Colloquium Lectures 2001

The MIT MicroEngine Project: Shirt-Button-Sized Jet Engines, Generators, and Rocket Engines

by Dr. Alan Epstein

Tuesday, January 9, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


MIT is embarked on an effort to develop micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS)-based gas turbine engines, turbogenerators, and rocket engines. These engines-on-a- chip, which can be fabricated in large numbers in parallel using semiconductor manufacturing techniques, are based on micro-high speed rotating machinery with power densities approaching those of their more familiar, full-sized brethren. The MIT micro-gas turbine is a 1-cm diameter by 3-mm thick silicon heat engine designed to produce 10-20 watts of electric power (or 10-20 grams of thrust). Later versions may produce up to 100 watts. The thumbnail sized MIT rocket engine is fueled with a bi-propellant and is designed to produce 3-5 pounds of thrust at a chamber pressure of 1800 psi. Applications for the rocket motors range from satellites, to kinetic kill vehicles, to very small launch vehicles. The principle advantage of this engine-on-a-chip approach is the modularized thrust and power that offer advantages in cost, redundancy, and standardization. This technology extends to other applications such as coolers, pumps, and fans on-a-chip.


Dr. Alan H. Epstein is the R.C. Maclaurin Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Head of the Division of Propulsion and Energy Conversion and Director of the MIT Gas Turbine Laboratory. He received all of his degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, finishing with a Ph.D. in 1975 and has been on the faculty there since 1980. His technical interests focus on energy conversion, propulsion, and turbomachinery – including: micro heat engines, unsteady flow in turbomachinery, turbine heat transfer, advanced instrumentation, hydroacoustics, the application of active control to aeropropulsion systems. He has over 70 technical publications in these fields. He is an active consultant to the gas turbine and aerospace industries. His awards include 4 best paper awards from the International Gas Turbine Institute and the ASME Gas Turbine Award. He is a member of the NRC Air Force Science and Technology Board. Professor Epstein is a Fellow of the AIAA and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Photosynthesis in the Deep Sea without Sunlight? The Denouement!

by Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover

Tuesday, February 6, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Teeming with weird and wonderful life ­ giant tubeworms and clams and mussels, “eyeless” shrimp, and bacteria that thrive on sulfide ­ deep-sea hot springs are found along rifts where seafloor spreading occurs. While the bivalves and tubeworms have led physiologists to describe novel adaptations for symbiotic life, it is the blind shrimp that led to characterization of geothermal light on the seafloor and the hypothesis that this light might sustain photosynthesis by bacteria. A systematic search for photosynthetic organisms in the deep sea took place during a July 2000 Alvin mission to hot springs off the coast of Oregon. While discovery of deep-sea photosynthetic organisms proved elusive, we found an unexpected abundance of photosynthetic bacteria in surface waters of the ocean that account for as much as 10% of the surface productivity using relatively long wavelength light.


Dr. Cindy Lee Van Dover is a deep-sea biologist with a special interest in the biology of hydrothermal vents and other chemosynthetic communities. She began her work in this field in 1982, joining the first biological expedition to hydrothermal vents on the East Pacific Rise. Earning a Master’s degree in ecology from UCLA in 1985, she continued her graduate education in the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Biological Oceanography. There she further developed her interests in vent biology, joining numerous expeditions and publishing several papers on diverse topics such as reproductive strategies and recruitment of vent invertebrates, vent food webs, and taxonomic descriptions of new species. Her most significant work has been the discovery of a novel photoreceptor in a vent invertebrate and subsequent investigations of sources of light at vents and its biological significance.

On receiving her Ph.D. in 1989, Van Dover joined the group that operates the deep-diving submersible ALVIN. She qualified as pilot in 1990 and was pilot-in command of 48 dives. Her work with ALVIN has taken her to nearly all of the known vent fields in the Atlantic and Pacific, as well as to deep-water sea mounts, seeps and other significant seafloor features. She has published more than 50 articles in peer-reviewed journals and is an active participant and chief-scientist in NSF-and NOAA-sponsored field programs to hydrothermal vents.

