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After time at national level, Wulf returns to UVa faculty Offers unique perspective on technology, policy

From The Daily Progress
August 17, 2007

By Jacob Geiger

William Wulf has spent plenty of time in the University of Virginia's computer science department. In 1968, he received the school's first doctorate in computer science.

But even after nearly 20 years on the UVa faculty, Wulf will have to familiarize himself with the classroom this year as he returns to Grounds after 11 years as president of the National Academy of Engineering.

"I spent the last 11 years at the nexus of science and public policy,"Wulf said. "There are very few issues without a technical dimension."/p>

The National Academy of Engin-eering was incorporated in 1863 and ordered by Congress to advise the nation - when asked - about technology issues facing the country.

So Wulf wants to educate UVa students on some basic engineering principles and help them understand the technical dimensions of issues such as global warming and uranium enrichment.

"I want to create an engineering course for liberal arts majors to give them enough information to be informed participants [in public discussion]," Wulf said. "Ninety-five percent of the United States population doesn't know enough to be a participant."/p>

Mary Lou Soffa, chairwoman of the computer science department, is excited to have Wulf back in a teaching role.

"One of the things he brings is a breadth of knowledge and experience,"Soffa said. "It helps to have someone who's been involved with the department for many years and knows what's been tried and knows the history of the department."/p>

Wulf has long been respected in his field. After receiving his doctorate, he taught at Carnegie Mellon and then went on to found Tartan Laboratories in 1981. From 1988 to 1990, he served as assistant director of the National Science Foundation.

And as Wulf returns to teaching, he's urging colleagues across the engineering world to examine America's traditional role as a world leader in innovation.

Wulf thinks the nation needs to rethink everything from antitrust laws and patent regulations to drug testing and intellectual policy regulations. He calls these interrelated subjects the ecology of innovation.

"One of the salient properties of biological ecology is the rich diversity of members, all interacting "in pretty diverse ways,"Wulf said. "You can't take intellectual property laws in isolation from antitrust laws."/p>

Wulf doesn't claim to have all the answers, but he thinks it's time the engineering world started discussing the issues.

"I brought all this up because nobody else was talking about it,"he said.

Recently, Wulf said, he saw a Web page with a copyright symbol at the bottom. As Wulf points out, a Web page has to be copied before it can be sent out across the Internet.

The writer probably wanted to protect the content of his page. But because copyright laws were written in the 1700s, there are no provisions to protect Web-based writing.

"The early Congress was certainly mindful that books differ from machines and created copyright and patent laws,"Wulf said. "Maybe we need more types of intellectual property."/p>

Wulf will join his wife, Anita Jones, on the faculty. She began teaching computer science at UVa in 1997 after serving at the Pentagon as director of the Department of Defense's research and engineering branch. Both Wulf and his wife have spent time trying to encourage more women to study engineering.

"I think the place you want to get [women] is in middle school and high school," Jones said. "What you do is show them that engineers create things " and solve problems."/p>

Wulf remembers teaching in the 1970s, when about 3 percent of incoming engineering classes were women. That number grew to 20 percent by the mid-1990s but has not increased since. He said women are statistically shown to choose professions that directly help people. But what they fail to realize, Wulf argues, is that engineers are always helping people, too.

"Look at the great 20th-century achievements,"Wulf said. "At the start of the century there was little electricity, few cars and 30 miles of paved roads. Life expectancy in 1900 was 46, now it's 76. Two-thirds of that increase is from clean water. "Engineering helps people."/p>

Original Article | Local Copy


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