Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2015 Symposium
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING
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Funding for the activity that led to this publication was provided by The Grainger Foundation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Department of Defense ASD(R&E) Research Directorate—STEM Development Office, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Microsoft Research, Cummins Inc., and individual donors. This material is also based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1505123. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. In addition, the content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the Government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
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Suggestion citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2015. Frontiers of Engineering: Reports on Leading-Edge Engineering from the 2015 Symposium. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. C. D. Mote, Jr., is president.
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ROBERT D. BRAUN (Chair), David and Andrew Lewis Professor of Space Technology, Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
AMIR AGHAKOUCHAK, Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Irvine
DAVID BRUMLEY, Associate Professor, Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and CEO, ForAllSecure
JENNIFER DIONNE, Assistant Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University
JAMES DONE, Project Scientist II and Willis Research Fellow, National Center for Atmospheric Research Earth System Laboratory
DANIELA OLIVEIRA, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Florida
SARA SEAGER, Class of 1941 Professor of Physics and Planetary Science, Departments of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
LUKE SWEATLOCK, Research Scientist, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
MITCHELL L. R. WALKER, Associate Professor, Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
JANET HUNZIKER, Senior Program Officer
SHERRI HUNTER, Program Coordinator
This volume presents papers on the topics covered at the National Academy of Engineering’s 2015 US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium. Every year the symposium brings together 100 outstanding young leaders in engineering to share their cutting-edge research and innovations in selected areas. The 2015 symposium was held September 9–11 at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The intent of this book is to convey the excitement of this unique meeting and to highlight innovative developments in engineering research and technical work.
GOALS OF THE FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING PROGRAM
The practice of engineering is continually changing. Engineers must be able not only to thrive in an environment of rapid technological change and globalization but also to work on interdisciplinary teams. Today’s research is being done at the intersections of engineering disciplines, and successful researchers and practitioners must be aware of developments and challenges in areas that may not be familiar to them.
At the annual 2½-day US Frontiers of Engineering Symposium, 100 of this country’s best and brightest engineers—ages 30 to 45, from academia, industry, and government and a variety of engineering disciplines—learn from their peers about pioneering work in different areas of engineering. The number of participants is limited to 100 to maximize opportunities for interactions and exchanges among the attendees, who are chosen through a competitive nomination and selection process. The symposium is designed to foster contacts and learning among promising individuals who would not meet in the usual round of professional
meetings. This networking may lead to collaborative work, facilitate the transfer of new techniques and approaches, and produce insights and applications that bolster US innovative capacity.
The four topics and the speakers for each year’s meeting are selected by an organizing committee of engineers in the same 30- to 45-year-old cohort as the participants. Speakers describe the challenges they face and communicate the excitement of their work to a technically sophisticated but nonspecialist audience. They provide a brief overview of their field of inquiry; define the frontiers of that field; describe experiments, prototypes, and design studies (completed or in progress) as well as new tools and methods, limitations, and controversies; and assess the long-term significance of their work.
THE 2015 SYMPOSIUM
The topics covered at the 2015 symposium were (1) cybersecurity and privacy, (2) engineering the search for Earth-like exoplanets, (3) optical and mechanical metamaterials, and (4) forecasting natural disasters.
The first session on cybersecurity and privacy focused on how to engineer a system that is as secure as possible given practical construction constraints. A well-engineered system incorporates both layered protection and mechanisms for detecting and mitigating the effects of successful attacks. In addition, the user is just as important to security and privacy as the technology; user-centric designs help the user make good security and privacy decisions. The first talk described the various security and abstraction levels of modern systems as well as security consequences at the application, operating system, and hardware layers. The next speaker described the users’ role and how to design interfaces that help them make better security decisions, particularly with regard to mobile platforms. This was followed by a talk on security within medical devices, which have diverse characteristics and pose different challenges to a security engineer. The session concluded with a talk on the US government’s views on the challenges and frontiers in engineering cybersecurity.
