Science and the American Dream
For Mexican-American engineer Israel Galvan, growing up in a poor fishing village gave him empathy for working people. Family ties led geologist Richard Glenn back to the small Alaskan town of Barrow, home of his Eskimo mother and extended family. And computer engineer Donna Auguste draws on her family and the black gospel choir she belongs to for support. For these three scientists, a sense of community has shaped their paths and led them to develop innovative new technologies that will benefit not just their own communities, but those across America.
An entrepreneur and successful businessman, Israel Galvan's latest invention is a revolutionary new type of rotary engine, designed to burn a variety of fuels and to be inexpensive to build and operate.
To fund the project, he turns to the National Aeronatics and Space Administration (NASA), since the space agency will likely be interested in a new engine for aviation. Although Galvan has contracted with NASA, convincing them of the project's merit proves no mean feat. Poring over the blueprints with NASA technology transfer experts, he must address their questions and concerns before they agree to fund the construction of a prototype. Galvan knows it takes more than good ideas and connections to push a project forward. His secret? "I'm a habitual risk taker. I know that if I've got my heart in something, I'm going to have to fight for it," he says.
That same sense of dedication and hard work also drives Richard Glenn, who manages Barrow Technical Services, located some 350 miles inside the Arctic Circle, in the homeland of the Inupiat Eskimos. His company works with scientists around the world who come to study Alaska's geology. One question scientists want to answer is how the strength of ice changes over the winter. This information is vital for commercial shippers of oil and natural gas, as well as for the Navy, since they all need precise information about ice strength to negotiate their ships through Arctic waters.
One experiment Glenn and the other scientists are pursuing involves cutting a 100 square foot block of sea ice, using a special ice-shearing chainsaw that lets them slice through the six-foot-deep layer of ice. The project runs into trouble, however, when the chainsaw breaks with just 20 feet to go. At 2am, under the bleak midnight sun, the wind whipping snow across their faces, the scientists must improvise to finish their project before the next day's deadline. But Glenn is not about to give up. As a leader in the tight-knit Inupiat community, he feels a strong commitment to the continued success of his business, an enterprise he hopes will help ensure the region's economic vitality.
Donna Auguste, also committed to success, will likely develop a business venture for her employer, US West. One of the country's largest telecommunications companies, US West is leading efforts to create new technology that will radically change how we use television. Auguste heads a team of computer experts who are developing "decoder" systems that will make interactive TV possible. Not only will customers be able to watch videos on demand, they'll also be able to use a remote control to make selections on home shopping channels, for example.
Much of Auguste's job consists of isolating and solving small glitches in computer software. Over and over, she and her team play a short video clip of a lion chasing a cheetah on different computers, trying to start and stop the video on command. But that's par for the course. "If you're not encountering some obstacles, you're probably not doing cutting-edge product development," says Auguste.
The success each of these scientists has achieved also spurs new opportunities, which sometimes lead to tough choices. As Auguste expertly scrolls through the 17 voice-mail messages waiting on her machine, another call comes in, inviting her to apply for a position at a competing company. Glenn's business has a chance to acquire a firm in Anchorage. And Galvan's reputation at NASA garners him an offer for a high-level position at the Johnson Space Center.
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