Monthly Archives: February 2007

Think Tank with a Twist

Pay attention to a new think tank. It is run by students.

The Roosevelt Institution started by students from Stanford with the help of other students from Columbia, Yale, and Middlebury College, researches policy issues and communicates results to officials at all levels of government and legislature. Part of the idea behind the institution is that the research and writing students undertake for their classes can be applied to the real world.

The Institution has chapters and activities on about 200 campuses across the US, Canada, and Europe. Its campus-based policy centers are formed by students who research, analyze, and develop solutions to policy issues in a variety of areas such as energy, human rights, public health, etc.

The organization’s advisors include people such as Richard Celeste – former governor of Ohio and former US Ambassador to India, the influential philosopher Richard Rorty, and the Editor-in-Chief of the magazine “The Nation” Katrina vanden Heuvel.

In 2007 the Institution is focusing on three challenges concerning issues in higher education, energy, and the plight of working families. Problems and solutions related to these areas will be presented by students in a series of symposia held at several US universities throughout the year. A symposium on energy policy will be held this Saturday (March 03, 2007) on the Stanford University campus.

The Roosevelt Institution provides students with good experience in directly applying their education to affecting national and state policy on social and political issues while still in college. The organization is only a little over two years old. It will be interesting to observe what impact it has on policy and, more importantly, how it influences students who work in it and how it shapes their careers.

National Academy Honors Engineers

The US National Academy of Engineering has awarded the following prizes for 2007. All of the information below and more details can be found on  NAE’s website.

Timothy J. Berners-Lee will receive the prestigious Charles Stark Draper Prize — a $500,000 annual award that honors engineers whose accomplishments have significantly benefited society — “for developing the World Wide Web.”

 

Berners-Lee demonstrated a high level of technical imagination in inventing this system to organize and display information on the Internet.  He devised a number of innovations:

  • The uniform resource identifier (URI), which is used to identify or name a particular resource on the Internet. 
  • HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which provides structure to text-based information on the Web.  With HTML, text is not restricted to a linear format; it can contain links to text, images, or objects in Web documents located elsewhere. 

  • One-way and universal hyperlinks that can point anywhere on the Web, a simple but profound difference from other proposals at that time. 

  • HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), which conveys or transfers information over the Internet.

 

Yuan-Cheng “Bert” Fung will receive the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize — a $500,000 biennial award recognizing engineering achievement that significantly improves the human condition — “for the characterization and modeling of human tissue mechanics and function leading to prevention and mitigation of trauma.”

Fung’s theories on the mechanical properties and functions of blood cells and capillary blood vessels have led our understanding of microcirculation, endothelial biology, and atherosclerosis.  His “sheet-flow” theory provided a quantitative description of pulmonary circulation, hypertension, edema, and respiratory distress syndrome.  Problems related to severe thorax impact injuries have been solved by Fung’s “stress wave propagation” theory.  Morphometric data worked out by Fung on coronary blood vessels, pulmonary vascular tree, and intestines have proved invaluable for theoretical analyses.  His quantitative methods for characterizing stress-strain behavior of human tissue — now known as quantitative biomechanics — have led to fundamental advances in understanding how tissues interact with dynamic environments.

 

Harold S. Goldberg, Jerome E. Levy, and Arthur W. Winston will share the Bernard M. Gordon Prize — a $500,000 award issued annually that recognizes innovation in engineering and technology education — “for the development of a multidisciplinary graduate program for engineering professionals who have the potential and the desire to be engineering leaders.”

 

Conceived and funded by Bernard M. Gordon, the Gordon Institute was established with the efforts of Harold S. Goldberg, Jerome E. Levy, and Arthur W. Winston.  Its first class graduated in 1987.  Goldberg shepherded the concept through the evaluation and acceptance phases and obtained a charter.  Goldberg and Levy led the development of the curriculum and recruited faculty; Goldberg was instrumental in the development of engineering project methodology courses.  Winston, current director of the Gordon Institute, worked with Goldberg and Levy to define the mission, curriculum, and policies of the school, and to prepare it for accreditation.  He was also responsible for developing and teaching advanced technological methodology for product development.

 

 

Abul Hussamreceives 2007 Grainger Challenge Prize Gold Award — a $1,000,000 competition prize for an innovative solution to removing arsenic from drinking water.

