Applied Mechanics News

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New Book: Nano Mechanics and Materials: Theory, Multiscale Methods and Applications

A new research monograph: Nano Mechanics and Materials: Theory, Multiscale Methods and Applications, authored by Wing Kam Liu, Eduard G. Karpov and Harold S. Park, has recently been published by John Wiley & Sons, in 2006, ISBN: 354059903

Written by respected researchers in the field, Nano Mechanics and Materials informs researchers and practitioners about the fundamental concepts in nano mechanics and materials, focusing on their modeling via multiple scale methods and techniques. The book systematically covers the theory behind multi-particle and nanoscale systems, introduces multiple scale methods, and finally looks at contemporary applications in nano-structured and bio-inspired materials. The authors begin by explaining the potential of nanoscale engineering, and the rationale behind the multiple scale modeling method in a comprehensive introduction. They then follow this by providing theoretical information on the mechanics of a system of particles, molecular forces, and lattice mechanics. The next chapter introduces the reader to potential methods used to analyze these materials, which most importantly includes the multiple scale modeling method. A substantial section is taken up with introducing the bridging scale method, which is backed up with a chapter on numerical examples using this technique. Analysis of materials applications and bio-inspired applications, using and testing the multiple scale modeling method, concludes the text.

2006 ASME Applied Mechanics Division Honors and Awards

We are delighted to learn from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers the winners of following honors and awards:

Jian Cao

Lewis T. Wheeler

Alan Needleman

Pierre Suquet

Kenneth L. Johnson, Cambridge University

Description of these awards, along with nomination forms, can be found at the AMD website

Executive Committee of the ASME International Applied Mechanics Division
Wing-Kam Liu, Chair
Tom Farris, Vice Chair
Krishnaswa Ravi-Chandar, Program Chair
Dan Inman, Program Vice Chair
Zhigang Suo, Secretary

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Biological Frontier of Physics - Physics Today

By Rob Phillips and Stephen R. Quake

Problems at the interface between biology and physics offer unique opportunities for physicists to make quantitative contributions to biology. Equally important, they enrich the discipline of physics by challenging its practitioners to think in new ways.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Six strategic issues shaping the global future of Mechanical Engineering

The ASME commissioned the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF), a nonprofit futures think tank, to scan the world for the future of ASME. The IAF report, dated on 30 June 2005, listed the following six strategic issues:
  1. Global Harmonization of Standards
  2. Technology Innovation Networks
  3. Systems Thinking
  4. Attracting and Educating Tomorrow’s Engineers
  5. Collaborative Learning Communities
  6. Bioconvergence: Biology Meets Engineering
All these big words made me dizzy. I started with Issue 5, Collaborative Learning Communities, an issue that I was thinking about. This section of the report talked about blogs and wikis, and concluded with the following paragraph.

“Publishing under the current model is ASME’s second largest source of revenue and the association’s dependence on it impedes its ability to consider alternative approaches. ASME should take care not to become a closed system in a world favoring open systems for learning and publishing. As public attitudes shift, ASME will need a viable balance between its “bricks and mortar” programs and electronic channels. These collaborative learning communities are appealing to young engineers who need technical information on demand to do their jobs and appreciate the chance to stand out for their expertise. Members may also value access to discussions with a wide variety of experts.”

I found the 2004-2005 annual report of ASME. The top three sources of revenue were
  • Codes and Standards (40 millions)
  • Publications and conferences (16 millions)
  • Member dues (8 millions)
These strategic issues tied the financial security of ASME to the large trends of our time: the rises of Asia, open access, the Internet, and Biology. These trends pose significant challenges to ASME as (primarily) an American organization, with revenues derived principally from proprietary codes, standards and journals, and of a discipline based on physical sciences.

If you ever wonder where Mechanical Engineering might be going and how you and your organization might fit in this brave new world, this IAF report is a fascinating read. The big words in the titles aside, the report is very lucid. Understanding the challenges is the first step to innovation.

The IAF report is online.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

PLoS Biology: a peer-reviewed open-access journal

May 16, 2006

Dear Colleague,

I would like to draw your attention to a research paper published online today in PLoS Biology, entitled "Citation Advantage of Open Access Articles" by Gunther Eysenbach (University of Toronto).

