Posts about professors

Dennis Hong, Virginia Tech Mechanical Engineering Professor, Leading Robotics Innovation

Dennis Hong is the U.S. star in humanoid robotics

Hong came by his interest in science naturally. He was born in 1971 on the exclusive Palos Verdes Peninsula, outside Los Angeles, and his father, Yong Shik Hong, worked as an aerospace engineer at the federally funded Aerospace Corp. The family returned to Seoul in 1974 so the elder Hong could lead South Korea’s short-range missile program, at the bidding of then-President Park Chung Hee.

Korean fathers of that era were strict and remote. Hong’s father was engaged and intellectually indulgent. He installed a work bench in Dennis’s room when he was 4, complete with a hammer and saw. He led the children in chemistry experiments and brought home model airplanes from America.

Dennis Hong built things with scraps of wood and metal and bits of plastic. He disassembled toys and stored the parts in a chest beneath his bed.

“We spent a lot of time building things and breaking things,” said Julie Hong, Hong’s older sister. “He was the one who broke things the most and built things the most.”

Hong traveled to America to complete his university study, following his father’s credo, “Big fish must swim in the big sea.” He earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin and a master’s and doctorate at Purdue.

Dennis’ success illustrates several themes repeated in posts on this blog: the USA attracting talent from overseas, kids curiosity and exposure to science and engineering leading to great things, the value of strong science and engineering programs and professors. Robotics continue to progress very quickly. The economic impact of robotics is large already (largely in manufacturing) and will continue to grow dramatically. Likely robots will find their way into much more diverse areas over the next 2 decades. The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, lead by Dennis Hong, seems poised to play a big role in that future.

Related: Robocup 2010, Robot FootballSoft Morphing Robot FutureEvolution of Altruism in RobotsToyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair

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Soren Bisgaard 1951-2009

photo of Soren Bisgaard

Soren Bisgaard died earlier this month of cancer. Soren was a student (Ph.D., statistics) of my father’s who shared the commitment to using applied statistics to improve people’s lives. I know this seem odd to many (I tried to describe this idea previously and read his acceptance of the 2002 William G. Hunter award).

Most recently Soren Bisgaard, Ph.D. was Professor of technology management at Eugene M. Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. He was an ASQ Fellow; recipient of Shewart Medal, Hunter Award, George Box Medal, among many others awards. Soren also served as the director of the Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (founded by William Hunter and George Box) for several years.

I will remember the passion he brought to his work. He reminded me of my father in his desire to improve how things are done and provide people the opportunity to lead better lives. Those that bring passion to their work in management improvement are unsung heroes. It seems odd, to many, to see that you can bring improvement to people’s lives through work. But we spend huge amounts of our time at work. And by improving the systems we work in we can improve people’s lives. Soren will be missed, by those who knew him and those who didn’t (even if they never realize it).

The Future of Quality Technology: From a Manufacturing to a Knowledge Economy and From Defects to Innovations (pdf) by Soren Bisgaard. Read more articles by Søren Bisgaard.

Related: The Work of Peter ScholtesMistakes in Experimental Design and InterpretationThe Scientific Context of Quality Improvement by George Box and Soren Bisgaard, 1987 – William G. Hunter Award 2008: Ronald Does

Obituary Søren Bisgaard at ENBIS:
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Moth Controlled Robot

photo of moth controlled robotPhoto of moth controlled robot from Ryohei Kanzaki’s bio-machine page. The moth is on top of the ping pong ball in the middle of the robot.

Japanese scientists to build robot insects

Ryohei Kanzaki, a professor at Tokyo University’s Research Centre for Advanced Science and Technology, has studied insect brains for three decades and become a pioneer in the field of insect-machine hybrids.

His original and ultimate goal is to understand human brains and restore connections damaged by diseases and accidents – but to get there he has taken a very close look at insect “micro-brains”.

Insects’ tiny brains can control complex aerobatics such as catching another bug while flying, proof that they are “an excellent bundle of software” finely honed by hundreds of millions of years of evolution, Prof Kanzaki said.

