How Things Work

Posted on February 28, 2006  Comments (0)

How Things Work from the University of Virgina explains the scientific reason behind what we experience everyday:

What happens when sheets of paper, long rolled up into a tube, are unrolled but simply won’t ever lie flat again?

Paper consists mostly of cellulose, a natural polymer (i.e. plastic) built by stringing together thousands of individual sugar molecules into vast chains. Like the sugars from which it’s constructed, cellulose’s molecular pieces cling tightly to one another at room temperature and make it rather stiff and brittle. Moreover, cellulose’s chains are so entangled with one another that it couldn’t pull apart even if its molecular pieces didn’t cling so tightly. These effects are why it’s so hard to reshape cellulose and why wood or paper don’t melt; they burn or decompose instead. In contrast, chicle — the polymer in chewing gum — can be reshaped easily at room temperature.

Engineering is Elementary

Posted on February 28, 2006  Comments (2)

Elementary Engineers: Engineering concepts should be taught at an early age by Polly Roberts, Richmond.com:

Christine M. Cunningham, vice president of research at the Museum of Science, Boston spoke to more than 200 Virginia elementary school teachers last week at the 10th Annual Children’s Engineering Convention in Glen Allen.

The EiE program then provides teachers with lesson plans, handouts and background information so they can discuss the engineering aspects of the book with their students and have them participate in their own “engineering design challenge,” which in this case would be developing a water purifier.

Cunningham said the program helps build and reinforce skills such as problem solving, data analysis, teamwork, creativity and more. Plus, starting the lesson with a book incorporates literacy.

Engineering is Elementary (EiE): Engineering and Technology Lessons For Children

This is another nice resource for teachers including lesson plans such as: Catching the Wind – Designing Windmills. For more resources see our: Science and Engineering Link Directory

New Fulbright Science Awards

Posted on February 27, 2006  Comments (0)

New Fulbright Science Awards

The State Department plans to award 25 extended Fulbright scholarships to foreign graduate students in science and engineering, who will be chosen by “a blue-ribbon panel of experts in a global competition rather than through the traditional bilateral agreements,” writes Science Now.

I would imagine they will eventually put up some information about this program on the State Department Fulbright website. The list of the regular 2005-6 awardees shows their fields of study.

April’s Science Education Blog

Posted on February 26, 2006  Comments (0)

April’s Science Education Blog includes several interesting posts on student centered learning, including, agents of change at rush henrietta:

Within 10 minutes of walking in the front door, both a student and a colleague of Ashley’s raved about what a difference she has made in her first few months. The student enthusiastically escourted me to Ashley’s classroom sharing stories of how Ashley is someone she and others can really relate to. A couple of Ashley’s colleagues told me of how her innovative work with foam-based magnatized shapes (manipulatives) at stations empowered them to try this new student-centered approach.

Related Posts:

10 Things That Will Change The Way We Live

Posted on February 26, 2006  Comments (1)

Forbes offers a list of 10 Things That Will Change The Way We Live. Of the items 9 of 10 seem directly related to science and engineering, such as: Fuel Cells, Gene Therapy, WiMAX. The only one that doesn’t seem directly related to science and engineering is $200 a barrel oil. But even there the effect of such an future would largely depend on science and engineering solutions that would be created in such a future.

Science and Engineering Indicators – Workforce

Posted on February 25, 2006  Comments (2)

The National Science Board has release the comprehensive Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. The report contains a great deal of interesting information. Some highlights

The science and engineering workforce in the United States has grown rapidly, both over the last half century and the last decade.

