Posts about economy

Zubbles – Get Your Colored Bubbles

photo of blue bubblephoto of blue colored bubble.

I first posted on this in 2005: Colored Bubbles. Now you can order your own via Zubbles. Colored Bubbles Have Landed (and Popped and Vanished)

Having solved the colored bubble dilemma, we spent most of 2006 trying to refine our dyes and the manufacturing process. We had invented several completely new dyes and a few derivatives of existing dyes. But the manufacturing process was long, tedious and expensive. It took three days just to make a few grams of each dye. It quickly became apparent that we needed to radically streamline the production process in order to have a viable product.

The complexities of the chemistry resembled a pharmaceutical more than a toy. So I enlisted the help of Gary Willingham, and the Belgium development team, at Fisher Scientific. Fisher is a pharmaceutical chemical manufacturer with the equipment and expertise needed to manufacture tons of our dyes.

Due to the complexities of the chemistry, Jamm decided to stay close to the production process and manufacture Zubbles in the US. The first bottles rolled off the line this week. Jamm presented me with the very first case of Zubbles. And it was a very strange feeling to finally hold the product in my hand—15 years after I mixed my first batch of dishwashing detergent and food coloring.

Being an entrepreneur is a challenge any time. When your product requires complex science and engineering that adds additional challenges. It is great to see this product is now available.

Related: Making Magnificent Mirrors with Math1979 “iPod-like” Music PlayerThe Glove – Engineering Coolnessscience and engineering gadgets and giftsBuild Your Own Tabletop Interactive Multi-touch ComputerAwesome Cat Cam

Another Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest Pay

The PayScale salary survey looked at both starting and mid career salary. Engineering topped both measures. Of the top 10 mid career salaries, 7 were engineering degrees – including the top 4. The survey is based upon data for full-time employees in the United States who possess a Bachelor’s degree and no higher degrees and have majored in the subjects listed above.

The top 11 paying degrees are:

Highest Paid Undergrad College Degrees
Degree Starting Median Salary Mid-Career Median Salary
Aerospace Engineering $59,600 $109,000
Chemical Engineering $65,700 $107,000
Computer Engineering $61,700 $105,000
Electrical Engineering $60,200 $102,000
Economics $50,200 $101,000
Physics $51,100 $98,800
Mechanical Engineering $58,900 $98,300
Computer Science $56,400 $97,400
Industrial Engineering $57,100 $95,000
Environmental Engineering $53,400 $94,500
Statistics $48,600 $94,500

Related: Engineering Graduates Paid Well Again in 2008High Pay for Engineering Graduates in 2007Engineering Graduates Get Top Salary Offers in 2006posts on science and engineering careersposts on engineering education

Science Knowledge Quiz

pew research science quiz results

Pew Research Center’s new study of science and its impact on society includes a science knowledge quiz. You can test yourself on the quiz. Thankfully I was able to get all 12 answers correct, which 10% of those taking the test have done. The median score was 8 out of 12.

I find some of the results surprising. The question most often answered correctly is “Which over-the-counter drug do doctors recommend that people take to help prevent heart attacks?”. The least often “Electrons are smaller than atoms,” a true or false question fewer than 50% of people got right.

Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media

Americans like science. Overwhelming majorities say that science has had a positive effect on society and that science has made life easier for most people. Most also say that government investments in science, as well as engineering and technology, pay off in the long run. And scientists are very highly rated compared with members of other professions: Only members of the military and teachers are more likely to be viewed as contributing a lot to society’s well-being.

Just 17% of the public thinks that U.S. scientific achievements rate as the best in the world. A survey of more than 2,500 scientists, conducted in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), finds that nearly half (49%) rate U.S. scientific achievements as the best in the world.

large percentages think that government investments in basic scientific research (73%) and engineering and technology (74%) pay off in the long run. Notably, the partisan differences in these views are fairly modest, with 80% of Democrats and 68% of Republicans saying that government investments in basic science pay off in the long run. Comparable percentages of Democrats and Republicans say the same about government investments in engineering and technology.

In this regard, public views about whether funding for scientific research should be increased, decreased or kept the same have changed little since the start of the decade. Currently, more than twice as many people say that, if given the task of making up the budget for the federal government, they would increase (39%) rather than decrease (14%) funding for scientific research; 40% say they would keep spending as it is. That is largely unchanged from 2001, when 41% said they would increase funding for scientific research.

