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“If something is sustainable, it means we can go on doing it indefinitely. If it isn’t, we can’t.”
—Jonathon Porritt, British columnist, author, and environmental advisor to HRH The Prince of Wales’ Business and the Environment Programme

The fascination with spinning tops dates back thousands of years: the dreidel, used to play a traditional Hanukkah game; the art of koma asobi (top spinning), a pastime enjoyed by the Japanese; tsa lin (tops), spun by Chinese children. In Shakespeare’s time, English villagers would keep warm on cold days by spinning a large top in the town square. The U.S. Patent Office granted one of the earliest toy patents to the spinning top.

A quick snap of the thumb and fingers, several pushes on a plunger, or a pull on a rope, will set a top spinning and hopping about. But, without a constant supply of energy, the spinning must give in to friction and gravity. The energy needed to mobilize a simple spinning top symbolizes the focus of this issue: the sustainability of the resources needed to keep our cars running, our homes comfortable, our businesses viable. In the United States, the energy crises of 1973 and 1979 provided us with strong indications and warning signs that oil did not come from bottomless wells; today, petroleum inventories are low and the rising costs of heating oil and gasoline are hitting consumers hard. Too, brownouts and blackouts have provided critical evidence that our demands for electricity are overwhelming our current delivery systems.

For insights into the topic of energy—both sustainable and renewable—we look to the work of WPI students, faculty, and alumni. Last year’s solar energy IQP, in which solar panels were installed on the roof of Morgan Hall, has been so successful that it will be used in teaching engineering in the nation’s public schools. Extending the life of electric grids is the mission of a team of students and faculty who are developing computer models to forecast the costs and benefits of retrofitting National Grid USA’s distribution network.

For insights into the world energy crisis, we interviewed longtime energy and environmental policy advisor Jack Siegel ’68. The future of our oil-dependent cars and trucks is analyzed by David Friedman ’92, research director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles Program. We take a look at the viability of wind power provided by turbine generators and solar technology to power homes—discussed, respectively, by Paul Gaynor ’87, of UPC Wind Management, and James Kachadorian ’61, founder of Green Mountain Homes. And we combine one of summer’s coolest treats—ice cream—with insights from Ben & Jerry’s director of engineering, Pete Gosselin ’85, into how the company is run in the most ecologically responsible manner possible while upholding product quality and profitability.

And there’s more, including an in-depth look at WPI’s Wall Street Project Center, which teams students with such firms as Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Deutsche Bank, and a look back at the inauguration of WPI’s 15th president and the graduation of the Class of 2005. I hope you enjoy this issue. We welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Amy E. Dean
Assistant Vice President, Communications
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Last modified: Aug 22, 2005, 17:09 EDT
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