The Promised Land

Foreign Affairs Symposium Anne Smedinghoff Award

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear from Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the president and co-founder of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan, which is Afghanistan’s first boarding school for women. Ms. Basij-Rasikh was presented with the Inaugural Anne Smedinghoff Award by the family of Anne Smedinghoff through the Foreign Affairs Symposium, which will be presented to an individual who is committed to education, development and global harmony.

Anne: Scholar, Diplomat, Friend

Anne Smedinghoff, who graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2009 with a degree in International Studies and served an Executive Director of the Foreign Affairs Symposium, was killed on April 6, 2013 by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, on her way to deliver books to a local school. From the words that were said last night, I think I would have wanted to be Anne’s friend. She was an adventurer, a servant, a hard worker, and perhaps, most importantly, a good friend. In her honor, the Foreign Affairs Symposium has created the Annual Anne Smedinghoff Award and has established the Anne Smedinghoff Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will go to a student who wishes to follow in Anne’s career path of foreign service.

How much is an education worth?

  I encourage you to check out Ms. Basij-Rasikh’s Ted Talk to learn more about how she risked her life to go to school or about how she started a school for Aghanistan women as a sophomore in college or how she has helped her students win over $10 million in scholarships. Oh, and by the way, she’s 24.

With poise, she spoke about how, contrary to popular belief, the people of Afghanistan love Americans and that technology and conditions have been progressively been getting better.

Moral Responsibility

One note that Ms. Basij-Rasikh focused on was that we have a moral responsibility to use our education in a way that helps others. How true. How refreshing. How forgotten. We are blessed. If you are in the small minority of 6.7% of individuals hold a college degree, you are extremely blessed. And you are extremely obligated. There is a weight that comes with privilege.

college degrees worldwide, Nelson Mandela, monica rex

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” -Nelson Mandela

When I asked Ms. Basij-Rasikh about what we—as college students—could do, she spoke about getting involved in the SOLA’s Skype mentoring program. For instance, one of the girls wants to be a businesswoman; her mentor works for a hedgefund. Ms. Basij-Rasikh mentioned that one of the girls wanted to become an engineer.

 

In the following reception, I asked Ms. Basij-Rasikh if there were engineering opportunities in Afghanistan. She replied, “Afghanistan is like a blank slate. It would be your promised land. There are so many problems.”

 Inspired

Needless to say, I am inspired. Inspired by the bravery and sacrifice of Anne and the passion and grace of Ms. Basij-Rasikh. I am not content to watch others suffer when I have the skills to do something about it. And you shouldn’t be either.

This One Device Could Find Malaysia Flight 370

Malaysia Airplane Missing

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines flight 370 with 239 passengers and crew members vanished. https://flic.kr/p/7wsx2N

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went missing. Poof. 

It’s been over two weeks, and authorities still don’t know much about what happened to the 239 passengers and crew members or the 209 feet, 656,000 pound Boeing 777-200ER aircraft.

TWO HUNDRED AND THIRTY-NINE. How do 239 people just go missing in a massive commercial airliner? Or of equal importance, how can we prevent this from happening in the future?

The LuminAID

If the 239 passengers aboard that plane had been equipped with this one $20 device, they may have been safely in the arms of their loved ones by now. That device is the LuminAID, an inflatable, waterproof, solar-powered light. The founders of the LuminAID, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta, were looking for a way to help in natural disaster relief situations after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 when they found a need, an engineering problem that they could help solve. After natural disasters, people send food, water, and even medical supplies, but even then, they are (literally) left in the dark. Because of this, kidnappings and rapes occur with a higher frequency amidst this darkness–an even greater reason to solve this problem.

Stork and Sreshta created a device with disaster relief in mind, so 50 LuminAIDs can fit into the same size box as a conventional 8 flashlights. Without a doubt, this light be used in future disaster situations, as it is portable, solar-powered, and waterproof.

How Does This Apply to Malaysia Flight 370?

