Mar 242014
 

The Met Section hosted its annual ASME President’s Night Dinner Meeting on Thursday, March 20th at National Grid’s headquarters at One Metro Tech in Brooklyn, NY.   There were 71 attendees – most of whom were students from CCNY, NYC Tech, and NUY/Poly.   ASME President Madiha Kotb gave a presentation on “The Future of Mechanical Engineering”  and then discussed her journey from student to ASME President.  The presentation was well received and the meeting was quite a success.

 

 

Ed Ecock

Mar 122014
 

Mechanical Engineering is a vast field from space to land and under deep ocean waters. Some are rocket sciences and others are details of maximizing human benefits at the lowest possible cost for a one of a kind specialized unit (Tunnel boring), to many units and huge volumes of consumer items like a tissue paper.   Personally worked for a billion dollar  hydro project in the beginning, to specification of a nuclear power station, to cameras and photographic paper and films, to beverage containers and caps including medical devices such as pre-filled injection syringe.  It’s just for one engineer over almost four decades.   What are your experiences and what are your thoughts?

May 192013
 

As if the universe was waiting for my post, three nice updates came out last week that rekindled my optimism on advanced prosthetics. First, CNN – literally 24 hours after my post – ran a story on the developments of the “bionic arm”. The reported project was successful in creating a prosthetic arm with 22+ degrees of freedom thanks to its strong funding for the past 8 years through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The team behind the success almost exclusively comprises mechanical and biomedical engineers. Those curious about the modular prosthetic limb, as they call it, can check out Johns Hopkins APL Technical Digest, Vol 30, No 3, pp 207-216, 2011 for juicy technical details.

The second news was featured on Washington Post on May 6th. It presented the plans of FIFA to launch the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with a kick by a paralyzed teenager wearing a “thought operated exoskeleton”. This was an initiative led by one of the  neuroengineering groups at Duke University.

And finally, on May 9th, Associated Press carried out a story on recent presentation of wearable robots (another term for mechanized exoskeleton) at the most recent American Spinal Injury Association meeting. The exoskeletons featured on that story were a little different from the FIFA ones since they used accelerometers to detect intention, rather than monitoring neuronal signatures. But the result was similar: wheelchair-bound to walk once again.

These three represent the success stories of folks that kept Federal funding for extensive periods that is necessary for groundbreaking developments. Once we realize the potential damage of the sequester, hopefully, we’ll continue receiving good news on this front.

May 012013
 

Remember The Six Million Dollar Man?

I’m sure most of the engineers of my generation, when they were kids, role-played as the The Six Million Dollar Man. After all, not only he is “better, stronger, and faster” but he is also human, a much more realistic goal for a 6-year-old than a flying alien in unitard. I’m not trying to be anti-Kryptonian here; I just think it’s good to have a maskless, capeless human super hero role model.

Now I brought him up because 70s cyborg-crazed fiction authors thought that $6 million could possibly get you a pair of legs that can clock 60 mph, a right arm that can lift a few tons, and an eye that lets you zoom 20x while recording video in infrared. As I’m writing these, I get a little depressed personally, because we are not even close to doing any of these after 40 years (especially for the inflation adjusted mere $31 million). Sure, we now carry tiny computers that can give us the latest gossip on Aston Kutcher or stream epic skate boarding accidents in high definition but no bionic legs.

So honestly, after 40 years, do we have the technology to rebuild people as Richard Anderson famously declaimed in 1973? If we look at the latest news on tissue engineering, we can see that so far we’ve built an ear (no, not a functional one; but the living cartilaginous shell shaped like an earlobe). We also have retinal implants that projects the outline of objects to the cortex of the patients giving them a sense of vision similar to a bat’s. And robotic arms that can be controlled by the patient’s own neuronal activity. These are impressive achievements, each of them products of decades of hard work, dedication and ingenuity. But they are far from the cyborgs we’ve been promised in Hollywood movies. So how did actual progress fall so short of imagination?

Yes, we dropped to ball on funding, that’s for sure. For example, annual cost for air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan at the peak of respective conflicts was on par with the entire annual budget of National Institutes of Health, i.e. complete biological and clinical research budget of the Federal Government. Even with the proposed annual increases and the much-debated Recovery Act in 2010, the entire engineering division of the National Science Foundation spent less than half of the fuel used by our troops in Afghanistan in 2010.

