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Recommended posts: The Future is Engineering - Engineering Lectures at Google - Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel - USA Under-counting Engineering Graduates - Engineering the Future Economy - Tinker School: Engineering Camp - Innovation at Google Webcast - Worldwide Science and Engineering Doctoral Degree Data - Science Toys You Can Make With Your Kids - Engineering Graduates Again in Great Shape

Alternative Career Paths Attract Many Women in Science Fields

Instead of following traditional paths, women are using their science, technology, engineering, and math degrees to create new careers.

There are plenty of women out there engaged in traditional jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, but many are forging novel, interdisciplinary, STEM-based careers that blur categories and transcend agenda.

Because women have traditionally been excluded from these disciplines, and because their fresh eyes allow them to make connections between fields, many women are launching careers, and even entire industries, based on a flexible and creative definition of what it means to be a scientist, artist, or engineer. K-12 schools have done a particularly poor job of integrating study across STEM fields and encouraging creativity and interdisciplinary connections.

We continue to teach science, technology, and math in isolation, as if they have little to do with one another. This sort of compartmentalized approach runs counter to what we know about effective learning: Students need to be able to connect content knowledge and concepts to real-world applications in order to develop mastery and passion for a subject.

The challenge for anyone seeking to forge a brave new path through STEM careers, particularly ones that involve interdisciplinary study and practice, is the challenge of job stability. Kendall Hoyt, professor of technology and biosecurity at Thayer School of Engineering explained, “Interdisciplinary career paths are easier to create than they are to sustain, because there is not an established career trajectory and evaluation system.”

The challenge of how to maximize the opportunities for those interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math is important to all economies. There are difficulties in doing this and so continued focus on this area is good. My personal belief is we focus too much on the gender issue. Yes, we should reduce discrimination. I think we have done well but still have further to go.

Most of the suggested changes in how things should be done help women and also plenty of men that are turned off by the old way of doing things.

I also think we need to be careful in how we use data. Clamoring about discrepancies in a field with far more men (say physics) while not doing the same about a field with far more women (say psychology) is questionable to me. I don’t believe that any field that isn’t 50% male and 50% female is evidence that we need to fix the results so they are 50% each.

I believe we should provide everyone the opportunity to pursue the interests they have. They must perform to earn the right to continue. And we don’t want to waste potential with foolish barriers (for women, minorities or men). But if we do so and certain fields attract more women and others attract more men I think we can waste our effort by being too worried that certain fields are problematic.

If we are concerned it should be based on data and looking at the real world situation. In the coming decades my guess is women will exceed men in careers in many science disciplines (engineering still has fairly high male bias overall though some field, such as bio-engineering are already majority female graduates). It starts with education and women are already the majority of undergraduate degrees in science and engineering overall. And in many disciplines they dominate.

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Do It Yourself Solar Furnace for Home Heating

Man builds $300 solar furnace, decreases heating bill

“I think it’s something that everyone should have affixed right to [their] house. I think it should be part of your design,” said Buchanan. “It would be very easy to do. [With a] south-facing house like mine, it’s perfect.

“Just mount it on the side. If you touch the side of the house, even at —20 C, it’s still hot. We should be gathering that heat and driving it inside as quickly as possible.”

It is great to see do it yourself solutions that easily tap the energy provided by the sun to heat your house.

I had a friend that had a south facing greenhouse (attached to her house) that had 2 huge water tanks. They would heat up in the sun and give off heat all night (the stone floor would do the same thing).

Related: Brian’s Pop Can Solar HeaterSolar DIY Space Heating ProjectsHow to Build a Soda Can HeaterPay as You Go Solar in IndiaSoda-can furnaces powered by solar energy heat Denver neighborhoodGreen Building with Tire BalesCost Efficient Solar Dish by Students (2008)

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Pedal Powered Washing Machine

It is very easy to forget billions of people alive today do not have access to electricity, clean water and things like washing machines at home. As I have said before I love appropriate technology. Even more than that I love to see successful deployments of appropriate technology that make people’s lives better.

It is also great to see kids with the perseverance to make these products to meet needs they see around them. We need to do what we can to encourage these types of kids. They are the future engineers and entrepreneurs that will make lives better for the rest of society.

Remya Jose, a 14 year school girl from Kerala, India created this wonderful machine. Another version of it, has the normal bike pedals (closer together, instead of spread out, on opposite sides of the machine, like in the video).