In an example of ‘rewriting’ insect brain circuits, Prof Kanzaki’s team has succeeded in genetically modifying a male silkmoth so that it reacts to light instead of smell, or to the odour of a different kind of moth.

Such modifications could pave the way to creating a robo-bug which could in future sense illegal drugs several kilometres away, as well as landmines, people buried under rubble, or toxic gas, the professor said.

It is nice to be reminded of the cool research being done by professors all over the globe.

Related: Roachbot: Cockroach Controlled RobotRat Brain Cells, in a Dish, Flying a PlaneToyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairFlying “Insect” RobotsUnderwater Robots Collaborate

Carnegie Foundation Calls for Overhaul of Engineering Education

Yet another call for the overhaul of engineering eduction. This time in a Carnegie Foundation Report

The nation’s engineering schools are using outdated educational practices that focus too heavily on imparting technical knowledge and do not do enough to prepare undergraduate students for the profession

in the midst of worldwide transformation of the engineering profession, undergraduate engineering programs in the United States continue to approach problem-solving and knowledge acquisition in an outdated manner. Moreover, engineering programs’ solution to improving the education they offer has been simply to add more courses, rather than reconsidering the design of their programs.

Instead of having a “jam-packed curriculum focused on technical knowledge,” engineering programs should be doing more to help students develop analytical reasoning, practical skills, and professional judgment, the report says.

“We are calling for a new model that will involve fundamentally rethinking the role and even the makeup of the faculty,”

A summary is available online and worth reading for those interested in undergraduate engineering education. I question the wisdom of a foundation urging innovation and then telling people to buy order their book to lean more. If a foundation wants to drive change today, I would think you do so by making material available online easily. Obviously they disagree.

Related: William Wulf Webcast on Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyEducating the Engineer of 2020: NAE ReportReforming Engineering Education by NAEApplied Engineering EducationInnovative Science and Engineering Higher EducationEducating Engineers for 2020 and BeyondToward a More Open Scientific Culture

Cell Culture Lab Tour

Joanne Loves Science includes many webcasts on science, take a look for yourself. She contacted me through the post ideas page. She teaches mammalian cell culture techniques and the concepts of stem cells and tissue engineering in the Bioengineering Department at the University of Illinois. In this webcast she provides a tour of the cell culture lab.

Related: post on scientists at workTour the Carnegie Mellon Robotics LabCERN Tour webcastYoung Geneticists Making a Difference

Science Commons: Making Scientific Research Re-useful

Science Commons is a project of Creative Commons. Like other organizations trying to support the advancement of science with open access they deserve to be supported (PLoS and are other great organizations supporting science).

Science Commons has three interlocking initiatives designed to accelerate the research cycle – the continuous production and reuse of knowledge that is at the heart of the scientific method. Together, they form the building blocks of a new collaborative infrastructure to make scientific discovery easier by design.

Making scientific research re-useful, help people and organizations open and mark their research and data for reuse. Learn more.

Enabling one-click access to research materials, streamline the materials-transfer process so researchers can easily replicate, verify and extend research. Learn more.

Integrating fragmented information sources, help researchers find, analyze and use data from disparate sources by marking and integrating the information with a common, computer-readable language. Learn more.

NeuroCommons, is their proof-of-concept project within the field of neuroscience. The NeuroCommons is a beta open source knowledge management system for biomedical research that anyone can use, and anyone can build on.

Related: Open Source: The Scientific Model Applied to ProgrammingPublishers Continue to Fight Open Access to ScienceEncyclopedia of LifeScience 2.0 – Biology

Appropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

Self Adjusting Glasses for 1 billion of the world’s poorest see better

What if it were possible, he thought, to make a pair of glasses which, instead of requiring an optician, could be “tuned” by the wearer to correct his or her own vision? Might it be possible to bring affordable spectacles to millions who would never otherwise have them?

