Problem solving for
the public good
BY DARLENE MORALES
Don’t believe the hype: Engineers do work that inevitably makes life easier for other people. Even if they do like a beer now and then.
ngineers frequently fall victim to the The device consists of a headset with mag- food intake to see if they have an impact on
worst kind of stereotyping:They’re either nets on each side, and a device, “no bigger creating abnormal cells.
viewed as drunken beer-chugging male than a grain of rice,” attached directly to the “Running in the wheel appears to decrease
chauvinists, or pocket-protector wearing user’s tongue, both of which transmit via the body’s production of chemicals that favor
super-nerds. wireless technology to a computer in the abnormal cell growth,” explains Dr. Henry
But anyone who’s studying to be an engi- chair.When the user moves his or her tongue, Thompson, director of the Cancer Prevention
neer knows the truth can range very far from the magnetic fields interact and the vehicle Lab at Colorado State University (CO).
the stereotype, as most engineers are not moves in the direction of the tongue. Waterman spent two years developing
only spared from routine work, but also get Huo co-created the“Tongue Drive”with his electrical and software circuits for the model
creative, work in a team and design products professor,Maysam Ghovanloo,who has a mas- which is still in its experimental stage.He also
and systems that are of great benefit to our ter’s in biomedical engineering. Ghovanloo helped create a brake for the wheel, which
daily lives. says that so far the device, which is still in its controls its different speeds.
In fact, engineers play an increasingly developmental stages,has been well received. “The exercise wheel has the potential to
important role in society, says Leah Jamieson, “The tongue doesn’t get tired that much, it serve a real need,”Waterman says.“The experi-
acts very similar to the heart since they both ence of doing something that has never been
the John A. Edwardson, dean of engineering
done before is important, plus the tangible
at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. have a small rate of exhaustion,” Ghovanloo
results of the studies going to directly improve
“From addressing sweeping global chal- says. “And the Shepherd Centre in Atlanta,
people’s health and lives are very rewarding.”
lenges such as sustainable energy, restoring Georgia has expressed interest in having
the earth's environment and improving some of its patients try out the device.”
Creativity in motion
healthcare to highly-personalized improve- Huo understood the true meaning of his
Contrary to the nerd stereotype, engineers
ments in the quality of life for individuals, invention when he spoke to an occupational
are creative types,who get the opportunity to
engineering will play a major role in every therapist involved in testing.
create in collaboration with a lot of other peo-
aspect of 21st century life,”says the dean. “He said, ‘You may not be able to see the ple, including co-workers or consumers.
benefit of your work right now, but really “People associate engineering jobs with
Steering lives what you’re doing might change the life of math and science, but don't appreciate the
Mechanical engineering student Xueliang some people. One might give up the idea of enormous creativity that goes into good
Huo says he got into engineering to help killing himself because he saw and used your engineering,” Dean Jamieson says.“There is
people. device,’”Huo recalls. also an image of working alone, but team-
“The willingness to use my knowledge to But Huo’s not the only engineering student work and collaboration are central to
help people who need it and the curiosity who sees past the keg parties to the true engineering jobs today.”
about how an engineer can contribute to value of his career choice. But for Waterman, the main draw is being
improve the quality of life for people, initially able to help other people solve problems.
brought me to this field,” says Huo, who Advancing health “In the end, engineering is really about
attends the Georgia Institute of Technology Electrical engineering student Jay Water- problem solving,” he says.“My education as
(Atlanta, GA). man is working on a project that could help an engineer has let me improve my problem
Huo has been working on a magnetic prevent cancer in the future. He helped solving skills across the board. It's all about
device that allows people to steer their develop the components of an “activity coming up with creative,effective solutions to
wheelchairs with their tongues for two years. wheel” that measures physical activity and problems.”
16 SPRING 2009 jobpostings magazine