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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

Encouraging Curiosity in Kids

How do you help make your children scientifically literate? I think the biggest thing you can do is encourage curiosity.

One way to encourage curiosity it is by answering their questions (and not saying: I am too busy, don’t bother me, don’t ask me?, stop asking why…). I know adults are busy and have all sorts of stuff we are trying to get done; and the question about why I need to wash my hands doesn’t seem worth answering. But I think anytime a kid is asking why is an opportunity to teach and encourage them to keep being curious.

It is very easy to shut off this curiosity, in our society anyway (we do it to the vast majority of people). The biggest difference I see between adults and kids is not maturity or responsibility but curiosity (or lack thereof in adults) and joy (versus adults who seem to be on valium all the time – maybe they are).

As they grow up kids will have lots of science and technology questions that you don’t know the answers to. If you want them to be curious and knowledgeable, put in the effort to find answers with them. You have to help them find the answers in a way that doesn’t turn them off. If you just say – go look it up yourself (which really they can do), maybe the 2% that are going to become scientists will. But most kids will just give up and turn off their curiosity a little bit more (until eventually it is almost gone and they are ready to fit into the adult world). Which is very sad.

Once you get them used to thinking and looking things up they will start to do this on their own. A lot of this just requires thinking (no need to look things up – once a certain base knowledge is achieved). But you need to set that pattern. And it would help if you were curious, thought and learned yourself.

Photo of kids intently studying on a Malaysian beach

My mom with a group of Malaysia kids apparently intent on learning something. I am there, but not visible in this photo. Photo by my father.

While walking in the park, see one of those things you are curious about and ask why does…? It is good to ask kids why and let them think about it and try and answer. Get them in the habit of asking why themselves. And in those cases when no-one knows, take some time and figure it out. Ask some questions (both for yourself – to guide your thinking – and to illustrate how to think about the question and figure things out). If you all can’t find an explanation yourselves, take some time to look it up. Then at dinner, tell everyone what you learned. This will be much more interesting to the kids than forcing them to elaborate on what they did today and help set the idea that curiosity is good and finding explanations is interesting.

It is fun as a kid if your parent is a scientist or engineer (my father was an engineering professor).

You often don’t notice traits about yourself. In the same what I know what red looks like to me, I figure we both see this red shirt you see the red that I do. But maybe you don’t. I tend to constantly be asking myself why. If I see something new (which is many, many times a day – unless I am trapped in some sad treadmill of sameness) I ask why is it that way and then try and answer. I think most of this goes on subconsciously or some barely conscious way. I actually had an example a few months ago when I was visiting home with my brother (who is pretty similar to me).

As we were driving, I had noticed some fairly tall poles that seemed to have really small solar panels on top. I then noticed they were space maybe 20 meters apart. Then saw that there seemed to be a asphalt path along the same line. I then decided, ok, they are probably solar panels to power a light for the path at night. Then my brother asked why are there those small solar panel on top of that pole?

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Top Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and Korea

The 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)* report has been released. The report examines the science of 15 year olds from 57 countries in math, science and reading. The main focus of PISA 2009 was reading. The survey also updated performance assessments in mathematics and science.

The Asian countries continue to do very well for several reason including tutoring; they have even turned tutors into rock stars earning millions of dollars. The results show that the focus on student achievement in sciences has had an impact in Asia.

The emphasis is on mastering processes, understanding concepts and functioning in various contexts within each assessment area. the PISA 2012 survey will return to mathematics as the major assessment area, PISA 2015 will focus on science.

Results for the Science portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):

  • 1 – Finland – 554
  • 2 – Hong Kong – 549
  • 3 – Japan – 539
  • 4 – Korea – 538
  • 5 – New Zealand – 532
  • 6 – Canada – 529
  • 7 – Estonia – 528
  • 8 – Australia – 527
  • 9 – Netherlands – 522
  • 10 – Taiwan – 520
  • 11 – Germany – 520
  • 14 – United Kingdom – 514
  • 21 – USA – 502 (up from 489 and 29th place in 2006)
  • OECD average – 501
  • 25 – France – 498
  • 46 – Mexico – 416
  • 49 – Brazil – 405

Results for the math portion (rank – country – mean score)(I am not listing all countries):
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Electric Wind

photo of William Kamkwamba on his windmillphoto of William Kamkwamba on his windmill from his blog.

