09/04/09 — Barney Smits (B.S.'92 ME) rides Bay Area Rapid Transit every weekday from his Oakland home to his office, two blocks from Oakland's 19th St. station. "I take it just about everywhere I can," he says. "To the opera in the city, to the airport when I'm traveling. Once you're used to it, it's the absolute best, easiest way of getting around." But then he might be biased. Smits, 53, is the transit system's principal mechanical engineer, a job he's held for several years. He's one of the guys who makes sure that the 20 miles of tunnel and 208 miles of track and all the stations and system facilities are safe for riders like him, and you.
09/04/09 — In the world of quirky contests, the U.S. National Concrete Canoe Competition isn't as far-out as, say, the Extreme Ironing World Championships or as appalling as the World Bog Snorkeling Championships, but it has its own ability to astound the public and lure fanatical participants. As devoted undertakings go, it is a little silly and a lot serious, especially here at Berkeley Engineering, where a team of 25 civil engineers won the national championship this summer, their first since 1992.
08/03/09 — What do you see when you think engineer? Our non-engineering colleagues might envision a middle-aged man at a construction site, sporting a hardhat and poring over a set of plans. But we know that engineering has exploded in recent years due to globalization, the IT and biotech booms, clean energy and a host of other factors. As Lawrence Fisher reports in our spring Forefront ("Engineering evolved"), the field today is so broadly multidisciplinary that new applications require the talents of everyone from "software savants and materials mavens" to "aerospace adepts."
08/03/09 — A new generation of inexpensive programmable thermostats with the capacity to communicate may provide a simple and versatile tool for addressing California's complex, billion-dollar summer peak energy demand problems. Engineering professor David Auslander - working with utility companies, engineers and policy wonks - has created a new set of design rules for the programmable communicating thermostat (PCT) that could help pave the way for greater energy efficiency in homes. Energy specialists have long known that programmable thermostats (PTs) have the potential to save homeowners money, reduce the need for new power plants and shrink the amount of pollutants and climate-altering carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere. But unfortunately, fewer than 20 percent of Californians take the time to program their thermostats.
08/03/09 — Daryl Chrzan, a noted researcher in the field of computational materials science, is a diehard skateboarder. Besides carving the bowls at local skate parks, Chrzan loves to think about the science behind the sport. The Berkeley professor of materials science and engineering considers such questions as the physics involved in stunts, the evolution of the skateboard wheel, the limits of a skateboard's strength and even the g-forces experienced in spectacular spills. For the past two years, Chrzan has posed-and tried to answer-those puzzles in a one-unit freshman seminar called Physics and Materials Science of Skateboarding. His hands-on class puts a new spin on a popular, if educationally unsung pastime.
06/04/09 — “If you haven't gotten the ideal job yet, don't take any job! Be bold and creative: take a year off. Look for great leadership development opportunities. Become a volunteer math or science teacher in underserved communities in America or in poor villages in Africa, South America or Asia.”
06/04/09 — Last year, Connie Chang-Hasnain and graduate student researcher Linus Chuang were searching for a better lab recipe for growing nanowires, conductive threads so thin that every atom they contain has a significant effect on their overall electrical properties. Following the vapor-liquid-solid (VLS) technique for creating semiconductor crystal nanowires, they deposited successive layers of gallium arsenide onto a silicon wafer substrate. But in one low-temperature batch, an area of the silicon lacked the usual gold nanoparticles from which each crystal grows. Under careful examination of the region, they didn't find what they were expecting. Instead of uniform-diameter threads sticking up, they saw tall, needle-like pyramids with hexagonal bases and sharp points. They had discovered a new nanostructure.
06/04/09 — We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors but probably don't give much thought to the quality of the air we breathe until we step outside. That could be a mistake, says Beverly Coleman (M.S.'05, Ph.D.'09 CEE), who received her doctorate just last month.
06/04/09 — A music video that playfully celebrates all things nano has become a megahit for three Berkeley Engineering graduate students and their Cal team.
05/02/09 — From Monica Tanza, a mechanical engineering senior interested in sustainable design, to Cagla Meral, a civil and environmental engineering Ph.D. student working on greener cement, women are pursuing their ambitions at Berkeley Engineering.
05/02/09 — Roughly the size of a matchstick, a slender titanium tube could become a pint-sized weapon against chronic hepatitis C and a host of other debilitating diseases. Three UCSF/UC Berkeley doctoral students are designing a tiny implantable device capable of delivering steady and minute quantities of potent drugs into the bloodstream. The Nano Precision Pump could reduce serious side effects caused by injections of far larger doses of medicine-improving patient quality of life, compliance and cure rates, the students say.