The Study

In this study, Eysenbach compared the rate of citations of open access (OA) with non-OA articles from the same journal, PNAS.

Key findings include:

  • OA articles are twice as likely to be cited 4 to 10 months after publication and almost three times as likely between 10 and 16 months.
  • Self-archived articles are cited less often than OA articles from the same journal.

Read the full text of this article—freely available online.

The Editorial

In an accompanying Editorial, PLoS editors discuss the careful evaluation of and decision to publish this paper in the context of our own vested interest in open access publishing.

PLoS Biology

PLoS Biology uniquely blends the very best peer-reviewed research from all the life sciences with a comprehensive and readable magazine section. It is the world's premier open access biology journal as indicated by the ISI Journal Citation Reports. Read more about PLoS Biology's mission, scope and achievements.

If you find these articles of interest, you can:

  • Sign up for regular e-mail table of contents alerts. We will send the first 50 respondents a laser pointer (one per individual) just to say thanks for joining us.
  • Read additional articles online.
  • Submit your next great paper to PLoS Biology.
  • Forward this e-mail to colleagues—all PLoS Biology papers are free to everyone.

With best regards,

Hemai Parthasarathy
Managing Editor, PLoS Biology

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

18th Annual Robert J. Melosh Medal Competition

by John Dolbow

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What's wrong with Applied Mechanics?

Applied Mechanics is a discipline that studies the response of matter to external forces, such as flow of a liquid, fracture of a solid, sound in the air, and vibration of a string. Applied Mechanics bridges the gap between fundamental physical sciences and wide-ranging applications. Representive questions are how a gecko climbs, how an earthquake occurs, how a computer chip fails, how an airplane flies, or how the Twin Towers fell. Major approaches include formulating concepts and theories, discovering and interpreting phenomena, as well as developing experimental and computational tools. For well over a century, Applied Mechanics has been a flagship discipline in the innovation of research, eduction, and community building in many branches of engineering, including Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Materials Engineering, and Bioengineering.

Despite the intellectual depth and practical utility, the discipline of Applied Mechanics is in a state of crisis, largely due to its own success. Like many sophisticated fields of science and engineering, Applied Mechanics constitutes a large chunk of knowledge, accumulated over millennia, represented by texts, equations, graphics, photos, audios, videos. This large quantity of knowledge has made it hard for any individual to master (and to add to) the field, a fact at least partially responsible for turning many talented young people away from the field. However, nobody has ever questioned the immense value of Applied Mechanics to a broad range of human activities today and to our posterity. Furthermore, new problems constantly emerge that requires ingenious use of existing knowledge, or fundamental progress in Applied Mechanics.

Still, the question remains, How do we impart this large chunk of knowledge to individuals within a reasonable amount of time, so that they still have time left to innovate?

A classical answer to this question dates back at least to Stephen P. Timoshenko, considered by many the father of modern Applied Mechanics. Starting early last century, Timoshenko and his followers divided the field of Applied Mechanics into subfields (such as strength of materials, theory of elasticity, theory of vibration, plates and shells, structural instabilities), and then summarized the "essential knowledge" in each subfield in a textbook. The success of this divide-and-conquer approach is immense, as attested by the rising importance of Applied Mechanics in engineering curriculum, by the fundamental progress (e.g., in fracture mechanics and in nonlinear continuum mechanics), and by pervasive use of Applied Mechanics in engineering practice.

This approach, however, is not scalable. As more results accumulate in a subfield, its textbook becomes thicker and more abstruse. As new subfields emerge, new textbooks are added to the pile. Furthermore, what is considered essential knowledge for a practicing engineer is very different from that for an undergraduate student. This and other idiosyncrasies of people lead to more textbooks, each with smaller audience. Individuals agonize over which cherries to pick, leaving most fruits untasted. Sadly, few mechanicians today consider writing textbooks professionally rewarding. Sadder still, the approach has led the discipline to fragment.