In 1994-1995, retired from piloting, Van Dover was awarded a one-year appointment as the McCurdy Scholar at Duke University’s Marine Laboratory where she taught undergraduate seminars in hydrothermal vent biology. In June 1996, she moved to Fairbanks Alaska to become Science Director of the West Coast National Undersea Research Center base at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and an associate research professor in the Institute of Marine Science at UAF and continues her research on hydrothermal vents. Dr. Van Dover is currently an Assistant Professor in The Biology Department at the College of William & Mary.

In addition to research, Van Dover has authored a popular book for the lay audience about the deep sea and her experiences as an ALVIN pilot (Deep-Ocean Journeys; Addison-Wesley, 1997). She is also the author of the first textbook on hydrothermal vents (The Ecology of Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents; Princeton University Press, 2000).

Recipes for Living Off The Land in Mars

by Dr. K.R. Sridhar

Tuesday, March 13, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


The ability of humans to adapt to new environments by utilizing the resources that are locally available for their consumable needs is critical to long term exploration and colonization of that environment. This general statement holds very true for the human exploration of Mars. Producing propellants (fuels) and life support consumables using natural resources available in the Mars atmosphere and surface material (regolith) can reduce the costs and risks of pioneering human missions and lay the foundation for permanent settlements. This talk will address the following topics: (1) the technologies available to produce consumables (such as oxygen, methane, water, and breathing gas) from the Martian atmosphere, (2) an oxygen generation system that was to be flown on the (now cancelled) 2001 Mars lander, and (3) a Mars lander payload that will demonstrate production of life-support consumables, from atmosphere acquisition to the firing of a rocket.


Dr. K. R. Sridhar is a Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Over the last decade he has worked on developing technologies relevant to human exploration of space, including the development and validation of technologies for using planetary resources in robotic and human missions. This research includes development of new concepts, modeling, laboratory validation, building flight payloads, and scale-up studies for human exploration needs. Sridhar received his Ph.D in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1990. Sridhar has served as a senior scientist at the NASA Ames research center. He was the Principal Investigator for the oxygen generator experiment slated for the 2001 Mars lander and for the (now cancelled) 2003 ISRU payload.

The 35 Million Year Old Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater

by David S. Powars

Tuesday, April 3, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Some 35-million years ago, a brilliant flash of light crossed the sky, a prelude to one of the greatest catastrophic collisions in the history of our planet. A two-mile wide comet or asteroid travelling more than 50,000 miles per hour slammed into the Earth near the present-day mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The impact ejected huge amounts of seawater, sediment, and shattered molten rock high into the atmosphere. The energy generated during the impact, comparable to the simultaneous detonation of several thousand nuclear weapons, triggered widespread wildfires. The impact set off a gigantic tsunamis with waves perhaps exceeding 100 feet in height. The impact left a 50-mile wide crater and still affects the quality of present-day ground water in certain areas of Hampton Roads. During the summer of 2000, scientists from the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) drilled a 2000-ft hole and obtained a near continuous core of rock and sediment from beneath the NASA Langley Research Center to investigate the 35 million year old impact crater.


David Powars, a USGS geologist and a co-discoverer of the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater, was one of the scientific leaders of the USGS drilling project at NASA Langley. Powars works at the USGS Water Resource Division in Richmond and has lived in Virginia since 1970. He received a B.S. from George Mason University and a M.S. from George Washington University. In February 2000, Powars and two colleagues received the Thomas Jefferson Award from the Virginia Museum of Natural History for their discovery of the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater.

Challenges and Opportunities in Aeronautical Design, Engineering, and Manufacturing

by Dr. Earll M. Murman

Tuesday, May 1, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


“Better, Faster, Cheaper” (BFC) emerged in the 1990s as a new paradigm for aerospace. This talk explores some underlying reasons for BFC and offers thoughts to help frame the thinking and action of aeronautical professionals in this new era. Literature on industrial innovation indicates that aeronautical products have evolved to a “dominant design” and entered the “specific phase” of their product life cycle. Innovation in this phase centers on: incremental product improvement, especially for productivity and quality; process technology; and technological innovations that offer superior substitutes. Results for process improvements from the Lean Aerospace Initiative research program at MIT are presented to indicate opportunities to achieve BFC. Concepts of “value” are introduced as conceptual framework for future thinking. Concluding remarks offer some challenges to industry, government and academics in aeronautical design, engineering and manufacturing.