Yesterday, it was announced that Chinese satellites had spotted a 74 feet by 43 feet object in the southern Indian Ocean, which officials believe may be linked to the missing aircraft. Remember that the plane went missing 43 seconds after 1:20am on March 8. There are 2 options at this point:

A) the plane could have crashed/landed elsewhere such that there were survivors

OR

B) the plane could have crashed/landed elsewhere such that there were no survivors

AND

1) the plane could have crashed/landed such that parts of the plane would be relatively large

OR

2) the plane could have crashed/landed with small plane fragments remaining or could have burned such that few pieces remain

In case B2, authorities can’t do much. In cases A1, A2, or B1, though, the story could have radically changed if LuminAID was involved.

lights sky night

With less than 100 lights in this graphic, it’s obvious that 239 lights might have made shown up on a satellite image of the ocean. (I do not endorse any messages from this image; I am purely using it to show the impact that lights have in the darkness.) https://flic.kr/p/43Zfx6

Imagine if 239 people were floating in the ocean with lights illuminated during the night sky. If each person (or LuminAID in the case B1) took up 13.3 cubic feet in the water, they would cover the same amount of space as the object spotted by China in the broad daylight. Seems pretty hard to ignore to me.

Darkness Light Malaysia Plane

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5
https://flic.kr/p/a4MkTe

Maybe this idea isn’t just for post-tragedies. Maybe the LuminAID is a pre-tragedy device. Maybe LuminAID and inventions like it can stop (or at the least) minimize tragedies and mysteries like the Malaysian flight. Maybe next time you’re on an airplane that will be covering water, you’ll have an inflatable life vest with a solar-powered light that can last for up to 16 hours.

What are your thoughts on the Malaysia airplane mystery? How can we aim to prevent this in the future?

“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

Frozen

What does the new Disney movie Frozen have to do with engineering? How might the plotline of Frozen changed if any of the characters were engineers? Now, I’m not saying that engineers don’t believe in the power of sisterly love to fight climate change, but I am saying that we would not have taken the time to let our sisters freeze in hopes that we could figure something out (you’re welcome, Natalie, my awesome twin sister). You don’t believe me? I’ll prove it to you.

Below are three neat devices that student engineers have invented or are developing so that they can take temperature into their own hands.

1. Cooling Cure

When a baby is born and he or she is deprived of oxygen, which impedes brain function, possibly leading to cerebral palsy, mental disability, or death, what do you do?

Cool the baby.

baby cool sunglasses

The face of one cool baby.
http://flic.kr/p/6DM1N

thermometer monica rex

No, cool THE baby!
http://flic.kr/p/6DM1N

That’s right, there is a 72 hour window in which you can lower the baby’s temperature to effectively rescue brain cells. A team of biomedical engineers at Johns Hopkins invented a $40, easy-to-use solution that is built of a clay pot, plastic-lined basket, and a sand and urea-based mixture. When water is added to the mixture (what is used in cold-packs), the heat is extracted from the basket holding the child. Brilliant!

2. Embrace Innovations

Babies are important. Not only are they adorable, but they are the future. A group of Stanford students who understood this saw that many of the 4 million premature babies that die within the first month after birth per year are from developing countries. The main problem for these infants is regulating their temperature. These Stanford students invented a sleeping bag-like solution that can maintain a constant for up to six hours without electricity. The infant warmer is composed of a phase-change material that absorbs heat and slowly disseminates it to the infant.

lady bug sleeping bag engineers monica rex

I hope future iterations of this sleeping bag-like product come in ladybug form. http://flic.kr/p/5CNQmK

Control that body temperature; don’t let it control you. And save some lives along the way.

3. LTU Heating System

We usually think of developing countries as warm, tropical places. This presumption is not necessarily always true, though. A portion of developing countries lie above the Tropic of Cancer and temperatures can dip low, causing a need for heating systems to avoid freezing. Students at Lulea University of Technology in Scandinavia created an “simple stove with integrated heat recovery” at a minimal cost that could be used in North Korea, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Siberia and northern China.

developing country third-world monica rex

Third world countries span beyond just tropical climates. http://flic.kr/p/4ZPsVR

What other projects do you know of? Where are some areas that need improvement from engineers regarding temperature? Are there any other ways that engineers relate to Frozen?