AT RENSSELAER

 
ARCHITECTURE
"STUDIO 305" ADDS NEW TECHNOLOGIES TO ARCHITECT'S TOOLBOX

In a third-floor studio in the Greene Building, students are employing powerful new technologies that may alter the future of architecture.

Here, a milling machine follows computer-created designs to carve three-dimensional objects out of foam or wood. Working in the opposite direction, another device, called a 3-D scanner, can create a computer-based image of physical objects.

In creating Studio 305, Assistant Professor of Architecture Brian Lonsway and his colleagues chose not to let the computer take the place of the drawing board and handmade models, but rather to use the computer as an additional tool.

In this very flexible studio, all furniture is on wheels, letting students arrange things in ways that best make sense for the job at hand. A motorized curtain can close off one end of the room to create a theater where students can present their projects on video to as many as 50 teachers and peers. A professional-quality video editing station allows students to create simulated tours of their proposed buildings, or even show their projects within a video image of an actual site.

Aided by computers, architects are now able to answer such questions as how much a room will weigh, or how much a building will cost to heat, according to Mark Mistur '83, associate dean of architecture.

Computer technology can also streamline the construction process, says Mistur. Currently, an architect's ideas must be translated into plans that can be used on a building site. In the future, the architect and consultants might all work together online, with the final building instructions delivered to the site in powerful, portable computers.

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ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT
RESEARCHER HELPS AIRPORT MEET ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS
PLANE TALK: Sim Komisar's work, which utilizes microorganisms to "digest" propylene glycol used in de-icer fluid, is benefiting Albany International Airport.

Thanks to Simeon Komisar, associate professor of environmental and energy engineering, Albany International Airport has a new state-of-the-art de-icer waste treatment system that is the first of its kind in the world.

Komisar's research, which helped the airport meet strict environmental regulations in treating and disposing of de-icing fluid and save hundreds of thousands of dollars on airplane de-icing, led to an on-site facility that anaerobically treats de-icer fluid. The fluid had previously been sent through the Town of Colonie's sewer system to the Albany wastewater treatment facility, an expensive process.

The airport's Storm Water Recovery and Treatment Facility that uses Komisar's research utilizes microorganisms to "digest" propylene glycol, a key ingredient of de-icer fluid, to below detection limits. In addition, the system creates methane gas as a by-product, which is reused as fuel to heat the incoming fluid and to speed its processing. The gas is also used to heat the airport's treatment facility.

With the new system, Albany International Airport cut the cost for de-icing containment, collection, treatment, and disposal by nearly 75 percent, from about $1 million to approximately $250,000, in its first season of full-scale use, according to Stephen Iachetta, airport planner. Kevin McCann, sales manager at EFX Systems, which designed the system, said that about a half-dozen airports are currently looking into purchasing the system after seeing Albany's system at work. The system won the Airports Council International-North America 1999 Environmental Achievement Award.

The initial pilot project was funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Also working on the project were Michael Switzenbaum and Sean Veltmann of the University of Massachusetts and Clough, Harbour & Associates, a local engineering firm.

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BIOTECHNOLOGY
RESEARCHERS STUDY EFFECTS OF AGING ON BONES

Osteoporosis threatens 28 million Americans, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Deepak Vashishth, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, may have found a way to predict where the disease will strike.

Vashishth and his graduate students, Sirena Sit and Ping Cheng Wu, are studying the effects of aging on bone's fracture properties.

As people age, their bones become more brittle, which accounts for the increased number of bone fractures in the elderly. The problem lies with determining the factors that increase the stiffness of bone's collagen matrix, which consequently escalates an individual's risk to fracture.

"As we age, there is an increase in the number of ribose- and glucose-induced cross links in bone that are formed due to the reaction of sugar with the collagen in bone. This gives the bone a caramelized candy look and increases the chance of fracture," Vashishth explains. "But we cannot be sure whether this increased cross linking is causal to the age-related deterioration in bone's fracture properties."

Vashishth and his team, therefore, conduct aging experiments in vitro to simulate this process by incubating human bones obtained from the National Disease Research Interchange in a ribose solution at body temperature (37degrees Celsius). The bones are demineralized, leaving only collagen, which is mechanically tested to estimate stiffness. Vashishth has found a 92 percent correlation between the cross links and collagen stiffness, and anticipates this to be a good predictive tool for osteoporosis.

Vashishth and his team are collaborating with the Bone and Joint Center at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. The findings of this study will be published this year in BONE, an official publication of the International Bone and Mineral Society.

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FOCUS ON...
G.P. "BUD" PETERSON
Photo by Mark McCarty

If you want to give G.P. "Bud" Peterson a happy respite from his responsibilities as the new provost of Rensselaer, ask him to show you the box of heat pipes he keeps on a shelf in his office.

