Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Why we need more STEM students to study abroad

Contributed by Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College
Students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are much less likely to participate in study abroad programs during their college years than students in other majors.
According to Open Doors 2018, the Institute of International Education’s most recent survey of U.S. study abroad, less than 2 percent of all college students studied abroad in 2016-17, and of that small number of participants, only 5.3 percent were engineering majors and 2.8 percent were math or computer science majors. The report highlights that while the number STEM majors in programs has increased over the past decade, STEM fields continue to be the most underrepresented fields in study abroad.
Yet international experience is vital for STEM students, who will be creating technologies that may impact the entire world. U.S. scientists and engineers also must be able to collaborate on multicultural, international teams to be successful in their careers and tackle global challenges together.
What holds STEM students back from studying abroad? STEM students often have a harder time fitting a semester abroad into a tightly sequenced required program of study, according to IIE’s 2009 white paper, Promoting Study Abroad in Science and Technology Fields. Other reasons named in the report include a lack of encouragement from academic advisors, difficulty in obtaining credit at the home institution for STEM courses taken abroad, and fewer science- and engineering-related study abroad programs overall. Yet another hurdle is language. Because STEM students often have to take more courses in their major, they don’t have as much opportunity to take a series of language courses, and that often limits their study abroad options.
Recognizing the challenges, many colleges and universities have been working to expand study abroad opportunities for STEM students such as making STEM curricula more flexible, weaving opportunities into the curriculum, and creating new programs.
At Harvey Mudd, where we only offer STEM majors, we’ve worked hard to increase participation in study abroad. We were sending on average only 5 percent percent of our junior class on study abroad programs in the early 2000s; now we send 15-18 percent of our juniors abroad.
Engineering major Rikki Walters with her host family in Nepal
I spoke with Harvey Mudd director of study abroad Rhonda Chiles about the challenges and benefits of study abroad and with engineering major Rikki Walters, a student who recently returned from a semester abroad.
Maria Klawe:  Rhonda, what are some of the initiatives that have helped us increase participation in study abroad?
Rhonda Chiles:   We’ve been partnering more closely with our study abroad program providers, meeting with them and telling them our STEM-related needs. They work with schools from around the world to create a portfolio of programs, and we can choose which ones work best for our students. Over the past decade, our providers have worked hard to create more opportunities for STEM majors. It’s still going to be more challenging for STEM majors, but that challenge is less than it was before. Students can say, hey, I want to do this, I can do this, it’s really possible.
We’ve also started to do our own course matching. We work with program providers to get course descriptions and syllabi from the programs and then have our departments look at which ones will match up.  That makes a huge difference.
Klawe: Rikki, why did you want to study abroad?
Rikki Walters: I spent last semester in Nepal, living with a host family and taking classes from Nepali teachers, including intensive Nepali language. Studying abroad was something I always knew I needed to do and wanted to do. You become a more global citizen, you understand different perspectives—it’s invaluable.
Klawe: Was it difficult to fit a semester abroad into your engineering major requirements?
Walters: I knew when I started college that I wanted to be an engineer and I wanted to study abroad. So, I started planning from the day I got here. It's totally possible to do, but it took a lot of planning. The Nepal semester program is run by Pitzer College, and they have been working over the past few years to make it possible for Harvey Mudd students to participate by bringing in professors from the local universities to teach STEM courses. Since I was the only student that semester taking an engineering class, I was able to provide the professor with Harvey Mudd’s textbook so that he could cover all my required material. It also helped that I took summer math courses and went on a summer engineering program to China, which helped me add credits towards my graduation requirements and gave me some room in my schedule.
Klawe: How important do you think it is for STEM majors to study abroad?
Walters: I think nowadays, STEM workers probably have the largest effect on society. We enable so many different ways to manipulate the things in this world. As the designers and creators rather than the salesmen and businessmen, we don’t always see how the technology we create affects the world, and we’re not always the ones choosing how that technology is applied. Even if we read about the impact of technology from international news, we can’t fully understand it without physically going to another country, experiencing the society for ourselves and talking with the people there. With the tendency to believe more technologically advanced correlates to a better, more knowledgeable and wise society, we lose the ability to listen. It’s essential to listen because otherwise we don’t really know what people in other countries need—we’re just trying to make their society look more like ours. If we really want to help people, then we need to listen to them.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Interdisciplinary UA researchers get tangled up in quantum computing