The fragmentation has been partially mitigated by the rise of computational mechanics. Over the last half century or so, the use of computer to solve complex, nonlinear boundary-value problems in the field of Applied Mechnaics has flourished, leading to commercial software like ABAQUS. Using such software, an electrical engineer, say, with a rudimentary understanding of mechanics, can analyze the strain field in the channel of a transistor. While computational mechanics has begun to unify Applied Mechanics, this unification is incomplete. For one, not all problems are suitable for numerical computation; many problems are solved by experiments combined with scaling laws, and by relating to previously solved problems. Some problems are solved more sensibly by trial and error. (Nobody learns to ride a bicycle by numerical simulation.) Also, to make a fundamental contribution to Applied Mechanics, one has to go beneath software and acquire a holistic understanding of the field.

I believe that the Internet will further unify Applied Mechanics by going beyond numerical computational aspects of mechanics, by making the labor of discovering and synthesizing knowledge more efficient and meaningful, and by making Applied Mechanics useful to more people.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Major Research Areas in Molecular Biomechanics

Over the last decade or so molecular biomechanics has emerged as a new field consisting of at least three major areas: (1) the mechanisms of mechanotransduction as related to cellular behavior and function; (2) mechanical behavior of biomolecules; (3) biomolecules as engineering materials and devices. Although these three areas are related, they have different focuses:

Mechanotransduction as Related to Cellular Behavior and Function: This concerns with how cells sense mechanical forces or deformations, and transduce them into biological responses. Specifically, it is important to reveal and understand how mechanical forces alter cell behavior and function including growth, differentiation, movement, signal transduction, protein secretion and transport, gene expression and regulation.

Mechanical Behavior of Biomolecules: This area plays a central role in molecular biomechanics and includes quantitative measurement and analysis of the structural rigidity of DNA, RNA and proteins under stretching, twisting, bending and shear, or their combinations, and how the structural rigidity and mechanical deformation of biomolecules affects DNA condensation, gene replication and transcription, DNA-protein and RNA-protein interactions, protein function, protein-protein and protein-ligand interactions. This is the most challenging area in molecular mechanics; its advencement requires the development of new experimental and computational tools.

Biomolecules as an Engineering Materials and Devices. With the advent of nanotechnology, there is an increasing need to understand the mechanochemical coupling in biomolecular motors, to decipher the structure-function relations of proteins as nanomachines, to use DNA and proteins as components of hybrid nanosystems; and to address interfacing issues in organic/inorganic nanodevices. This also involves the uncovering of engineering design principles of molecular machines in living cells, and application of these design principles to the development of engineered nanosystems.

Since molecular biomechanics is still in its infancy, extensive discussions on how to best develop these areas will be very helpful.

All about flexible macroelectronics

In this new blog, Dr. Teng Li talks about flexible electronics, an active area of research in which he has just completed a doctoral thesis at Harvard University. He will join the faculty of the University of Maryland this Fall.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Knowledge processing and the Internet

By knowledge processing I mean all modes of interaction between humans and knowledge, including discovery, synthesis, dissemination, acquisition, and application of knowledge. The technology of knowledge processing has been refined since the dawn of civilization. A list of milestones might include the inventions of language, printing, library, computer, and the Internet. On this long time scale, the Internet is only with us very recently. Considering the impact of earlier innovations, it is safe to say that what we see today is just the beginning of a revolution in the technology of knowledge processing, and that it is presumptuous to predict the future. Nonetheless, it is useful to briefly reflect on the past and speculate on the immediate future.

To describe the established best practice of knowledge processing, I can do no better than quoting Ziman (1964).

"The Frontiers of Knowledge (to coin a phrase) are always on the move. Today's discovery will tomorrow be part of the mental furniture of every research worker. By the end of next week it will be in every course of graduate lectures. Within the month there will be a clamor to have it in the undergraduate curriculum. Next year, I do believe, it will seem so commonplace that it may be assumed to be known by every schoolboy.

"The process of advancing the line of settlements, and cultivating and civilizing the new territory, takes place in stages. The original papers are published, to the delight of their authors, and to the critical eyes of their readers. Review articles then provide crude sketch plans, elementary guides through the forests of the literature. Then come the monographs, exact surveys, mapping out the ground that has been won, adjusting claims for priority, putting each fact or theory into its place.