I have written about William Kamkwamba before: Inspirational EngineerHome Engineering: Windmill for Electricity. And along with the post, Make the World Better, donated to his cause. His new book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, is quite enjoyable and provides an interesting view of how he persevered. His talk of the famine, not being able to afford school and putting together a windmill using scrape parts and a few books from the library (donated by the American government – much better foreign aid than all the military weapons that are often counted as aid) is inspirational. And should help many sitting in luxury understand the privileged lives they lead.

“I’d become very interested in how things worked, yet never thought of this as science. In addition to radios, I’d also become fascinated by how cards worked, especially how petrol operated an engine. How does this happen? I thought? Well, that’s easy to find out – just ask someone with a car… But no one could tell me… Really how can you drive a truck and not know how it works?” (page 66)

“Using Energy, and this book has since changed my life… All I needed was a windmill, and then I could have lights. No more kerosene lamps that burned out eyes… I could stay awake at night reading instead of going to bed at seven with the rest of Malawi. But most important, a windmill could also rotate a pump for water and irrigation.” (page 158)

William set out to demonstrate his windmill for the first time to a skeptical crowd saying (page 193)

“Let’s see how crazy this boy really is.”… “Look,” someone said. “He’s made light!”… “Electric wind!” I shouted. “I told you I wasn’t mad!”

I like how the story shows how long, hard work, reading, experimenting and learning is what allowed William to success (page 194-5)

For the next month, about thirty people showed up each day to stare at the light. “How did you manage such a thing?” They asked. “Hard work and lots of research,” I’d say, trying not to sound too smug…
[to William’s father] “What an intelligent boy. Where did he get such ideas?”
“He’s been reading lots of books. Maybe from there?”
“They teach this in school?”
“He was forced to drop. He did this on his own.”
The diagram demonstrated twenty-four volts being transformed to two hundred forty. I knew voltage increased with each turn of wire. The diagram showed the primary coil to have two hundred turns, while the secondary had two thousand. A bunch of mathematical equations were below the diagram – I assumed they explained how I could make my own conversions – but instead I just wrapped like mad and hoped it would work. (page 200)
Soon I was attacking every idea with its own experiment. Over the next year, there was hardly a moment when I wasn’t planning or devising some new scheme. And though the windmill and radio transmitter had both been successes, I couldn’t say the same for a few other experiments. (page 215)

William is now attending the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, with an amazing group of classmates. See how you can support the Moving Windmills Projects.

Related: Teen’s DIY Energy Hacking Gives African Village New HopeMake the World BetterWilliam Kamkwamba on the Daily ShowWhat Kids can Learnappropriate technology

Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe Hybrid Image

Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe Hybrid ImageThis image looks like Albert Einstein up close. If you back up maybe 3-5 meters it will look like Marilyn Monroe. Image by Dr. Aude Oliva.

Hybrid images paper by Aude Oliva, MIT; Antonio Torralba, MIT; and Philippe G. Schyns University of Glasgow.

We present hybrid images, a technique that produces static images with two interpretations, which change as a function of viewing distance. Hybrid images are based on the multiscale processing of images by the human visual system and are motivated by masking studies in visual perception. These images can be used to create
compelling displays in which the image appears to change as the viewing distance changes. We show that by taking into account perceptual grouping mechanisms it is possible to build compelling hybrid images with stable percepts at each distance.

Hybrid images, however, contain two coherent global image interpretations, one of which is of the low spatial frequencies, the other of high spatial frequencies.

For a given distance of viewing, or a given temporal frequency a particular band of spatial frequency dominates visual processing. Visual analysis of the hybrid image still unfolds from global to local perception, but within the selected frequency band, for a given viewing distance, the observer will perceive the global structure of the hybrid first, and take an additional hundred milliseconds to organize the local information into a coherent percept (organization of blobs if the image is viewed at a far distance, or organization of edges for close viewing).

Very cool stuff.

Albert Einstein, Marilyn Monroe Hybrid ImageThis is just a smaller image of the above (all I did was shrink the size). For me, this already looks like Marilyn Monroe, but also needs a shorter distance to see the image seem to change.

