I am extremely pleased to be able to report that the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering continued its climb in the U.S.News & World report rankings for the fourth year this time advancing six spots. The undergraduate program is ranked 51st nationally overall and 28th among public universities that offer doctoral programs in engineering, moving up from 57th and 34th from the previous year.
Anyone familiar with these rankings recognizes that they are not an absolute measure of the quality of a program or institution. However, when used with other measures, they are a useful tool because they reflect performance as well as perception.
I believe that there has long been a gap between the performance of Auburn engineering and its reputation. Over the past few years, the college has made a concerted effort to increase awareness of the college and the achievements of its faculty and students. At the same time it has implemented a strategic plan to move the college to the next level. I believe this year's rankings are evidence that all of these efforts are paying off.
This matters because reputation matters when it comes to recruiting students and faculty, as well as attracting extramural funding. The latest figures from the American Society of Engineering Education reinforce this the average ACT/SAT scores for our engineering students are the highest ever, as is the college's extramural funding.
We've almost completed a major upgrade of our facilities and are now working to enhance our professorship and graduate fellowship offerings. In addition, program enhancements, such as the launch of the nation's only wireless engineering degree and a new automotive minor are helping to ensure that our college and its graduates remain competitive in today's fast-changing global environment.
Lysozyme, found in tears, saliva and egg whites, may not pack the same antimicrobial punch of indocyanine green. But by locking it into place with the aid of ultra-strong carbon nanotubes, Virginia Davis and colleagues at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., have exploited its bug-fighting powers to create durable new coatings that eventually could cover gym lockers, sporting goods and other commonly touched surfaces.
"Certainly multiple approaches are needed to prevent bacterial infections and the spread of disease," said Davis, an assistant professor of chemical engineering.
In a study published this month in the journal Nano Letters, Davis and her collaborators wrapped multiple copies of lysozyme around individual carbon nanotubes no bigger than one-fiftieth the width of a human hair.
"Carbon nanotubes are perfect cylinders of carbon and the strongest known material," she said. "The system structure is basically like a shell of lysozyme surrounding a carbon nanotube core; the antimicrobial properties come from the natural action of the lysozyme while the strength comes from the carbon nanotube core."
This gray cylinder decorated with red ribbons is actually a greatly magnified representation of a tiny carbon nanotube with multiple copies of the natural bacteria-killing enzyme lysozyme attached to it. By using nanotubes to hold the lysozyme in place, scientists may be able to lead the way toward bacteria-resistant coatings for a range of products.
Compared to demand in 2005, Davis said, the U.S. market for antimicrobial coatings could triple, to more than $550 million, by 2012. Growing alarm over hospital-acquired infections and the spread of resistant pathogens via contaminated surfaces are both fueling demand. Robust antimicrobial surfaces, she said, can help reduce the risk of infections spread by contact and could eventually find their way onto a variety of consumer products and commonly touched surfaces on airplanes and trains.
For such coatings, long-term stability and durability are important considerations. Davis' preliminary results suggest that lysozyme bound within the nanotube network, which attacks a primary component of bacterial cell walls, meets those criteria and works efficiently while retaining its antimicrobial properties over time.
Nanoparticles such as nanosilver already have found widespread use as microbicides in a range of consumer products, though recent concerns over the potential environmental effects of nanosilver leaching from products and ending up in wastewater have prompted some researchers and watchdog groups to petition the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen its oversight.
Although Davis and her colleagues do not conduct their own safety testing on carbon nanotubes, she said they support multidisciplinary efforts to investigate the health, safety and environmental risks and benefits in the very early stages of nanotechnology and agree that more such research is needed.
"This proactive approach is a definite improvement to the historic approach of not investigating the potential risks until many years after large scale product use," she said. Her group's future studies, she said, will include experiments simulating repeated use and cleaning of products coated with the lysozyme-nanotube combination to determine whether the nanotubes are released.
This highly magnified picture shows what the lysozyme-nanotube coating actually looks like. Among the surfaces it could coat: gym lockers, sporting goods and commonly touched surfaces in airports and subways all directed toward preventing the spread of bacterial infections that may be hard to treat after the fact and thus preventing the overuse of drugs that could lose their effectiveness through bacterial resistance.
Although MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusis) generally resistant to lysozyme, the enzyme works well in targeting other pathogenic microbes. Davis cautioned that the long-term effects of the lysozyme-nanotube network still need be investigated, though she noted that lysozyme is not on the front lines in combating infections once they've been acquired. "Therefore its use should not change our ability to cure bacterial infections in people," she said. "The coating should simply reduce the spread of disease."
Frank R. DeLeo, MRSA expert from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont., said he's less enthusiastic about such prophylactic approaches to the problem of bacterial infections, pointing to the difficulty of producing stable surface coatings. Nevertheless, he said sanitizing surfaces is obviously a good idea and a strategy like the one proposed by Davis' team, if proven effective, could be used to develop a similar coating containing the microbe-derived enzyme lysostaphin, which is effective against MRSA.
"Ultimately, one could lead to another and you have to start somewhere," he said. "I think it's all worthwhile."
Imagine an outfit that fits perfectly and eliminates the worry of sweat stains and body odor. Oh, and it plays your favorite music.
It's an idea that's not far off in the future. Read more >>
Auburn University is working to increase participation in computing disciplines by underrepresented groups, such as women and persons with disabilities. The Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering has received more than $104,000 to fund a three-year extension of the Students and Technology in Academia, Research and Service (STARS) alliance. Combined with $235,000 received over the first three years, the award brings Auburn's total STARS funding to almost $350,000. Read more >>
Automotive engineering and manufacturing minor has been added to the Auburn University Samuel Ginn College of Engineering — a first in the region.
Participating students can earn a 15-credit minor formulated to prepare engineers for automotive industry careers, which are booming in the Southeast. Vehicle quality, logistics, design and planning are all focuses of the program. Read more >>
Robert Champion began his NASA career in 1986 as a propulsion engineer in the preliminary design office at the Marshall Space Center after earning a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn University. Today, the Woodstock, Ala., native, Auburn alum and 22-year NASA veteran is the division chief of stage systems engineering and integration in the engineering directorate at the Marshall Center, where his team is helping NASA develop the Ares I rocket upper stage. Read more >>
One of China's biggest challenges for the upcoming Olympic Games was making sure there was enough safe food for millions of visitors.
It's a big job, especially during the hot summer months when airborne illnesses are at their peak. China has been working on it for years — with the help of an Auburn University professor. Read more >>
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