Related: Nearly Half of Adults in the USA Don’t Know How Long it Takes the Earth to Circle the SunUnderstanding the Evolution of Human Beings by CountryInvest in Science for a Strong EconomyTry to Answer 6 Basic Science QuestionsWhat Everyone Should Learn

Engineering Students Increasing at Universities

Engineering suddenly hot at universities

Across the United States, enrollment in engineering programs has risen to levels not seen in three decades. The recession appears to be one factor, as students and their parents look for dependable careers. But some education officials detect a shift in opinion about the profession itself, as global warming and stem-cell research make fields like chemical and bioengineering more than just wise choices for job-seekers – but fashionable ones, too.

Many students are bringing to engineering a heightened sense of social responsibility and a desire “to go out and make a difference in the world,” says Joseph Helble, dean of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., where enrollment in introductory undergraduate courses is 30 percent above the five-year average.

Nationally, enrollment in undergraduate engineering programs rose 3 percent in 2007 and 4.5 percent 2008, according to the American Association of Engineering Education. Meanwhile, enrollment in masters’ degree programs rose 7 percent in 2007 and 2 percent in 2008. In the fall of 2008, 91,489 masters degree students and 403,193 undergraduates were studying engineering at US universities and colleges.

Skeptics note that engineering remains a low priority for US students: Among the 25 top engineer-producing countries, the United States ranks No. 22 on a per capita basis.

Increased engineering education is good news for future economic growth. Hopefully this trend can continue.

Related: Webcast: Engineering Education in the 21st CenturyMany S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering GraduatesWomen Choosing Other Fields Over Engineering and MathEngineering Education Study DebateScience and Engineering in Global Economics

USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USA

The USA continues to lose ground, in retaining the relative science and engineering strength it has retained for the last 50 plus years. As I have said before this trend is nearly inevitable – the challenge for the USA is to reduce the speed of their decline in relative position.

A new open access report, Losing the World’s Best and Brightest, explores the minds of current foreign science and engineering students that are studying in the USA. This is another in the list of reports on similar topics by Vivek Wadhwa and Richard Freeman. And again they point out the long term economic losses the USA is setting up by failing to retain the talent trained at our universities. It is a problem for the USA and a great benefit for countries like India and China.

“Foreign students receive nearly 60% of all engineering doctorates and more than half of all mathematics, computer sciences, physics and economics doctorates awarded in the United States. These foreign nationals end up making jobs, not taking jobs,” said Wadhwa. “They bring insights into growing global markets and fresh ideas. Research has shown that they even end up boosting innovation by U.S. inventors. Losing them is an economic tragedy.”

According to the study’s findings, very few foreign students would like to stay in the United States permanently—only 6% of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese and 15% of Europeans. And fewer foreign students than the historical norm expressed interest in staying in the United States after they graduate. Only 58% of Indian, 54% of Chinese and 40% of European students wish to stay for several years after graduation. Previous National Science Foundation research has shown 68% of foreigners who received science and engineering doctorates stayed for extended periods of time, including 73% of those who studied computer science. The five-year minimum stay rate was 92% for Chinese students and 85% for Indian students.

The vast majority of foreign student and 85% of Indians and Chinese and 72% of Europeans are concerned about obtaining work visas. 74% of Indians, 76% of Chinese, and 58% of Europeans are also worried about obtaining jobs in their fields. Students appear to be less concerned about getting permanent-resident visas than they are about short-term jobs. Only 38% of Indian students, 55% of Chinese, and 53% of Europeans expressed concerns about obtaining permanent residency in the USA.

On the tonight show yesterday, President Obama said

we need young people, instead of — a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher.

And if we’re rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people’s lives better, that’s going to put our economy on solid footing. We won’t have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we’ve gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, recently expressed his frustration with the policies discouraging science and engineering graduates staying in the USA after they complete their education.

That is a brilliant [actually not brilliant at all] strategy take the best people hire them in American universities and then kick them out” It happens. “Its shocking.” It happens. “I know we are fighting against it.” “We America remain, by far the place of choice for education, particularly higher education.”

