Scholars Research Seminar

Spring 2012

Engineered Environment for a Smarter Planet


Professor Dr. Ashraf Ghaly, P.E. Dr. Mark Walker
Department Engineering History
Office Olin 102D Lippman 216
Tel., email 518-388-6515, ghalya@union.edu 518-388-6994, walkerm@union.edu

Lectures: TTH 10:55 AM-12:40 PM, Location OLIN 306. Click HERE for instructors' class presentations.


Of the 27 areas identified by IBM in its Smarter Planet initiative, several are directly related to areas of focus in this course. These areas are: Cities, Energy, Infrastructure, Rail, Sustainability, Traffic, Transportation Systems, and Water. The goal is to study phenomena and operations that can ultimately lead to a planet that functions in a smarter fashion.

The objectives of this course are:

  1. Increase students’ awareness of the need to implement a sustainable approach toward managing facilities in the open environment.

  2. Identify trends and patterns leading to better design and operation of engineered facilities.

  3. Help make informed decisions regarding site characterization and selection for proposed facilities to ensure best possible performance.

  4. Use sensor technology to monitor the structural health and performance of constructed facilities, and to enrich existing databases with more data that would be used in innovative design of future projects.

  5. Comprehend the effect of constructed facilities on the surrounding environment in both short and long terms.

  6. Develop plans for monitoring and maintenance that respond to problems as they arise and while they are still manageable.

  7. Assessment of the impact of constructed facilities on the society, human health, and living creatures.


Three essay assignments (3rd, 5th, and 7th week) = 25%
Class discussion & participation = 15%
Midterm exam (6th week) = 20%
Term paper & presentation = 20%
Final exam = 20%

90+ = A 85+ = A(-) 80+ = B(+) 75+ = B 70+ = B(-) 65+ = C(+) 60+ = C 55+ = C(-) 50+ = D



Ascher, Kate (2007). “The Works: Anatomy of a City,” The Penguin Press, ISBN 0143112708.


Major Themes

History Engineering
(1) Hunter-Gatherers and the First Farmers: The first efforts to control the open environment. Mostly unintended consequences: fire, clearing of land.

(2) Irrigation: The first systematic attempts to control the open environment for a specific purpose, bringing water to plots of land in order to grow crops. Unintended consequences for the social structure and the environment.

(3) Empires and the Open Environment: (Rome) Roads, aqueducts, ports, military walls.

(4) Public Health and Modern Conceptions of Disease: Draining swamps, installing sewer systems.

(5) Public Works during the 1930s and 1940s: Water storage and control systems in the USA and the Soviet Union.

(6) Development of a Modern Road System for Automobiles: Nazi Germany and Post-World II USA.

(7) Nuclear Power: Monitoring for radiation around nuclear power both in cases of normal operation and accidents.

(1) Engineering of structures serving in the natural open environment.

(2) Instrumentation and sensor technology's impact on the design and monitoring of the performance of modern facilities.

(3) Modern integrated road and bridge systems.

(4) Modern water purification and wastewater treatment systems.

(5) Modern solid waste disposal and containment systems.

(6) Facilities with special design features to resist natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.

(7) Energy systems for a smarter planet.

(8) Interaction between humans and smart facilities.



1. Teams of two students, each, (or an individual student if preferring to work alone) are to choose the paper subject they like to research. The selected subject is expected to be a structure or a facility serving in the open environment, and is provided with design features that smarten its performance. Students are to dissect their chosen structures to illustrate that the implemented design contributes to making the planet smarter. Highlights may include, but are not limited to, easier use, better performance, energy saving, faster response to external factors such as natural disasters or mode of use, enhanced environmental features, greater control of operation, ability to monitor and alter performance on demand, shift from traditional design, departure from conventional materials, etc. Students are encouraged to select for their paper a topic of interest that has intrigued them.

2. Students can select their subject at anytime during the term but no later than the 6th week of the term (May 3).

3. All papers must be on different subjects. A subject cannot be selected by more than one team of students (or by one student if working alone). A team (or a student) that was the first in selecting a subject would be the only one entitled to it. The earlier you select a subject, the wider the selection available to you.

4. You have the right to drop a subject you selected and select a different one as long as this is done no later than the 6th week of the term (provided that the new subject had not been previously taken by another team/student).

5. Once you settled on a subject, email the engineering instructor a title for your paper and one sentence description of your intended subject. The instructor will post the titles and the one sentence description of all papers (without the names of students) on the course's website as soon as the email has been received. This will serve as reference of subjects already taken and have become unavailable.


Students may collect the information and materials pertaining to their chosen subject form any of the following sources (in no specific order): the Internet, technical publications, professional journals, magazines, textbooks, movies, documentaries, and all other credible sources including interviews with knowledgeable individuals.

Students are required to cite in their paper all the sources they used in their research. Internet sites are cited using the address (URL) of those sites. All other references are to be cited with the name of author, year, title of paper or book, page, and publisher.


At noon on the Saturday May 26, the final electronic paper is due (email to both instructors). The paper should be a Word document, equivalent to at least 10 pages of text (12 point Times font, double-spaced type with one inch margin on all sides). In addition to the 10 pages of text, students may add pictures, tables, graphs, charts, figures, and any other supplementing materials as they see fit. The total length of the paper, however, may not exceed 20 pages.

Grading Criteria

In addition to the written report, students are required to make an oral class presentation. The presentations will take place during the last class of the term.

The grade of this paper will be assigned based on the quality and organization of the paper, relevance of content to the subject under consideration, understanding, clarity of presentation, organization, and demonstration of ability to address questions with comprehension. Both members of a team of students will receive the same grade on their paper.

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