Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Spotlights

Ashifi Gogo Th’09 was awarded $10,000 by the Clinton Global Initiative to develop his anti-counterfeit drug technology venture, Sproxil.

Sproxil founder Ashifi Gogo Th’09 was awarded $10,000 by the Clinton Global Initiative
WORLD CLASS: Sproxil founder Ashifi Gogo Th’09 was awarded $10,000 by the Clinton Global Initiative. Photograph courtesy of Clinton Global Initiative.

During the Global Initiative’s annual meeting in September, Gogo presented an update on Sproxil’s progress. The mobile phone-based service enables customers to confirm a medication’s authenticity via text messaging. By the end of 2010 the service was available for up to 2.5 million items in Nigeria. “This is a genuinely remarkable accomplishment,” former President Bill Clinton remarked after Gogo’s presentation, adding that “putting people in charge of their own healthcare” is “empowering.” You can watch Gogo’s full presentation at sproxil.com. The company also earned the People’s Choice Award at the 2010 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition and an honorable mention at IBM’s SmartCamp, which highlights start-ups that are making the planet smarter.

>> With counterfeit drugs making up about 10 percent of the global market, Gogo isn’t the only grad developing mobile phone solutions to the problem. Nathan Sigworth ’07, who had his first entrepreneurial success as co-inventor of the Gyrobike, the ENGS 21 project that is now for sale commercially (see “A Few of Our Favorite Things”), and his former Dartmouth roommate, Taylor Thompson ’08, co-founded PharmaSecure in New Delhi, India. The company announced that the pharmaceutical firm Unichem has bought 70 million PharmaSecure codes to verify the quality of its products. Customers check the code via text messaging. “Putting the codes on the market, having the consumers authenticate, this is all building a very, very valuable network and communications platform with consumers,” Sigworth told The Christian Science Monitor in December.

>> Drew Wenzel ’08 Th’10 is living at the intersection of technology and business. To get there Wenzel, who now works on green building designs at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, needed a solid engineering education and a firm understanding of the business world. He needed a master’s in engineering management (M.E.M.), a degree that is gaining popularity among students and employers, the Financial Times reported in an article on the rise of the business-savvy engineer (PDF). “The M.E.M. gives you the ability to speak both languages,” Wenzel told the paper. The degree is “for engineering grads who know they don’t want to spend their entire careers in design or in a lab,” Thayer Dean Joseph J. Helble explained to the Financial Times. “They want to do broader, systems-based engineering by identifying promising new product lines. They want to create a vision for the technology in the broadest business sense.” More students than ever are following Wenzel’s path: Applications to Thayer’s M.E.M. program have doubled in the past five years to more than 250 applications for 50 spots.

>> “Recalling the events on a small Pacific atoll in 1945, I am reminded how camaraderie can spring up in the unlikeliest situations,” Sam Florman ’46 Th’46 wrote in The New York Times on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allies on September 2, 1945.

Sam Florman ’46 Th’46 stands beside a note of friendship a Japanese officer gave him after World War II
PEACE OFFERING: Sam Florman ’46 Th’46 stands beside a note of friendship a Japanese officer gave him after World War II. Photograph courtesy of Sam Florman.

Florman described his first engineering experiences after leaving Thayer School. As one of the newly commissioned ensigns in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, he began the voyage across the Pacific to join one of the Seabee battalions being mustered for an invasion of the Japanese mainland — only to arrive the day before the surrender.

During World War II Sam Florman was in charge of building a dam for the U.S. Army in Truk
During World War II Sam Florman was in charge of building a dam for the U.S. Army in Truk. Photograph courtesy of Sam Florman.

Now it was time to rebuild a country, or at least Truk, an atoll in the Caroline Islands that had served as headquarters for the Japanese fleet and was now a pile of rubble. Florman was put in charge of one of the less imposing projects: building a small earthen dam on a mountain stream for the American military’s water supply system. Florman was assigned three Seabees and about two dozen Japanese men and their lieutenant. He recalls how both sides faced off the first day until he ceremoniously unrolled the drawings he had prepared. Soon some were driving stakes while others attacked the earth with shovels and picks. “Within a few days the two groups had settled into an efficient working routine interspersed with episodes of playfulness,” he remembers. “The anticipated generation-long era of fear and hatred seemed to have been reduced to mere days.” The crew completed the project in several weeks and planned a dedication ceremony — where the Japanese lieutenant presented Florman with a small ceramic statue and a note of friendship. “The Thayer experience was a wonderful preparation for work in the Seabees,” Florman, now the chairman of the Kreisler Borg Florman General Construction Co. in Scarsdale, N.Y., tells Dartmouth Engineer. “The hands-on activity — field trips, drafting, surveying, lab work with concrete, metals, water in flumes and pipes — was memorable. Joe Ermenc’s thermodynamics classes, which started with a problem on the board every day, were a preparation that stood me in good stead for any theoretical challenges that life was to present.”

