May 2-8, 2011

Newsletter

May 02, 2011

Faculty News

Books & Papers:

Prof. Rene van Dorp (EMSE) published the following paper in Structure and Infrastructure Engineering journal: van Dorp, Johan René (2011). Indirect parameter elicitation procedures for some distributions with bounded support - with applications in Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT), Structure and Infrastructure Engineering: Maintenance, Management, Life-Cycle Design and Performance. Published online.

Research & Patents:

Prof. Lijie Grace Zhang (MAE) received the 2011 Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award by the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) organization. This competitive award provides $5,000 from ORAU and $5,000 in matching funding from the faculty member's university.  Prof. Zhang also received $26,200 from GW's University Facilitating Fund (UFF) to support her research during 2011-2012.

Conferences & Presentations:

Prof. Lijie Grace Zhang (MAE) gave an invited talk at the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research-Advances in Mineral Metabolism (ASBMR-AIMM) conference, which was held April 4-9 in Snowmass, CO.   She also gave a research talk at the Society for Biomaterials (SFB) 2011 annual meeting, held April 13-16 in Orlando, FL.

Other:

Prof. Lijie Grace Zhang (MAE) was invited to serve on the editorial board of Infections Journal, which is a new journal published by Ashdin Publishing. This international journal will publish research articles and selected review articles in the field of infections, including research that serves to understand and control bacteria functions leading to infection during medical implantations.

Student News

Nathan Castro (incoming doctoral candidate - MAE) has received a five-year SEAS diversity fellowship to support his doctoral studies under the supervision of Prof. Lijie Grace Zhang.  The aim of this fellowship is to allow a new faculty member of diversity to recruit a doctoral student to assist with his or her research, or to recruit a student of diversity within SEAS.

Joanna Resurreccion (doctoral candidate - EMSE) and Prof. Joost Santos (EMSE) presented a peer-reviewed paper at the IEEE Systems and Information Engineering Design Symposium on April 29th. The paper is entitled "Developing an Inventory-Based Prioritization Methodology for Assessing Inoperability and Economic Loss in Interdependent Systems."

Shutao Wang (doctoral candidate - ECE), was awarded the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Cooperative Education Student of the Year Award at the 26th Annual Excellence in Student Life Awards ceremony. The SJT Cooperative Education Student of the Year Award recognizes co-op student employees who have made outstanding contributions to their employers. Shutao worked as an intern in Philips Research North America during the summer of 2010. His project involved a feasibility study for focused ultrasound mediated gene activation in glycogen storage disease type Ia patients.

Guest Vignette

Knowledge, Truth, and Humility

All tasks in science and engineering begin and end with knowledge. Even the devices and effects created by pragmatic development tasks often give rise indirectly to intellectual insights that add to the archive of human knowledge: from glimpses into the fundamental processes of the universe (e.g., atomic structure and genetic codes), to the creation of new kinds of social interaction (e.g., SMS and the Internet), even perhaps to the facilitation of political and economic revolutions that demand the recognition of human rights currently being denied. It was John, a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, who said: "The truth shall make you free;" and 1500 years later it was Francis Bacon who said: "Knowledge is power."

Knowledge and truth, however, are often very different things at perilous odds with each other. And while we may see knowledge in sharp focus, truth is unavoidably clouded by uncertainty whose maximum value is unbounded and unknown. Hoping against hope, we cling fervently to what we know, confusing it with truth and trusting time-honored tradition to carry the day and maintain our sense of security. The consequences of this intellectual denial can be devastating. All too often proclaiming a truth has imprisoned the soothsayer, and defending knowledge has crippled the powerful, as Galileo Galilei and King Oedipus came to know full well.

Scientists and engineers enjoy no immunity to this denial. Some hedge their bets by always regarding new hypotheses with skepticism: better safe than sorry. Others try to protect their interests by claiming that pragmatism must temper the acceptance of new ideas: better first than second. Both are convenient biases, one motivated by fear of error, the other by fear of failure. Both think that truth is on their side. Both discourage thinking out of the box. But, of course, there is no real danger in thinking, only in thinking you are in possession of the truth.

The proper balance, it would seem, lies in intellectual neutrality, understanding that expectations, whether skeptical or pragmatic, cautious or hopeful, simply threaten objectivity and promote self-deception. Only formal reasoning or significant empirical evidence can tip the scales of neutrality and fill the vacuum of ignorance. The discipline necessary to honor these restrictions is challenging, but attainable. Exercise your mind to its limits. Maintain eternal vigilance. Press for evidence. Leach out every drop of information. Digest every morsel of knowledge. Separate each seed from the overwhelming chaff. Knead the product to keep it soft and pliable, while always remaining purely neutral until finally the fog of uncertainty lifts!

But to be frank, this is seldom the way the fairy tale ends. Much more often, the clock runs down without a significant break-through, and only your formal pact of neutrality remains. For this reason, over and over again, humility and intellectual honesty in science and engineering requires explicitly admitting: "I don't know." Or more completely: "Despite my best efforts to solve the mystery, I still must reserve judgment."

How depressing that must sound to a young and inexperienced scientist or engineer: to be forewarned that most of the time your flashes of inspiration will finally sputter out, and you will be forced to conclude that you simply cannot get there from here.
But that's not how the fairy tale needs to end. Despite the infrequent achievement of ‘killer apps' or prestigious prizes or coveted recognition, many scientists and engineers are nonetheless deeply engaged and thoroughly satisfied with their work all the time. The reason is simple: sooner or later you realize it's not the end that counts; it's the journey. As you patiently and carefully pick your way through an intellectual maze, applying rigorous controls, objective humility, and devastatingly hard work, suddenly out of nowhere comes the unexpected sweet smell of freshly turned earth, an unpredicted association between otherwise unrelated cultures, the clear detection of a new and mysterious track in the bubble chamber, or the unsolicited request by an AI entity to understand exactly who you are ...all smothered in paraprosdokian uncertainty ..., and you raise your head and howl into the night, and live happily ever after.

Peter Bock
May 2011

(Prof. Peter Bock of the Department of Computer Science will retire at the end of the academic year.)

Upcoming Events

ECE Seminar: "Single Virus Detection with a Silica Microtoroid"
Prof. Tao Lu, University of Victoria, Canada
Monday, May 2
3:00 - 4:00 pm
640 Phillips Hall

Panel Discussion: Situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant
Moderated by Prof. Philippe Bardet, MAE
Tuesday, May 3
5:00 - 7:00 pm
Jack Morton Auditorium, Media & Public Affairs Building
GW is hosting a panel discussion on the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the resulting situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The panel discussion is composed of internationally recognized and respected experts, who will present technical aspects of the situation at the Fukushima 1 nuclear power plant. The panelists will each give a 15-20 minute presentation; the panel discussion will conclude with 20-30 minutes of Q&A with the audience.

Pelton Senior Design Competition & SEAS Senior-Alumni BBQ
Wednesday, May 11
5:00 - 8:00 pm
Grand Ballroom, Marvin Center