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Crossing the Lines PUBLIC ACCESS

Or Should We Just Mind Our Own Business?

[+] Author Notes

Ephraim Suhir is a Fellow of four professional societies, ASME, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Physical Society, and the Society of Plastics Engineers. He is president and CEO of Designed Nano-Materials Inc. in Los Altos, Calif.

Mechanical Engineering 126(09), 39 (Sep 01, 2004) (1 page) doi:10.1115/1.2004-SEP-2

Abstract

It is important that today’s outstanding engineer must have knowledge of many sciences and disciplines. Interdisciplinary skills help an engineer to cope with the changing social, economic, and political conditions that influence technology and its development. Nanotechnology and biotechnology remind us how important it is to be knowledgeable in many areas of applied science and engineering. A nanotechnology engineer should be well familiar with physics, materials science, surface chemistry, composites, quantum mechanics, materials, and mathematics. Biotechnology merges physics, engineering, and chemistry with biology, life sciences, and medicine. The multifaceted approach helps define and resolve problems in biomedical research and in clinical medicine for improved healthcare. The most surprising discoveries have been made at the boundaries of different disciplines. Alessandro Volta’s electric battery was a meeting of chemistry and physics.

Article

We live in an uncertain but exciting world. Key enabling technologies-among them photonics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology-will advance dramatically during the next decade. Tomorrow's technologies will make us more productive, make our lives easier, and will give us more free time and more fun.

It is a world that offers an engineer tremendous opportunities and, at the same time, presents extraordinary challenges. The nature of today's problems requires interdisciplinary approaches to solve them. An engineer can no longer be defined by a traditional label, such as mechanical, electrical, civil, or chemical. Today's outstanding engineer must have knowledge of many sciences and disciplines.

Interdisciplinary skills help an engineer to cope with the changing social, economic, and political conditions that influence technology and its development. Interaction, not only among traditional engineering specialties, but also with other disciplines, from liberal arts and ethics to medicine and business, is crucial in the practice and management of engineering today. Interdisciplinary studies, including humanities and economics, should be an essential part of an engineering education.

Engineers today spend plenty of time explaining complex technologies to customers and consumers, to lawyers and legislators, to policy makers and journalists. This means that engineers need the necessary skills for communication and collaboration, as they function in a wider arena than they have traditionally occupied. Success is increasingly based on knowledge, skills, and the ability and willingness to learn.

Nanotechnology and biotechnology remind us how important it is to be knowledgeable in many areas of applied science and engineering. The combination of nanotechnology and photonics has potential for highly efficient communication and information systems of the future. Many materials- and performance-related problems in current photonics engineering are likely to be solved by advances in nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology marries traditional materials science and engineering with quantum science. By using nano- technologies, one can develop unconventional, inhomogeneous composite smart materials with new and useful macroscopic properties. These materials are, in effect, smart nanostructures, whose properties, behavior, and performance can be tailored to a particular application. In other cases, the performance of a material can be improved dramatically, if properly designed nanoparticles (including nanotubes and fullerenes) are added to the material in the right way.

The use of nanomaterials and nanoscale effects enables one to develop numerous new photonic applications. Such applications could include tiny sensors, tunable light sources, small optical amplifiers, and super-powerful means of data accumulation.

Structuring semiconductors at the nanoscale led to the development of the vertical cavity surface emitting laser, or VCSEL, a highly efficient, low-power light source.

In addition, nanoscience has tremendous potential to advance measurement methods and techniques in photonics. It provides highly sensitive ways of detecting even single molecules, as well as determining their size.

A nanotechnology engineer should be well familiar with physics, materials science, surface chemistry, composites, quantum mechanics, materials, and mathematics.

Biotechnology merges physics, engineering, and chemistry with biology, life sciences, and medicine. The multifaceted approach helps define and resolve problems in biomedical research and in clinical medicine for improved healthcare. A biotechnology engineer must be familiar with anatomy, physiology, histology, and other medical disciplines. The bioengineer must understand mathematical and computational sciences, and possess a working knowledge of biology, behavioral science, and health, as well as basic engineering principles.

The most surprising discoveries have been made at the boundaries of different disciplines. Alessandro Volta's electric battery was a meeting of chemistry and physics. The engines of James Watt and Rudolf Diesel are at the boundaries of thermodynamics, combustion, and mechanical engineering. The Wright brothers flew when aerodynamics met structural mechanics and propulsion.

Today, the dividing lines between fields of engineering are blurring. In today's environment, innovation and technological breakthroughs are found at the convergence of disciplines.

An engineer can no longer be defined by a traditional label.

Copyright © 2004 by ASME
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