More than two decades after posing that question, Josh Silver [a physics professor at Oxford] now feels he has the answer. The British inventor has embarked on a quest that is breathtakingly ambitious, but which he insists is achievable – to offer glasses to a billion of the world’s poorest people by 2020.

Some 30,000 pairs of his spectacles have already been distributed in 15 countries, but to Silver that is very small beer. Within the next year the now-retired professor and his team plan to launch a trial in India which will, they hope, distribute 1 million pairs of glasses. The target, within a few years, is 100 million pairs annually.

Silver has devised a pair of glasses which rely on the principle that the fatter a lens the more powerful it becomes. Inside the device’s tough plastic lenses are two clear circular sacs filled with fluid, each of which is connected to a small syringe attached to either arm of the spectacles.

The wearer adjusts a dial on the syringe to add or reduce amount of fluid in the membrane, thus changing the power of the lens. When the wearer is happy with the strength of each lens the membrane is sealed by twisting a small screw, and the syringes removed. The principle is so simple, the team has discovered, that with very little guidance people are perfectly capable of creating glasses to their own prescription.

Oxford University, at his instigation, has agreed to host a Centre for Vision in the Developing World, which is about to begin working on a World Bank-funded project with scientists from the US, China, Hong Kong and South Africa. “Things are never simple. But I will solve this problem if I can. And I won’t really let people stand in my way.”

Cool. A couple points I would like to make:

1) this professor is making a much bigger difference in the “real world” than most people ever will. The idea that professors are all lost in insignificant “ivory towers” is a very inaccurate view of what really happens.
2) Spending money on this kind of thing seems much more important for the human race than spending trillions to bail out poor moves by bankers, financiers… It sure seems odd that we can’t find a few billion to help out people across the globe that are without basic necessities yet we can find trillions to bail out the actions of few thousand bad actors.

Related: Adaptive EyecareBringing Eye Care to Thousands in IndiaRiver Blindness Worm Develops Resistance to DrugsStrawjet: Invention of the Year (2006)Fixing the World on $2 a DayAppropriate Technology

Electrifying a New Generation of Engineers

Electrifying a New Generation of Engineers

Ybarra’s K-12 education efforts began informally in 1993 while he was a newly arrived professor at Duke, toting lasers and other captivating bits of engineering equipment to local schools to drum up excitement for science and engineering and an array of programs grew from there.

Based on his growing awareness of the value of hands-on learning, Ybarra was longing for a way to help get more hands-on learning into the classroom. A few years later, in 1999, he was able to secure his first significant grant in the area. With support from the National Science Foundation Ybarra formalized his interactions with local schools by establishing a fellowship program that would put Duke engineering students in the classrooms to vastly expand the number of schools impacted.

To date, Ybarra’s programs have impacted more than 150,000 kids, and with so many programs now in place and spreading, that number increases by about 50,000 students per year. But personal stories, rather than numbers, are what Ybarra finds most gratifying. “When students contact me years later to tell me that the experiences they had in my programs inspired them to pursue a career in engineering or one of the sciences, it gives me a very deep sense of satisfaction.”

Related: Engineering K-PhDEngineering a Better Blood Alcohol SensorPromoting Science and EngineeringYale Cultivates Young ScientistsHigh School Students in USA, China and India

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives

MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives

MIT is providing seed funding to faculty to encourage global research. The seed funds cover a variety of expenses, including exploratory field research, workshop materials and instrument costs. Each proposal is eligible for up to $20,000 in funding. Research and collaboration can take place anywhere in the world on any topic. For all projects, up to $10,000 in additional funding is available for undergraduate and graduate student participation.

MISTI country programs also offer five country-specific seed funds for collaborative research involving France, India, Italy, Japan or Spain.

This is a good use of their huge endowment. So is the Open Courseware initiative. As is their elimination of tuition for those with families earning less than $75,000. Good for MIT.