 

Abul Hussam, an associate professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at George Mason University, Fairfax, Va., receives the Grainger Challenge Gold Award of $1 million for his SONO filter, a household water treatment system. Hussam was born in Kushtia, Bangladesh. He graduated in Chemistry (B.S. Honors and M.S.) from the University of Dhaka and earned his Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. He has published and presented more than 90 scientific papers in international journals, proceedings, and books. Hussam has established an environmental research laboratory in Kushtia and is actively engaged in educating the public on the nature of present and future environmental crises.

 

The Gold Award-winning SONO filter is a point-of-use method for removing arsenic from drinking water. A top bucket is filled with locally available coarse river sand and a composite iron matrix (CIM). The sand filters coarse particles and imparts mechanical stability, while the CIM removes inorganic arsenic. The water then flows into a second bucket where it again filters through coarse river sand, then wood charcoal to remove organics, and finally through fine river sand and wet brick chips to remove fine particles and stabilize water flow. The SONO filter is now manufactured and used in Bangladesh.

 

A significant aspect of reviewing the finalists for the Grainger Challenge Prize was physical testing of the candidate systems.

Faust selected as president

A little over a week ago Drew Gilpin Faust was selected as President of Harvard University. Ms. Faust currently serves as the dean of Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and is a professor of history. Her term will begin on July 1 2007.

Ms. Faust succeeds Larry Summers whose five-year term was marked by a few controversies including tense relations with the faculty at some Harvard colleges. A considerable disturbance arose about a year ago when Mr. Summers made some remarks that seemed to disparage women’s ability to do well in the fields of science and mathematics. Though Mr. Summers expressed regret for the incident, it ultimately contributed to his stepping down from the Presidency.

Drew Faust is the first woman president of Harvard in its 371-year history. I thought it would be interesting to look at the composition of presidencies of Ivy League universities. Eight institutions comprise the Ivy League. The league arose when these institutions entered into an agreement to cooperate on issues related to athletics. The first Ivy Group Agreement was firmed in 1945 in connection with (American) football to address issues of academic standards and financial aid for athletes. Then in 1954 the agreement was extended to cover other sports including the coordination of schedules for matches. This is when the name Ivy League came into use for the association. Of course, now the name Ivy League is synonymous with high academic standards as well.

The eight Ivy League institutions and their presidents (including their areas of academic expertise) are listed below:

Institution President  Academic Background Order/Appointed Appointed
Brown University Ruth J. Simmons Romance Languages & Literatures 18th president

July 3, 2001
July 3, 2001
Columbia University Lee C. Bollinger Law 19th president

June 1, 2002
June 1, 2002
Cornell University David J. Skorton Medicine 12th president

July 1, 2006
July 1, 2006
Dartmouth College James Wright History 16th president

August 1, 1998
August 1, 1998
Harvard University Drew G. Faust History 28th president

July 1, 2007
July 1, 2007
University of Pennsylvania Amy Gutmann Political Science 8th president

July 1, 2004
July 1, 2004
Princeton University Shirley M. Tilghman Molecular Biology 19th president

June 15, 2001
June 15, 2001
Yale University Richard C. Levin Economics
1993
1993

No engineers and only a couple of physical scientists even though all of these institutions have strong engineering and science departments!

Climate Change II

The US House of Representatives Committee on Science and Technology held a hearing on global warming last Thursday following the release of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report a few days earlier. While there was recognition of the seriousness of the situation by many representatives, a few remained skeptical. Comments were made about the impact of dinosaurial and bovine flatulence on increase in methane levels. Despite the production of hot air it is not yet evident what actual actions will be produced as a consequence of the hearing.

Meanwhile let’s have a look at some other pieces of the IPCC summary report. I’ll show a couple of figures from the report, and a set of scenarios concerning emission of greenhouse gases. I’ll also present a (modified) table from the report that lists some of the consequences of warming.

Lest there be any doubt that the earth is being affected by climate change, Figure SPM-3 below shows actual changes that have occurred over the last 150 years in global mean temperature, global average sea level, and northern hemisphere snow cover.

Figure SPM-4 Observed changes in variables
FIGURE SPM-3. Observed changes in (a) global average surface temperature; (b) global average sea level rise from tide gauge (blue) and satellite (red) data and (c) Northern Hemisphere snow cover for March-April. All changes are relative to corresponding averages for the period 1961-1990. Smoothed curves represent decadal averaged values while circles show yearly values. The shaded areas are the uncertainty intervals estimated from a comprehensive analysis of known uncertainties (a and b) and from the time series (c).
Scientists have constructed several scenarios about how various changes in the economy and lifestyle will affect emissions of greenhouse gases. They then project how much warming will occur for each of these scenarios. The scenarios are given below and are followed by Figure SPM-7 which shows the associated warming trends.