Of course, we shouldn’t spend research dollars just to create a super awesome spy with all-powerful implants, but the same research, in principle, may help veterans of the last two wars (not to mention millions of blind, deaf and disabled Americans). So let’s expand the funding perspective a little more, and spice up the conversation by adding cancer, Alzheimer’s and other ailments to the mix. What would it take to bring about the end of one of these diseases, or to come up with an artificial heart (that does not run on nuclear power, please)? Sequester-mongers may not be aware, but at its peak, the Apollo Program used up about 2.2% of the entire Federal budget. Today, that would be roughly $77 billion, i.e. twice our current research spending. And by “our research spending,” I mean spending on everything: from alternative energy to zoology.

If we use another metric, say percent share of gross national product, we should note that both the Apollo Program and the Manhattan Project took about 0.4% of the GDP at their peak. For a single research program, that is pretty hefty, especially when we consider that the entire Federal R&D spending will be around 0.1% of the GDP in 2013. In other words, we are trying to cure cancer, which some may consider harder than the moon landing and the atomic bomb combined, yet we are spending 5% of what we did for the Manhattan Project and 4% of the Apollo Program.

Yes, we are still coming up with things like spleen-on-a-chip because smart people all over the world still come to America to do what they love: science. Let’s hope that this deficit/sequester mania doesn’t change that trend, because American science and engineering research enterprise has been operating with razor thin margins for a while, and we are setting ourselves up for failure.

 

Evren U. Azeloglu, Ph.D.
Guest Blogger, ASME Met Section Executive Committee

 

 

Apr 132013
 

True, when we hear New Jersey, we don’t really think about the sun. We may think about the fake tan sported by certain individuals that have made it through unfortunate reality television but those are mostly chemically induced. I’m talking about the real sun. Well, it’s hard to believe but our own New Jersey is having a solar revival of sorts, with home solar panel installations that is. While western states still have the edge on large-scale energy production, state subsidies and an agreement between Home Depot and local Roof Diagnostics is creating an incredible surge in solar panel sales in New Jersey.

This may not be that surprising to some, since on February, New Jersey became the third state to join the exclusive 1 GW Solar Club, by installing some 20,340 solar projects with the capacity of a gigawatt (mostly within last three years).

Home solar panel installation in Manalapan, NJ

You may think, “Yes, there’s hope for America”. After all, if New Jersey can accomplish this (with a Republican governor), imagine what we can do once our lawmakers could see the long-term benefits of infrastructure investments. We might even restart competing with Germany and China on renewables (gasp). However, while we are dilly-dallying with important things like permits for those ugly wind turbines near residential areas, other European nations are already moving at full speed. Just this Wednesday, United Kingdom commissioned the world’s largest operational offshore wind farm: with 175 turbines.

Currently outputting a respectable 630 MW, the project is expected to produce close to a gigawatt of electricity at its peak. Meanwhile we are still discussing the most fashionable way of producing clean power. Luckily, some folks here in the US are aware of our offshore energy potential. In December, engineers from University of Maine started testing a floating wind turbine design off the coast of Maine.

While I’m certain that somebody with exceptionally unnecessary levels of spare time will find a problem with floating offshore wind turbines, the concept is particularly suitable for this side of the pond since our waters are too deep for traditional anchored turbines. There are a few technical issues regarding refitting our ports and transmission infrastructure, as well as economic/political ones for reducing the initial financial risks but DOE is cautiously optimistic. You can check out the detailed market analysis here.

The conclusion is that we have more work to do. It’s always the same. We always come up short. Let’s hope that we can get it together before it’s too late.

Any thoughts?

Evren U. Azeloglu, Ph.D.
Guest Blogger, ASME Met Section Executive Committee

Mar 292013
 

As the ASME Met Section Executive Committee, we represent all professional mechanical engineers within the New York Metropolitan area. One of our core missions is to bring together the local mechanical engineering community, improve communication between members and foster professional collaborations. We hope that this renovated website and blog will offer a new platform for the NYC mechanical engineering community to interact, exchange ideas, and share professional opportunities. We will try to frequently post interesting science, engineering and technology news along with announcements for meetings, events and job postings. I will also announce new posts over Twitter @azeloglu.

Please bookmark this page and leave your comments below.

See you all soon,

Evren U. Azeloglu, Ph.D.
Guest Blogger, ASME Met Section Executive Committee
 Posted by at 5:59 pm