The Michigan Engineer, A Review

This post highlights sections from the University of Michigan’s magazine ‘The Michigan Engineer’. Since I have so many of these magazines laying around, I decided to take up reading them while on the job search.

The issue reviewed here is the Fall 2019 edition.

Fall 2019

In this issued I did note it was mentioned that ‘we are human beings who can use our talents for good.’

Part of that good in terms of Michigan Engineering seems to be ‘experiential learning’ and ‘flipped classrooms’ which are reviewed as a focal point in preeminent education at Michigan.

Airborne viruses were mentioned in the “Random Access” article, noting that cold plasma might be used for air sanitization applications. Researchers noted that cold plasma reactors remove or inactivate ‘99.9% of a test virus in a fraction of a second’.

In an article for algorithmically-selected (machine-selected) medical tests being developed for potential patients, an ‘optimal decision tree’ was called to use in logarithmic approximation guarantees and, seemingly, a ‘halving’ (log base 2) was used per the iterations of total number of diseases which could be identified. The project was extended to a more general model (you may know it as the traveling salesman) in which each test was a ‘location’ visited by the algorithm and the time needed for test completion dependent on the test prior.

An article about prosthetics, “Restoration” highlighted many problems in the slow development of artificial limbs for the disabled. The patient used in the study had the endings of their nerves covered with a small graft of muscle tissue. The procedure has been show to cure extreme nerve sensitivity after an amputation as well as reduce noise when trying to receive signals from the body. The patient noted toward the end of the article that, “Wow, this is what it could be like if I had one of these.” and Steve Kemp was quoted later in the article as saying, “When I see all of these crazy inventions, these Terminator arms…and then you see today’s amputees still using a hook, it drives me insane.” Even though the researchers of this article discovered a way to transduce the signal of the nerves for finer motor skills (even skills exceeding the ability of the prosthetic!), it remains that some if not many Insurance Companies approve only the cheapest and oldest technology for amputees. At the very least, neuromas which are scar tissue which forms and create intense and extreme pain and sensitivity of the amputated limb can be cured with the RPNI (regenerative peripheral nerve interface) grafting surgery which may then later be implanted with electrodes for better prosthetic arms one insurance companies decide to cover them.

In an article on renewable fuels, it was noted that ethanol is bad, or perhaps bad in the opinion of a specific research professor, John DeCicco, from the University of Michigan. It should be noted that the study Was funded by by the American Petroleum Institute (supposedly, the government and environmental groups did not believe it might be possible). It is important to note that ‘science is not a wholly objective pursuit’ as the article puts it and ‘ideas float in and out of social and political favor and that impacts what gets funded.’. In any case, there is mention that American fuel would bring great energy security and that ethanol can be produced from crops grown on poor farmland. So far, producing a gallon of ethanol this way, however, ends up being somewhere around $10. The question then is ‘are we willing to pay the price of saving the Earth if this is the way?’ and what if the ‘way’ is potentially even more expensive? DeCicco argues that biofuels produced today are increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and he argues this from the standpoint of an increase in crop yields needing to ‘make up for the emissions from fermenting the cornstarch into ethanol as well as the burning if the biofuel’. One suggestion was to improve current conditions was to introduce no-till farming to fix the carbon into the soil, introducing more grassland, and finally to stop all biofuel production. The researcher seems to be of the mind to stop all production immediately due to his results. Though he believes the research on ethanol should still take place, carbon emission was not the only issue. It was noted that ethanol is harsh on metal, rubber and lubricants due to its molecular makeup. Hybrids and plug-ins are mentioned as worries due not to their science but due to their politics. Bradley Cardinale says, “You’re never going to fly a jet on batteries” and now we all really want to do it. Electric batteries are mentioned as still having 80% of their capacity when recycled and so there is a need for fast restoration and/or replacement of battery electrodes which can be done on an industrial level.

The article titled “Submerged” in this issue was surprisingly fascinating. A Soviet submarine was essentially robbed in was seems to have been international waters. The twist to the story is the robber was perhaps originally the target of the submarine’s missiles which were were later stolen. What is interesting about this article is not the politics, since war and attacks make the opposite of a peaceful and interesting world…but what does stand out is the pure engineering. The article takes is through the journey of a design team which constructed a submarine wide enough to PICK UP ANOTHER SUNKEN SUBMARINE. They literally built a GIANT CLAW and retrieved weapons from their fellow enemy, man. The whole operation created the use of new ‘boilerplate’ language used by the US government and to date is one of the largest engineering feats I have heard of which uses moving parts (save amusement parks). All jokes aside, the real good engineering takeaway if this article is that their claw might have kept all its fingers (albeit deformed) if it hadn’t been made of such a strong and therefore brittle steel.

In an article titled “Female Leadership” a graph is shown tracking female engineers within the university. This ranges from associate dean to department chairs to executive committees. It is noted that academic measures are made based on which journals published their work, where they earned their degree and who invited them to speak. Defining merit can also be done based on association with and participation in National Academies. In the article, diversity is painted as a way of keeping a field competitive.

At the end of the magazine, an article on “Collaborative Crypto Research” noted that U-M will be given a $1 million ‘boost’ from Ripple’s University Blockchain Research Initiative. U-M plans to establish to FinTech Collaboratory with the funds and this sorta makes us wonder what the connections are between Ripple and U-M and what established spaces like this mean for other cryptocureencies.

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