"Finally we need textbooks. There is a profound distinction between a treaties and a textbooks. A treatise expounds; a textbook explains. It has never been supposed that a student could get into his head the whole of physics, nor even the whole of any branch of physics. He does not need to remember what he can easily discover by reference to monographs, review articles and original papers. But he must learn to read those references: he must learn the language in which they are written: he must know the basic experimental facts, and general theoretical principles, upon which his science is founded"

To update on the changes in the last forty some years, we might note the following. Ziman's timelines were figurative speech. Even today we cannot process knowledge that fast, but the Internet has greatly accelerated the pace. We email a preprint to colleagues the moment it is written, and soon we will be able to download anything existing in any media. We all Google, and some of us wiki.

The first wave of the Internet has solved one problem in knowledge processing: it has made knowledge rapidly available (nearly) world wide. The solution, however, has made other problems in knowledge processing more evident. The bottleneck is no longer accessing knowledge, but is our own time: the speed at which our brains process information has not accelerated.

Then came the second wave of the Internet, known in the popular media as Web 2.0 or the Read/Write Web. Riding the second wave are millions of bloggers, wikians, social bookmarkers, and podcasters. They create, edit, annotate and vote on the content on the Internet. They organize knowledge by doing what scientists and engineers have been doing for centuries: large-scale asynchronous collaboration, irrespective of borders of nations and idiosyncrasies of people.

But the second-wave riders collaborate using new tools, tools that are created for the Internet, not merely closes of old tools. The new tools have fundamentally changed who can collaborate, as well as how and why they collaborate. The second wave has also lead to different products of knowledge. For example, Slashdot, an aggregator of news for nerds, feeds on all blogs, as well as on mainstream media. Anybody can submit news from any source, and each submission is reviewed by editors before inclusion. Once an item appears in Slashdot, hundreds of readers visit the original source, and many return to Slashdot to leave comments, which are often more informative than the original article. It is not uncommon that a piece of news published in venerable sources is found false by the users of Slashdot in hours. Slashdot may serve as a model for a new breed of scientific journals.

A second-wave rider can be a student, teacher, practitioner, researcher, and scholar, all at the same time. A high school student becomes a published researcher when she writes an entry in Wikipedia on the history of Chinese monetary system. A Microsoft engineer becomes a teacher to thousands of fellow users of Slashdot when he posts a critique on a Google service.

If you’d like to learn how to use tools like blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, social bookmarks and podcasts to enhance teaching, read this great book by Will Richardson (2006).

Ending added on 11 May 2006: In hindsight, perhaps the approaches of Wikipedia and Slashdot are not that radical after all. All humans since the dawn of civilization have participated in knowledge processing by large-scale asynchronous collaboration. In particular, one scientist can freely comment on the work of another, or completely rewrite it by publishing another paper. Large scale asynchronous collaboration is the first law of knowledge processing, if such a thing exists. No previous innovations violated this law; they have all reaffirmed the law by greatly easing collaboration. The Internet will further ease collaboration, in its own particular ways, now unfolding in front of our screens.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Over 100 biomechanics classes on the Web

Andrew Karduna, of the Department of Human Physiology at the University of Oregon, maintains a website that catalogs biomechanics classes found on the Internet.

In early entries of the Applied Mechanics News, I described the creative approaches of three other websites of online learning:
  • Connexions hosts over 2900 modules and 138 courses for high education.
  • Marlot lists about 10,000 teaching modules for high education.
  • Wikipedia, a free online encylopedia that allows anybody to edit anything.
It is time for us mechanicians to build the cyberinfrastructure of Applied Mechanics for the 21st century.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

We are attempting to post all Timoshenko Medal Lectures online, but we need your help

The year 2007 will mark the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the Timoshenko Medal. Every November at the Annual Applied Mechanics Dinner , the medalist of the year delivers a lecture. Taken together, these lectures provide a long perspective of our field, as well as capsules of the lives of extraordinary individuals.

