Something Old, Some Things New
Over their 100-year reign, the Inka* grew a sprawling empire in South America. The Qhapaq Ñan, or Road of the Inka, enabled their success. The 20,000-mile network of roads and bridges spans mountains, lowlands, rivers, and deserts, stretching through six modern-day countries. It enabled communication, transportation, expansion, and administration—plus political control—for the vast empire, beginning in the mid-15th century. The road was built without metal, iron, or the wheel. The Inkas “knew well the principles of civil engineering, hydraulic engineering, and the Andean geography,” explained Ramiro Matos, cocurator of a National Museum of the American Indian exhibit I wrote about in 2015 (https://americanindian.si.edu/inkaroad). “While modern engineering is dependent on mechanical and electronic instruments, Inka engineering depended solely on experience and familiarity with the environment.”
Sustainable practices, such as steps used to dissipate water and block erosion, have kept much of the road intact while modern infrastructure crumbles. But such ancient innovations hold lessons for today’s engineers. Indigenous methods, passed down through generations and meant to work in collaboration with the earth rather than against it, are informing practices today. In her cover feature, associate editor Jennifer Pocock examines the growing field of “Indigeneering.”
From the ancient to the brand-new: Charles Q. Choi builds on the still-recent field of bioprinting to describe the latest in situ innovation. While widespread use is years away, this early-phase ability to lay living cells directly onto or into patients offers benefits including tissue regeneration, scar reduction, and wound healing—and has the potential to save lives. The global bioprinting market is projected to hit $4.7 billion by 2027, but technological and regulatory issues remain unresolved.
Another innovation under development: an undergraduate robotics curriculum at the University of Michigan that not only flips the traditional engineering math progression (no heavy load of calculus up front) but also helps drive equity for students whose high schools did not offer rigorous math courses. Poornima Apte describes how additional initiatives help create an extensive, inclusive ecosystem for Michigan Robotics, which is attempting to “envision…how we can do education for engineering differently.”
Another new item worth noting: the Framework for P–12 Engineering Learning, which arose out of a collaboration between the Advancing Excellence in P–12 Engineering Education (AE3) research collaborative and ASEE. Last Word provides the perspectives of an early adopter. And don’t miss the information on 2021 ASEE election candidates—ballots are due back by February 15.
As we leave the old year behind and move into the new, I wish you all the best for a bright 2021.
*This spelling is sometimes used as more consistent with the traditional Quechuan language.