Friday, April 15, 2011

Notes on the 2011 Tulane Engineering Forum

I got a chance to attend the 2011 Tulane Engineering Forum and the forum continues to grow. This year drew over 600 engineers. The day before I went, one of my coworkers teased me that going to an engineering conference hosted by Tulane was like going to an easter egg hunt hosted by the Ayatollah in Tehran*.

One of the things I've really come to like about the TEF's are that I'll pick up on some really nice phrases/wordplays/sayings. Some of my favorites from this year:
* "Worry Budget"
* "Assumed-Away" (dealing with risk)
* "Science as a contact sport" (engineering as well, sometimes)
* "Compartmentalized engineers" (missing out on the big picture)
* "Dynamic Regulation" (constantly in-flux regulatory rules that are poison for projects that take 10 years to develop) {Another quote from the same guy, "[MMS] served our industry well for a number of years"}
* "Everyone supports it, until you put your finger on a map" (coastal restoration)
* "Engineering meets public health meets Indiana Jones" (Engineers Without Borders)
* And my favorite of the year: "Unavoidable uncertainty in complex systems" (talking about scientists dealing with the public on complex topics)

This year's theme was the Macondo blowout. I attended the Morning Plenary Session (which included a dispersant expert from XOM, a ChemE professor from LSU, an MBA from Tulane, and the head of research for ULL), but ended up attending mostly coastal restoration and infrastructure lectures. My personal favorite lecture of the day was given by Dr. Allisha Renfro who pinch-hit for a presenter who was out. She did a science and engineering postmortem on 3 coastal projects: MR-GO**, the West Bay Diversion, and the Myrtle Grove Pulsed Sediment Diversion (which was held up as a model for future projects).

* Maybe he read this article?

** Even if you ignore all the "secondary" effects (levee failures, wetlands loss, etc.), MR-GO was a MASSIVE failure on its primary objective: serve commerce. Taxpayers ended up subsidizing MR-GO (from its opening in 1968 to its closure recently) by $20,000/vessel, clearly a massive failure in its primary objective (lower transportation costs). There was also plenty of science, engineering, and economic expertise that warned against the project before it was ever begun, but the powers that be pressed on anyways.

Last year's forum notes.

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