Research Career in Industry or Academia

Posted on August 27, 2006  Comments (1)

In, Working in Industry vs Working in Academia, a computer scientist (software engineering) shares their experience and opinion on research career options. He discusses 4 areas: freedom (to pursue your research), funding, time and scale, products (papers, patents, products).

In academia, you’re under a huge amount of pressure to publish publish publish!

In industry, the common saying is that research can produce three things: products, patents, and papers (in that order). To be successful you need to produce at least two of those three; and the first two are preferred to the last one. Publishing papers is nice, and you definitely get credit for it, but it just doesn’t compare to the value of products and patents.

Related: post on science and engineering careersGoogle: engineers given 20% time to pursue their ideas

Civil Engineers: USA Infrastructure Needs Improvement

Posted on August 27, 2006  Comments (2)

Experts warn U.S. is coming apart at the seams by Chuck McCutcheon:

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation “D” for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem.

“I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm,” said Casey Dinges, the society’s managing director of external affairs.

It will take much longer than 5 years: there is no way over $300 billion is available each year to catch up. Infrastructure is not an exciting area to invest in but just like skipping preventative maintenance on equipment will cost organizations more in the long run, failing to invest in maintaining the infrastructure will cost more.

“Infrastructure deficiencies will further erode our global competitiveness, but with the federal budget so committed to mandatory spending, it’s unclear how we are going to deal with this challenge as we fall further and further behind in addressing these problems,”

These “grade” evaluations are a bit flaky: what does a D mean for the USA (they define it as “poor” which still doesn’t mean much)? Still, it is clear the ASCE sees a need for improvement. Related: 2005 ASCE reportConcord Coalition

Open Access Education Materials

Posted on August 24, 2006  Comments (7)

Watch a video of Richard Baraniuk (Rice University professor speaking at TED) discussing Connexions: an open-access education publishing system. The content available through Connexions includes short content modules such as:

What is Engineering??:

Engineering is the endeavor that creates, maintains, develops, and applies technology for societies’ needs and desires.

One of the first distinctions that must be made is between science and engineering.

Science is the study of what is and engineering is the creation of can be.

and: Protein Folding, as well as full courses, such as: Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering I and Physics for K-12.

Related: Google technical talk webcasts (including a presentation by Richard Baraniuk at Google) – podcasts of Technical Talks at Googlescience podcast postsBerkeley and MIT courses online

Scientific Innovation and Economic Growth

Posted on August 24, 2006  Comments (0)

Reform, Innovation, and Economic Growth by President Levin, Yale University president, speaking at the University of Tokyo:

Performance scores in mathematics, problem solving, science, and reading for Japanese students are significantly ahead of their peers elsewhere; and the Japanese public and private financial commitment to education is also among the strongest. Taken together, the result has been that Japan has one of the best-educated workforces in the world, particularly in science and technology.

The superior education of the labor force and a large and well-trained pool of engineers contributed mightily to Japan’s rapid growth from 1945 to 1990.

In fostering science-based innovation, the United States has drawn upon two national characteristics that have long been a source of advantage: the ready availability of capital and the relative absence of barriers to the formation of new firms. These institutional features help with the rapid translation of science into industrial practice. But the United States government also recognized, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, that public investment was essential to generate steady progress in basic science. Scientific discoveries are the foundation of industrial technology.

A recent study prepared for the National Science Foundation found that 73% of the main science papers cited in industrial patents granted in the U.S. were based on research financed by government or nonprofit agencies and carried out in large part in university laboratories.

Related: The World’s Best Research UniversitiesScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsChina challenges dominance of USA, Europe and JapanThe Future is EngineeringAmerica’s Technology Advantage Slipping

Extreme Engineering

Posted on August 24, 2006  Comments (6)

Transatlantic Tunel

Discovery Channels’ Extreme Engineering explores audacious engineering possibilities. The Extreme Engineering web site (broken by phb organization that can’t even keep a web page alive forget actually doing amazing stuff, so I removed it) provides a view of some of the exciting projects engineers have worked on like the new subways for New York City and Hong Kong’s airport. And it also shows some possible future projects like a transatlantic tunnel (image above) which would float in the ocean and carry trains, pipelines…. Trains could run in a vacuum and travel at 6-8,000 kph (taking under an hour to travel from New York City to London. Of course there are quite a few engineering and economic factors to deal with to make something like that a reality.

Wind Power

Posted on August 23, 2006  Comments (14)

Wind Power graph

Graph of wind power capacity in the USA from 1981 – 2005 (from 10 Megawatts to 9,149 megawatts).

From the American Wind Energy Association:

The only other countries around the world that have more wind power installed are Germany (19,140 MW as of the end of June), and Spain (10,728 MW).

AWEA expects the U.S. to pass the 15,000 MW mark by the end of 2007 and can have 25,000 MW installed by the end of 2010, with the proper policies in place. At this growth rate, the U.S. could have 100,000 MW installed by 2020, which would provide the nation with approximately 6% of its future power needs, about as much as hydropower provides today.