05/02/09 — If the Hayward Fault ruptures during a Cal home game, Memorial Stadium fans would be in for a wild ride. But they should be safe-even if they're seated in the most vulnerable end-zone sections. That's the outcome that David Friedman (B.S'75 CE) envisions for the massive retrofit of UC Berkeley's landmark but seismically poor football venue. Friedman, senior principal at San Francisco–based Forell/Elsesser Engineers, is the lead engineer for the stadium's renovation. Built in 1923, Memorial Stadium straddles the Hayward Fault and is in need of seismic upgrades.
05/02/09 — Scheduling problems, which involve searching for an optimal or near-optimal schedule for a set of tasks, are notoriously complex because simple searches are overwhelmed by their explosively vast number of possibilities. But with large-scale manufacturing and distribution operations, fractional improvements in scheduling can have large-scale impacts on the bottom line, which is why industrial engineers are routinely called upon to create customized sophisticated strategies for specific scheduling problems. Now, Professor Rhonda Righter has applied industrial engineering–style analysis to a different type of scheduling problem: after a mass casualty event, such as a natural disaster, a wreck or an attack, how should a medical emergency response team allocate its attention to patients, in order to save the most lives?
03/02/09 — The urgent business of protecting the American people from terrorism and other threats will almost certainly follow a different course under the Obama administration. In particular, the security of electronic information supporting our most critical systems – for instance, financial, medical and civil infrastructure data – is likely to be defined by a stronger effort to reconcile the competing needs of public security, personal privacy and utility.
03/02/09 — A large part of gasoline and diesel engine pollution consists of two components: soot and nitrogen oxides, or NOx. Soot is made up of tiny carbon particles that hang in the air and dirty it, but NOx, a mix of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, has a more complicated story. NOx feeds chemical pathways that are fueled by sunlight and produce the noxious brew we call smog. In general, reducing NOx tailpipe emissions reduces this pollution. But, as CEE professor Robert Harley has found, there is an exception to this rule, known as the ozone weekend effect, that can confound air quality management efforts unless it is understood.
03/02/09 — Brown grease - a nasty melange of leftover animal fat, pan scrapings and other gunky residue - is a sewer pipe's worst enemy. In San Francisco, a pilot project led by two Berkeley Engineering alumni is in the works to explore for the first time how wastewater treatment plants throughout California might turn the unappealing stuff into biodiesel fuel. "For the city, it's going to be a win-win situation," says Domenec Jolis (Ph.D.'92 CEE), a senior engineer at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the project's co-principal investigator.
03/02/09 — In the quest for smarter cars of the future, Hunter Mack (M.S.'04, Ph.D.'07 ME) is putting a new spin on the internal combustion engine. Mack's focus as a postdoctoral researcher at Berkeley Engineering is an innovative system called HCCI that behaves like a cross between a gas and a diesel engine. HCCI, shorthand for homogeneous charge compression ignition, delivers up to 30 percent better fuel economy than gas engines, emits far fewer emissions than a typical diesel and isn't fussy about what's pumped in its tank. And because HCCI is a modification of a conventional engine, the system as a whole or elements of it could be installed in new cars within 5 to 10 years.
02/02/09 — As we listened to President Obama's inaugural address on January 20, we were encouraged by his remarks emphasizing the role of science. However, the nation's research community would be shortsighted to take these words simply as an invitation to submit funding requests and expand programs. Instead, we must mobilize quickly to identify the most ambitious challenges we are capable of tackling-in other words, our “moon shots” for the 21st century.
02/02/09 — With Enhanced GPS, cell phones will soon be able to pinpoint a user's location down to a specific street address. For users, this new capability will improve directions, mapping and other location-based phone services. Meanwhile, marketers plan to use the data to track consumer preferences and personalize recommendations shown onscreen. While improved recommendations are nice, so is personal privacy, and having some company tracking your every move poses risks, no matter what the information is used for. Engineering professor John Canny is developing a privacy-protection scheme called Ant Club Trails that will let companies personalize your recommendations while preventing them from determining your identity.
02/02/09 — Baking a French-inspired strawberry tart and running engineering calculations for a building project make a perfect pairing for Anita Chu (B.S.'98, M.S.'99 CEE). The San Francisco engineer is a pastry chef, an award-winning dessert blogger and photographer, and recently published her first cookbook. "I think there are a lot of similarities between engineering and pastry," Chu says. "Pastry is all about very precise measurement and technique, and that applies to engineering, too."