Related: Invest in Science for a Strong EconomyScience, Engineering and the Future of the American EconomyUSA Under-counting Engineering GraduatesLosing scientists and engineers will reduce economic performance of the USADiplomacy and Science Research

FreeWave’s Data Radios Bring Employee Bonuses

It is easy with the existing economic news to think things are bleak everywhere. But even within the current climate companies find success. Founded in 1993, FreeWave Technologies is a world leader in the innovative design and manufacture of ISM Band radios and wireless data solutions. Their data-transmitting radios span the globe from the Middle East to Mount Everest; from the Amazon Rainforest to Antarctica to New York. They are used by defense contractors, oil and gas companies, city and county municipalities and industrial manufacturers.

photo of Hedy LamarrHedy Lamarr from the trailer for the film Boom Town, 1940

FreeWave’s data radios are based on Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum Technology. Spread Spectrum was originally created for the U.S. Navy during World War II to prevent the Germans from “jamming” American radio transmissions for radio-guided torpedoes. The technology was invented by Hedy Lamar, a famous movie star of the 1940’s. The original radios contained a roll of paper slotted like a player piano to cause channel switching. Hedy’s close friend, Inventor/Musician George Antheil, designed the first successful synchronization device that brought Hedy’s idea to fruition. In 1941, Hedy and George were granted a U.S. patent for the first “Secret Communications System.” The original system used merely 88 frequencies. Today, the switching is controlled in embedded firmware code that enables a radio to change frequencies hundreds of times per second and use more than 100 channels.

Engineering these radios is something the company takes quite seriously. And hiring the best talent is part of this philosophy. Every single employee considers it his/her job to ensure that customers receive top-notch service seven days a week. This extends all the way through the organization up to senior management. FreeWave is so dedicated to making its customers front and center that it provides 24-hour technical support – even rotating senior management to be on call at nights and on the weekends.

The privately held company is based in Boulder, Colorado, the company offers network design, pre-installation engineering services and manufactures its own radios (manufacturing them in Boulder).

FreeWave’s increase in revenues of 112 percent from 2003 to 2007. The company has paid this bonus every six months since the first one was paid in July 1995. Over the past year, FreeWave has invested in expanding its facility to accommodate more staff; growing its manufacturing space and capabilities; dedicating more resources and technology to its product development; increasing its customer and partner training; and, investing in marketing and sales.
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Eric Schmidt on Google, Education and Economics


Eric Schmidt, March 6th, 2009 interview by Charlie Rose:

  • “From our perspective, I think the YouTube acquisition and the Doubleclick acquisition, which are the two large acquisitions we did last year, and the year before, have been phenomenally successful.”
  • He also mentioned the idea of teachers today creating online hubs of information on educational areas, as well as lesson plans. See our Education Resources for Science and Engineering
  • And Flu Trends
  • “We needed the stimulus package, because the stimulus package had, among other things, $20 billion for science and education funding… Real wealth is created by businesses, not by financial engineering, and by businesses that provide new products that solve new problems.”
  • Why do you assume the best students in the world are going to come to America? “Because they choose to come here right now… That is a brilliant [actually not brilliant at all] strategy take the best people hire them in American universities and then kick them out” It happens. “Its shocking.” It happens. “I know we are fighting against it.” “We America remain, by far the place of choice for education, particularly higher education.
  • Technologists as a group tend to be more analytical, more data driven, more personally liberal (more willing to tolerate the differences among people, more global in their focus… [technologists] as a group believe you can literally change the world from technology.”

Related: Eric Schmidt on Management at GoogleEric Schmidt Podcast on Google Innovation and EntrepreneurshipLarry Page and Sergey Brin InterviewMarissa Mayer Webcast on Google InnovationLarry Page on How to Change the World

Canadian Oil Sands

Canadian oil sands sitePhotograph by Peter Essick, National Geographic

Canadian Oil Boom

To extract each barrel of oil from a surface mine, the industry must first cut down the forest, then remove an average of two tons of peat and dirt that lie above the oil sands layer, then two tons of the sand itself. It must heat several barrels of water to strip the bitumen from the sand and upgrade it, and afterward it discharges contaminated water into tailings ponds like the one near Mildred Lake. They now cover around 50 square miles.

The Alberta government estimates that the province’s three main oil sands deposits, of which the Athabasca one is the largest, contain 173 billion barrels of oil that are economically recoverable today. “The size of that, on the world stage—it’s massive,” says Rick George, CEO of Suncor, which opened the first mine on the Athabasca River in 1967. In 2003, when the Oil & Gas Journal added the Alberta oil sands to its list of proven reserves, it immediately propelled Canada to second place, behind Saudi Arabia, among oil-producing nations. The proven reserves in the oil sands are eight times those of the entire U.S. “And that number will do nothing but go up,” says George. The Alberta Energy Resources and Conservation Board estimates that more than 300 billion barrels may one day be recoverable from the oil sands; it puts the total size of the deposit at 1.7 trillion barrels.