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The Emission Scenarios of the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES)18

A1. The A1 storyline and scenario family describes a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies.
Major underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building and increased cultural and social interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family develops into three groups that describe alternative directions of technological change in the energy system. The three A1 groups are distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil intensive (A1FI), non-fossil energy sources (A1T), or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defined as not relying too heavily on one particular energy source, on the assumption that similar improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end use technologies).

A2. The A2 storyline and scenario family describes a very heterogeneous world. The underlying theme is self reliance and preservation of local identities. Fertility patterns across regions converge very slowly, which results in continuously increasing population. Economic development is primarily regionally oriented and per capita economic growth and technological change more fragmented and slower than other storylines.

B1. The B1 storyline and scenario family describes a convergent world with the same global population, that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, as in the A1 storyline, but with rapid change in economic structures toward a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource efficient technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability, including improved equity, but without additional climate initiatives.

B2. The B2 storyline and scenario family describes a world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability. It is a world with continuously increasing global population, at a rate lower than A2, intermediate levels of economic development, and less rapid and more diverse technological change than in the B1 and A1 storylines. While the scenario is also oriented towards environmental protection and social equity, it focuses on local and regional levels.

An illustrative scenario was chosen for each of the six scenario groups A1B, A1FI, A1T, A2, B1 and B2. All should be considered equally sound.

The SRES scenarios do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that explicitly assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

18 Emission scenarios are not assessed in this Working Group One report of the IPCC. This box summarizing the SRES scenarios is taken from the TAR and has been subject to prior line by line approval by the Panel.
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Figure SPM-7 Warming Scenarios

Figure SPM-7. Solid lines are multi-model global averages of surface warming (relative to 1980-99) for the scenarios A2, A1B and B1, shown as continuations of the 20th century simulations. Shading denotes the plus/minus one standard deviation range of individual model annual means. The number of AOGCMs (Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation multi-Model) run for a given time period and scenario is indicated by the coloured numbers at the bottom part of the panel. The orange line is for the experiment where concentrations were held constant at year 2000 values. The gray bars at right indicate the best estimate (solid line within each bar) and the likely range assessed for the six SRES marker scenarios. The assessment of the best estimate and likely ranges in the gray bars includes the AOGCMs in the left part of the figure, as well as results from a hierarchy of independent models and observational constraints

Finally, here is a table from the IPCC report that shows what are likely to be the effects of rising global temperature. (I have deleted a couple of columns and removed some footnote references for clarity of presentation).

Table SPM-1. (Modified) Recent trends, assessment of human influence on the trend, and projections for extreme weather events for which there is an observed late 20th century trend.

Phenomena and direction of trend  Likelihood of future trends based on projections for 21st century using SRES scenarios 
Warmer and fewer cold days and nights over most land areas Virtually certain
Warmer and more frequent hot days and nights over most land areas  Virtually certain
Warm spells / heat waves. Frequency increases over most land areas  Very likely 
Heavy precipitation events. Frequency (or proportion of total rainfall from heavy falls) increases over most areas  Very likely 
Area affected by droughts increases  Likely 
Intense tropical cyclone activity increases  Likely 
Increased incidence of extreme high sea level (excludes tsunamis) Likely 

There are people who don’t believe that human activity is a main cause of present global warming. They do not wish to take actions such as requiring reductions in greenhouse gas emissions because they are concerned that the economy will suffer.

Now here is something for skeptics and believers alike to think about. From the data shown above it is quite evident that global temperature is increasing. Let’s consider a few cases concerning that trend.

1) Assume certain human activities are a major cause of rising global temperature. By reducing or eliminating those activities the rise in global temperature will be slowed.

2) If human activities that drive an increase in global temperature are not reduced or if they are increased, it (global temperature) will continue to rise, perhaps at an accelerated pace.

Both of the above cases imply that there is at least the potential for humans to affect the rate of rise of global temperature. But consider the following case:

3) Human activity does not cause a rise in global temperature. This is the scariest case since it means that humans are basically helpless in the face of observed rising temperatures.

Make no mistake, average global temperature is going to continue to rise for a while. The IPCC Summary Report makes the following statements:

“For the next two decades a warming of about 0.2°C per decade is projected for a range of […] emission scenarios. Even if the concentrations of all greenhouse gases and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.1°C per decade would be expected.”