In the past two decades, astronomers have found thousands of planets orbiting stars other than the sun. There is particular interest in finding exoplanets, as they are called, that orbit their stars’ habitable zones where it is possible for liquid water, and therefore life, to exist. The session on Engineering the Search for Earth-like Exoplanets focused on the new generation of space-based telescopes necessary to find and study exoplanets. The first speaker described the James Webb Space Telescope, an international, NASA-led mission to be launched in 2018. The next presentation focused on starlight suppression, or technologies for direct imaging of exoplanets, and covered two main techniques: (1) the internal occulter, or coronagraph, that blocks light inside the telescope and works with wavefront sensing and control to create a stable optical system and (2) the external occulter, or starshade, which is a specially shaped screen tens of meters in
diameter that formation flies tens of thousands of kilometers from its telescope and blocks out the star light so that only planet light enters the telescope. The third speaker addressed construction of large structures in space, focusing on large deployables and space-based assembly and construction. The fourth talk discussed leading-edge developments in sensing controls for formation flying and satellite proximity operations, particularly with regard to autonomy for small satellites.
The topic of the third session was optical and mechanical metamaterials—composites that have led to a reassessment of conventionally accepted boundaries on material performance as well as discovery of many useful properties. The first presentation described research in (1) the design of advanced materials that derive extraordinary strength from 3D architecture and microstructure and (2) recoverable mechanical deformation in compliant nanomaterials, leading to impacts on ultra-lightweight batteries and biomedical devices, among others. This was followed by a talk on the development of engineering materials with remarkably light weight and ultra-high stiffness. The next presenter focused on metamaterial-based device engineering, in particular, the connection between microscopic structural properties of metamaterials, such as symmetry and shape, and their macroscopic response. This work leads to useful devices that would not be possible with conventional materials, such as one-way antennas, “invisibility cloaks,” and acoustic circulators. The session concluded with a talk on optical and infrared metamaterials and their applications in devices that could revolutionize optical technologies in communications, photovoltaics, and thermal radiation management.
The final session, Forecasting Natural Disasters, focused on improvements in the prediction of track and intensity of natural hazards, for example, tropical cyclones and flash floods, that have resulted from a better understanding of atmospheric systems, advances in observational technologies, and increased computational power. The session opened with a talk about a physically based probabilistic tropical cyclone risk assessment and management framework that integrates science, engineering, and economic analysis to support coastal resiliency. This was followed by a presentation on behavioral research that could inform how scientific information about natural disasters is presented to the public in order to motivate individuals and organizations to take actions that would reduce risk and prevent economic losses. The third speaker described the Google Earth Engine platform (earthengine.google.org), an experimental application programming interface for massively parallel geospatial analysis on global datasets such as Landsat satellite imagery, elevation data, and weather. Applications based on these data can map, measure, and monitor Earth’s changes in unprecedented detail for the benefit of people and the environment.
In addition to the plenary sessions, the attendees had many opportunities for informal interaction. On the first afternoon, they gathered in small groups for “get-acquainted” sessions during which they presented short descriptions of their work and answered questions from their colleagues. This helped them get to know more about each other relatively early in the program.
On the second afternoon, attendees met in small groups to discuss issues such as industry-academic tech transfer, public understanding of artificial intelligence, technology risk management, effective interdisciplinary collaboration, and public advocacy for engineering, among others. Some of the groups have evolved into communities of interest and continued communicating after the meeting.
Every year a distinguished engineer addresses the participants at dinner on the first evening of the symposium. The 2015 speaker, NAE member and vice president Corale Brierley, principal of Brierley Consultancy LLC, gave the first evening’s dinner speech, titled “The Black Swan.” She described times in her career when valuable lessons were learned through unexpected experiences. She reminded the group that sometimes the benefit of a new idea is not understood or appreciated until well after the discovery, moving forward entails getting outside one’s comfort zone, and failure is only a temporary change in direction to set one straight for the next success.
The NAE is deeply grateful to the following for their support of the 2015 US Frontiers of Engineering symposium:
- The Grainger Foundation
- Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
- Department of Defense ASD(R&E)–STEM Development Office
- Air Force Office of Scientific Research
- National Science Foundation (this material is based on work supported by the NSF under grant EFMA-1505123)
- Microsoft Research
- Cummins Inc.
- Individual contributors
We also thank the members of the Symposium Organizing Committee (p. iv), chaired by Dr. Robert D. Braun, for planning and organizing the event.