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Larry Burns Featured in Inaugural Engineer in Society Lecture

Finding resolutions to the issues and challenges facing the world today is a tall order. But no profession may be better equipped and poised to do so than engineering. That's the message behind a new Mechanical Engineering endowed lecture series, The Engineer in Society.

"Engineers are the ones who can solve problems. And we have a lot of problems," said Michael Korybalski, who endowed the lectureship. "Some of the big issues facing engineers are related to the environment and global warming, so we have to look at how to develop products that are friendly to the environment. Take a different issue--globalization--and we have to look at how to engineer for a global economy and what impact this has on the United States and other countries. I'm hoping we can bring in people with big ideas to speak to these issues," he said.

Korybalski earned a bachelor's and master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from U-M as well as an Larry Burns

MBA from the U-M Business School. He currently chairs the Mechanical Engineering External Advisory Board. He was co-founder of Mechanical Dynamics, Inc. and its former CEO before the company was purchased by MSC Software in 2002

Lawrence Burns, vice president of Research and Development and Strategic Planning for General Motors Corporation shared his ideas on the role of the engineer in society when he delivered the inaugural lecture on October 19 in the Arthur Miller Theatre on U-M's North Campus. Burns spoke about the "new DNA" of the automobile.

In the coming years vehicles will have an entirely different "genetic makeup" than the ones we know today, Burns said in an interview. They will be driven electrically, will run on fuels other than petroleum, will be electronically controlled and will communicate and interact with other vehicles on the road in ways that reduce congestion and improve safety, he continued. "The new DNA is going to remove the automobile from the energy, safety and congestion debates to continue to deliver large-scale personal mobility to society."

The role of the engineer in bringing about such a fundamental shift is "fascinating," Burns added. "The world is a very exciting place and we have an extraordinary quality of life, but there are a lot of big issues related to the environment, energy, traffic safety and geopolitical stability. Engineers are absolutely essential in bringing forth real solutions." Those solutions must be more than simply technically appropriate, he added. Engineers must approach problems from economic, public policy and other perspectives as well.

Burns' presentation is available for download. The full lecture is also available.

The invitation to present the inaugural lecture was a true honor for Burns for several reasons, he said. "It's meaningful to me because of Mike's entrepreneurial background and remarkable contributions to developing math-based, virtual engineering tools." GM also closely works with the U-M Mechanical Engineering department through collaborative research laboratories and other research initiatives. "And we hire a lot of employees from U-M," Burns added.

In establishing the lecture series, Korybalski hopes to get engineers from across disciplines thinking more about their own role in solving some of society's problems. He also wants those in the audience to feel the "wow" factor, he said. "As an entrepreneur, I've always wanted customers to walk away saying, 'Wow.' In a sense the audience is the customer, and I want them to say, 'Wow, that was thought-provoking. I learned something new; I can see things from a different perspective; and now I see ways maybe I can help.'"

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