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Harvard SEAS, Newsletter, Spring 2004

Harvard SEAS, Newsletter, Spring 2004

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Biannual newsletter of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. At the time of printing the school was the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Biannual newsletter of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. At the time of printing the school was the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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Published by: Harvard School of Enginering and A on Jan 11, 2010
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Volume IIIIssue 1Spring 2004
What’s inside
D ean’   sM e s sa g e
n this issue of the newsletter you willsee how members of the Divisionof Engineering and Applied Sciencesreach out to solve tough problems,collaborate with industry, enlightenstudents, and serve our society and theworld. I am proud not only of this work,but how we do it – without walls, with-out departments, and without limits.
The work we do …
Fundamental research
Innovative research is one of the cor-nerstones of the Division. As you readabout Zhigang Suo’s molecular car, youmight imagine how his insights couldradically change manufacturing.
Industrial collaboration 
We connect with companies and theywith us to share knowledge and know-how. An award from IBM with supportfrom Intel will allow the Division todevelop the Crimson Grid, a computernetwork designed to solve a varietyof complex problems right from a re-searcher’s (and perhaps one day, your)desktop.
Education and mentoring 
Teaching makes a profound connec-tion, as students take what they’velearned and apply it to everything theydo. The GK-
program, TECH-sup-ported courses in bioinnovation, and
Mahadevan nds the profound inthe mundane, Parkes negotiatesand navigates, Suo takes a drive,and Wofsy works in the wild.
Mitchell protects our past,Morrisett lands at EECS, Groszand Vadhan create a cluster,and Division members in the news.
An innovator returns home,researchers give the common tapa new angle, scientists pokeholes in the ozone debate, anda grid is born.
A Bioinnovation course offersan amusing assignment, aselection of recent awards,and ES 51 students go off-road.
Khaneja looks for the rightpath and Ehrenreich shares fourdecades of wit and wisdom.
The GK-12 program lights upteachers, Unilever providesfood for thought, a list of recentindustry collaborations, andfaculty-student patents.
Iansiti explains the physics of business, grads share memories,and a calendar of upcomingevents hosted by the Division.
Snapshots of collaborativescience in action, and how tokeep in touch.
Reaching out
faculty members like Henry Ehrenreichmay bring to mind those who inspiredyou to work (and play) hard at Harvard.Be sure to take a look at the quotes fromour graduates that appear in the alumnisection.
Serving society 
Our people and discoveries travel theglobe. Ralph Mitchell’s quest to preservethe U.S.S.
and Steve Wofsy’sefforts to understand our forests, boththroughout the Northeast as well as inplaces as far away as Bhutan, are onlytwo examples of the many ways weextend beyond Cambridge.
And how we do it …
As you know, what we do is not de-ned or constrained by independentdisciplines. We tackle tough problems,developing and using whatever knowl-edge and tools are needed to get the jobdone. That means an applied mathema-tician studying insects (p.
), a computerscientist inuencing economics (p.
),and an electrical engineer changingmedicine (p.
).I was struck at our recent faculty retreatby how important this open structureand culture is to the way we work.While we’ve expanded, we can all stillmeet in one place to discuss everythingfrom our academic program to theinterplay of technology and society.Such interaction is not possible at manyother institutions and highlights theimportance of our size and spirit.Ultimately, through the work we doand by the way we do it, our goal is touse what we discover, learn, and cre-ate to make the world a better place. Ihope you will let me know how yourexperiences here – in ways great andsmall – may have helped you reachout and connect with other people andsociety.
DEAS Spring 2004I1
 Cr o s s c urr en s
By paying attention to how aower unfolds its petals, a naturelover also learns to appreciatefundamental issues in physics andapplied mathematics.
ike a slow-motion release of a rework, a ower’s budbursts forth into a delicate display. Looking at a bouquet atthe orist, you might never ask how the intricate petals, stems,and stigmas, each contained in a green orb the size of a gob-stopper, emerged perfectly unfolded without the slightest rip.The Division’s Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan (Maha forshort), Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Mathematicsand Mechanics, has not only posed the question, but istrying to solve countless others like it. Using mathematicsto understand how materials move and behave, he placesparticular emphasis on phenomena visible to the naked eyeand closely tied to experiments or experience. He’s exploredthe way honey coils (important for geologists who study theow of molten rock within the Earth), why insects can adhereto surfaces (leading to the creation of new types of adhesives), how hair coilson water (helpful in understanding theprinciples of self-assembly), and theway fabrics fold and wrinkle (providinginsight about the spiky surface of a dis-eased red blood cell).“I nd joy in discovering the sublime in the mundane,” saysMaha, who recently relocated from one Cambridge (England)to another (Massachusetts). “I try to uncover explanationsfor everyday events that are easily seen but not well under-stood. They typically turn out to be more relevant than I rstimagined.”Think again about the complexity of the ower as you recallhow you’ve struggled to fold a map without tearing, or at leastswearing. Within the blooming process lies what Maha callsa theory for “self-assembled origami.” The bud can unpack itssuitcase and iron its clothes without the help of even a nger.“Natural systems offer a rich arena to learn about the interplaybetween geometry and physics in the real world. Folding is notjust for owers, but critical to our very existence. It happens inour tightly bound-up DNA,” Maha points out.Moreover, stopping to smell (and study) the roses mightsomeday help with creating self-assembling nanostructures,one of the most critical components of the emerging eld of nanotechnology.