Related: Wind Power Technology BreakthroughGE’s Edison Desk BlogSolar Tower Power Generation


Posted on August 23, 2006  Comments (2)

Nano Car image

‘Nanocar’ with buckyball wheels paves way for other molecular machines

“The synthesis and testing of nanocars and other molecular machines is providing critical insight in our investigations of bottom-up molecular manufacturing,” said one of the two lead researchers, James M. Tour, the Chao Professor of Chemistry, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and professor of computer science at Rice University. “We’d eventually like to move objects and do work in a controlled fashion on the molecular scale, and these vehicles are great test beds for that. They’re helping us learn the ground rules.”

The nanocar consists of a chassis and axles made of well-defined organic groups with pivoting suspension and freely rotating axles. The wheels are buckyballs, spheres of pure carbon containing 60 atoms apiece. The entire car measures just 3-4 nanometers across, making it slightly wider than a strand of DNA. A human hair, by comparison, is about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.

Automatic Cat Feeder

Posted on August 23, 2006  Comments (4)

Automatic Cat Feeder

The Automatic Cat Feeder:

As I dug around this box, I found an old CD Rom drive and power supply. The thought struck me that I could use the ejecting tray of the CD Rom as a solenoid to push the trigger mechanism of some sort of physical contraption. But then I had a bootstrapping problem – what can I use to push the eject button of the CD Rom on schedule?

After some more thought, I realized that I could just use my spare (working) computer as the basis of the cat feeder. It’s also my home’s Subversion source control server – a rare mix of server workloads indeed! It has a CD Rom drive, so I could just use software to open and close it.

And water for the cat too:

Water flows out of the jug as long as the water level is below the hole at the bottom. When water flows out, the air pressure in jug decreases until it sucks in some air to equalize. When the water level covers the hole, though, the air pressure can no longer equalize, so the water flow stops.

When the cats drink the water level down a bit, the jug can once again equalize its air pressure, and lets more water out.

Don’t miss the video – Related: Engineering at Home

Electricity from Bacteria and Wastewater

Posted on August 22, 2006  Comments (1)

Researchers harness the power of bacteria by Renee Meiller

In nature, says McMahon, photosynthetic bacteria effectively extract energy from their food — and microbial fuel cells capitalize on that efficiency. “By having the microbes strip the electrons out of the organic waste, and turning that into electricity, then we can make a process of conversion more efficient,” she says. “And they’re very good at doing that-much better than we are with our high-tech extraction methods.”

Through machinery such as plants, photosynthetic bacteria harvest solar energy. They also make products to power microbial fuel cells. “In many ways, this is the best of both worlds — generating electricity from a ‘free’ energy source like sunlight and removing wastes at the same time,” says Donohue. “The trick is to bring ideas from different disciplines to develop biorefineries and fuel cells that take advantage of the capabilities of photosynthetic bacteria.”

The benefit of using photosynthetic bacteria, he says, is that solar-powered microbial fuel cells can generate additional electricity when sunlight is available.

Giant Wasp Nests

Posted on August 22, 2006  Comments (2)

Giant wasp nest

Giant nests perplex experts (site broke link so I removed it):

The largest nest Ray has inspected this year filled the interior of a weathered 1955 Chevrolet parked in a rural Elmore County barn. That nest was about the size of a tire in the rear floor seven weeks ago, but quickly spread to fill the entire vehicle, the property owner, Harry Coker, said. Four satellite nests around it have gotten into the eaves of the barn, about 300 yards from his home.

Super-size that nest!, July 21st:

The super-sized nests may contain as many as 100,000. One mammoth nest discovered in South Carolina contained roughly a quarter-million workers and as many as 100 queens.

Ray fears some of these nests may not even reach maximum size until late July or August.

One other finding has intrigued Ray and other researchers: the presence of satellite nests in close proximity to the large nest.

R&D Magazine’s 2006 Innovator of the Year

Posted on August 21, 2006  Comments (1)

photo of Dean Kamen

R&D Magazine’s 2006 Innovator of the Year

Mega-inventor Dean Kamen has two simple goals: to improve children’s interest in science and technology, and to raise the standard of living for the world’s poor.

A self-taught physicist, with more than 150 patents, Kamen is obviously knowledgeable about what works in the world of science and technology.

Kamen’s latest endeavors involve bringing clean drinking water and cheap electricity to those who don’t have access to either. More than a billion people, or nearly 20% of the world’s population don’t have access to clean drinking water. And even more, 1.6 billion or about one out of every four people on this planet don’t have electricity. Continuing his emphasis on healthcare, Kamen points out that with clean water, you can eliminate more than 75% of those people’s health problems and diseases.

Prevoius post on Kamen’s work with electricity and drinking water for all. Kamen also founded FIRST (see previous post: 2006 FIRST Robotics Competition Regional Events).
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