Applied Mechanics Research and Researchers (AMR) is attempting to post all Timoshenko Medal Lectures online. You can locate the posted lectures by using the link Timoshenko Medal Lectures. The same link also appears in the sidebars of AMN and AMR.

If you have the text of a lecture that is missing from the list, please contact Shaofan Li (, the team leader of AMR. An electronic file will be great, but we can also use an optical character recognition (OCR) software to convert a text on paper into an electronic file.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Impact of Mechanics on Reliability of Interconnect Structures in Microelectronics

This links to a recent lecture given by Professor Paul Ho, of the University of Texas at Austin.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A profile of Henry Petroski in the New York Times

Henry Petroski, Professor of Engineering and Histroy at Duke University, has written remarkable books on topics ranging from inventions of everyday objects and causes of infamous accidents. Jimmy Hsia, of the University of Illinois and the National Science Foundation, brought my attention to this profile of Petroski, published in The New York Times on 2 May 2006.

Incidentally, articles in the New Yorks Times are free online for a week. However, by entering the temporary URL of an article into a software, you can generate a permanent URL. The link of this blog entry to the profile of Petroski was generated this way.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Knowledge as commodities

A twelve-year old found a blueprint to assemble a computer in a magazine, and ordered parts on, a website that listed parts from all vendors and comments on each part by customers. Both features were reassuring. When the parts arrived in mail a week or two later, the boy assembled the computer himself. In the process, he saved a substantial amount of money. He also learned a lot about computers, and about dealing with his parents.

The boy could do all these because computer parts are commodities, products that are produced by different companies but conforming to the same standards: all parts fit. Websites like newegg bring the parts from the companies directly to boys and girls of all ages, skipping middlemen like Dell.

Commoditization has also occurred in the software industry, largely due to the open-source movement that has produced the Linux operating system, as well as a large number of other software systems.

Can we also commoditize knowledge? This is precisely the mission of the Connexions Project, founded by the electrical engineer Richard Baraniuk, of Rice University, in 1999. The Project has been funded by the National Science Foundation and private donors, and has produced a system of software to enable anyone to author parts of knowledge (called modules). It also enables anyone to assemble parts into a functional product of knowledge (called a course), free of charge, under a Creative Commons open license. By January 2006, Connexions hosted over 2900 modules and 138 courses.

Connexions will likely have tremendous impact on the textbook industry, which has an annual revenue of 10 billion dollars in the US alone. The Project is also bringing free, up-to-date knowledge to developing countries, including North Karea.

Connexions will also likely to change the practice of scholarship. If you'd like to learn how Connexions works, you may visit the website of Connexions, or look at a course, or read a white paper written by the Connexions staff, or simply enjoy a video of an inspiring talk given by Professor Baraniuk to Google engineers.

Notes added on 15 July 2006. Wall Street Journal (13 July 2006) reported on Rice University's Press on line and print on demand.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Detroit Chinese Engineer Association

Detroit Chinese Engineer Association (DCEA) recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Established by enthusiastic engineers and researchers working in the automotive industry and academic institutions in the metro Detroit area, DCEA grew steadily over the years in an effort to promote science and technology, professional networking, culture diversity and career development. DCEA now has more than 300 members. DCEA’s trademark events include annual automotive technical conference, career development seminars, high school student awards and future engineering awards etc. More about DCEA can be found at

Hua He, May 1, 2006
(2005 President of DCEA)

NSF travel grants for the 7th world congress on computational mechanics

Note from Wing Kam Liu, Chair of the 7th World Congress on Computational Mechanics

Travel grants up to $800 will be awarded to attend the 7th World Congress on Computational Mechanics (July 16 - 22, 2006) and the short course Multiscale Computational Methods and Applications (Sunday, July 16, 2006).

Applicants must be associated with a US university or college; in addition, faculty and post-doctoral fellows must be USACM members. Applicants must already have an accepted abstract for the World Congress and must register for the short course no later than May 31, 2006.

To apply for the travel grants, submit the abstract and a one-page curriculum vitae, before 31 May 2006, to Jacob Fish (, Acting-President of USACM.