As far as I can tell the original video was from 2008 (and Remya created the machine in 2005). I haven’t been able to find the current status of the product, this is the best I could find (from 2008). Turning these innovations into products that succeed commercially is very hard.

If I had control of a national development program (or if I just become super rich and have millions to devote to making the world better, I think an effort like this would be something I would try) I would put working with these kids to make the products work very high on my list of priorities. The learning process and creation of engineers and entrepreneurs would be extremely valuable on top of any success the products had.

Related: Appropriate Technology: Washing Clothes by Machine Instead by HandWashing Machine Uses 90% Less WaterEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-Shelleranother bicycle washing machineAutomatic Dog Washing Machine

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Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage

Battery offers renewable energy breakthrough

a metal-free flow battery that relies on the electrochemistry of naturally abundant, inexpensive, small organic (carbon-based) molecules called quinones, which are similar to molecules that store energy in plants and animals.

The mismatch between the availability of intermittent wind or sunshine and the variable demand is the biggest obstacle to using renewable sources for a large fraction of our electricity. A cost-effective means of storing large amounts of electrical energy could solve this problem.

Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks, as with fuel cells, instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components — the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are flowed (which sets the peak power capacity) and the chemical storage tanks (which set the energy capacity) — may be independently sized. Thus the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries.

This looks like a very interesting field of research. Storing power remains one of the challenges for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. This is especially true if the use is disconnected from the grid, but is even true for grid-connected uses. Especially as increasing the amount of wind and solar energy make it increasingly likely that surplus energy is created at certain times.

The research seems to allow for sensible size home storage setups. At the commercial level the volume needed is very large. Another concern to be addressed is how many cycles the “battery” is good for before it degrades; current experimentation show no degradation after 100 cycles but consumer/commercial usage will need thousands of cycles.

Related: Battery Breakthrough (solid sodium metal mated to a sulphur compound by an extraordinary, paper-thin ceramic membrane)Energy Storage Using Carbon Nanotubes (2006)Chart of Wind Power Generation Capacity Globally 2005-2012Recharge Batteries in Seconds

Hacking the Standard Bike Wheel

The Copenhagen Wheel stores energy (from braking…) and provides it when you need it (going up hill…). It is good to see innovation that helps transportation and can encourage people to be more active. Order now for $799.

Related: Engineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerSeparated Bike Lanes Reduced Injuries by 45% and Increased Retail Sales 49% (for nearby stores)Bike Folds To Footprint of 1 WheelSports Engineering at MIT

Silicon Valley Shows Power of Global Science and Technology Workforce

Even with the challenges created by the culture in Washington DC against non-European foreigners the last 15 years Silicon Valley continues to prosper due to the talents of a pool of global science and engineering talent. Other countries continue to fumble the opportunity provided by the USA’s policies (largely a combination of security theater thinking and a lack of scientific literacy); and the strength of Silicon Valley’s ecosystem has proven resilient.

Software Is Reorganizing the World

an incredible 64% of the Valley’s scientists and engineers hail from outside the U.S., with 43.9% of its technology companies founded by emigrants.

5 things to know about the Silicon Valley economy

64 percent of college-educated professionals working in Silicon Valley science and engineering positions were born outside the U.S. as of 2011. That’s compared to the national average of 26 percent.

The Kauffman foundation’s recent study America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Then and Now shows evidence the anti-global culture in Washington DC is negatively impacting the economy in the USA.

The drop is even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, where the percentage of immigrant-founded startups declined from 52.4 percent to 43.9 percent.

The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent, draws on the research to show that the United States is in the midst of a historically unprecedented halt in high-growth, immigrant-founded startups.

… launched a website — ImmigrantExodus.com — as a resource for journalists and a voice for immigrant entrepreneurs.

As I have written for years, I expected the USA’s relative position to decline. The huge advantages we had were not sustainable. But the very bad policies of the last 15 years have negatively impacted the USA. The only thing not making the results much worse is no strong competitors have stepped into the void created by the policies of the last 2 USA administrations. It isn’t easy to create a strong alternative for technology startups but the economic value of doing so is huge.

The USA has created the opportunity for others to grow much faster, now some just have to step into the void. Will Brazil, Norway, Korea, Chile, Malaysia, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, India… step up and create conditions for entrepreneurial scientists and engineers? Each country has been doing some good things but also continue to miss many opportunities. Some countries also have more challenges to overcome – it is much easier if the economy is already rich (say in top 20 in the world), speaks English, has a strong science and technology workforce… The innovation stiffing legal system in place in the USA is absolutely horrible and presents a huge opportunity to anyone willing to stand up to the USA’s continuing pressure to force countries to burden themselves with equally bad (or even worse) policies (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership). It is possible to succeed with numerous weaknesses it just requires even more offsetting benefits to attract technology entrepreneurs.

Some things are probably absolutely required: rule of law, strong technology infrastructure (internet, etc.), good transportation links internationally, stable politically, freedom of expression (technology entrepreneurs expect to be able to try and say crazy things if you want to control what people say and publish that is very counter to the technology entrepreneurial spirit – especially around internet technology)…

Related: The Future is EngineeringUSA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USAScience and Engineering in Politics

Earnings by College Major – Engineers and Scientists at the Top

graph of earnings by college-major

Median annual income by major based on data from the Georgetown Center On Education And The Workforce – via blog post: The Most And Least Lucrative College Majors.

As we have posted about for years engineers do very well financially. This chart shows the median income by college major (the data includes those who went on to get advanced degrees) based on data for the USA. See the data on those that only have bachelors degrees. Also see a detailed post from the Curious Cat Economics blog looking at the value of college degrees based on the Georgetown data.

Engineering holds 6 of the top spots in the graph shown above and 8 of the top spots for those that didn’t earn an advanced degree. Pharmacy-sciences-and-administration and Math-and-computer-sciences made the top 10 of both lists. Pharmacology and health-and-medical-prepatory-programs make the list when advanced degrees are included.

The highest earning major, petroleum engineering, with $120,000 doesn’t have an increase for those with advanced degrees. The 10th spot goes to electrical engineering with a $94,000 median income.

Related: No Surprise – Engineering Graduates Continue to Reign SupremeEngineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree ProgramsEngineering Majors Hold 8 of Top 10 Highest Paid MajorsThe Labor Market for Software Developers

Appropriate Technology Brings a $1.30/month Cell Phone Plan to Remote Village

I love this kind of stuff: smart use of engineering provides cell phone service to remote Mexican village, with 9,000 residents, for $1.30/month (1/13 of the price charge by traditional cell phone service in Mexico City).

The town that Carlos Slim forgot

It’s so remote that there was no cell service. In stepped Rhizomatica, a nonprofit with the goal of increasing “access to mobile telecommunications to the over two billion people without affordable coverage and the 700 million with none at all.”

The U.S. and European experts working with Mexican engineers got the network set up by March of this year. At first, they ruled that phone calls were not to be longer than five minutes each to keep the small network from getting saturated.

By May, local numbers in Mexico City, Los Angeles and Seattle were set up, meaning that Oaxacans in Villa Talea could call relatives in the capital or in California as if it were practically a local call, a few cents a minute.

Given the success they are buying equipment that can handle the volume and will donate the existing equipment to setup a new village (a smaller one, I imagine). This was the first village they setup.

Long-distance is go

After almost two months of fine-tuning, long-distance service is finally ready to launch. This means folks in the town will be able to call out of the coverage area (only around 5-10km) to any phone, anywhere. Likewise we purchased a few DID numbers which allow people to call a Mexico City, Los Angeles or Seattle number and connect right to the village.

This is one of so many great efforts to use appropriate technology to improve people’s lives. It is easy for me to get frustrated at the cash for votes mentality of the USA politicians which creates policies against improvement for society and for protection of obsolete business models (until the bought-and-paid-for politicians make the business models sustainable by legislating against better options). It is great to see these kind of examples for the good work being done outside of the political sphere.

Related: Pay as You Go Solar in IndiaProviding Computer to Remote Students in NepalReducing Poverty Using EntrepreneurshipMonopolies and Oligopolies do not a Free Market Make

Hyperloop – Fast Transportation Using a Better Engineering Solution Than We Do Now

Elon Musk (the engineer and entrepreneur behind Tesla electric cars and before that he helped create PayPal) has a very cool idea of how to provide fast long distance transportation (faster than a plane). Essentially it is a big version of pneumatic tubes that used to be used to send small packages around a building, as seen in the movie – Brazil :-) Details are scheduled to be released August 12th.

This Is How Elon Musk Can Build the Hyperloop for a Tenth the Cost of High-Speed Rail

Having a elevated Hyperloop main line also completely avoids or reduces many of the pitfalls of ground-level right-of-ways, and opens up some new opportunities as well:

  • The crossing of other right-of-ways, like roads and railways, will be a breeze.
  • Rivers and other terrain obstacles will only be a 10th the problem of rail construction.
  • Hyperloop can avoid tunnels completely by having more flexible choices of right-of-way.
  • An elevated right-of-way opens up new route options, like leasing farmer’s fields using contracts similar to what wind-power companies sign.
  • That could be paid for by leasing Hyperloop’s right-of-way to communications companies for fiber optic cables, cell phone towers, etc.
  • …and let’s not forget the solar power that a couple of square miles of surface area can generate!

Hype Builds Before Elon Musk’s August Alpha Plan for Hyperloop

The Hyperloop would transport passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 30 minutes and at about twice the average speed of a commercial jet. The system would be on-demand, cheaper than current alternatives, impossible to crash, and potentially, run entirely on solar power.

Travelers ride in pods magnetically accelerated and decelerated into the main tube (like a rail gun) where the air circulates at speed. The air between pods acts as a cushion, preventing crashes, while more air injected through perforations in the tube levitates the pods and reduces friction, much as it might on an air hockey table.

Elon Musk has some very good ideas but what really sets him apart is turning them into functioning enterprises. Great ideas are wonderful but a huge number never go anywhere. Those people that can actually get ideas into the marketplace are the people that provide a much greater standard of living for all of us. And many of them are engineers.

Update: link to his blog post announcement.

More examples of cool extreme engineering: Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-TunnelTransferring Train Passengers Without Stoppingtransatlantic tunnelWebcast on Machine That Bores Subway Tunnels

3d Printers Can Already Save Consumers Money

I first wrote about 3d printing at home here, on the Curious Cat Engineering blog, in 2007. Revolutionary technology normally takes quite a while to actually gain mainstream viability. I am impressed how quickly 3d printing has moved and am getting more convinced we are underestimating the impact. The quality of the printing is improving amazingly quickly.

3d printed objects

As is so often the case these day, our broken patent system is delaying innovation in our society. For 3d printing there is a good argument the delays due to the innovation crippling way that system is operating today will be avoided as critical 3d patents expire in 2014. Patents can aid society but the current system is not, instead it is causing society great harm and delaying us being able to use new innovations.

“For the average American consumer, 3D printing is ready for showtime,” said Associate Professor Joshua Pearce, Michigan Technological University.

3D printers deposit multiple layers of plastic or other materials to make almost anything, from toys to tools to kitchen gadgets. Free designs that direct the printers are available by the tens of thousands on websites like Thingiverse (a wonderful site). Visitors can download designs to make their own products using open-source 3D printers, like the RepRap, which you build yourself from printed parts, or those that come in a box ready to print, from companies like Type-A Machines.

3D printers have been the purview of a relative few aficionados, but that is changing fast, Pearce said. The reason is financial: the typical family can already save a great deal of money by making things with a 3D printer instead of buying them off the shelf.

In the study, Pearce and his team chose 20 common household items listed on Thingiverse. Then they used Google Shopping to determine the maximum and minimum cost of buying those 20 items online, shipping charges not included.

Next, they calculated the cost of making them with 3D printers. The conclusion: it would cost the typical consumer from $312 to $1,944 to buy those 20 things compared to $18 to make them in a weekend.

Open-source 3D printers for home use have price tags ranging from about $350 to $2,000. Making the very conservative assumption a family would only make 20 items a year, Pearce’s group calculated that the printers would pay for themselves quickly, in a few months to a few years.

The group chose relatively inexpensive items for their study: cellphone accessories, a garlic press, a showerhead, a spoon holder, and the like. 3D printers can save consumers even more money on high-end items like customized orthotics and photographic equipment.

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Home Engineering: Automatic Screen Door Closer

A simple solution to a common problem. Using a small pulley, some nylon string and a bottle of sand to create an automatic sliding patio door. It is wonderful to see how creative people can find solutions to improve our lifestyles. Don’t just accept limitation, find ways to make things better.

Related: Home Engineering, Halloween Edition: Gaping Hole CostumeHome Engineering: Bird Feeder That Automatically Takes Photos When Birds FeedLow-Cost Multi-touch Whiteboard Using Wii Remote

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