Earth, Wind, and Sky
The past few months have witnessed devastating hurricanes that flooded most of Houston, battered the Caribbean from Barbuda to the Virgin Islands, and knocked out power across Puerto Rico, while a major earthquake rocked the Mexico City area. Experts say climate change makes more extreme weather events likely, and urban population growth will increase the destructive power of temblors. While engineers can’t—yet—prevent such disasters, they can develop better damage assessment and prediction methods as well as design structures and systems that cushion the blow, thereby saving lives. Our cover story this month highlights several examples. Rice University’s engineering dean Reginald DesRoches, for instance, has found a way to add resilience to earthquake-prone buildings using shape-memory alloys. The University of Pittsburgh’s Gregory Reed’s applied research on microgrids promises to keep the lights on and freshwater pumped when storms, or even hostile hackers, play havoc with supplies of electricity.
Recent Prism features examined the painstaking engineering that has kept the B-52 Stratofortress bomber aloft decades after its expected retirement date (Prism, December 2013) and research on supersonic vehicles (Prism, January 2016). In this issue’s “Wild Blue Yonder,” Charles Choi leaps ahead to report on what could be our next breakthrough in flight: hypersonic planes capable of traveling at 20 times the speed of sound. U.S. R&D is spurred by Russian and Chinese advances in hypersonics, but it’s not without challenges: “Even physics get funky in the upper atmosphere, where the thin air still can generate enough friction to melt most fuselage materials,” the story says.
If you’re engaged in hiring or promoting educators, you’ll want to read Mary Lord’s feature on student course ratings. “Loathe them or love them, student evaluations of teaching (SET) have become a required routine for most faculty,” she writes, offering lively anecdotes and a guide to coming through the process relatively unscathed.
We hope you enjoy the November Prism. If you haven’t already done so, please send in your nominations for our upcoming “20 Under 40” special issue devoted to young faculty stars.