In This Issue
Engineering for Women's Health
April 25, 2022 Volume 52 Issue 1
The articles in this issue describe the latest technologies for detection of breast and other cancers, approaches to reduce the incidence of premature births, and remote monitoring for pregnancy, a development of particular interest as the pandemic discouraged many people from going to a doctor’s office or hospital.

Editor's Note A Bridge to Public Engagement

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Author: Ronald M. Latanision

Just over a year ago, the 50th anniversary issue of The Bridge was released.[1] Fifty years is a long time, and all that has transpired in our now technologically intense world over the past 5 decades is remarkable by any standard.

When I was a teenager, I was very impressed with Dick Tracy’s seemingly impossible two-way wrist radio! It first appeared in Chester Gould’s comic in 1946, and then as a wrist TV in 1964. I now wear a wristwatch that does everything Gould envisioned and more.

That’s but a small example of the extraordinary technical developments in our lifetimes. The 50th anniversary issue considers how engineering will evolve in the next several decades to extend its role in our social ­fabric. Topics span wearable technologies as well as healthy buildings, climate change, imperatives for the Web, vaccine development, quantum computing, the illusion of new technology and products that may not be envisioned today, and lessons learned to ­better serve society.

The issue offers a wealth of subjects for conversation and contemplation. For example, it is a trove of ­topics and presenters for an online science and technology forum that I host in Winchester, Massachusetts.[2] The forum bears the name of David Wilson (1928–2019), a retired mechanical engineering professor, colleague, and friend from MIT who founded a local S&T meeting in 2015. I gave the inaugural talk, “Unintended Consequences of Science and Technology,” at his invitation; it was videotaped and played on the town TV station. When David passed away we assigned his name, as a tribute, to the meeting as the Wilson S&T Forum. You can get a feel for what we do by looking at our website: It is a completely volunteer effort.

The forum is open to anyone who is interested. You can join the meetings! We meet on the second and fourth Friday of each month. Typically 20–25 people show up—doctors, lawyers, Westinghouse and GE technologists, Apollo engineers, nuclear fusion experts, occasionally a Nobel Prize recipient (Dick Schrock), and some generalists who keep us honest! The agenda includes presentations both of local technological interest (the local water supply, for example) and on national and international issues.

We decided to make the 50th anniversary Bridge essays a guide to our discussions on a regular basis. The first such conversation, in February 2021, took up the President’s Perspective from John Anderson and the keynote essay by Sheila Jasanoff. Zoom enables us to reach out to speakers and participants from beyond our local community, so we do just that! For example, Dan Metlay addressed us from Bethesda, Maryland, Joel Myers from State College, Pennsylvania, Ali Mosleh from UCLA, and Kerry Emanuel (NAS) from MIT. We will work through the entire 50th anniversary issue. It is a timeless source of thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas for conversation and exploration.

Forum sessions and meetings are conducted with a guiding philosophy that I adopted from my late friend, Ohio State thesis advisor, and mentor, Roger Staehle. I learned a lot from Roger. Much of it has to do with corrosion, of course; but what I consider most important was his sense of humanity.

Roger was a model of the view that reasonable ­people can disagree but they do not have to become personally disagreeable. I recognized this in him early on, and it was reinforced when we were on opposite sides of the Westinghouse steam generator litigation in the 1990s, in which Duquesne Light and Power alleged that Westinghouse had sold them defective steam generators. As Roger and I were in court waiting for opening arguments, he approached me and said, “Ron, we have been friends for a long time; we will be friends after this ends, right?” I could not have been happier to hear this. My response was emphatically “Yes!” We had both examined the same information but come to different opinions. We disagreed, but we were not personally disagreeable. Never! This is a philosophy that I think would be useful to everyone, including our elected officials in Washington who are supposed to lead this country.

As scientists and engineers, disagreement is not an unusual part of our lives. We observe, hypothesize, debate, and disagree as a way to understand that which Nature provides and, with that understanding, to make Nature useful. But we can also put aside these debates and get together for a social evening.

I am old enough to remember when Everett ­Dirksen (R-IL) and Gerald Ford (R-MI) would get together (the “Ev and Jerry show”) and have civil conversations about issues that concerned the public. This was not so ­unusual at the time and I think the public responded in much the same way—until fairly recently, when it has become seemingly almost impossible.

Among practicing scientists and engineers, I believe there is more of a spirit of democratic values in the way we conduct our affairs. We are at a turning point in America (and maybe on this planet broadly) and reasonable people must regain the momentum to carry the day lest we fall deeper into a troubling spiral of public discord that continues to exceed public harmony. I am personally very concerned about this.

Small acts can create rippling effects. My experience over the past year with the Wilson Forum suggests that the anniversary Bridge issue could stimulate others to think about where this country is headed and begin the process of righting our course through respectful communication and learning.

I believe it is important for people and communities all over the world to have an appreciation of and willingness to understand the current context in which science, engineering, and technology serve social purposes. The anniversary issue provides a vehicle for that. And I believe it can serve that purpose for policymakers in their deliberations. I urge you to explore its contents, and hope you will find it as useful and rewarding as I have.

As always I welcome your comments at

[1]  It is freely accessible on the NAE website at Issue.

[2]  The group had been meeting in the Jenks Center in Winchester.

About the Author:Ronald M. Ltanision (NAE) is a senior fellow at Exponent.