Though he has little time to spend in his laboratory, Peterson remains an engineer. Rattling about in his cardboard box is the product of a lifetime's research—an unsorted collection of copper wires and silicon wafers. On the latter are heat pipes, some measuring 35 microns in diameter, and designed by Peterson to keep a computer from overheating.

"This is something I get excited about. For me, education is the transmission of knowledge, and research is the process by which that knowledge can be produced. I can't separate my responsibilities as provost from my dedication to research. They are totally intertwined," Peterson said.

Peterson is an engineer with a strong research focus in thermodynamics and heat transfer. He holds nine patents for innovative heat pipe concepts, with another pending. Most recently, Peterson has analyzed, fabricated, and tested arrays of heat pipes, as well as microscale heat spreaders to be used in semi-conductor devices.

"I have many responsibilities that preclude my spending much time on research at this point. I have a great deal to learn right now and my primary responsibilities are to focus on implementation of the Rensselaer Plan," said Peterson, who became provost last July 1.

Peterson was born in California and grew up in Kansas, but his voice and the breadth of his vision bear the stamp of his home for nearly the last 20 years—Texas.

He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Kansas State University in 1975. Two years later, he earned a B.S. in mathematics from the same university, then a master's degree in engineering in 1980. Peterson received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in 1985. For two summers, he worked as a visiting research scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

"While the foundation of any university is based on the quality of its educational programs," he said, "the international reputation of all truly great educational institutions is built on the quality of its faculty and their scholarship. My overarching goal is to attract, develop, and retain the highest quality faculty."

Peterson came to Rensselaer after spending 19 years on the faculty at Texas A&M, where he served as the College of Engineering Tenneco Professor, associate vice chancellor, and executive associate dean of engineering.

Peterson is a fellow of both the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and is the author or co-author of more than 125 refereed journal articles and more than 150 conference publications. Peterson and his wife have been married for 26 years, and have four children.

"The recent transformation in leadership at Rensselaer presents a unique opportunity to rethink and re-evaluate what is presently being done and how it can be improved. The new leadership team President Jackson has assembled brings with it new talents, new ideas, and new energies. In 20 years, the Rensselaer community will look back and see these as having been truly transformational times."

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
WIRING NIGERIA
Photo by Thomas Griffin

Stephen Onyeiwu is a clinical assistant professor of ecological economics at Rensselaer. He's also a native of Nigeria, born in the tiny tribal village of Umuluwe (oo-ma-LOO-we), made up of about 2,000 peasant farmers and traders. Onyeiwu wants to "wire" his village with e-mail and Internet access.

Onyeiwu feels so strongly that information technology can empower the people of this village—where the average yearly income is $300—that he has raised a small sum of money to begin an e-mail dialogue between the villagers and Rensselaer students, faculty, and The Ark, an after-school technology program for urban children in the Taylor Apartments in Troy.

Information technology is driving the future, Onyeiwu says, and he doesn't want the people in his village to be left out. "In this age of globalization, no community should be isolated," he says.

The money will underwrite the costs for Umuluwe villagers to travel to a city and send and receive e-mail, a process that is currently expensive and tedious. Every two weeks a villager rents a motorcycle and drives to a small town to catch a bus into the nearest city. The villager must then patronize a commercial business that offers a "pay per e-mail" service. The entire process takes about one day and costs $3—three times a villager's daily income.

Onyeiwu and his colleagues at Rensselaer have begun collecting old computer equipment to send to Umuluwe. They've begun a "sister village" project with an ambassador from Umuluwe and their future plans are to establish a technology center there.

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FOCUS ON...
ART SANDERSON
Photo by Gary Gold

On a shelf in Arthur C. Sanderson's office are stacked 15 or 20 copies of a bright yellow book, co-authored by Sanderson, the vice president for research at Rensselaer.

The book, Sanderson's third, is titled Multisensor Fusion: A Minimal Representation Framework. Sanderson's writing partner is Rajive Joshi, one of his former graduate students. In fact, the book started as Joshi's doctoral thesis, and Sanderson was his thesis adviser.

"My job is to provide focus for research, now for the entire university. In a sense, that's what I've always done with students—give them focus and guidance in their research. Now I'm doing it on a larger scale," says Sanderson, who was named Rensselaer's first-ever vice president for research by President Shirley Ann Jackson in January 2000.

The Rensselaer Plan is explicitly dedicated to the dramatic expansion of the research enterprise, and Sanderson is the point man for this ambitious goal.

"My biggest challenge in this job is to build an enabling infrastructure for research. That means the best faculty, the best students, the best equipment—all dedicated to the goal of making this a world-class university," he says.