But the free market does not consider the effects of the mines on the river or the forest, or on the people who live there, unless it is forced to. Nor, left to itself, will it consider the effects of the oil sands on climate. Jim Boucher has collaborated with the oil sands industry in order to build a new economy for his people, to replace the one they lost, to provide a new future for kids who no longer hunt ptarmigan in the moonlight. But he is aware of the trade-offs. “It’s a struggle to balance the needs of today and tomorrow when you look at the environment we’re going to live in,” he says. In northern Alberta the question of how to strike that balance has been left to the free market, and its answer has been to forget about tomorrow. Tomorrow is not its job.

This is a good article by National Geographic. We need energy. We also need to protect the environment. The trade-offs societies decide to make are often not easy. But open discussion of the issues is important.

Related: Wind Power Provided Over 1% of Global Electricity in 200759 MPG Toyota iQ DieselSolar Thermal in Desert, to Beat Coal by 2020Bigger Impact: 15 to 18 mpg or 50 to 100 mpg?

Billions for Science in Stimulus Bill

Science wins big in US economic plan

Democratic leadership in the US House of Representatives unveiled on Thursday an $825 billion economic stimulus bill that includes tens of billions of dollars in new funding for basic research, science infrastructure and clean-energy initiatives.

House appropriators would pump $3 billion into the National Science Foundation (NSF), $2 billion into the National Institutes of Health (NIH), $1.9 billion into the Department of Energy and $1.5 billion into university research facilities. Much of that money would be directed toward science infrastructure like renovating buildings or laboratories, but the NSF and NIH would receive $2 billion and $1.5 billion respectively that could be used to pay for thousands of basic research grants that have already been approved but for which there was previously not enough money.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. And short term spikes in funding are problematic for numerous reasons. But I have long argued for the value of investing in science and engineering excellence for long term economic benefit. I am worried the government will fail to provide adequate strategic thought to investments.

Today is Martin Luther King Day in the USA: Watch the entire I Have a Dream Speech.

Related: Science and Engineering in Global EconomicsEngineering the Future EconomyThe Future is EngineeringChina and USA Basic Science ResearchTapping America’s Potential

Britain’s Doctors of Innovation

photo of Susannah FlemmingSusannah Fleming, a PhD student at the University of Oxford life sciences interface doctoral training centre. She is developing a monitoring system to assess children when they first present to medical care. Source

Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, announced the £250million (about $370 million) initiative which will create 44 training centres across the UK and generate over 2000 PhD students. They will tackle some of the biggest problems currently facing Britain such as climate change, energy, our ageing population, and high-tech crime.

17 of the centers will put specific emphasis on integrating industrial and business skills with the PhD education. This approach to training has been extensively piloted by EPSRC through a small number of thriving Engineering Doctorate Centres and Doctoral Training Centres in Complexity Science, Systems Biology and at the Life Sciences Interface. This new investment builds on the success of these and will establish a strong group of centres which will rapidly establish a pre-eminent international reputation for doctoral training.

The multidisciplinary centres bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues. They also create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

As I have said before I think countries are smart to invest in their science and technology futures. In fact I believe creating centers of science and technology excellence is a key to future economic wealth.

Full press release: £250 Million to Create New Wave of Scientists and Engineers for Britain

Related: UK Science and Innovation GrantsUK Science and Research FundingNew Engineering School for EnglandBasic Science Research FundingBest Research University Rankings, 2008 (UK second to USA)Britain’s big challenges will be met by doctors of innovation

Federal Circuit Decides Software No Longer Patentable

The Bilski Decision Is In: Buh-Bye [Most] Business Methods Patents

This was an appeal against a rejection of a business methods patent, and the appeals court has now agreed with the rejection. At issue was whether an abstract idea could be eligible for patent protection. The court says no.

Buh-bye business methods patents!

Court Reverses Position on Biz Methods Patents

The ruling in the case, called In re Bilski, largely disavowed the controversial State Street Bank case of 1998. There, the Federal Circuit opened the door to business method patents, which had until then been excluded from patent protection, by granting protection to a system for managing mutual fund accounts. The decision, according to its detractors — which included several members of the Supreme Court — had led to the issuance of weak patents and exposed financial services companies to high-dollar litigation over business method patents.

Related: Ex Parte Bilski: On the BriefsPatent Policy Harming USA, and the worldAre Software Patents Evil?Patent Gridlock is Blocking Developing Lifesaving DrugsThe Pending Problem With PatentsMore Evidence of the Bad Patent System

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