Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The College of Engineering embarks on her Centennial

By Tom Landers

Engineering education at OU has beginnings well chronicled by Dr. David W. Levy in The University of Oklahoma, A History, Volume I, 1890 – 1907. He notes that “In the Catalogue for 1901-1902 the new heading “Engineering Course” summarized the situation . . .” of engineering oriented courses available in mathematics, surveying, chemistry, and the like. The OU College of Engineering was formed in 1909 and recorded its first graduates in the spring of 1910. As we begin our 100th anniversary, we do so recognizing the dedication of those who have come before us, setting a precedence of excellence and contributing not only to who we are now but also to who we will become during the next hundred years. We look forward to celebrating this milestone in our history this academic year. Plans are still developing for events, which will culminate in the Centennial Symposium scheduled for April 21 and 22, 2010. The symposium will include stimulating panel discussions and stellar keynote speakers. We look forward to recognizing our Distinguished Graduates Society in April and graduation of our centennial class in May. More information will be available soon. Watch our website at www.coe.ou.edu.

Our engineering faculty, students and graduates have compiled an impressive record of discovery, innovation and leadership. Chemical, Biological and Materials Engineering (CBME) Professor Emeritus, Dr. Cedomir (Cheddy) Sliepcevich, is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. His achievements span diverse fields, including membrane dialysis for kidney patients and the storage and transportation of liquefied natural gas. Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering (AME) Professor Emeritus, Dr. Karl Bergey, is a pioneer in wind energy technology and founder of a Norman-based company that supplies wind turbines throughout the world. Students are involved in these kinds of research and development and have gone on to successful careers in industry, government and academia. OU engineering has produced two astronauts (including Apollo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise), nine Generals and Admirals, and over 650 corporate presidents and CEOs.

Several current research projects with potential to impact OU and the world include:

• Green technology developed by Civil Engineering and Environmental Science (CEES) Associate Professor Robert Nairn and his colleagues to remove metals contamination from subsurface mine water that erupts to the surface in the Tar Creek Superfund Site and would otherwise flow into the greater watershed including Grand Lake. This process is completely passive, making use of natural chemical and biological processes and requiring no pumps or other machinery that would consume hydrocarbon fuels.

• Single wall carbon nanotubes research and technology development by CBME Professor Daniel Resasco and his colleagues will lead to products in Oklahoma’s medical, energy, and aerospace industries in ways that could impact our state and the world. These revolutionary nanomaterials can be tailored to exhibit useful properties such as ultra-high strength-to-weight ratio and thermal or electrical conductivity.

• CBME Professor Lance Lobban, AME Professor Sub Gollahalli and their colleagues are researching conversion processes to produce biofuels from crude feedstocks such as cellulosic biomass that do not compete with the food supply. Oklahoma has designated their project, together with collaborators at OSU and the Noble Foundation, a top priority by forming the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center.

• CEES Professor David Sabatini, faculty colleagues, and OU’s Engineers Without Borders student chapter are doing research and humanitarian work to supply safe drinking water for impoverished villages in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia.

• As one of Oklahoma’s first grantees under the Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) endowment fund, Industrial Engineering (IE) Professor Shiva Raman and his colleagues are working on technologies to design and manufacture complex shaped and dimensionally precise replacement parts. They are performing research in non-contact measurements and additive fabrication processes, while also forming a startup company to provide current state- of-the-art services to Oklahoma’s aerospace and medical sectors.

• Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Professor Hong Liu and his colleagues are developing imaging technologies to improve early detection of breast cancer and to identify genetic predispositions.

• AME Professor Rong Gan is doing leading research on inner-ear biomechanics.

• Computer Science Professor Sridhar Radakrishnan and his colleagues are working on a system, currently in the prototype phase, which was demonstrated at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa in October 2008. This technology addresses the critical need for end-to-end security of global freight to detect terrorist and piracy threats, assess the risks, and support interdiction to protect our homeland and global commerce while also safeguarding privacy interests of individuals and supply chain companies. The interdisciplinary team includes faculty and students from the following disciplines: electrical engineering, industrial engineering, computer science, city and regional planning, and international and area studies programs.

Many in the OU community may be aware of the spirited and (mostly) good natured competition between our engineering and law students. Clever and amusing ‘incidents’ have occurred occasionally, particularly around Engineers’ Week. Coincidentally the OU law and engineering programs are both marking their hundred year anniversary in 2009. It is a well-kept secret that many fine engineers go on (some would say “go astray”) to become lawyers, often in technically-related areas of practice such as intellectual property, environmental, and product liability law. The current chair of the College of Engineering Board of Visitors is a partner in one of Oklahoma City’s leading law firms and is in a unique position to celebrate this centennial as a graduate of both the School of Industrial Engineering and College of Law.

During economic downturns, we see some softening in most job markets, including engineering. However, Oklahoma industries and OU engineering programs have been fortunate to experience a relatively strong economy and continued recruitment and hiring of engineers, environmental scientists, and computer scientists for internships and permanent employment. We are still seeing good demand for our graduates. The future security and prosperity of our nation depends on innovation and technological leadership, so long-term prospects for employment in these fields is excellent. We must also increase the numbers and diversity of our engineering workforce. We need K-12 programs that prepare Oklahoma students to study engineering and university academic programs with the best faculty, staff, facilities and equipment, resulting in successful engineering graduates. Through educational research by our Sooner Engineering Education Center and outreach programs, such as Botball, administered by Norman-based KISS Institute for Practical Robotics, we seek to inform and inspire young people to study math and science and enter the engineering profession. The soon to be completed Engineering Practice Facility (EPF) located on the engineering quadrangle, will provide a place where K-12 and OU students can enhance academic success, develop leadership skills and enjoy the best in experiential learning through hands-on, project teamwork. The EPF will also be the interdisciplinary home to several student teams that compete in national and international championships, including the Formula Car Sooner Racing Team and the Concrete Canoe Team.

Students at all levels can maximize their prospects for success by committing to academic preparation in rigorous topics, including mathematics, science, foreign language and advanced placement courses of all kinds. The successful engineer or scientist is also

• good at analysis, design and problem solving;
• well educated in our history, culture, system of government, and global context;
• able to collaborate in hands-on project-oriented teamwork; and
• an effective writer and speaker.

OU engineering enjoys a rich tradition, with focused events sponsored by the Engineers’ Club (E-Club) including Engineers’ Week, a celebration occurring each February coinciding with National Engineers’ Week and the celebration of St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Engineers. E-Club provides a very popular Hamburger Feed on each home football game day. Our over 40 honor societies, technical societies and clubs provide many opportunities for professional development, community service, and socializing. The Loyal Knights of Old Trusty mark special dates on the OU engineering calendar by firing the canon “Old Trusty” and providing selfless service throughout the year. This tradition was begun by OU students who returned from Europe after World War I. OU engineering alumni remain active in campus engineering life through service on our college and departmental external advisory boards, the Distinguished Graduates Society, and their countless acts of generous service and financial support. Our progress, and most notably at this time, new facilities currently under construction – the Devon Energy Hall and ExxonMobil Lawrence G. Rawl Engineering Practice Facility - would not be possible without the enormous generosity and financial support of alumni, friends and leading companies.

From the earliest days of OU engineering until today, the future has always invited us to be our best and to invest well in our most precious commodity - our students. We take this mission seriously and we look forward to building a better and brighter future, together.