  • From 1950 to 2000, employment in S&E occupations grew from fewer than 200,000 to more than 4 million workers, an average annual growth rate of 6.4%.
  • Between the 1990 and 2000 censuses, S&E occupations continued to grow at an average annual rate of 3.6%, more than triple the rate of growth of other occupations.
  • Between 1980 and 2000, the total number of S&E degrees earned grew at an average annual rate of 1.5%, which was faster than labor force growth, but less than the 4.2% growth of S&E occupations. S&E bachelor’s degrees grew at a 1.4% average annual rate, and S&E doctorates at 1.9%.
  • Approximately 12.9 million workers say they need at least a bachelor’s degree level of knowledge in S&E fields in their jobs. However, only 4.9 million were in occupations formally defined as S&E.
  • Twelve million workers have an S&E degree as their highest degree and 15.7 million have at least one degree in an S&E field.
  • Increases in median real salary for recent S&E graduates between 1993 and 2003 indicate relatively high demand for S&E skills during the past decade.
  • For all broad S&E fields, median real salaries grew faster over the decade for master’s degree recipients than for bachelor’s in the same field. This ranged from a 31.8% increase in median real earnings for recipients of physical science master’s degrees to a 54.8% increase for recipients of master’s degrees in computer and mathematical sciences. At the master’s level, however, non-S&E degrees also enjoy large increases in real median salary, growing by 52.7%.
  • Twenty-nine percent of all S&E degree holders in the labor force are age 50 or over. Among S&E doctorate holders in the labor force, 44% are age 50 or over.
  • By age 62, half of S&E bachelor’s degree holders had left full-time employment. Doctorate degree holders work slightly longer, with half leaving full-time employment by age 66.
  • Twenty-five percent of all college-educated workers in S&E occupations in 2003 were foreign born.
  • Forty percent of doctorate degree holders in S&E occupations in 2003 were foreign born.
  • Among all doctorate holders resident in the United States in 2003, a majority in computer science (57%), electrical engineering (57%), civil engineering (54%), and mechanical engineering (52%) were foreign born.
  • Women were 12% of those in S&E occupations in 1980 and 25% in 2000. However, the growth in representation between 1990 and 2000 was only 3 percentage points.
  • The representation of blacks in S&E occupations increased from 2.6% in 1980 to 6.9% in 2000. The representation of Hispanics increased from 2.0% to 3.2%. However, for Hispanics, this is proportionally less than their increase in the population.
  • Saturday Morning Science from NASA

    Posted on February 25, 2006  Comments (0)

    photo of Don Petit

    Saturday Morning Science from NASA:

    Pettit prepared a solution of water, soap, and glycerin, and fashioned a bubble-wand from thin wire–a loop that could be re-sized from 3.5 cm (about 1.5 inches) to more than 15 cm (6 inches) in diameter. The experiment was ready. “But first,” recalls Petit, “I decided to try a ‘dry run’ with water only, no soap.”

    He inserted the wand into a zero-g beaker and pulled it out again. “To my amazement,” he says, “when the 2-inch loop was withdrawn, a thin film of water clung tenaciously to the loop. I’ve never before witnessed such a large-scale film of water.”

    See two videos and more information on the experiment on the International Space Station.

    An explanation of surface tension

    Previous post: Colored Bubbles

    Algae as Hydrogen Factory

    Posted on February 24, 2006  Comments (0)

    Mutant Algae Is Hydrogen Factory by Sam Jaffe, Wired:

    Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have engineered a strain of pond scum that could, with further refinements, produce vast amounts of hydrogen through photosynthesis.

    The work, led by plant physiologist Tasios Melis, is so far unpublished. But if it proves correct, it would mean a major breakthrough in using algae as an industrial factory, not only for hydrogen, but for a wide range of products, from biodiesel to cosmetics.
    ….
    Melis got involved in this research when he and Michael Seibert, a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, figured out how to get hydrogen out of green algae by restricting sulfur from their diet. The plant cells flicked a long-dormant genetic switch to produce hydrogen instead of carbon dioxide. But the quantities of hydrogen they produced were nowhere near enough to scale up the process commercially and profitably.

    “When we discovered the sulfur switch, we increased hydrogen production by a factor of 100,000,” says Seibert. “But to make it a commercial technology, we still had to increase the efficiency of the process by another factor of 100.

    Water and Electricity for All

    Posted on February 23, 2006  Comments (14)

    Segway Creator Unveils His Next Act

    Water and Electricity may not seem like something to wish for if you are reading this post. However for over 1 billion people that do without both it is.

    Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.1 billion people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 billion don’t have electricity. Those figures add up to a big problem for the world and an equally big opportunity for entrepreneurs.

    To solve the problem, he’s invented two devices, each about the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages.

    “Eighty percent of all the diseases you could name would be wiped out if you just gave people clean water,” says Kamen. “The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and we don’t care what goes into it. And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns.”