“Continued greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would cause further warming and induce many changes in the global climate system during the 21st century that would very likely be larger than those observed during the 20th century.”

“Anthropogenic warming and sea level rise would continue for centuries due to the timescales associated with climate processes and feedbacks, even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized.”

Clearly the earth is warming up and changes are occurring in the weather, sea-levels, etc. Regardless of the actual causes of these climatic changes, the results are beginning to have (and will have increasing) social and economic impact. Some actions must be taken to mitigate the adverse nature of these impacts otherwise there will be much disruption and misery in society. So who is leading the charge on this front and what is to be done?

Mon, Feb. 12, Talk on Higher Education Reforms in Pakistan

The Pakistani American Leadership Center

Cordially Invites You To Attend a Discussion on

Higher Education Reforms in Pakistan”

DATE, TIME & VENUE

Monday, February 12, 2007

12:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Conference Room

Robert M. Wagner and Bernice Alumni House,

Georgetown University

3604 O Street, NW Washington D.C. 20057

Keynote Address

By

Dr. Atta-ur-Rehman

Chairman, Higher Education Commission of Pakistan

Q & A Session will follow the speech

LUNCH WILL BE SERVED

Ali Chaudhry Executive Director, PAL-COffice: 202-675-2004Facsimile: 202-675-2006

E-mail: ali@pal-c.org

events@pal-c.org

Climate Change I

 The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a report that to a “very high level of confidence” (at least a 90% chance) global warming since 1750 is a consequence of human activities. IPCC is an international body of scientists and was established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1988.

According to the IPCC report “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level”.

I thought you may find it interesting to look at the following figure from the IPCC report.
 

cg62.png

[Caption from IPCC report]  “FIGURE SPM-4. Comparison of observed continental- and global-scale changes in surface temperature with results simulated by climate models using natural and anthropogenic forcings. Decadal averages of observations are shown for the period 1906–2005 (black line) plotted against the centre of the decade and relative to the corresponding average for 1901–1950. Lines are dashed where spatial coverage is less than 50%. Blue shaded bands show the 5–95% range for 19 simulations from 5 climate models using only the natural forcings due to solar activity and volcanoes. Red shaded bands show the 5–95% range for 58 simulations from 14 climate models using both natural and anthropogenic forcings.”

I’ll write more about the IPCC report at a later time. At the moment I am tired and cold. Despite the rise in average temperatures, right now it is very cold here in Minnesota. Temperatures are in the single digits (Fahrenheit) above and below 0 (F). Actually, up to this point we have had a warmer than usual winter – but that didn’t last. Oh, well!

There are also several other topics that I would like to cover but I just haven’t had enough time to work on those. Stay tuned, though. Andif you are somewhere warm, send a little of it my way.

Microfinance – Promise or Peril?

Has any one being following the debate on whether microlending is effective in improving economic conditions in countries?

 

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (the bank he founded) together won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to create economic and social development from below” by advancing microloans to economically underprivileged Bangladeshis. While this has been a major positive social development, is this an approach that can contribute to improving the economy of Bangladesh as a whole?

 

In a piece published in the Wall Street Journal (Phelps’s Prize*, January 29, 2007, Page A16) Amar Bhide and Carl Schramm suggest that microfinancing is more useful for the underprivileged in already developed economies whereas structural reforms are needed to substantially improve living standards in underdeveloped economies. An example of this line of thinking would be that the economically disadvantaged in inner cities in the US may be able to leverage microenterprise into substantially improving their condition. This progress will enable them to improve their neighborhoods because those are embedded in a system which can provide the resources needed for development at relatively low cost.

In contrast, structural problems in underdeveloped economies e.g. corruption, ineffective financial systems, illiteracy, inadequate transportation, etc., make it difficult for entrepreneurs to advance beyond a certain level because further substantial improvement requires resources that they simply cannot afford to obtain. For instance a vegetable grower cannot overcome the problem of country-wide poor transportation that damages his produce on the way to larger markets. Or a dressmaker cannot afford the cost of inefficient export regulations and corruption to ship her clothes to a foreign boutique. Thus while microfinancing is useful in bringing some relief to poor citizens it is not the means to develop the economy of a country, which is what is essential to substantially improving living conditions for all citizens.

* Edmund S. Phelps won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Economics “for his analysis of intertemporal tradeoffs in macroeconomic policy”. Strictly speaking he won the 2006 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.