Related: Illusions, Optical and OtherHow Our Brain Resolves SightSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsMagenta is a Colorposts on scientific explanations of what we experienceComputational Visual Cognition Laboratory at MIT

Student Invents Solar-Powered Fridge

solar powered refrigerator illustration

Student Invents Solar-Powered Fridge for Developing Countries

21-year-old student/inventor/entrepreneur Emily Cummins has designed a brilliant portable solar-powered refrigerator that works based upon the principle of evaporation. Employing a combination of conduction and convection, the refrigerator requires no electricity and can be made from commonly available materials like cardboard, sand, and recycled metal.

Simply place perishable foods or temperature-sensitive medications in the solar refrigerator’s interior metal chamber and seal it. In-between the inner and outer chamber, organic material like sand, wool or soil is then saturated with water. As the sun warms the organic material, water evaporates, reducing the temperature of the inner chamber to a cool, 6 ºC [43 ºF] for days at a time!

After winning £5,000 from York Merchant Adventurers for her idea, Emily delayed going to college for a year to take her refrigerator to Africa for further development.

At 16 Emily won a regional Young Engineer for Britain Award for creating a toothpaste squeezer for people with arthritis, and the next year went on to win a Sustainable Design Award for a water-carrier made from wood and rubber tubing. In 2007 Emily was named the British Female Innovator of the Year, and last year was short-listed for Cosmopolitan’s 2008 Ultimate Women of the Year Competition.

Update: some readers seem confused by what related means below. Those links show previous post to related items and include previous similar designs to keep things cool, including “Refrigerator Without Electricity” which is a clay pot design by Mohammed Bah Abba of Nigeria for the Pot in Pot Cooling System that received the 2000 Rolex award.

Related: Refrigerator Without ElectricityCompressor-free Refrigeratorposts on appropriate engineeringUK Young Engineers CompetitionsWinter Air RefrigerationThe Glove, Engineering Coolness

Friday Fun: Octopus Juggling Fellow Aquarium Occupants

photo of Otto the Octopus

Otto the octopus wreaks havoc

Otto is constantly craving for attention and always comes up with new stunts so we have realised we will have to keep more careful eye on him – and also perhaps give him a few more toys to play with.

“Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better – much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants.”

Staff believe that the octopus called Otto had been annoyed by the bright light shining into his aquarium and had discovered he could extinguish it by climbing onto the rim of his tank and squirting a jet of water in its direction. The short-circuit had baffled electricians as well as staff at the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, who decided to take shifts sleeping on the floor to find out what caused the mysterious blackouts.

Related: more fun postsThe Brine Lake Beneath the SeaBaby Sand Dollars Clone Themselves When They Sense DangerVirgin Birth for Another Shark Species

Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel

photo of Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel photo of Hampton Roads Virginia Bridge-Tunnel

Now that is some cool engineering: a bridge that becomes a tunnel. The Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel is a 4.6 miles (7.4 km) crossing for Interstate 664 in Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA. It is a four-lane bridge-tunnel composed of bridges, trestles, man-made islands, and tunnels under a portion of the Hampton Roads harbor where the James, Nansemond, and Elizabeth Rivers come together in the southeastern portion of Virginia.

If you like this post, please look at our other popular posts, and consider adding our blog feed to your blog reader. Posts such as: Bacteriophages: The Most Common Life-Like Form on Earth, Robot Finds Lost Shoppers and Provides Directions and The Engineer That Made Your Cat a Photographer

It was completed in 1992, after 7 years of construction, at a cost $400 million, and it includes a four-lane tunnel that is 4,800 feet (1,463 m) long, two man-made portal islands, and 3.2 miles (5.1 km) of twin trestle.

Photos by Virginia Department of Transportation. Details from wikipedia. Google satellite view of the bridge-tunnel.

Related: Extreme EngineeringCool Falkirk Wheel Canal LiftThe Dynamics of Crowd Disasters: An Empirical StudyA ‘Chunnel’ for Spain and MoroccoSwiss dig world’s Longest Tunnel

Wind Power Provided Over 1% of Global Electricity in 2007

graph of global installed wind power capacity

Data from World Wind Energy Association, for installed Mega Watts of global wind power capacity in 2007. 19,696 MW of capacity were added in 2007, bringing the total to 93,849 MW. Europe accounts for 61% of installed capacity, Germany accounts for 24% and the USA 18%.

