Electrical engineering professor John McNeill ’83 is charging up his students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “He’s unbelievable in terms of not only bringing the practical, but also making it so that you can understand the material,” senior Charles Gammal told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette this spring. Under McNeill’s guidance, Gammal and fellow students are designing a low-power integrated circuit for handheld biomedical applications such as portable ultrasounds. The project placed in the top five out of 47 teams in a design contest sponsored by the Semiconductor Research Corp. and will be presented at an industry conference in Austin, Tex., this fall. Another of his student teams recently demonstrated a design modification to standard wall adapters — dubbed “wall warts” — which have losses in the transformer magnetics, regardless of whether they are powering anything. “Put ten or 20 of these in a house and this can add up to a significant fraction of total power usage,” says McNeill. His students developed a modification that detects when there is no device attached to the wart and disconnects the adapter from AC power to avoid transformer losses. “In addition to the technical problem,” he says, “the students also researched the social and economic implications to determine how much of a problem there is from power losses in the existing design (significant!), what additional cost would be feasible in the market, brainstormed several approaches, then chose one and designed a solution that worked-and beat the target cost.”
>> Scott Sabol ’88 Th’88, a Vermont Technical College professor and chair of the architectural and building technology department, received the school’s Henry G. Wirtz Master Teacher Award in May. The honor recognizes him as a role model for other faculty and as an exceptional teacher.
>> Three Thayer alums are finding greener transportation solutions throughout the Upper Valley — and beyond. “Our work is focused on transportation solutions that reduce the amount of driving, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions by shifting travel to walking, biking, transit, and shorter car trips,” says Norm Marshall Th’82, a principal along with Lucy Gibson Th’88 and engineer Sandy Beauregard Th’07 of Smart Mobility in Norwich, Vt. The company recently developed a new transportation plan for Burlington, Vt., and is now helping Chicago consider multimodal transportation networks and strategies, helping Austin and Baltimore develop more efficient land use and transportation, and aiding citizens groups and townships in several states as they face highway expansion proposals. “Our practice focuses on activities that promote sustainable transportation alternatives — we do not work on building new highways or construction of new big box stores,” says Gibson.
>> “America’s biggest drinking problem isn’t alcohol, it’s lawn watering,” according to Amy Vickers Th’86. Vickers is an Amherst, Mass.-based water conservation consultant, author of the water efficiency requirements for plumbing fixtures adopted under the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 1992, and author of the Handbook of Water Use and Conservation: Homes, Landscapes, Businesses, Industries, Farms. She made her case for water conservation in a Boston Globe opinion piece last summer. “The extent to which our culture’s irrigation-fueled lawn watering binge is acting like a wrecking ball in our rivers, streams, and lakes is a specific challenge to the security of our water supplies, even here in ‘water rich’ New England,” she writes. She advocates two immediate actions: limiting the number of watering days allowed per week and enforcing watering rules no matter the water source — public supplies or private wells. “If Massachusetts and other New England states act soon, we need not be fated to the long-term water shortages and chronic droughts now predicted for much of the nation.” Read the full article.
>> The Din & Tonic racer barreled down Freemont Avenue in Seattle, Wash., last fall with driver Jonathan “Kling-a-Ling-a-Ding-Dong” Kling ’04 Th’04 at the wheel. While the soapbox racer never crossed the finish line — it crashed into hay bales lining the half-mile race course after losing all four of its wheelchair tires — its bells and whistles were one of the highlights of the 2007 Red Bull Soapbox Race. Kling, who rallied coworkers to assemble the soapbox car, was one of 36 contestants in the human-powered race. “As employees of Synapse Product Design in Seattle, these teammates are used to creating buzz in the world of medical devices and consumer products with their design solutions, and now they’re ready to just create some buzz…literally…with noisemakers,” according to the race website. Inspired by kinetic pieces displayed in the Tinguely Museum in Basel, Switzerland, which he saw last summer on a biking trip across Europe with Bing Knight ’05 Th’06, Jeff Hebert ’04 Th’06, and Joe Horrell ’04 Th’06, Kling designed a gravity-powered racer that drove a bass drum, a stuffed gorilla banging cymbals, and two air-raid sirens that peaked at 120 decibels as the car reached top speed, all while the co-pilot was banging out a tune on blocks, cowbells, and Kling’s helmet! While his building philosophy may be a bit offbeat, Kling knows what it takes to construct a quality car — his racing résumé includes assembling a few Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) race cars while at Dartmouth. Although Kling and his team lament the use of non-pneumatic tires, they still placed 14th, ahead of many cars that did finish the course, because of high marks in showmanship and creativity. RedBull moves the city of the SoapBox race every year, but there’s rumor of a RedBull Flugtag (a race of human-powered flying craft) in Portland, which Kling and Synapse have already been invited to enter.comments powered by Disqus