“When I was a child my family depended on me to fix things like toys, radios, telephones, irons and faucets. I must admit, though, sometimes I destroyed things totally.”
has since polished her fixing skills. Her research into heat transfer, since joining the Rice University faculty in 1977, has found applications in photothermal cancer therapy and the liquid oxygen tanks on the space shuttle.
“My interest in my grandmother’s sewing machine caused me to design and sew clothing for my dolls and later for myself, without a pattern. I see a resemblance between my childhood sewing and applied engineering,” said Bayazitoglu, the Harry S. Cameron Chair in Mechanical Engineering, and professor of materials science and nanoengineering (MSNE).
That’s the sort of story that drives National Engineers Week, the annual salute to the profession sponsored since 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The theme of the Feb. 17-23 observance is “Engineers: Invent Amazing.” We asked some of the 132 tenured and tenure-track faculty in the George R. Brown School of Engineering why they chose engineering as a career, and whether they still experience amazement on the job.
“I had the opportunity to grow up around the latest computers and built my first PC from parts in high school. The budding engineer in me enjoyed building, assembling, and eventually programming games with Logo on this computer that I built. I was hooked on engineering,” said Lisa Biswal
, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and of MSNE.
“In college,” Biswal said, “I chose to be a chemical engineer because you could go into pretty much anything: materials, environment, biology, chemicals, programming. I continue to be amazed by how I’m able to use my engineering background to solve problems.”
is assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering (ECE), and of bioengineering, and a participant in the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative. His thoughts about engineering mingle the practical with the aesthetic.
“I have always enjoyed building things,” Kemere said, “beginning with Legos and Lincoln Logs. If I had a dream about a career, it was to design and make things that were complex. I still think of ‘engineering’ as vague and devoid of meaning as it was when I was a child.
“As an undergrad, I chose electrical engineering because mechanical engineering involved making things out of wood and aluminum foil that lacked the precision I wanted. Computers contrasted with this because I could actually build software systems that were just as I imagined them. The things that excite me in my current research still involve designing and building systems which are precise and match my vision.”
, associate professor civil and environmental engineering, works in structural engineering and sustainable infrastructure, interests she traces directly to her childhood:
“As a kid I would join my parents at their office or on job sites. They had a construction company. I loved seeing the transition of a project from idea to reality. I grew up on the east coast of Florida where there was a constant threat of hurricanes. As I chose my discipline and my research focus, I drew on that early interest in large-scale engineering projects and helping protect communities from natural hazards.”
Padgett, who joined the Rice faculty in 2007, remembers an extra-curricular school activity called “Future Problem Solving.” “Simply put,” she said, “it would challenge kids to envision the future within a particular context, pinpoint a problem and dream up solutions. I find it amazing that as researchers in engineering we do that every day.”
, assistant professor of MSNE, directs the Additive Lab at Rice. “I chose to become a materials engineer, and a metallurgical engineer in particular,” he said, “because I enjoy getting dirt under my fingernails working with metals. I got hooked on metallurgy the first time I saw a furnace glowing red-hot. I had a visceral feeling of ‘this is awesome’ that I still experience when I work with materials.”
, assistant professor of ECE, focuses on developing systems to help people reduce stress and improve mental health:
“My experience tells me more research is required to develop algorithms that measure emotional states. I want to quantify and improve mental wellbeing. Every day I’m excited about making something to measure, understand and support human health and wellbeing. Someday, these will be translated into real products or services.”
Like Bayazitoglu, Rouzbeh Shahsavari
, a civil engineer and materials scientist, started out destroying things and then trying to fix them: “From childhood, I use to break a lot of what was available within reach of my hands, and then try to put it back again, which often didn’t work. Engineering was a natural choice to allow me mix this curiosity with disciplined science.”
Much of his research has focused on improving the energy efficiency and sustainable qualities of concrete, the most widely used manufacturing material on Earth.
“I like the idea of turning trash into treasure. I focus on leveraging simple, scalable materials while reducing the manufacturing footprint – energy and carbon. One example is turning industrial byproducts such as CO2 into value-added products like concrete, instead of using expensive virgin materials,” Shahsavari said.