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Washington Beat

Article-Washington Beat

Washington Beat

Report cites major shifts affecting engineers' jobs

New engineers must prepare to be flexible in their work and expect to change positions and even careers more than any previous generation. So concludes a study by a committee of the National Academies of Science and Engineering. The report catalogs a profusion of changes that are influencing engineering careers. It points to the rise of new technologies and industries and to stiffer international competition. Other factors: concern over environmental decline and new challenges to national security. The end of the Cold War and tougher spending constraints in government and industry further disrupt demands for engineers. The job market, the study continues, has become "more interdisciplinary, collaborative, and global." It requires people who are "adaptable and flexible as well as technically proficient." The panel recommends that colleges discourage students from over-specialization. Instead, they should provide undergraduates with options that allow them to gain a wider variety of skills. The study says graduate education, meanwhile, should focus more on the needs of those whose careers will not be mainly in research.

Passive heat exchanger undergoes zero-gravity tests in orbit

A passive thermal device is being tested aboard the FAISAT-1 commercial satellite. Swales, Inc. of Lanham, MD, developed the heat exchanger, which features a capillary pumped loop (CPL). The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization sponsored original research on the CPL for space-based applications. The system uses condensation and evaporation to draw heat away from the satellite's electronic parts. Swales' cryogenic CPL ends the need for heavier mechanical devices that are power-hungry and failure-prone. The purpose of the FAISAT-1 excursion is to prove that zero-gravity operations of a thermal bus suit small satellites. The company hopes designers also find the device useful for cooling electronics and for controlling temperatures in protective wear.

New private center could replace Office of Technology Assessment

A new organization aims to help people on Capitol Hill understand current issues in technology and science. The American Association for the Advancement of Science formed the group, called the Center for Science, Technology, and Congress. The Center plans to hold off-the-record briefings for congressional staff, produce updates on issues, and publish a monthly bulletin. Some functions of the Center overlap those of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), an arm of Congress. The fate of OTA has been in limbo since Republicans captured leadership on the Hill. Robert Walker (R, PA), chairman of the House Science Committee, told Design News that OTA takes 18 to 24 months to complete its studies. That, he said, is too long for use by legislators. Several Representatives have suggested that the science association could do OTA's job better at less cost.

Federal aviation agency opts for off-the-shelf systems

In a fight for its life, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is looking to the outside for help in modernizing its operations. George L. Donohue, FAA's associate administrator for research and acquisitions, described the new policy at a congressional hearing. Said Donohue: "We are getting away outdated view that if the FAA doesn't design it and develop it from scratch down to the last detail, it won't serve our purposes." Instead, he added, FAA is moving toward "commercial off-the-shelf, non-developmental items" that the agency can adapt to fit its needs. The FAA is among federal agencies being considered for privatization. Its critics say the agency has made little progress in streamlining the nation's air traffic control system, though it has spent billions of dollars for that purpose over the past 14 years. Donohue, who joined FAA last year, agreed that management of FAA's Research, Engineering, and Development programs has been "out of step" with rapidly changing technology. FAA now is reviewing outside technologies for many of its projects. Among them: windshear detection and avoidance, systems to stop aircraft that overshoot runways, and ways to foil terrorists.

Books help you wend your way through the Internet maze

Having trouble getting to those lodes of engineering information on the Internet? Two new books introduced in Washington, DC, could help. One is the fifth edition of "The Internet Passport," a guide to on-line journals, newsletters, books, libraries and databases. NorthWestNet, an Internet link, compiled the 667-page manual. The other is "Hands-On Mosaic: A Tutorial for Windows(R) Users." Written by David Sachs and Henry Stair, the book describes how to use Mosaic(R), a multimedia-rich interface to Internet. Included is a disk with copies of Internet aids FTP, Telnet, Mail, and Ping. Both books are publications of Prentice Hall PTR of Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

TAGS: Aerospace
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