Related: Global Engineering Education StudyMIT Faculty Study Recommends Significant Undergraduate Education ChangesFunding Medical Research

2008 Lemelson-MIT Prize for Invention

photo of Joseph Desimone

The Lemelson-MIT Prize awards $500,000 to mid-career inventors dedicated to improving our world through technological invention and innovation. Joseph M. DeSimone received the 2008 award.

His exposure to polymer science led him to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. At the age of 25, DeSimone joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) as an assistant professor in chemistry and launched the university’s polymer program with his mentor Dr. Edward Samulski. He resides there today as the Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry at UNC, in addition to serving as the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University.

Among DeSimone’s notable inventions is an environmentally friendly manufacturing process that relies on supercritical carbon dioxide instead of water and bio-persistent surfactants (detergents) for the creation of fluoropolymers or high-performance plastics, such as Teflon®. More recently, he worked on a team to design a polymer-based, fully bioabsorbable, drug-eluting stent, which helps keep a blocked blood vessel open after a balloon-angioplasty and is absorbed by the body within 18 months.

DeSimone’s newest invention is PRINT® (Particle Replication in Non-wetting Templates) technology, used to manufacture nanocarriers in medicine. At present, DeSimone’s Lab is vested in a variety of projects that also extend beyond medicine, including potential applications for more efficient solar cells and morphable robots. In 2004, DeSimone co-founded Liquidia Technologies with a team of researchers from UNC to make the technology available in the market. Liquidia is using the PRINT technology to develop precisely engineered nanocarriers for highly targeted delivery of biological and small molecule therapeutics to treat cancer and other diseases. DeSimone’s proposed applications for cancer treatment with the PRINT platform was instrumental in UNC landing a grant of $24 million from the National Cancer Institute to establish the Carolina Center for Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence.

“You can do all the innovating you want in the laboratory, but if you can’t get it out of the university walls you do no one any good,” said DeSimone. He instills an entrepreneurial spirit in his students that focuses on the importance of commercializing technology and scientific inventions. One of DeSimone’s greatest accomplishments is his mentorship of more than 45 postdoctoral research associates, 52 Ph.D. candidates, six M.S. theses and 21 undergraduate researchers. Furthermore, he speaks to groups of high school students about the inventive process and encourages them to learn and explore areas that are less familiar to them to broaden their exposure to other disciplines.

A prolific inventor, DeSimone holds more than 115 issued patents with more than 70 new patent applications pending, and he has published more than 240 peer-reviewed scientific articles.

Related: Inspiring a New Generation of Inventors$500,000 for Innovation in Engineering EducationCollegiate Inventors Competitionposts on inventors

Computer Science PhD Overview

A nice overview by Mor Harchol-Balter at Carnegie Mellon University on Applying to Ph.D. Programs in Computer Science:

A Ph.D. is a long, in depth research exploration of one topic. By long we’re typically talking about 6 years. By in depth we mean that at the end of the Ph.D. you will be the world expert or close to it in your particular area.

In contrast, a Ph.D. program typically requires typically less than 10 courses during the entire 6
years (at CMU there are 5 required “core” courses, and 3 required “electives”). The emphasis in the
Ph.D. is not on classes, but rather on research.

If you choose to be a professor at a research university, your life will consist of the following
tasks: (i) doing research on anything you like, (ii) working with graduate students, (iii) teaching
classes, (iv) applying for grants, (v) flying around to work with other researchers and to give talks
on your research, (vi) doing service for your department and school (like giving this talk). Note that
I say “your life” rather than your job, because for new faculty, your life becomes your job. It’s a
fantastic job/life for me because I love these activities, so I’m happy to work hard at all of them, but
it’s not right for everyone.

The document also offers a list of fellowships including: the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and NDSEG Graduate Fellowship (disclosure: I work for ASEE administering part of the process for these, and other, fellowships – this blog is my own and not associated with ASEE).

Related: Curious Cat Science Fellowships and Scholarships directoryASEE Fellowships DirectoryScience and Engineering Doctoral Degrees WorldwideWorldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree DataResearch Career in Industry or Academia