Engineering doesn’t lack for adventurers who combine exploration of new techniques and materials with a social-justice impulse. There’s Caroline Baillie, whom Prism profiled back in 2008. At the time, she was working with jobless rubbish pickers in Buenos Aires—called cartoneros—to turn discarded plastic and cardboard into saleable furniture or composite building material. The following year, Prism caught up with “barefoot engineer” Amy Smith, whose D-Lab at MIT sent students into the developing world to find low-cost, locally produced solutions to fundamental problems.
Besides urban and rural poverty, engineers now recognize that those same communities are affected—often disproportionately—by natural disasters, extreme weather, and climate change. That’s where pioneers like Nripal Adhikary in Nepal, Luis Felipe Lopez in the Philippines, Denamo Addissie Nuramo in Ethiopia, and Kent Harries of the University of Pittsburgh come in. They’re demonstrating that bamboo, which grows abundantly in various poor countries, is an ideal structural material for earthquake- and typhoon-prone regions. As Jennifer Pocock reports in our cover story, “flexible, lightweight bamboo can bend with the earth’s fluctuations without snapping, whereas heavy, rigid concrete is likely to crack and collapse. And even if a bamboo structure collapsed, it’s safer to have lightweight walls and ceilings fall inward than walls made of concrete and steel.” It’s also relatively cheap and “the most environmentally sound building material there is,” she writes.
Pocock, a millennial multi-tasker, not only reported and wrote the cover story but drew and painted the cover itself, meeting the exacting standards of Nicola Nittoli, our creative director.
Elsewhere in Prism, you’ll enjoy reading our profile of ASEE President Louis A. Martin-Vega, a committed teacher, diversity champion, and “natural leader,” to quote his predecessor. North Carolina State’s engineering school, which he heads, has drawn praise from President Obama as well as federal funding for multiple research centers tackling challenges in biomedicine, the electricity grid, and smart manufacturing. Martin-Vega’s own ideas for ASEE’s coming year are in the President’s Letter in the ASEE Today section.
With this issue, we’re pleased to introduce a new occasional columnist, Aditya Johri, who adds expertise in electrical and computer engineering to our mix of contributors. And don’t miss Elizabeth Parry’s first installment in what will be a series of short articles highlighting ASEE’s Year to Commit to P-12: When Engineering Begins.
We hope you enjoy the September Prism. Please send us your comments.