Dr. Earll M. Murman is Ford Professor of Engineering and Co-Director of the Lean Aerospace Initiative at MIT. He previously served as Head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Director of Project Athena at MIT. In addition to his 21 years in academia, his aerospace engineering career includes 10 years in industry and 3 years at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Dr. Murman is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics. His professional interests include aerodynamics, systems engineering, product development, and engineering education.

Cooperative Control of Autonomous and Semi-Autonomous Vehicles

by Dr. Raffaello D’Andrea

Tuesday, June 5, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Recent years have seen the emergence of technologically advanced sensors and actuators, the continued increase of computational capabilities at decreased costs, and a proliferation of communication networks, standards, and protocols. These advances have been matched by vigorous research in the areas of automatic control and artificial intelligence. As a result, we are moving closer and closer to fulfilling the dream of autonomous entities aiding human beings in dangerous applications such as space exploration, disaster relief, and national defense. The talk will describe the Cornell RoboCup team, a squad of five fully autonomous soccer playing robots that captured the international F180 RoboCup championship in 1999 (Sweden) and 2000 (Australia). In particular, we describe the technical problems associated with coordinating a fleet of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles to achieve a collective objective, our approaches for solving these problems, and the applications of this research. The talk includes video footage from the competitions.


Raffaello D’Andrea received the B.A.Sc. degree in engineering science from the University of Toronto in 1991, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1992 and 1997. Since then, he has been with the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell University, where he is an Assistant Professor. His research interests include the development and application of tools for controlling complex systems. His teaching interests include Systems Engineering and Robot Soccer.

Dr. D’Andrea has been the recipient of a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Centennial Graduate Fellowship (1991-1996), the American Control Council O. Hugo Schuck Best Paper award (1994),the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control Best Student Paper award (1996), an NSF Career Award (2000), and several departmental and college wide teaching awards at Cornell University.

Molecular Electronics and Directed Self-Assembly: Ultra-Small Computers that Build Themselves

by Dr. Theresa Stellwag Mayer

Tuesday, July 10, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


Recent interest in molecular-scale electronics as a means to replace silicon for fabricating extremely dense logic and memory circuits has led to the discovery of molecular diodes and switches. Although these devices may provide the building blocks to continue advancing device integration in step with Moore’s law, a molecular-scale interconnect technology is needed to utilize fully their extremely small dimensions. Present photolithographic techniques grow exponentially more expensive with decreasing feature size and may never reach the dimensions required for this new technology. Based on these limitations, it has been suggested that future molecular device integration may rely on alternative approaches that use directed self-assembly of nanometer-scale metal wires and carbon nanotubes. This talk will provide an overview of recent research on the synthesis of nanometer-scale metal wires, and the development of techniques that are used to self assemble these wires into two-dimensional networks. The electrical properties of the molecular electronic devices that have been integrated with the metal nanowires will be discussed, and the potential for future progress towards ultra-small circuits that utilize molecular devices in conjunction with directed self-assembly techniques will be explored.


Theresa S. Mayer received the B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 1988, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1989 and 1993. In 1994, she joined the Department of Electrical Engineering at Penn State University, where she is an Associate Professor. Currently, she is on leave from Penn State serving as Director of Operations at the Molecular Electronics Corp. Her research interests are in the areas of semiconductor and molecular device fabrication, integration, and characterization.

Dr. Mayer was the recipient of a Kodak Graduate Fellowship (1990 – 1993), a National Science Foundation CAREER Award (1995), and the Penn State Engineering Society Outstanding Teaching Award (2000). She has authored or co-authored more than 40 publications and is active in several professional organizations including the IEEE, TMS, and MRS.

Viking: 25th Anniversary of Landing on Mars

by Panel Discussion

Tuesday, July 20, 2001 at 1:30 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.