Good neighbors often share resources: a cup of sugar, extra lawn chairs, a set of jumper cables. Researchers across campus at the University of Arizona will soon be able to share a less common but far more valuable resource to help them further their research: entangled photons, or interlinked pairs of light particles.

With approximately $1.4 million in funding – $999,999 from the National Science Foundation and about $400,000 from the UA – professor Zheshen Zhang is leading the construction of the Interdisciplinary Quantum Information Research and Engineering instrument, known as Inquire, at UA. Inquire is the world's first shared research and training instrument to help researchers in diverse fields benefit from quantum resources, including those with no expertise in quantum information science.

Zhang is an assistant professor of materials science and engineering and optical sciences and the leader of the Quantum Information and Materials Group at UA. Co-investigators of the Inquire project include Ivan Djordjevic, professor of electrical and computer engineering and optical sciences; Jennifer Barton, director of the BIO5 Institute and professor of biomedical engineering, biosystems engineering, electrical and computer engineering, and optical sciences; Nasser Peyghambarian, professor of optical sciences; and Marek Romanowski, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and materials science and engineering. 

A network of fiber-optic cables will connect an automated quantum information hub in the basement of the Electrical and Computer Engineering building to four other buildings on campus: Biosciences Research Labs, Mines and Metallurgy, Physics and Atmospheric Sciences, and Meinel Optical Sciences.

Barton comments. "It seems like science fiction, but Zheshen is building a facility that will create quantum-entangled photons, then deliver them via fiber optics halfway across campus, right into the Translational Bioimaging Resource in the Biosciences Research Labs building."

"This is an exciting project that perfectly represents some of the key themes underlying our strategic plan," says UA President Robert Robbins. "To be a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we must leverage collaboration, stay ahead of the technology curve and provide a high-powered environment where researchers have the tools they need to solve the world's grand challenges. I look forward to seeing the new opportunities this facility brings once it is completed." Construction on the project already has begun with an expected completion date of September 2021.

Seeing Individual Photons
Much like an atom is the smallest unit of matter, a photon is the smallest unit of light. So while we can see the light of tens of billions of photons in a room lit by a lamp or a courtyard lit by the sun, the human eye – and most microscopes – can't see individual photons. But sometimes this too-small-to-see information can be important. For example, a biomedical engineering lab might be doing an imaging study on a protein or an organic molecule that's emitting a signal too weak for traditional cameras to see. "You can send your photons to the core facility, which is equipped with an array of ultrasensitive cameras that can see things at the single photon level," Zhang said.

Traditionally, researchers used high-powered lasers to illuminate these biological samples, which were sometimes damaged in the process. Using entangled photons as an illumination source provides higher sensitivity, less illuminating power, and the same – or even higher – resolution. "Two entangled photons can be worth a million of their classical brethren, potentially allowing us to image deeper without harming tissue," Barton said.

High-Precision Probing
These fiber-optic cables are a two-way street. Researchers can send their photons into the central hub to be imaged by the high-tech microscopes, but the center can also share entangled photons with labs across campus.

Entangled photons are interlinked pairs. Even when they're separated by large distances, anything that happens to one photon in an entangled pair will be transferred to the other one as well.
This relationship has several uses. For example, researchers can use photons as probes to help determine the nature of unidentified materials. The changes a material introduces to a photon, such as a change in color, provide clues to the material's identity. When one entangled photon in a pair is used as a probe, the material introduces changes to both photons in the entangled pair. "Now you can perform a measurement on both photons to learn about the sample being probed," Zhang said. "You can have twice as much information about the way the material is affecting the photon."