>> He’s done it again: Dallas-based racer and businessman Charles Nearburg ’72 Th’74 made history at the Bonneville Salt Flats in his Spirit of Rett streamliner, breaking a 45-year-old land-speed record and also setting the fastest single-engine car record in history with an average speed of 414.5 mph.

FASTER THAN EVER: Charles Nearburg ’72 Th’74 made history at Bonneville Salt Flats. Photograph courtesy of Mark K. Nearburg.
FASTER THAN EVER: Charles Nearburg ’72 Th’74 made history at Bonneville Salt Flats. Photograph courtesy of Mark K. Nearburg.

On September 21 the Spirit of Rett, named for Nearburg’s late son, made back-to-back speed runs under the watchful eye of FIA officials, breaking the 409-mph record set by the Summers Brothers’ Goldenrod in 1965. According to FIA rules, the team must make a first run out, service the car in one hour, and then make a return run in the opposite direction. “We didn’t realize that an FIA record required you to beat it by 1 percent,” Nearburg told BangShift.com. “After finding that out we changed gears, tune-up, and a bunch of stuff just hoping we could make it go that fast.”

Ask the Expert

The Expert: Tom Brady ’66 Th’68

Should we avoid plastic bottles because of waste and safety concerns?

If you drink soda or use liquid laundry detergent, chances are you’ve purchased polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles designed and manufactured by one of several companies Tom Brady ’66 Th’68 founded and runs, including Plastic Technologies Inc. (PTI), Preform Technologies, and Phoenix Industries International — the largest producer of recycled PET for packaging in this country. With plastic bottles such a ubiquitous part of modern life, Dartmouth Engineer asked Brady, who earned his Ph.D. in plastic materials engineering from the University of Michigan, for his take on recycling and safety.

Tom Brady displays plastic packaging products made at his company Plastic Technologies Inc.
PET PROJECTS: Tom Brady displays plastic packaging products made at his company Plastic Technologies Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio. Photograph courtesy of Tom Brady.

Here are his views:

PET is the most recyclable packaging plastic. When you recycle most plastics, the molecular chains break apart and become shorter. However, PET has a unique chemistry that allows the shorter chains to grow back together during the recycling process, so you can recycle PET forever if you remove the non-PET contamination. Modern recycling processes accomplish that extremely well.

Today in this country, about 30 percent of the PET used for bottle applications is recycled. Much of that recycled PET (RPET) goes into fiber for clothing and carpet and other items, but increasingly RPET is being used in food packaging, the highest value application.

All plastics are recyclable in principle. PET (#1) and high density polyethylene (HDPE, #2) are the most commonly recycled plastics because they are the most intensively used plastics. The other numbered plastics are used less frequently. The economic feasibility of recycling depends on having a large supply available.

More than half of the RPET in this country is shipped to China. Ships that would otherwise return empty to Asia can offer low shipping rates compared to shipping within the United States. The limited supply of RPET in this country keeps the price of RPET close to virgin PET.

There will always be a market for recycled plastic resins. The world will eventually have to begin reusing all materials when raw materials become increasingly difficult to find and therefore more expensive to use. At some point there’s going to be a whole industry around not just waste disposal and recycling, but around reusing all materials as a mined resource.

BPA has nothing to do with PET. BPA (Bisphenol A) is one of the two components you put together chemically to make polycarbonate, a material that’s tough and is used to make shatter-resistant products. Polycarbonate has been used in packaging applications that require heat resistance, such as in baby bottles and sports bottles. Studies have shown that BPA can be extracted from polycarbonate plastic articles, and there is some evidence that BPA can act as an estrogen mimicker, so eliminating polycarbonate from food packaging is prudent. Polycarbonate is no longer used in baby bottles and water bottles.

For more photos, visit our Alumni Events and People set of images on Flickr.

Categories: Alumni News, Spotlights

Tags: alumni, award, entrepreneurship, history, humanitarian service, M.E.M., race cars

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