As an indication of the seriousness of his agenda, two departments— the Office of Contracts and Grants, and the Office of Technology Commercialization—have come under the authority of Sanderson's office since he became vice president for research.

"The university was still organized in a somewhat traditional way. Our intention has been to coordinate research all across the institution. A lot of our approach is interdisciplinary. Researchers need a central focus for their activities. That also enables us to better recognize and publicize their accomplishments," he says.

Sanderson's own research has focused on modular and reconfigurable robotics. He received his B.S. from Brown University in 1968, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 1970 and 1972, respectively. He taught at Carnegie Mellon from 1973 to 1987, and served as the co-director of its Robotics Institute.

In 1987, Sanderson joined the faculty at Rensselaer and served as chair of the electrical, computer, and systems engineering department. He is the author of more than 250 publications in the areas of biomedical signal processing, robotics and automation systems, sensor-based control, computer vision, and applications of knowledge-based systems.

Sanderson played a major role in the founding of Rensselaer's New York State Center for Advanced Technology, and served as its co-director from 1988 to 1990. He has also served as co-principal investigator at the school's Agile Manufacturing Research Institute.

In 1998 and 1999, Sanderson was on leave from Rensselaer to serve as director of the Division of Electrical and Communications Systems at the National Science Foundation.

"My background is pretty broad-based. I've been a teacher, an active researcher, and an administrator. As vice president for research, which is a brand-new position, I call upon all of those experiences," he says. "I think that says something about the direction in which Rensselaer is headed."

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SCIENCE
NEW GRADUATE MULTIDISCIPLINARY DEGREES
Nicolle Zellner is a pioneer of the new multidisciplinary program.

Designed to meet the diversified needs of today's science graduate students, a new multidisciplinary science degree program at Rensselaer has been approved by the New York State Department of Education.

The program, the first of its kind in New York, will offer M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in multidisciplinary science.

"These new degrees in multidisciplinary science are designed to meet the needs of today's graduates who require a more diversified background to compete effectively in industrial or governmental occupations that are multidisciplinary in nature," says President Shirley Ann Jackson.

The degrees were created for a new breed of student, whose interests overlap several disciplines, according to Samuel Wait '53, associate dean of science.

"We can custom-make a program with all the right courses and a dissertation that spans different areas," he says.

Students seeking a career in pharmaceutical research could design a degree concentrated in biology, computational sciences, and chemistry. Those who want to go into the field of microchip manufacturing could create a degree with courses in chemistry, materials engineering, electrical engineering, and physics.

Nicolle Zellner, a student working on her doctoral degree at Rensselaer, is a pioneer of the new Multidisciplinary Science Program.

"My research is in lunar geochemistry and studies in the origins of life," says Zellner, whose dream is to be a researcher in NASA's astrobiology program. "I found that the multidisciplinary nature of the new program, with so many different topics, applies to what I'm interested in. It takes biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and physics for the kind of research I'm involved with. The physics program alone didn't allow me to be that broad."

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
BUILDING 3-D CHIPS

As the minimum feature size on integrated circuit (IC) chips shrinks, and both the size and function of the chip increase, the conventional computer chip is steadily facing fabrication and performance limitations.

To combat the problems, microelectronic researchers at Rensselaer are working on a new approach: build chips up instead of out.

John McDonald and Ronald Gutmann '62, professors of electrical, computer, and systems engineering, and Jian-Qiang "James" Lu, research assistant professor, are working to create a three-dimensional chip. They are also experimenting with optical and microwave communications on chips to solve problems industry will face more than a decade into the future.

Stacking electronic circuits on top of one another on chips, will, according to Gutmann, lead to lower product cost and improved performance.

If wafers are placed side-by-side, comparatively long metal wires must be used to carry messages from transistors on one chip to those on another. If the chips are stacked vertically, however, shorter wires are needed. Lu likens the 3-D approach to building an IC skyscraper. Three-dimensional ICs offer the potential of reducing fabrication and performance limitations of future generations of planar ICs.

"In this technology, one makes two or more layers of the processor on different wafers, then laminates them in pairs, perhaps face-to-face," McDonald explains. "These laminated pairs can then be treated as single wafers with two layers of circuitry on them and further bonded as pairs again. This can result in up to four layers of intimately connected circuits that have extremely short wires for some of the critical paths."

Gutmann says one 3-D approach would be to place a vertical chip, an active backplane, along one side of the layers. This backplane could carry conventional, microwave, or optical signals, freeing up space on chips in the stack and leading to interconnect multiplexing and wireless communication capability.

Rensselaer recently received and installed a state-of-the-art wafer bonder and a precision wafer aligner from Electronics Vision Group (EVG) Inc. The aligner allows the researchers to achieve micron level alignment between both the top and bottom wafers and is key to ongoing 3-D chip research.

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