Secure Communications
Entangled photons can also be used in quantum communication, a secure method of sending and receiving data that's designed to preclude eavesdropping. Before Party A shares any sensitive information with Party B, Party A sends a "quantum key," a series of entangled photons that serves as the code for decrypting future transmissions. Quantum keys are designed so that the very act of decrypting or reading their contents changes their contents.

If the quantum key arrives with any parts decrypted, the communicating parties know not to use that part of the key to encrypt future transmissions, because it has been "read" by hackers. The communicating parties can simply cut out that part of the key and use a new, shorter quantum key they know is secure.
Party A and Party B in the above example don't need to be quantum information scientists. Researchers across all kinds of disciplines can benefit from the unique features of entangled photons, and Inquire's aim is to allow for just that.

"This is a key area the National Science Foundation identifies as one of its 10 Big Ideas and really wants to push forward because it is so interdisciplinary," Zhang says. "It involves researchers across the boundaries of science, engineering, computer science, physics, chemistry, math, optics – everywhere. The key question is 'How can everybody speak the same language, and how can they benefit from the progress made in other areas?'"

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Cardno’s Matt Herman earns Professional Engineer license in California

Cardno has announced that Matt Herman has earned his licensure as a Professional Engineer in the state of California. He has more than 15 years of experience providing engineering support for a variety of environmental assessment and remediation projects throughout California and the western United States. 

Herman specializes in remediation system design and installation that includes feasibility testing, regulatory permitting and compliance, and operation and maintenance. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the California Maritime Academy and works out of the firm’s Petaluma, CA office.

Headquartered in Brisbane, Australia and with offices throughout the Americas and Asia Pacific, Cardno is a professional infrastructure and environmental services company with specialized expertise in the development and improvement of physical and social infrastructure for communities around the world. Cardno’s team includes professionals who plan, design, manage, and deliver sustainable projects and community programs. For more information, visit www.cardno.com.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

University of Massachusetts Boston facility attains LEED Gold certification

Capstone Development Partners recently announced that the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) Dining and Residence Hall project has achieved LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). "We are thrilled," says Jeff Jones, principal, Capstone Development Partners. "Through the hard work and dedication of all involved, we were able to exceed our initial LEED Silver target while staying on schedule and on budget and hope it will continue to yield cost savings through the enhanced sustainable features. Most importantly, we hope this certification will be valued by our current and future student residents."
The UMass Boston Residence Hall achieved LEED Gold certification for implementing practical and measurable strategies and solutions aimed at achieving high performance in sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Some of the sustainable strategies and project attributes that helped the project achieve this level of certification include: 
  • Location of the project site on land that is considered a brownfield redevelopment. 
  • Water savings of 34% achieved by using low-flow showers, faucets, toilets, and urinals. 
  • An energy cost savings of 26.8% achieved through the implementation of a high-performance building envelope, energy recovery units, hot water efficiency, and 100% LEED lighting. 
  • Thoughtful selection of cool roofing and hardscape materials to reduce the heat island effect.
A team of engineering firms did the engineering work required. Nitsch Engineering, with offices in eastern Massachusetts and Washington, DC, handled civil engineering. AHA Consulting Engineers, with offices in Lexington, MA and Arlington, VA, did the electrical engineering. And WSP, based in Montreal and with offices worldwide, handled mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) engineering.
"As the first residence hall on our campus, this development created the opportunity for our students to have a traditional residential college experience," says Katherine Newman, interim chancellor, University of Massachusetts Boston. "We are especially pleased that it has achieved LEED Gold certification, as it aptly reflects our commitment to and our students' interest in sustainable development." 
Capstone Development Partners, LLC develops student housing in the on-campus and university-affiliated student housing market. The company is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. For more information please visit http://www.capdevpartners.com.