Iowa State engineer explores intersection of engineering, economics and green policy

May 24, 2010
W. Ross Morrow is developing large-scale computer models of engineering and economic systems that involve government, corporations, technology and consumers. Credit: Photo by Bob Elbert/Iowa State University

Engineers bring a critical perspective to the economic models and mathematical predictions that are used to influence public policy, says Iowa State mechanical engineer W. Ross Morrow.

"With these quantitative models, people in policy and economics tend to take them at their word," said Morrow, an Iowa State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering with a courtesy appointment in economics. "Engineers bring a great skepticism about what the models say. They ask, 'What evidence is the model based on?'"

Morrow, who's finishing his first year at Iowa State, knows what he's talking about. He's building a research career on improving large-scale computer models of engineering and economic systems. He's focusing on energy and environmental issues that involve government, corporations, technology and consumers.

As a doctoral student at the University of Michigan, Morrow developed new theories and numerical methods to analyze the government policies regulating and their effects on the auto industry's design and pricing decisions.

Then, as a post-doctoral researcher at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, he and colleagues studied how hikes in gas taxes could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. When their report was released in March, it made The New York Times' Dot Earth blog, Rush Limbaugh's radio show and an interview on Bloomberg Television.

As an Iowa State faculty member, he's continuing to look at numerical methods for modeling engineering and economic systems. He's working to improve how models handle something as complex and uncertain as the energy industry. How do models, for example, account for uncertainties about the future of oil reserves and advances in vehicle technology?

He also wants to develop new technical solutions to building large-scale, complex models that take into account engineering technology and market behavior.

He fills his research summaries with talk of random utility models of consumer choice, design-centered policy analysis and the Poincare-Hopf theorem. Ask about his work and he mentions the National Energy Modeling System, Bertrand-Nash equilibrium prices and game theoretical models.

All those tools help him develop models that can better inform environmental policy, industrial decisions and consumer behavior.

And Morrow says it's good to have somebody with three degrees in mechanical engineering (plus one in math) working on those kinds of problems.

"These issues involving energy and the environment will be solved, in part, by technology," he said. "And so engineers have to be involved in the discussions. It's important to have people who develop technology to be involved in policy development."

And it works the other way around, too.

"Engineers," he said, "also have to understand how technology decisions influence people's lives."

Explore further: Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study to forecast side-effects of pollution policy

Sep 13, 2006

The University of Michigan will lead a four-university team in a large-scale project to develop software to help analysts craft greenhouse gas reduction policies in the transportation industry.

Recommended for you

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

17 hours ago

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Freight train industry to miss safety deadline

Apr 16, 2014

The U.S. freight railroad industry says only one-fifth of its track will be equipped with mandatory safety technology to prevent most collisions and derailments by the deadline set by Congress.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers uncover likely creator of Bitcoin

The primary author of the celebrated Bitcoin paper, and therefore probable creator of Bitcoin, is most likely Nick Szabo, a blogger and former George Washington University law professor, according to students ...

LinkedIn membership hits 300 million

The career-focused social network LinkedIn announced Friday it has 300 million members, with more than half the total outside the United States.

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...