The Busy Lives of IEEE Life Members

The new IEEE Life Members Committee Technical Tour program arranges trips to historic sites

6 October 2010

Taking trips to historic technical sites and helping with projects that boost students’ interest in engineering, IEEE life members are a busy, globe-trotting bunch. The members, whose age of at least 65 added to years of IEEE membership totals at least 100, have been especially active of late. They recently launched a program to visit technical facilities around the world (their first visit was to the Panama Canal). They also were hard at work helping install a radio telescope at a Florida museum.

The new IEEE Life Members Committee (LMC) Technical Tour program plans to arrange trips to historic sites with an eye on locations designated as IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing. The LMC is a joint committee of the IEEE Foundation and IEEE. Each trip will last about a week and will include professional guides, as well as outings to local spots such as nightclubs and museums.

“The tours are being organized to match the pace of life members: they’re comfortable, convenient, and not too fast-paced,” says Scott Atkinson, a member of the LMC who went on the trip to Panama last March. “The Panama tour was a great experience. Everyone raved about it. Nobody wanted to return home!”

The 34 visitors, who came from Canada, Germany, Japan, and the United States, entered the canal locks in a small ferry, which rose as much as 18 meters as water poured in. “It was a thrill,” Atkinson says.

The group also visited the headquarters of the Panama Canal Authority where they examined the Milestone plaque dedicated in 2003 that recognized the canal’s unique electrical and control installations.

The tour, which was organized by IEEE Life Fellow Ted Bickart, included a rare visit to the canal’s control center. “Normally they don’t allow tourists there, but they let us walk around,” Atkinson says. As a thank you, the group presented the center with a pewter coaster depicting the IEEE Milestone.

Atkinson and others from the committee are busy organizing their next trip, a 10-day tour of the United Kingdom in May. The life members are scheduled to visit Bletchley Park, the location of a famous World War II decryption center, and the Thames River barrier in London, the world’s second largest movable flood barrier. Plans also call for visits to several places in London and Scotland where physicist and mathematician James Clerk Maxwell grew up and worked on his famous mathematical equations that describe how electric and magnetic fields relate to their sources, and to charge and current density.

Life members also spend time selecting projects to receive grants from the IEEE Life Members Fund. The fund is one of more than 130 administered by the IEEE Foundation. Since 2000, the Life Members Fund has granted more than US $1.2 million. Any organization, within IEEE or not, can apply for a grant to support a philanthropic project aimed at students, the history of electrical and computer engineering, awards to individuals, recognition of technical breakthroughs, or humanitarian efforts. After the IEEE Foundation reviews the proposals to see if they meet IEEE’s goals and can realistically be completed, the LMC decides which projects get the green light.

Construction of a small radio telescope (SRT), which received a US $11 000 LMF grant, was recently completed. Proposed by the IEEE Daytona (Fla.) Section, the telescope has a 3-meter antenna dish and is housed in the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences. It was developed by engineers at the MIT Haystack Observatory, a research center in Westford, Mass., focused on radio astronomy, and was then modified by members of the IEEE Daytona Section. It took three years to complete. The initial goal was to teach students from nearby schools and universities about science and engineering. Today it’s reaching a much broader audience, according to Charles Husbands, project manager for the SRT.

A few months ago, members of the Daytona Section connected the telescope to the Internet so it can be remotely controlled by designated researchers around the world who can use it for their purposes. “The telescope is now fully operational and is being used locally in the museum planetarium for educational purposes and remotely to support researchers and university classwork,” Husbands says. A Web site dedicated to the project shows a current image of the telescope and allows any user, from anywhere in the world, to request that the instrument make a specific observation and to be sent the results. “In the future, the site will offer educational and technical resources for a K-12 environment,” Husbands says.

“We hope students from around the world will use this site to learn about science, technology, and engineering,” adds LMC chair George McClure. “This project is the poster child for our grant program.”

Other grants in the past few years went to water projects with Engineers Without Borders in Belize and Peru, and one that developed high-efficiency cooking stoves in Rwanda. The water projects involved providing portable water through a gravity-fed distribution system. The committee also sponsored a Girls Discover Engineering Day during which almost 300 elementary school girls in Ohio, learned about engineering through hands-on projects and talks by female engineers. In addition, the LMC sponsors the annual IEEE James H. Mulligan Jr. Education Medal, presented to an individual “for a career of outstanding contributions to education in the fields of interest of IEEE.”

Do you want to help fund projects like the SRT? There are several ways to donate money to the Life Members Fund, including online or through a bequest in a will or trust.

Life members donating at least $50 receive a life member’s pin. Those who give $100 or more receive a limited-edition pewter coaster depicting an IEEE Milestone such as the first transatlantic TV signal sent via satellite, ENIAC, or the Panama Canal.

You know your money is going to a greater good, says McClure, who donates to the fund. “Your funds go toward the betterment of humanity and improving the engineering profession,” he says. “It’s a great way to give back to your profession.”

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.