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Desktop Engineering Will Change the World

By Steve Robbins

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Steve Robbins

With this December issue, we close a year that will be remembered for many events — mortgage meltdowns, financial institutions closing, an historic presidential campaign among them — with short- and long-term ramifications. And while pessimistic views on global politics and commerce continue to dominate the news, DE readers (design, process, and analysis engineers) have a greater potential to change the world for the better than any other segment of our population. Our readers are engineers and designers involved in product development who greatly influence and control how their projects might affect the environment, help solve the energy crisis, improve medical technology, and create ways to provide clean water and adequate food for the third world.

This potential is being realized on both small and large scales every day. Over the last 365 days or so I’ve been introduced to some new developments and technologies that, if they haven’t already, are poised to change the world. They are impressive.

In the realm of advanced cancer detection, researchers at Kitasato University have developed a prototype medical scanner that improves on the resolution of today’s existing technology by 1,000 times. This new diagnostic tool uses optical coherence tomography to identify a single cancerous cell.

Research conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics with multicore computers, FPGA-based I/O, and LabVIEW has led to the control of nuclear fusion for electrical power. NuLens Ltd. has developed a prosthetic adjustable cornea lens replacement using NEiNastran that enables a patient’s ciliary muscle to flex the artificial lens to focus on near or distant objects.

A123 Systems is using nanotechnology to build next-generation lithium ion batteries that store more power, last longer, and provide deeper cycle discharge. COMSOL Multiphysics is helping improve heart attack victims’ life expectancy. And who could have imagined just a few years ago that today a 960-core supercomputer running at 4 teraflops could sit next to your desk and draw juice from a power strip?

These examples (see them at deskeng.com/changetheworld) are proof that engineers are on the front lines of changes driven by today’s economy, environment, and the needs of industry, agriculture, and consumers. And while I have come to expect engineers to answer society’s needs, I am always amazed by how they arrive at their solutions in unexpected ways. I’ve heard many times that engineers go to school to be trained to think differently, but I think it involves art as well. Like a musician, a dancer, or a sculptor, an engineer must also have some innate talent to do the job.

At DE, we like to spotlight the fruits of that talent, and throughout 2008 we reported on many designs, processes, and hardware that hold the promise to change our world in beneficial ways. As we look forward to 2009 in anticipation of the great things designers and engineers will accomplish, we are pleased to announce the “DE Change the World Awards.” An independent panel will choose a winner in each of the four categories of design, simulation, rapid manufacturing, and computing technology, and we’ll announce them a year from now in the December 2009 issue.

If you or a colleague are working on something that will make a positive world-changing impact on our lives, or those of our children or grandchildren, let us know by sending me the details by August 17, 2009.

Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

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