The graph shows the top 10 producers (with the exceptions of Denmark and Portugal) and includes Japan (which is 13th).

Related: USA Wind Power Installed Capacity 1981 to 2005Wind Power has the Potential to Produce 20% of Electricity by 2030Top 12 Manufacturing Countries in 2007Sails for Modern Cargo ShipsMIT’s Energy ‘Manhattan Project’

Best Research University Rankings – 2008

The annual ranking of research Universities are available from Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University. The methodology values publications and faculty awards which provides a better ranking of research (rather than teaching). Results from the 2008 rankings of Top 500 Universities worldwide, country representation of the top schools:

location Top 100 % of World
% of World GDP % of top 500
USA 54     4.6%   27.2%  31.6%
United Kingdom 11  0.9  4.9 8.3
Germany   6  1.3  6.0 8.0
Japan   4  2.0  9.0 6.2
Canada   4  0.5  2.6 4.2
Sweden   4  0.1  0.8 2.2
France   3  0.8  4.6 4.6
Switzerland   3  0.1  0.8 1.6
Australia   3  0.3  1.6 3.0
Netherlands   2  0.2  1.4 2.4
Denmark   2  0.1  0.6 0.8
Finland   1  0.1  0.4 1.2
Norway   1  0.1  0.7 0.8
Israel   1  0.1  0.3 1.2
Russia   1  2.2  2.0 0.4
China  20.5  6.6 6.0
India  17.0  1.9 0.4

There is little change in most of the data from last year, which I think is a good sign, it wouldn’t make much sense to have radical shifts over a year in these rankings. Japan lost 2 schools in the top 100, France lost 1. Denmark (Aarhus University) and Australia (University of Sydney) gained 1. Last year there was a tie so there were 101 schools in the top 100.

The most dramatic data I noticed is China’s number of top 500 schools went from 14 to 30, which made me a bit skeptical of what caused that quick change. Looking more closely last year they reported the China top 500 totals as (China 14, China-Taiwan 6 and China-Hong Kong 5). That still gives them an impressive gain of 5 schools.

Singapore has 1 in the 102-151 range. Taiwan has 1 ranked in the 152-200 range, as do Mexico, Korea and Brazil. China has 9 in the 201-302 range (including 3 in Hong Kong). India has 2 in the 303-401 range.

University of Wisconsin – Madison is 17th again 🙂 My father taught there while I grew up.
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Loan Forgiveness Program for Engineering Students

Update (2011): sadly politicians decided though they can give billions in welfare to investment banks and billions in tax breaks to those giving politicians lots of cash they didn’t want to help out engineering students. I actually wouldn’t have a big problem with this decision (to not fund this program) if it was symptomatic of frugal actions by those we entrust with leading our government. Given how frivolously they reward those that give them lots of cash for their campaigns (or pay as soon as they and their staff take jobs with organizations they gave huge benefits to) I think not funding this very small cost is foolish. This is the type of program I think smart countries will adopt (the types of policies the SUA adopted in the 1960’s and lately countries like Singapore, Korea, China have been adopting to encourage science and engineering leadership for the next generation).

Engineering students would receive up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness under legislation just passed by Congress that the president is expected to sign. The Higher Education Reauthorization and College Opportunity Act of 2008 creates a new program to provide financial incentives for professions in areas of national need including engineering.

Engineering students would qualify for up to $10,000 in credit against their outstanding student loan obligation following graduation and entry into the engineering, technology, applied sciences, or mathematics (and other areas too) workforce. The program authorizes up to $2,000 per year of schooling.

The legislation also includes the Robert C. Byrd American Competitiveness program (an adjustment to the existing program):

a Mathematics and Science Honors Scholarship program for students who are earning baccalaureate or advanced degrees in science, mathematics, or engineering and who agree to serve for five consecutive years in a field relevant to such degree; (2) a Mathematics and Science Incentive program under which the Secretary assumes the obligation to pay the interest due on FFELs and DLs by individuals who agree to serve for five consecutive years as highly qualified teachers of science, technology, engineering or mathematics within high need LEAs, or as mathematics, science, or engineering professionals

Related: Science and Engineering Scholarships and FellowshipsCongress Clears Loan Forgiveness Program To Address Engineer ShortageScientists and Engineers in CongressNSF Undergraduate Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

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