    Kamen’s goal is to produce machines that cost $1,000 to $2,000 each. That’s a far cry from the $100,000 that each hand-machined prototype cost to build.

    Quadir is going to try and see if the machines can be produced economically by a factory in Bangladesh. If the numbers work out, not only does he think that distributing them in a decentralized fashion will be good business — he also thinks it will be good public policy. Instead of putting up a 500-megawatt power plant in a developing country, he argues, it would be much better to place 500,000 one-kilowatt power plants in villages all over the place, because then you would create 500,000 entrepreneurs.

    More products from his company, Deka Research & Development Corp, including: Hydroflexâ„¢ Irrigation Pump, IBOTâ„¢ Mobility System and Intravascular Stent.

    Dean Kamen understands what engineering can do. “Today, almost 200 engineers, technicians, and machinists work in our electronics and software engineering labs, machine shop, and on CAD stations.”

    DEKA’s mission, first and foremost, is to foster innovation. It is a company where the questioning of conventional thinking is encouraged and practiced by everyone—engineers and non-engineers alike—because open minds are more likely to arrive at workable solutions. This has been our formula for success since we began, and it will continue to drive our success in the future.

    Dean Kamen founded For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST)

    Phony Science Gap?

    Posted on February 22, 2006  Comments (25)

    A Phony Science Gap? by Robert Samuelson:

    And the American figures excluded computer science graduates. Adjusted for these differences, the U.S. degrees jump to 222,335. Per million people, the United States graduates slightly more engineers with four-year degrees than China and three times as many as India. The U.S. leads are greater for lesser degrees.

    It is good to see more people using the data from the Duke study we have mentioned previously: USA Under-counting Engineering GraduatesFilling the Engineering Gap. However, I think he misses a big change. It seems to me that the absolute number of graduates each year is the bigger story than that the United States has not lost the percentage of population rate of science and engineering graduates yet. China significantly exceeds the US and that India is close to the US currently in science and engineering graduates. And the trend is dramatically in favor of those countries.

    There has been a Science gap between the United States and the rest of the world. That gap has been between the USA, in the lead, and the rest. That gap has been shrinking for at least 10 years and most likely closer to 20. The rate of the decline in that gap has been increasing and seems likely to continue in that direction.

    Despite an eroding manufacturing base and the threat of “offshoring” of some technical services, there’s a rising demand for science and engineering skills. That may explain higher enrollments and why this “crisis” — like the missile gap — may be phony.

    I wonder what eroding manufacturing base he is referring to? The United States is the world’s largest manufacturer. The United States continues to increase its share of the world manufacturing and increase, incrementally year over year. Yes manufacturing employment has been declining (though manufacturing employment has declined far less in the United States than in China). Granted China has been growing tremendously quickly, but they are still far behind the United States in manufacturing output.
    Read more

    Reducing Antibiotic Use

    Posted on February 22, 2006  Comments (1)

    ‘Natural’ chickens take flight by Elizabeth Weise

    Four of the nation’s top 10 chicken producers have virtually ended a practice that health and activist groups for years charged was causing a public health crisis: feeding broiler chickens low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and stay healthy.

    Tyson Foods, Gold Kist, Perdue Farms and Foster Farms say they stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion. In addition to ending a practice that Europe banned and McDonald’s ended a month ago, the four companies also have severely limited antibiotic use for routine disease prevention, though antibiotics are still used to treat disease outbreaks.

    Are health groups against healthy chickens? No. They worry about the danger of creating resistance to antibiotics. Our past, and current, misuse of antibiotics is leading us to a future where our currently effective antibiotics will not be effective.

    Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest chicken producer, has led the way with a 93% reduction, from 853,000 pounds in 1997 to just 59,000 in 2004. In 2004, less than 1% of the company’s broilers received antibiotics, says chief veterinarian Patrick Pilkington.

    Perdue Farms stopped using antibiotics for growth promotion about five years ago. “It became obvious that it was a concern,” says chief veterinarian Bruce Stewart-Brown. Now at any given farm in the system, only one flock in five years receives antibiotics, either to halt a disease outbreak or because birds are threatened with infection, he says.

    Positive steps to reducing our overuse of anti-biotics still leave us with much more to improve.