In This Issue
Spring Bridge: From the Frontiers of Engineering and Beyond
March 25, 2015 Volume 45 Issue 1
Bridge, spring 2015, frontiers of engineering

From the Frontiers of Engineering and Beyond

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Author: Kristi S. Anseth

Editor’s Note

The twentieth US Frontiers of Engineering (FOE) Symposium was hosted at the Beckman Center in Irvine, California, September 11–13, 2014. This annual program brings together 100 or so exceptionally talented young engineers, ages 30–45, representing the diversity of the engineering research community. The unique characteristic of the symposium is the opportunity to network with researchers working in academia, industry, and government and spanning engineering disciplines, and to learn about cutting-edge research on topics that stretch minds and thinking outside of one’s own expertise. I have been privileged to chair this meeting for the past three years, and each event has been distinctively memorable. I hope you will consider nominating your eligible colleagues for next year’s symposium, which will be organized by the new FOE chair, Professor Robert Braun, from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The 2014 meeting began with a special welcome from NAE President Dan Mote, who shared a brief history of the NAE and upcoming events to celebrate its 50th anniversary. We were moved by a preview of some of the Engineering for You (E4U) video submissions ( and the takeaway message that “Engineering Is Amazing!”

We then commenced with the scientific program, which was organized into four sessions with the following themes: co-robotics, battery anxiety, technologies for the heart, and shale gas and oil. Eight papers based on this year’s presentations are included in this issue of the Bridge.

The session on co-robotics was organized by Brian Gerkey of the Open Source Robotics Foundation and Carmel Majidi of Carnegie Mellon University. Speakers described how recent advances in robotics technology have enabled safer interactions with humans and are allowing robots to enter workplaces, hospitals, and homes. We learned about the frontiers in self-driving cars, robots in the manufacturing environment, minimally invasive surgical robots, and biologically inspired mobile robots. This issue features the papers of two speakers from this session, Chris Urmson of Google and Allison Okamura of Stanford.

The second session, chaired by Dan Steingart of Princeton University and Jeff Sakamoto of the University of Michigan, was titled “battery anxiety,” which was intended to capture the efforts and challenges in transitioning to an electrical energy economy. The session highlighted efforts to meet future energy storage needs through both fundamental and applied materials research. The speakers covered topics about battery life and safety issues, linking fundamental materials characterization to manufacturing issues and grid storage. Alvaro Masias of Ford explains “why we need batteries,” but places this in the context of reducing concerns about predictions of their lifetime and safety. Claus Daniel of Oak Ridge complements this discussion with a review of current and future chemistries for batteries as well as challenges in transitioning between materials discovery and energy storage technologies.

The theme of the third session, organized by Karen Christman of the University of California at San Diego and Ashley Peterson of Medtronic Endovascular Therapies, was technologies for the heart. The session introduced the audience to the basic functions of the heart to provide an appreciation for the complexities of engineering devices to interface with a living tissue. Erin Spinner of Edwards Lifesciences set the stage with a chronology of advances in devices to treat heart valve disease. Jason Burdick of the University of Pennsylvania then describes bench to bedside efforts in biomaterial design to treat the heart after an infarction. The session’s closing talk, authored by Tina Morrison of the US Food and Drug Administration, explained the guidelines and constraints of FDA regulation for those in the business of engineering products for placement in the human body.

The final session, chaired by Billy Bardin of the Dow Chemical Company and Christopher Jones of the Georgia Institute of Technology, looked at the boom in domestic production of gas and oil from shale resources, facilitated by the development and implementation of hydraulic fracturing. Speakers provided an overview of the logistical and infrastructure challenges of transporting these resources, introduced some environmental questions and challenges, and discussed the use of shale gas for chemical production. In this issue Kelvin Gregory of Carnegie Mellon University reviews some of the water resource aspects related to hydraulic fracturing, specifically its impact on microbial communities.1

Beyond the outstanding presentations, the FOE schedule was designed to provide ample time for lively Q&A sessions, breakout discussions, and other activities to encourage conversation and networking. Another highlight of this year’s program was the dinner speaker, Dr. Arun Majumdar, President Obama’s selection for founding director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. Dr. Majumdar gave a provocative talk on the notion of “what is impact?” with some historical context about the use of sources of nitrogen to tackle the problem of growing enough food for the world’s population and the impact of the Haber-Bosch process. He challenged the audience to think about the most important problems facing society today and how one might rethink traditional measures of research success to include impact in developing solutions to global challenges in sustainability, energy, and environment.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing what a distinct pleasure it has been to serve as chair of the Organizing Committee for the US FOE Symposium for the past three years. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Janet Hunziker, NAE senior program officer, and Vanessa Lester, program associate, who work tirelessly to ensure the success of this program. I feel so very fortunate to have been part of the FOE team for this brief period, and Janet and Vanessa deserve many rounds of thank you’s from me, the session organizers, speakers, and meeting attendees for their extraordinary efforts. Finally, I would like to recognize the generous sponsors of the 2014 symposium: The Grainger Foundation, National Science Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, DOD-ASDR&E Research Directorate–STEM Development Office, Microsoft Research, Boeing, Cummins Inc., and individual donors.


1 Editor’s note: The topic of shale gas was addressed in the summer 2014 issue of the Bridge.


About the Author:Kristi S. Anseth (NAE) is Distinguished Professor, Tisone Professor, and HHMI investigator in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.