Maha’s dark, vibrant eyes it behind large round glasses thatreect the light in his sizable, but test tube–free third oorofce of Pierce Hall. In his experience, you don’t necessarilyneed a lab or complicated devices to do meaningful experi-ments and research. “Why struggle tond something worth studying whenyou have quick access to rich events,like how a ag utters, that you caneasily play with? Being able to radicallychange parameters – a light breeze ver-sus a strong wind – without losing theeffect is ideal for experimentation.”With today’s emphasis on rapid innovation, supermarketscience (creating volcanoes with baking soda) and everydayexperimentation (looking out the window rather than at anLCD monitor) may seem passé. Yet Maha’s hands-on experi-mentation, most of which could have been done by true re-naissance engineers, does not imply that such research is anyless difcult or fruitful. Rather, he acknowledges that goodscience can arise from simple observation. Not surprisingly,Maha’s “mundane” investigations cross – if not leap – overtraditional boundaries in physics, math, engineering, and bi-
“Natural systems offer a richarena to learn about theinterplay between geometryand physics in the real world.”
2IDEAS Spring 2004
Plumbing for pests
Some sap-loving aphidslive their entire livesdeep inside galls, or theabnormal swellings of plant tissue. Since whatgoes in (what they eat)must go out (as waste),these aphids could easilydrown inside the enclosedspaces. Mahadevan and hiscolleagues discovered thatthese snug bugs secretepowdery water-repellentwax on the surface of theirhomes and on their wasteproducts. The wax-on-waxformula turns the excre-ment droplets into “liquidmarbles” that the critterscan then roll clean away.Mahadevan hopes to learnfrom these tiny engineershow to improve attemptsat efciently manipulatingminute volumes of liquid onsmall surfaces.
Getting gell-o to jog
One of Mahadevan’sresearch teams has createdan “articial animal” froma lament of cylindricalhydrogel (cut with smallscales on the bottom) that,when vibrated atop a sheetof glass, can mimic – andhence, help explain themovement of snakes,snails, and other creatures.By varying the angle,scales, and direction of thevibration, the team deriveddifferent patterns of motion. “A simple experi-ment can explain a wide
ology. In fact, guring out what comes naturally requires con-tinuous collaboration with scientists from many disciplinesat Harvard, MIT, and throughout the world. Maha emphasizesthat his dedicated students – “the lifeblood of my enterprise” –deserve as much credit as he does for illuminating the physicsof everyday life.“Ultimately, any robust event is likely to be interesting for itsown sake, since it explains something essential about how theworld works,” observes Maha. And he’s not alone in appreciat-ing such rough magic. In regard to Maha and his colleagues’celebrated theory of how wrinkles form,
editor PhilipBall wrote, “It is humbling to nd in a high-powered journallike
Physical Review Letters 
that we have limped along for yearswithout an understanding of what controls the wavelengthand amplitude of wrinkling in a sheet. There’s plenty still tobe learned from the $20 experiment.”
Maha explains his passion for research by referencing a classictale about the young Krishna, from the
Bhagavata Purana
. Thechild, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu but broughtup incognito by foster parents, had a reputation for mischief.One day, friends accused Krishna of eating dirt. Dismayed, hismother demanded an explanation. Krishna denied the charge,saying “I have not eaten dirt. They are all lying!”To force a confession, his mother told him to open wide. ButKrishna, to avoid being caught in a lie, played a trick. Insteadof muddy teeth, he revealed the entire universe to her – theearth, the stars, and the elements of all creation. And then, tokeep his cover, Krishna quickly cast a spell of forgetfulnessover her to clear her memory.“One way to look at the story,” Maha explains, “is to understandthat meaning and the answers to the deepest questions can befound in the stuff all around us. Science is about looking forconnections and nding joy in discovery itself.”Lucky for us, Maha – unlike Krishna’s mother – has not forgot-ten where the universe lies, but continues to look deep insidesimple things, like owers or dirt, to pull out the profound.
To read more about Mahadevan’s research, visitwww.deas.harvard.edu/softmat/and see the following recent articles:“The Physics of … Wrinkles: Lines of Least Resistance,” in theNovember
issue of 
Discover Magazine 
“Gel gains lifelike motion” in the December
31, 2003
issue of 
Technology Research News 
“Envelope physics sheds light on ice sheets” and “The physicsof haute couture” in the December
2, 2003
and February
editions of 
Nature Science Update 
, respectively
Ordinary Research with Extraordinary Results
Since all the world’s his lab, Mahadevan studies a widevariety of problems using lessons from every discipline athis disposal. Françoise Brochard-Wyart and Nobel laureatePierre-Gilles de Gennes captured the interdisciplinary spiritthat pervades all his work when discussing his and E. Cer-da’s groundbreaking research on the geometry and physicsof wrinkling. They said, “The paper provides a beautiful andsimple understanding of many natural phenomena – bridg-ing geometry, mechanics, physics, and even biology.” range of locomotion forradically different animals,” says Mahadevan, “andalso hints that there’s anunderlying, similar processfor how all of them move.” This discovery might leadto new motion techniquesfor tiny machines, robots,or for use in manufacturingprocesses that involvemoving substances acrosssurfaces.
Uncovering wrinkles
Mahadevan and his col-leagues from Cambridge,England, proposed anow-famous general theoryabout an everyday botherthat keeps dry cleanershappy – the wrinkling of fabrics and other materials.When you press down on aspring you crush it, and inso doing, the spring storeselastic energy. Likewise,a sheet can either stretchor bend; the resultingdeformed sheet adoptsthe shape that minimizesits total bending energy.Mahadevan’s laws of wrinkling predict theamplitude and wavelengthof the resulting wrinkles,and work for a varietyof materials – plastics,fabrics, and even humanskin. Understanding howa cape falls over you orhow our sheets look aftera restless sleep could leadto more realistic computeranimations or better-ttingclothes.
 DEAS Spring 2004I3

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