Panelists and Discussion Topics

Tom Young (Viking Project Operations Manager) – Viking Mission Operations

Gentry Lee (Viking Deputy Mission Operations Manager) – Viking Science

Jim Garvin (Mars Exploration Project Scientist) – Future Mars Exploration

Mary Kae Lockwood (Planetary Exploration Lead) – LaRCs Role in Mars Exploration

Advanced Fuels and Propellants – Exciting Ways of Improving Future Transportation And Exploration

by Bryan Palaszewski

Tuesday, August 7, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


NASA with the USAF Research Laboratory and its industry partners has been conducting research into some very exotic advanced fuels. This work is sponsored under the NASA Advanced Space Transportation Program (ASTP) and the NASA Aviation Safety Program (AvSP). The current research incudes five topics: Monopropellants, Alternative Hydrocarbons, Gelled Hydrogen, Metallized Gelled Propellants, and Solid Hydrogen for Atomic Propellants – storing atoms of Hydrogen, Boron, Carbon, or Aluminum.

Monopropellant investigations are focused on dinitramide based fuels, that can simplify the operations for launch vehicles and spacecraft. Monopropellants have the oxidizer and fuel mixed together, and by using one tank for both instead of separate tanks for the two propellants, a designer can theoretically reduce the weight and complexity of new rocket propulsion systems. Hope springs eternal.

Alternative hydrocarbons that are under consideration are higher energy versions of the jet fuels and rocket propellant grade kerosene used for decades. Increasing the safety of commercial aircraft using fuel additives is another avenue of investigation under the Aviation Safety Program.

Gelled hydrogen and metallized gelled propellants offer many advantages. By gelling the liquid fuels and/or adding metal particles, a designer can increase the fuel density and the payload to orbit, slashing the cost of space missions.

Solid Hydrogen is being used to store atoms of Hydrogen, Boron, Carbon, or Aluminum. These atomic propellants are potentially the highest specific impulse chemical rockets that may be practical. They allow for fantastic future possibilities for aviation and space exploration.


Bryan Palaszewski has worked at the NASA-Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field since 1989 and is currently directing research on high performance propellants such as gelled fuels and high energy density materials. He recently completed experiments in solid hydrogen particles, which can be used to store atoms of boron, carbon, and hydrogen for rocket fuel. He leads the Accident Mitigation aspects of the NASA /FAA Aviation Safety Program, investigating ways of making aircraft and their fuels safer. He recently led the NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) special topic named “Fuels and Space Propellants for Reusable Launch Vehicles”. This topic was directed toward commercializing safer, denser propellants that provide higher rocket specific impulse.

For six years, he led many studies of advanced space systems for orbital and interplanetary travel at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He was also the lead propulsion subsystem engineer on the Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX) for three years, as well as being involved other flight projects such as the Galileo Mission to Jupiter and the Cassini Mission to Saturn.

He holds a Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the City College of New York. His Masters thesis dealt with low Reynolds Number flow in the human eye and its linkage to glaucoma. He graduated from CCNY in June 1981.

The September 11, 2001 lecture was cancelled

Mars: A Strange and Complex Planet

by Dr. Joel S. Levine

Monday, October 15, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


In 1976, the two Viking Orbiters and Landers showed that Mars was a very different planet than previously thought. The next two Mars missions, the 1997 Mars Pathfinder and the 1997 Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), confirmed that Mars is indeed a very complex planet. Mars is a dry, cold, and inhospitable planet. The measurements from Viking, Pathfinder, and MGS suggest that early Mars was very different–wet, warm, and hospitable. The evidence suggests that Mars underwent a drastic climatic change. In 1996, it was announced that a meteorite from Mars may contain evidence of microbial life, similar to the fossilized evidence of early life found in the oldest rocks on Earth. Last year it was announced that MGS photographs found more than 100 different locations on Mars that may show evidence of modern day liquid water. Liquid water is an important ingredient for life.

This year marks the beginning of an extensive decade-long U.S. and international program of Mars exploration. Two of the key questions to be answered are the cause or causes for the planetary-wide climate change on Mars and the search for past or present life. A new scientific platform to help answer these and other questions about Mars is a powered, robotic airplane. Flying 1-2 miles above the surface of Mars, an airplane will serve as a unique platform to investigate the surface and atmosphere of Mars. The Langley Research Center has been at the forefront in the development of a Mars airplane for scientific exploration.


