In This Issue
Winter Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering
December 25, 2015 Volume 45 Issue 4

The Promise of Engineering

Friday, December 25, 2015

Author: Robert D. Braun

Editor’s Note

Each year the US Frontiers of Engineering (US FOE) Symposium brings together outstanding engineers, ages 30 to 45, to share ideas, network, and learn about cutting-edge research across a spectrum of topics relevant to advancing society. The competitively selected attendees come from a wide range of backgrounds and have a variety of interests and expertise. The symposium offers participants a unique opportunity to meet emerging leaders across a range of disciplines, learn about the latest research trends and potential breakthroughs in engineering areas other than their own, and facilitate collaborative work and the transfer of new approaches and techniques across fields. Through both formal sessions and informal discussions, these annual meetings have proven an effective mechanism for the establishment of cross-disciplinary and cross-sector contacts among the participants.

On September 9–11, approximately 100 emerging engineering leaders from academia, industry, and government gathered at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The meeting was organized in four sessions with the following themes: Cybersecurity and Privacy, Engineering the Search for Earth-like Exoplanets, Optical and Mechanical Metamaterials, and Forecasting Natural Disasters. Eight papers, representing the highly engaging topics covered by this year’s presentations, were selected for publication in this issue of the Bridge.1

The first session focused on Cybersecurity and Privacy in a society that is increasingly dependent on networked computer systems and software. Cochaired by David Brumley of Carnegie Mellon University and Daniela Oliveira of the University of Florida, the session explored the development of sound methods and practices to protect computer systems from attack and users from privacy threats created by ubiquitous computer systems. It is a daunting task to secure systems against not just lone individuals but also nation-states using computer systems to carry out political and military agendas. The speakers led insightful discussions of engineering security including layers of abstraction, the engineering of secure medical devices, and engineered systems that protect user privacy. In this issue, papers by Franziska Roesner (University of Washington) and Kevin Fu (University of Michigan) address human factors aspects of cybersecurity and the engineering of secure medical devices.

The session on Engineering the Search for Earth-Like Exoplanets, cochaired by Mitchell Walker of Georgia Tech and Sara Seager of MIT, looked at the technologies and capabilities needed to find and identify Earth-like exoplanets among the hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy and hundreds of billions of galaxies in our universe. In particular, speakers highlighted starlight suppression technologies and the deployment and construction of large optical telescopes. After a description of the enabling technologies and observing capabilities of the NASA James Webb Space Telescope, planned for launch in 2018, the audience heard about technologies that suppress starlight so that the planet light that enters the telescope is accentuated. The session concluded with a presentation on the construction of large structures in space, either through large deployables or space-based assembly, and the control requirements and capabilities required for such systems. In these pages, Dmitry Savransky (Cornell University) and Jeffrey Banik (Air Force Research Laboratory) review the technologies needed for starlight suppression and on-orbit construction.

In the session on Optical and Mechanical Metamaterials, cochaired by Jennifer Dionne of Stanford University and Luke Sweatlock of Northrop Grumman, speakers described the rapidly increasing ability to engineer properties of high-performance materials for applications ranging from high-efficiency energy production and storage to advanced medical imaging and therapeutics. They illustrated the design of composites whose properties derive as much from their structure as from their composition, and described mechanical metamaterials, advanced nano- and microscale manufacturing of large-area metamaterials, optical metamaterials and metasurfaces, and microelectromechanical devices. Papers by Christopher Spadaccini (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) and Julia Greer (Caltech) convey the mechanical advances enabled by engineering systems at the micro- and nanoscale.

The final session focused on engineering capability to forecast natural disasters, with a look into the future of useful forecasts, effective messaging, and avoidance of catastrophic societal failures. Presentations addressed the future of probabilistic, quantitative natural hazard risk assessment in support of risk management, the role of human behavioral bias and poor decision making, and risk assessment and management opportunities provided by new technologies. Cochaired by Amir AghaKouchak (UC Irvine) and James Done (National Center for Atmospheric Research), the session reviewed hurricane modelling, damage and risk assessment, and the rapid public dissemination of accurate knowledge about the state of our dynamic planet. In this issue, Ning Lin (Princeton) and Jeffrey Czajkowski (University of Pennsylvania) report engineering advances in hurricane modelling and risk assessment.

In addition to the presentations, FOE symposia provide time for lively Q&A sessions, panel discussions, and other activities that promote personal interactions and networking. At this year’s meeting the dinner speaker, a traditional highlight of the program, was Dr. Corale Brierley, vice president of the National Academy of Engineering and an expert in mining, metallurgy, and microbiology. She presented an engaging perspective on the role of microorganisms in the mining industry in a talk entitled “The Black Swan.”

As chair of the 2015 US FOE symposium, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the NAE staff whose boundless energy and enthusiasm made this program a success. Specifically, I appreciate the tireless contributions of Janet Hunziker, NAE senior program officer, who went to great lengths to make this event, and this community, feel so special. I also thank Al Romig, executive officer of the National Academy of Engineering, and Mitchell Walker for stepping in, at the last minute, to help lead the symposium forward when a family medical issue complicated my participation. And I thank the sponsors of this year’s symposium: The Grainger Foundation, DARPA, NSF, AFOSR, DOD ASDR&E STEM Development Office, Microsoft Inc., and Cummins Inc.

It is an honor to serve as chair of the organizing committee for the US FOE Symposia. As a young engineer and US FOE participant in 2000, this program means a great deal to me. I recall leaving the 2000 symposium invigorated about the future of our profession. Chairing this symposium 15 years later, I can attest to the enthusiasm and promise of the emerging engineering leaders who participated in this year’s symposium. Our profession remains in good hands.

Looking forward, I encourage you to nominate eligible colleagues for the September 2016 US FOE Symposium, to be held in Houston.


1 All 15 symposium presentations can be viewed at

About the Author:Robert D. Braun (NAE) is the David & Andrew Lewis Professor of Space Technology in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.