A defining characteristic of SEAS is the interconnectedness of teaching and research areas. The very structure of the school—it is organized around broad and overlapping areas, but has no traditional departments—underscores the interdisciplinary philosophy at SEAS.
“Those who work and study at SEAS experience on a daily basis the web of connections across areas, programs, and faculty,” said SEAS Dean Cherry A. Murray, John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences and professor of physics. “The new visualization tool graphically illustrates those connections, and by extension helps users imagine their own place within SEAS.”
For example, graduate students or prospective industry collaborators can use the online tool to quickly identify SEAS faculty members who conduct research in a particular field. Individuals interested in one of the School’s degree programs can see how it corresponds to research areas and the faculty who teach in that program.
BUILT FOR SPEED, the Summer 2014 issue of our newsletter, Topics, delves into supercomputing!
Harvard researchers are pushing the limits of computing power to achieve new breakthroughs in science and engineering. Sustainable energy? Self-knowledge? What will high-performance computing mean for you?
We as engineers realize that we have the ability to solve pressing world problems in energy, sustainability, transportation, education, healthcare, food, and the environment. While other disciplines in basic science aim to understand reality, engineers ultimately seek to build a new reality, a better place for everyone.
Scientists have long known that bacteria can double their population in as little as 20 minutes, but a series of pioneering studies in the late 1960s revealed that it takes about an hour from the time DNA replication starts until cell division occurs.
The remaining mystery has been in how those two processes are coordinated.
“The answer is quite remarkable,” Amir said. “… What bacteria do is actually start the DNA replication process for subsequent generations. A single bacterial cell may actually be replicating DNA for its grandchildren, or even its great-grandchildren.”
During a recent visit to James W. Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain for a science fair, Carlos Brambila recalled the lasting impact a similar fair had on him. When he was in grade school in California, a scientist from a local university came to his school to show the students how smoking affects the body.
“It was an eye-opener,” Brambila said. “After that experience, I was always asking why things happen and how they work. I realized how science could really be applied in the real world.”
Now a senior bioengineering major at San Diego State University (SDSU), Brambila is conducting research in the lab of David Weitz, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University, over the summer. He jumped at the chance to participate in science demonstrations at the Hennigan.
“I remember how strongly that can impact someone’s life, because it did for me. That’s when I started to question why things are they way they are, and why things happen. If it weren’t for those early experiences, I don’t know if I would think the way I do now.”
Prof. Roger Brockett, a 45-year member of the Harvard SEAS faculty, has been honored “for inspirational mentorship of generations of graduate students who have participated in defining the field of control engineering.”
Chemists are targeting military pyrotechnics, such as the deployed decoy flares shown here, for more eco-friendly formulations.
Typical pyrotechnics function by burning, so their basic chemical components consist of an oxidant and a fuel. Black powder, the original pyrotechnic, blends potassium nitrate oxidizer with charcoal and sulfur fuel. Set this witch’s brew alight, and in a flash the nitrate oxidizes the charcoal and sulfur, producing glowing solids and a vast volume of hot gases. Other components, such as colorants, binders, and propellants, can be added to the mix, depending on the task the pyrotechnic has to perform.
Over the years, perchlorate has become the oxidizer of choice for most pyrotechnic applications, supplanting less stable chlorate oxidants that were the cause of numerous deadly explosions. “Potassium perchlorate is the ideal oxygen donor to use in pyrotechnics in terms of safety, cost, and reproducibility,” says John A. Conkling, a pyrotechnics expert and adjunct professor of chemistry at Washington College, in Chestertown, Md.
Unfortunately, perchlorate has also been identified as a potential human health hazard. Studies suggest that it inhibits the thyroid’s ability to take up iodine from the bloodstream and can reduce the production of thyroid hormone. And because the anion is highly water soluble, it readily slips into groundwater. “The major effort in most areas of environmentally friendly pyrotechnics research is to find perchlorate replacement materials,” Conkling says.
Pyrotechnics for the Planet: Chemists seek environmentally friendlier compounds and formulations for fireworks and flares
To me, it was a victorious moment that finally justified a long-term effort, going through multiple trials and errors. Until then, I wasn’t even sure if the experiment would really be possible, so it was like a ‘through darkness comes light’ moment.