Dr. Joel S. Levine is a Senior Research Scientist, Atmospheric Sciences, NASA Langley Research Center. Dr. Levine has authored or co-authored more than 125 scientific journal articles and book chapters and edited four books dealing with the origin and evolution of the atmosphere, the atmospheres of the other planets, global fires, atmospheric chemistry and global change. Dr. Levine was selected to be the Project Scientist for NASA’s 2003 Mars Airplane Project, which would have culminated with the first flight of an airplane on another planet on December 17, 2003, the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first powered airplane flight. This project was canceled in November 1999, for budgetary reasons. Dr. Levine is presenting developing a new Mars airplane mission, the “Mars Atmospheric-borne Regional Surveyor”, or MARS, for the NASA Mars Scout Program. Since 1998, at the request of the National Archives in Washington, DC, Dr. Levine has organized and headed a research team investigating the chemical composition of the atmosphere in the hermetically sealed encasements containing the U. S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. Dr. Levine is a member of the U.S. Geological Survey Science Team that obtained a continuous 2083-foot core from the 35-million year old Chesapeake Bay impact crater beneath the NASA Langley Research Center and is searching for ancient air that may be trapped in this core.

Dr. Levine received a B.S. in physics from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, a M.S. in meteorology from New York University, and a M.S. in aeronomy and planetary atmospheres and a Ph.D. in atmospheric science, both from the University of Michigan. In 1987, Dr. Levine was selected as Virginia’s Outstanding Scientist.

The Limits of Automation: How Far Should we Trust Software?

by Dr. Nancy Leveson

November 6, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


We are living through a quiet but profound revolution in engineering practice: Few systems today are built without the use of computers and software to provide control functions, to support design, and often to do both. At the same time, traditional engineering approaches to safe design, such as redundancy and increasing component integrity, do not work for software and the new types of accidents that are related to its use. Recent aerospace accidents, including some involving NASA missions, are evidence of the problems. What role has software played in these accidents? Are the accidents really of a new type or are they simply variants on old themes? What changes, if any, are needed in engineering design and practice to prevent software-related accidents and losses?


Nancy Leveson is Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an appointment also in the MIT Engineering Systems Division and an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia. After receiving degrees in mathematics, operations research, and computer science, she first worked in industry as a systems engineer and eventually became Boeing Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington before moving to MIT. Dr. Leveson is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the ACM. She received the 1995 AIAA Informations Systems Award for “developing the field of software safety and for promoting responsible software and system engineering practices where life and property are at stake.” In 1999, she received the ACM Allen Newell Award for lifetime contributions to computer science and interdisciplinary research. She has served on the Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association and the International Committee on System Engineering (INCOSE) and was editor-in-chief of IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering. Professor Leveson is currently a consultant to the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. She speaks and writes extensively on software-related topics and is author of a book, Safeware: System Safety and Computers, published by Addison-Wesley.

The Seven Warning Signs of Voodoo Science

by Dr. Robert L. Park ** CANCELLED due to illness **

December 4, 2001 at -:– p.m. in the H.J.E. Reid Auditorium.


In a time of dazzling scientific progress, the public has come to expect a steady stream of miracles from science. Those with little exposure to the methods and ideas of modern science, however, may have trouble distinguishing genuine scientific advances from the claims of misguided zealots or unscrupulous hucksters. Scientists, of course, first ask whether a claim violates firmly established scientific principles, such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that have heretofore provided a reliable guide. The public, however, must generally look for other clues to distinguish genuine scientific advances from a noisy gaggle of false claims. From a review of misguided science claims, I have extracted seven of the most common warning signs that should alert the public, as well as other scientists, that the science may be voodoo.


Robert L. Park is professor of physics at the University of Maryland and Director of the Washington Office of the American Physical Society. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1958 with a degree in Physics and became the Edgar Lewis Marston Fellow at Brown University in 1960, receiving his PhD in1964. After working at Sandia Labs in the area of surface physics, he was appointed Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland in 1974. Currently, he divides his time between the American Physical Society’s Office of Public Affairs in Washington D.C and the University of Maryland. Park is the author of What’s New, a weekly electronic commentary on science policy issues ( and of the book, “Voodoo Science.” In 1998, he received the Joseph A. Burton Award of the American Physical Society for his contributions to the public understanding of issues involving the interface of physics and society.