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Engineering

Thumb: King tide at the Embarcadero, San Francisco. Photo Mike Filippoff
Fall 2017

Waves of the future

When the tides are high in parts of San Francisco, Charleston, and Miami, city streets experience an odd new kind of flooding that happens even on bright, sunny days.

In San Francisco’s Embarcadero district, king tides caused flooding between Mission and Howard Street last winter. Seattle’s Georgetown and South Park neighborhoods have experienced sewer back-ups into streets and basements after large storms.

These are quite literally waves of the future, confronted by Hope Hui Rising and her students at Washington State University. They are working on the front lines of sea level rise, developing urban design strategies to help communities adapt.

As the oceans … » More …

Blue Nile
Fall 2017

Fluid dynamic

Growing up in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, Yonas Demissie never suffered from lack of access to clean water, but he knew from a young age that it was a serious problem in most parts of his home country.

He remembers reading news and watching documentaries about the droughts and related famine that still impact Ethiopia.

“Why can’t a three-year-old eat his breakfast?” the young Demissie would ask his parents and teachers. “A society should not have an excuse for a child to go hungry.”

According to Water.org, which works to improve access to safe water and sanitation, just 43 percent have access … » More …

rollable electronics
Summer 2017

Organic electronics on a roll

In the near future, your local hardware store could include a “green electronics” counter where friendly clerks unspool sheets of plastic film and print devices while you wait.

Need a few more solar panels? No problem.

How about a flexible LED lighting strip? This roll over here.

Computer? Loudspeaker? Or maybe transparent, energy-producing panels for your greenhouse? On sale today!

Though the scene is hypothetical, the emerging technology for organic, thin-film polymer plastics is up and running in laboratories around the world, including those of the Collins Research Group at Washington State University.

Led by assistant professor of physics Brian Collins, the enthusiastic … » More …

SafeShot device
Summer 2017

Healthy innovators

A safe and sterile needle seems to be a basic idea when preventing infections. But how that needle is sterilized, especially in places where reuse is a common practice, spurred a good idea for a pair of Washington State University student entrepreneurs.

Emily Willard and Katherine Brandenstein came up with the idea of SafeShot, a lid that sterilizes a needle each time it enters the vial of medicine, as part of an entrepreneurship class. The two students started a company, won a health business contest last spring, and headed to Tanzania early this year to research how their product could be used in a real … » More …

Dinner with girl geeks - Kristin McKinney
Spring 2017

Dinner with girl geeks

Working for a Portland, Oregon, staffing firm in the late 1990s, Kristin McKinney ’95 helped recruit employees to the city’s burgeoning tech industry. The job unleashed her own geek.

“I found I had a bit of an inner nerd,” says McKinney, who got her degree in business. “I never really knew that.”

Her newfound enthusiasm was tempered by a sobering reality: Women then, like now, accounted for less than 30 percent of the computing and information technology workforce, according to the National Science Foundation.

McKinney, now a recruiter in Nashville, Tennessee, is working to reverse the trend. In 2013, she joined computer application engineer Rachel … » More …

Spring 2017

Paths that grew crystal clear

Crystals reflect the best of nature’s handiwork. With their atoms aligned in repeating 3D patterns, crystals can be as momentary as a snowflake or as common as the sodium chloride in table salt. They can sparkle on a finger, scatter rainbows across the room, or be grown on your kitchen table with a few ingredients from the hobby shop.

Some also possess unusual properties, such as quartz crystal’s ability to generate a tiny electrical current when pressure is applied. Known as the piezoelectric effect, this useful phenomenon helped inspire the rise of a global, multibillion dollar crystal growth industry.

Today, manmade crystals power an astonishing … » More …

Winter 2016

Standing up for lignins

There’s a lot of carbon in a tree. And it’s carbon already circulating through the biosphere, so moving it from tree to degradable product, and then back into the soil as it decomposes results in a zero sum carbon game. Compare that with petroleum, where “nodding donkeys” are constantly bringing anciently sequestered carbon back into circulation, and trees win, hands down.

Except for one hitch. A lot of that carbon is bound up in lignins. Chemists speak sternly of lignin, as if talking about a willful child. Lignin, they say, is a recalcitrant molecule. It’s really tough—and takes a lot of external activation energy—to liberate … » More …