In This Issue
Frontiers of Engineering
December 1, 2001 Volume 31 Issue 4
Frontiers of Engineering Bridge Issue Winter 2001

Frontiers of Engineering (editorial)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Author: George Bugliarello

The tragic events of September 11 have placed a unique and urgent responsibility on the engineering community to bring our knowledge and skills to bear to help protect our fellow citizens from further attacks. We must also provide a vision and a commitment to help alleviate the poverty and social imbalances that are the endemic incubators of unrest in the world. In the next issue of The Bridge we will address some aspects of this multidimensional challenge.

The present issue (in preparation before September 11) focuses on papers prepared for the 2001 Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, which was scheduled for September 13-15 but had to be canceled. Every year since 1995 the symposium has brought together 100 future leaders in engineering to attend presentations on cutting-edge research and technologies in different areas of engineering. In the past seven years, a wide range of topics has been addressed. The papers presented at the symposia, which are collected and published annually by the National Academy Press, offer an inspiring cross section of new directions in engineering. The symposium in 2000, for example, covered systems engineering, visual stimulation and analysis, engineering challenges and opportunities in genomics, and nanoscale science and technology.

The 2001 symposium was organized around four themes: extreme aerodynamics from mega to micro, city systems, wireless communications, and technology and the human body. We have chosen one from each area for expansion and publication in this issue of The Bridge. All of the papers will be available in the annual proceedings.

If a Frontiers of Engineering symposium had been held 50 years ago, it would have had, by necessity, a much narrower scope. At that time, the topics in this issue, extreme aerodynamics, ubiquitous interpersonal wireless communications, agent-based simulations for dealing with complex infrastructural interdependencies, and bioengineering, were not even on the radar screen of the engineering profession.

It will be interesting to see where the topics of the 2001 symposium will have led us 50 years from now. For instance, the application of micro-aerodynamics - the extreme aerodynamics discussed in the paper by Fearing - might have many revolutionary applications. Micro-aerodynamics could be extended beyond microfliers to flying machines with the kind of capabilities for which we envy insects and even to the study of microclimate phenomena and microflows over the leaves of plants and, hence, to agriculture. The interdependencies and complexity of civil infrastructural systems will continue to increase, and the need for powerful tools to plan and control them, the subject of Heller’s paper, was brought vividly to the fore by the events of September 11. Wireless communications, the topic of the paper by Pottie, are likely to become so ubiquitous, powerful, and flexible as to further transform civilian life as well as military affairs. Again, the events of September 11 have demonstrated their importance in emergency situations. And, just as CT scanners and MRIs have revolutionized diagnostics, the reengineering of the paralyzed nervous system, the subject of Peckham’s paper, will have extraordinary therapeutic implications, reinforcing the view of engineering as the continuation of biology by other means. There can be little question that the combination of engineering and biology will make the boundary between biological organisms and machines an area rich in promise for the creation of new technologies.

The imperative for engineering is to expand these and other emerging frontiers with an acute awareness of their impacts on our lives. This immense task has become more important and more urgent since the September 11 tragedy.

About the Author:George Bugliarello is chancellor, Polytechnic University, and interim editor-in-chief of The Bridge.