University engineers are at the forefront of just about all areas of energy research, from fusion to fracking, as well as new ways to deliver power securely and efficiently. Chief correspondent Thomas Grose has sought to keep Prism readers current, so to speak. In recent years, he has reported on the drive to develop batteries five times as powerful and one-fifth as costly as existing versions; technologies intended to revolutionize the power grid for an era of renewable fuels; and super-conductive graphene. February’s cover story, “Power Play,” tells of a 21st-century reprise of the high-stakes rivalry that ended with alternating current becoming the nation’s choice for distributing electricity. Once cheaper and easier to transport over long distances, AC no longer makes sense at a time when so many devices are built to run on direct current. Or so argue researchers at a handful of schools led by the University of Pittsburgh, which is building and testing prototypes of next-generation power converters. Power electronics and thyristors – a type of power-electronic switch – have solved the problems that once made DC less efficient. The contest this time is more civilized than the figurative slugfest between DC champion Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, but the stakes are nonetheless high. Siemens, Mitsubishi Electric, ABB, and Eaton are working with Pitt researchers, and high-voltage direct current transmission is valued at an estimated $30 billion a year.
Engineers are adept at measurement, so creative new forms of student assessment ought to appeal to engineering educators. Deputy Editor Mary Lord takes us inside the classrooms where standards-based grading is gaining strength with instructors and students. For teachers, it encourages discipline in setting clear goals for what students should know by the end of a course. For students, it means less emphasis on scores and more on progress, allowing them to learn from mistakes. With traditional grading, “[a] teacher never gets a handle on what students do well on and what they don’t do well on,” Purdue University’s Heidi Diefes-Dux tells Lord.
Flip this issue over to peruse the highlights of ASEE’s 2016 Annual Conference in New Orleans. You’ll enjoy writer Sara Roahen’s lively story on the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Big Easy, “arguably one of the best places to lose a few days in celebration of … well, anything.”
In this double issue of Prism, you’ll also find a letter to ASEE members from President Joseph Rencis and the Society’s Annual Report.
As always, we welcome your comments.