption of serious games for process optimization and complex problem solving.

The final session of the meeting, chaired by Karen Burg of Clemson University and Ali Khademhosseini of Harvard Medical School, covered the topic of engineering materials for the biological interface. The session focused on the cell-cell or cell-tissue components of the biological interface of, say, tendon to bone or cartilage to bone. Repairs of tissues across interfaces are quite complex because of very diverse tissue properties (e.g., tissue mechanics) and corresponding interfacial interactions. To simulate these interactions, researchers are studying the design of materials, control of cells, and design of bioreactors in which to grow and assess these systems. In her presentation, Helen Lu of Columbia University described engineering tissue-to-tissue interfaces for the formation of complex tissues. Matthew Gevaert of Kiyatec then covered the translation of these ideas to commercial application through the cultivation of 3D tissue systems to better mimic relevant events in the body.

 In addition to the presentations, FOE symposia provide lively Q&A sessions, panel discussions, and other activities that encourage personal discussions and networking. The dinner speaker, a traditional highlight of FOE programs, was Alan Taub, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Michigan and former vice president of global R&D at General Motors. In his remarks on the reinvention of the automobile for 21st century sustainability, he described various stages in the automotive industry from development of the internal combustion engine to the oil shock of the 1970s and the subsequent focus on fuel efficiency and safety. He noted that today’s primary challenge is accommodating the number of vehicles that the world can afford as personal income in developing countries increases, with the primary issues being energy and emissions, safety, congestion, and affordability. Dr. Taub concluded his talk by pointing out that if engineers are motivated to save the world, the automotive industry is a good place to do so.

It was my great pleasure to serve as chair of the Organizing Committee for this year’s US FOE Symposium. I want to close by expressing my gratitude to Janet Hunziker, NAE senior program officer, Vanessa Lester, program associate, and Lance Davis, NAE Executive Officer, for their contributions to the planning and implementation of this pioneering series. I also thank the sponsors of the 2012 symposium: General Motors, The Grainger Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Department of Defense ASDR&E Research Directorate–STEM Development Office, National Science Foundation, Microsoft Research, and Cummins Inc.


About the Author: Kristi Anseth chaired the 2012 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Organizing Committee.