In This Issue
Frontiers of Engineering
December 15, 2009 Volume 39 Issue 4
Vol 39 No. 4 Winter 2009 Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering

Crossing New Frontiers - Editorial

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Author: Andrew M. Weiner

Papers from the 2009 U.S. Frontiers of Engineering Symposium

Every year the NAE U.S. Frontiers of Engineering (US FOE) Symposium brings together approximately 100 outstanding young engineers, aged 30 to 45, to share ideas and learn about cutting-edge research on a variety of engineering topics. A unique characteristic of FOE symposia is that participants are competitively selected from the full spectrum of engineering disciplines, with the intent of identifying individuals who are emerging as (or are already) engineering leaders in academia, industry, and government. FOE offers them a unique opportunity to learn about significant, up-to-date developments in engineering areas other than their own and to meet and network with promising young engineers in other fields and from a variety of institutions.

The fifteenth US FOE Symposium was held September 10–12, 2009, at the National Academies Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The meeting was organized into independent sessions with the following themes: engineering tools for scientific discovery; nano/micro photonics and new applications; engineering the health care delivery system; and resilient and sustainable infrastructures. Five papers based on this year’s presentations are included in this issue of The Bridge.

The first session, “Engineering Tools for Scientific Discovery,” was chaired by Louise Hamlin of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, J. Christopher Love of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Naren Ramakrishnan of Virginia Tech. The four talks covered spatial scales ranging from the very small (tools for studying self-assembly mechanisms in nanotechnology) to the very large (instruments for monitoring the behavior of whales and dolphins and instruments for space exploration). Carla Gomes, whose paper is included in this issue, described a new interdisciplinary field, computational sustainability, that uses computational and mathematical models, methods, and tools to manage and balance environmental, economic, and societal needs. She provided examples of applications in bio-diversity and species conservation, natural resource management, and energy efficiency.

The session on “Nano/Micro Photonics and New Applications,” chaired by Michal Lipson of Cornell University and Nelson Tansu of Lehigh University, featured four talks on innovative photonic effects and device concepts and their engineering applications. An article based on one of these presentations is included in this issue.  Lukas Novotny discusses optical antennas, devices that convert energy between freely propagating electromagnetic fields and fields localized at the nanoscale. Although antennas at radio frequencies have a long history, the behavior of metals in the optical range is unique, and the concept of optical antennas has only recently emerged.  Optical antennas have the potential to increase the efficiency of light-matter interactions at spatial scales below the usual optical wavelength limit, with applications that include light emitters, photo-voltaics, and spectroscopic sensing.

The session on “Engineering the Health Care Delivery System,” chaired by Stephanie Guerlain of the University of Virginia and Eva K. Lee of Georgia Tech, included presentations on information technology in the medical and health care sectors, sometimes called health information technology (HIT). Two papers from this session are published here. In an article David Dorr introduces a care-management model for coordinating the health care of older adults who have chronic illnesses. In this model, care managers, assisted by targeted use of HIT, facilitate communication, coordination, and implementation of flexible protocols in the context of a comprehensive care plan.

In the second paper from this session, provocatively entitled “Why Health Information Technology Doesn’t Work,” Elmer Bernstam and Todd Johnson review the current status of HIT, which has been touted as a solution to some of the critical problems plaguing U.S. health care delivery. The paper focuses on social and administrative barriers to the adoption of HIT and research challenges that must be addressed for it to be accepted and used effectively.

The final session, “Resilient and Sustainable Infrastructure,” was chaired by Seth Guikema of Johns Hopkins University and Patrick O’Mara of STV. One paper from this session, by Stephanie Chang, describes a new research area that encompasses the complexities of infrastructure systems impacted by disasters. The multidisciplinary approach she describes spans engineering, economics, and social science to identify and address interactions among failures in infrastructure systems and the effects of multiple hazards. The information can then be used as a basis for designing more resilient infrastructure systems for the future.

In addition to the presentations, FOE symposia provide lively Q&A sessions, panel discussions, and other activities that promote personal interactions and networking. The dinner speaker, a traditional highlight of FOE programs, was Bradford Parkinson, Edward C. Wells Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Emeritus, at Stanford University. Dr. Parkinson delivered an engaging account of the development of the global positioning system (GPS), in which he played a key role.

 It was my great privilege 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 Program Officer, and Lance Davis, NAE Executive Officer, for their contributions to the planning and implementation of this unique meeting and to thank the sponsors: The Grainger Foundation, Arnold O. and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense (Office of the Director, Defense Research and Engineering), National Science Foundation, Microsoft Research, and Cummins Inc.



About the Author:Andrew M. Weiner is chair of the Organizing Committee for this year’s US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium.