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Cleaning Up the Plastic Pollution in Our Oceans

This is an interesting talk on an important topic: cleaning up plastic in the ocean. ,a student from the Netherlands, looked to find a solution to a problem others said couldn’t be solved.

This is exactly the type of wonderful activity that inspired people can accomplish using science and engineering. He collected an understanding of the 50 issues that supposedly makes a solution impossible.

After getting funding (sparked by an explosion of viral social media) he worked on exploring the “insolvable” problems (having withdrawn from school to work on this problem). It is wonderful to see what we can do when inspired people use science and engineering to make the world a better place.

From their website, The Ocean Cleanup

In the feasibility report, we estimated that a 100-kilometer array operating in the North Pacific gyre for 10 years could remove 42% of the plastics in the area, or an estimated 70 million kilograms.

The plastic will be stored in an internal buffer within the platform at the tip of the V-shaped array. The plastic in the buffer will regularly be emptied onto a vessel that comes to collect it for transport to land. This will occur approximately once every six weeks, depending on the size of the vessel.

Besides monetary support, your relevant knowledge and skills may be a very welcome addition to The Ocean Cleanup. Our work requires not only scientific and technical expertise, but also assistance with legal, commercial and policy matters. If you would like to get actively involved in our work, If you would like to get actively involved in our work, please visit the careers page.

They aim to put a full scale pilot project in place in 3 to 4 years.

Related: Albatross Chicks Fed Plastic Ocean Pollution by ParentsAltered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea (2006)Using Robots to Collect Data on our OceansDead Zones in the Ocean

Ancient Chinese Natural Gas Drilling Using Bamboo

This very interesting article is a great read about the history of Chinese bamboo drilling by Oliver Kuhn.

The first recorded salt well in China was dug in Sichuan Province, around 2,250 years ago. This was the first time water well technology was applied successfully to the exploitation of salt, and marked the beginning of Sichuan’s salt drilling industry. From that point on, wells in Sichuan have penetrated the earth to tap into brine aquifers, essentially ground water with a salinity of over 50g/l. The water is then evaporated using a heat source, leaving the salt behind.

At some point around 2,000 years ago the leap from hand and shovel dug wells to percussively drilled ones was made. By the beginning of the 3rd century AD, wells were being drilled up to 140m deep. The drilling technique used can still be seen in China today, when rural farmers drill water wells. The drill bit is made of iron, the pipe bamboo. The rig is constructed from bamboo; one or more men stands on a wooden plank lever, much like a seesaw, and this lifts up the drill stem a metre or so. The pipe is allowed to drop, and the drill bit crashes down into the rock, pulverizing it. Inch by inch, month by month, the drilling slowly progresses.

A major breakthrough was achieved around 1050 AD, allowing deeper wells, when solid bamboo pipe was replaced by thin, light, flexible bamboo “cable”. This dramatically lowered the weight that needed to be lifted from the surface, a weight that increased with the depth being drilled. By the 1700s Sichuan wells were typically in the range of 300 – 400m deep

One bamboo pipe line would take away the brine, and others the gas. The 2,000 year plus Sichuan salt industry has drilled approximately 130,000 brine and gas wells, and 10% of those were in the immediate Zigong area. Zigong has a cumulative gas production over this period of over 30 billion cubic metres. The area continues to be a major salt producer, and many of the historical wells are still in production.

drawing of Chinese drilling scene

An ancient sketch originally from “The Annals of Salt Law of Sichuan Province”. A “Kang Pen” drum is seen in the centre foreground, with gas pipes directly feeding the salt stoves on the right. At the top, brine from a remote well is being carried in buckets by men, who feed it into a bamboo pipeline that runs down to the stoves. One of the carriers is being paid at top left, and it appears that a blow out is depicted on a new well being drilled.
(from Zhong & Huang)

As recently as the 1950s there was still over 95km of bamboo pipeline in operation in the Zigong area.

Related: Research on Ancient Roman Concrete Will Allow the Creation of More Durable and Environmentally Friendly ConcreteWhy did China’s Scientific Innovation Stop?Hyperloop – Fast Transportation Using a Better Engineering Solution Than We Do Now

$1 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again

Bengaluru Doctor Invents a Rs. 50 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again

Dr. Vishal Rao, a Bangalore based oncologist, has developed a voice prosthesis that can help throat cancer patients speak after surgery. And unlike the extremely expensive ones available in the market today, this device will cost just Rs. 50. [$US 1]

We need to keep developing cost effective solutions to provide for the needs of billions of people around the world. It is great to see appropriate technology solutions at work making people’s lives better.

Related: Appropriate Technology Health Care Solution Could Save 72,000 Lives a YearManufacturing Biological Sensors Using Silk and LoomsPedal Powered Washing MachineAppropriate Technology: Self Adjusting Glasses

20 Most Popular Post on Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog in 2015

These were the most popular (by number of page views) posts on our blog in 2015.

3d printed taco holder with tacos

Taco Shell Holder, Noah Hornberger had the idea during breakfast and printed a version to test the next day.

This list shows how popular old posts can remain over time. 12 of these were also in the top 20 in 2014, 8 are new to the list this year. 3 of those are 2015 posts, in 2014 1 post from 2014 made the top 20. The distribution over the years of publication of the posts in the list this year:

2015: 3

2012: 1
2011: 1
2010: 4
2009: 3
2008: 5
2007: 2

2005: 1

Engineering Solutions to Make Our Living Spaces Less Noisy

I am sensitive to noise so the engineering tools available to reduce noise is something I am interested in. I wish those building apartments, condos and hotels paid more attention to these options.

Soundproofing for New York Noise

Part of the difficulty in damping sound is that it moves in two ways. Both high- and low-pitched noises can be airborne, like a child’s incessant piano practice that comes through a wall. Low-pitched noise, like the grating sound of a chair scraping the floor above, tends to move as vibration through a structure’s framing. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two, like from a TV mounted on a common wall.

A compounding issue is that it takes only a very small gap to let in a lot of sound.

“If you have a weakness in a wall that is only 1 percent of the total area, the sound transmitted through could double,”

There are many products to aid in reducing sound into your home. Sound Sense shows a wide variety of products available to aid in those efforts.

Soundproofing 101 provides some good basic explanations of the issues involved in soundproofing solutions.

Casual noise can be reduced to a very tolerable level by simply “beefing up” existing walls, floors and ceilings. However, if you want to achieve significant soundproofing, then a dedicated construction plan is in order. The room within a room is the most sound isolated system you can build.

It does sound extreme but I have considered this for a bedroom. Or even scaling it down into a enclosed sleep chamber, just to let me have a quite space to sleep.

Related: Dealing with Noise Pollution in Your CondoTurn Windows Into Sound Canceling FiltersGadgets to Mask Noise and Help You Sleep or ConcentrateEngineering Quiet, Efficient Planes

Beehive Fence Protects Farms from Elephants

photo of farmer in front of beehive fence in Botswana

Another cool use of appropriate technology. One of the problems with Elephants in Africa is when they go into farm fields and eat crops and destroy crops. The elephants and bees project is helping farmers deal with that problem.

By doing so they eliminate the need of farmers to protect their crops by killing elephant. The project uses bees natural behavior and elephants natural desire to avoid bees to create a fence that works to keep elephants out.

The beehives are hung on wires stretched between fenceposts around the farm. If an elephant bumps into the wires to try and enter the farm the bees will swarm and the elephants will run away (and the elephants will send an warning to other elephants to stay away). The fences are being used in Africa and India.

And this fence also produces honey. You can donate to the project to help elephants, bees and people.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantElephant Underpass in KenyaUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasFighting Elephant Poaching With Science (2007)Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying (2013)

Using Diatom Algae to Deliver Chemotherapy Drugs Directly to Cancer Cells

I am thankful for scientists doing the time consuming and important research to find new ways to fight disease. Here is an interesting webcast discussing how chemotherapy is used to fight cancer and how scientists are looking to algae to deliver the chemotherapy drugs to better target cancer cells (while not savaging our health cells).

I am also thankful to the funding sources that pay for this research (and for cool explanations of science, like SciShow).

Read more about the genetically engineered algae kills 90% of cancer cells without harming healthy ones. The algae are a diatom and many diatoms look very cool.

Sadly the actual research paper (by government funded university professors) is published by a closed science publisher (when are we finally going to stop this practice that was outdated over a decade ago?). Thankfully those responsible for SciShow are much more interested in promoting science than maintaining outdated business models (in direct contrast to so many science journal publishers).

Related post on cool delivery methods for life saving drugs: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsSelf-Assembling Cubes Could Deliver Medicine (2006)Nanoparticles With Scorpion Venom Slow Cancer SpreadNASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body

Wristband Thermometer Can Save Many Babies’ Lives

As I have mentioned many times before, I really love the use of appropriate technology to make a significant contribution to our lives. It is hard to do much better than saving our babies from death.

Hypothermia and infection are among the top causes of newborn deaths for the poor around the world. Regular temperature monitoring can enable early intervention.

Bempu is a new startup based in India that is developing a wrist-band for newborns that monitors their temperature and gives an audio-alarm if the temperature is unsafe. This isn’t an Apple-watch but it is just as worthy of publicity.

Baby thermometer wristbands

These wristbands can save the lives of newborns.

The Gates Foundation, and others, have contributed money to bring this product to market.

From an article on the new wristband:

UNICEF estimates that preventing and effectively responding to hypothermia could save 18 to 42 percent of newborns who die each year in developing countries in their first month of life. That’s anywhere from between 600,000 and 1.4 million babies. And that doesn’t even account for those who survive a drop in temperature, but have developmental problems because they struggle to gain weight and fight off infection when they become too cold.

We know what the problems are, we know what to do about it and it’s not happening,” says Karsten Lunze, a doctor and expert in newborn hypothermia at Boston University. If Bempu, which is still in prototype and will likely get to market by the end of 2015, succeeds, “it would be a miraculous catalyzer that everyone has been looking for over a decade,” he says. It’s testing well so far: A prototype, used on 25 newborns this year, detected a temperature drop a full 24 hours before hospital workers noticed.

Bempu was born after Narain followed his nose to the global south at 27, where he worked as an engineering fellow at Embrace, a nonprofit that makes a cheap, portable and rechargeable incubator for newborns. He noticed something clear: No one was really watching closely. Nurses lacked thermometers; some couldn’t even read them and mothers didn’t know the difference between Celsius and Fahrenheit.

Related: Manufacturing Biological Sensors Using Silk and Looms in IndiaCheap vinegar test cut cervical cancer deaths in India; could help many poor countriesUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasAppropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MITWater Wheel

Highest Paying Fields at Mid Career in USA: Engineering, Science and Math

Payscale has again provided details on average salaries by major for various fields. Once again engineering, math and science dominate. For this data they define mid-career as those with 10+ years of experience.

The top 15 bachelor degrees by mid-career salary were all from those 3 fields. And the median salary was $168,000 for petroleum engineering degrees (at the top) to $107,000 for Aerospace Engineering and Computer Science and Mathematics (tied for 14th).

The starting salaries for those with these degrees ranged from $58,000 for Actuarial Mathematics (though by mid-career salary they were in 3rd place at $119,000) to $101,000 for petroleum engineering. My guess is petroleum engineering salaries will decline from their current highs (as they have done in previous oil price busts). The second highest paying bachelor degree starting salary was for mining engineering at $71,500 – with most of the other fairly close to that amount.

Nuclear engineering pay started at a median of $68,200 before rising to the 2nd highest mid-career level of $121,000.

Payscale also provided data based on master’s degree field. Again petroleum engineering was in first place by mid-career ($173,000). Nurse anesthesia was in second at $159,000 and held the first spot for starting median salary ($139,000).

Taxation is the only filed that is obviously not STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) related which had the lowest initial median salary of $60,700 but was tied for 5th for mid career salary at $126,000. Technology management and operations research are also not STEM fields though are a bit related to the STEM area.

PhD degree’s with the highest mid-career median earning are again all STEM fields. Economics is one many people probably don’t think of as STEM but it is (as a social science) and really it is largely mathematics at this point.

Many of the PhD starting salaries are at $100,000 (or close). The disciplines with the highest mid-career median salaries are: Electrical and Computer Engineering $142,000; Computer Engineering $139,000; Chemical Engineering $138,000; Biomedical Engineering, $137,000; and Economics $134,000.

Related: No Surprise, Engineering Graduates Pay Continue to Reign Supreme (2012)The Time to Payback the Investment in a College Education in the USA Today is Nearly as Low as Ever, Surprisingly (2014)Engineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree Programs (2011)Earnings by College Major” Engineers and Scientists at the Top (2013)Looking at the Value of Different College Degrees

Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard

Toyota continues to do some fun and interesting research while they produce great cars (and make a lot of money doing so that allows them resources to do interesting research). Some past posts on their engineering exploits: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2009), Toyota Engineering Development Process, Innovation at Toyota, How to Develop Products like Toyota, Toyota IT Overview.

Toyota is teasing with the hoverboard announcement but it seems they have actually created it (though it isn’t ready to be in stores this year.

Liquid nitrogen cooled superconductors and permanent magnets combine to power the Lexus Hoverboard.

Sadly they haven’t bothered to hire a decent web designer. They have a pretty but broken website, with essentially no information. It is sad when interesting stories are keep to nearly no information using poorly designed websites created by people obviously more concerned with old fashion paper design thinking than how the web can be used to be clear and useful (not just pretty).

Pretty much for the last 10 years Toyota has had pretty but web hostile design for their web sites. It is a shame they can’t hire people that know how to properly create good web sites. Thankfully they hire good engineers and use good processes to actually develop products.

Computer Code for NASA’s Apollo Guidance System

photo of Margaret Hamilton, NASA

Margaret Hamilton, NASA. Standing next to a printout of the source code she and her team wrote for the Apollo guidance computer that made the moon landings possible.

Meet Margaret Hamilton, the badass ’60s programmer who saved the moon landing

The software for the guidance computer was written by a team at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory (now the Draper Laboratory), headed up by Margaret Hamilton.

The guidance computer used something known as “core rope memory“: wires were roped through metal cores in a particular way to store code in binary. “If the wire goes through the core, it represents a one,” Hamilton explained in the documentary Moon Machines. “And around the core it represents a zero.” The programs were woven together by hand in factories. And because the factory workers were mostly women, core rope memory became known by engineers as “LOL memory,” LOL standing for “little old lady.”

Hamilton is now 78 and runs Hamilton Technologies, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company she founded in 1986. She’s lived to see “software engineering” — a term she coined — grow from a relative backwater in computing into a prestigious profession.

In the early days, women were often assigned software tasks because software just wasn’t viewed as very important. “It’s not that managers of yore respected women more than they do now,” Rose Eveleth writes in a great piece on early women programmers for Smithsonian magazine. “They simply saw computer programming as an easy job. It was like typing or filing to them and the development of software was less important than the development of hardware. So women wrote software, programmed and even told their male colleagues how to make the hardware better.”

My aunt was one of those early software engineers. She wrote a chapter for a book, Programming the IBM 360, in the 1960s. My uncle was one of the first employees at NASA and rose to be one of the senior administrators there over his career.

It is great when society is able to capture the value individuals are capable of providing. We need to make sure we allow everyone opportunities to contribute. We do well in many ways but we also do lose from discrimination and also just making it uncomfortable for people to contribute in certain roles when we need not do so.

We have accomplished great things with software in the last 40 years. We could have accomplished more if we had done a better job of allowing women to contribute to the efforts in this field.

Related: The Eagle Has LandedBarbara Liskov wins Turing AwardGreat Self Portrait by Astronaut with Earth Reflected in His Visor

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