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Economic impacts of science and engineering. The value of a strong science and engineering community has many benefits to the economy - directly and indirectly. Many countries are focusing their future economic plans on advancing their scientific, engineering and technology communities and creating environments that support scientists and engineers.
Recommended posts: The Future is Engineering - Engineering the Future Economy - Economic Result of Shifting Scientific Status Worldwide - Economic Strength Through Technology Leadership - Economics, Politics and Science Research - Education, Entrepreneurship and Immigration
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Posts exploring the economic impacts of science and engineering. The value of strong science and engineering practice has many benefits to the economy – directly and indirectly. Many countries are focusing their future economic plans on advancing their scientific, engineering and technology communities and creating environments that support scientists and engineers.

Pay as You Go Solar in India

Farmers Foil Utilities Using Cell Phones to Access Solar

In October, Bangalore-based Simpa Networks Inc. installed a solar panel on Anand’s whitewashed adobe house along with a small metal box in his living room to monitor electricity usage. The 25-year-old rice farmer, who goes by one name, purchases energy credits to unlock the system via his mobile phone on a pay-as-you-go model.

When his balance runs low, Anand pays 50 rupees ($1) — money he would have otherwise spent on kerosene. Then he receives a text message with a code to punch into the box, giving him about another week of electric light.
When he pays off the full cost of the system in about three years, it will be unlocked and he will get free power.

Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing so-called microgrids, in which stand- alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated.

Very cool. Worldwide, approximately 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity and another 1 billion have extremely unreliable access. The poorest spending up to 30% of their income on inefficient and expensive means of providing light and accessing electricity. Solutions like this, finding engineering solutions for basic needs that are market based, are great.

That the poor end up owning their solar system after just 3 years is great.

Creating great benefit to society with the smart adoption of technology and sustainable economics is something I love.

Related: Solar Power Market Solutions For Hundreds of Millions Without ElectricityAppropriate Technology: Solar Hot Water in Poor Cairo NeighborhoodsEngineering a Better World: Bike Corn-ShellerWater Pump Merry-go-Round

£50m Package to Attract Scientists and Boost Welsh Economy

‘Star scientists’ £50m package to boost Welsh economy

First Minister Carwyn Jones said the fund would be used to encourage leading professors to move to Wales to work and boost research and the economy. It will pay for specialist equipment, top-up salaries to the level outstanding academics would expect and will fund members of their teams.

our network plans will enable us to attract more talent to Wales to help drive this figure up and in due course create more high quality business and research jobs in Wales.” The strategy sets out three key areas to boost research and businesses – the life sciences and health; low carbon, energy and environment; and advanced engineering and materials.

The Welsh government said it wanted to see more industry-academic partnerships like SPECIFIC led by Swansea University with Tata Steel UK. The £20m project aims to turn homes and businesses into self-generating “power stations” by developing a special coating for ordinary building materials, such as steel and glass, that traps and stores solar energy.

The USA dominated the practice of attracting leading scientists a few decades ago. In the last decade or two Europe stepped up and was able to attract global talent. Lately Asia (Singapore, Korea, China…) has been spending to attract leading scientists. I believe Asia will continue to do so and the benefits of doing so will pay off handsomely for Asia (at the expense of Europe and the USA).

Related: USA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USAInvest in Science for a Strong EconomyAsia: Rising Stars of Science and EngineeringSingapore Research Fellowships

Robot Prison Guards in South Korea

photo of robot prison guard

Robotic prison wardens to patrol South Korean prison

The one-month trial will cost 1bn won (£554,000) and is being sponsored by the South Korean government. It is the latest in a series of investments made by the state to develop its robotics industry.

The country’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in January that it had spent the equivalent of £415m on research in the sector between 2002 and 2010. It said the aim was to compete with other countries, such as Japan, which are also exploring the industry’s potential.

In October the ministry said the Korean robot market had recorded 75% growth over the past two years and was now worth about £1 billion…

The potential market for robotics is huge. Smart countries are investing in becoming the centers for excellence in that area. Japan and South Korea may well be in the lead. The USA, Germany and China also have strong communities.

Related: Robot Finds Lost Shoppers and Provides DirectionsThe Robotic Dog (2008 post)Soft Morphing Robot FutureHonda’s Robolegs Help People WalkRoachbot: Cockroach Controlled Robot

Eliminating NSF Program to Aid K-12 Science Education

Changing American science and engineering education

In exchange for funding for their graduate studies, Kahler and other fellows contribute to the science curriculum in local primary and secondary schools from kindergarten through grade 12. Kahler taught science at Rogers-Herr Middle School in Durham.

He also taught for two summers in India, and in Texas, as part of Duke TIP, the Talent Identification Program, which identifies academically gifted students and provides them with intellectually stimulating opportunities.

Through these teaching experiences in different locations and cultures, Kahler observed several factors that affect the quality of education in American schools. One important factor is the training of teachers. Unfortunately, teachers are sometimes expected to teach science without having received an adequate background in the subject.

STEM fellows helped to address this problem by contributing their expertise and by helping to increase the scientific literacy of students and their teachers.

Kahler says that NSF GK-12 has a strong, positive impact to change this because it simultaneously improves the educational experience of students in primary and secondary school and trains graduate students to communicate and teach effectively.

Unfortunately, the NSF GK-12 program is no longer in the NSF budget for 2012.

Sadly the USA is choosing to speed money on things that are likely much less worthwhile to our future economic well being. This has been a continuing trend for the last few decades so it is not a surprise that the USA is investing less and less in science and engineering education while other countries are adding substantially to their investments (China, Singapore, Korea, India…).

As I have stated before I think the USA is making a big mistake reducing the investment in science and engineering, especially when so many other countries have figured how how smart such investments are. The USA has enjoyed huge advantages economically from science and engineering leadership and will continue to. But the potential full economic advantages are being reduced by our decisions to turn away from science investment (in education and other ways).

Related: The Importance of Science EducationTop Countries for Science and Math Education: Finland, Hong Kong and KoreaEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership

Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half

I thought I wrote about this several years ago, but I guess I didn’t (I can’t find it, if I did). Experimental test of airplane boarding methods:

The Ste en method, on the other hand, orders the passengers in such a way that adjacent passengers in line are sitting in corresponding seats two rows apart from each other (e.g., 12A, 10A, 8A, 6A, etc.). This method trades a small number of aisle interferences at the front of the cabin, for the benefit of having multiple passengers stowing their luggage simultaneously. Other methods, such as Wilma and the Reverse Pyramid also realize parallel use of the aisle in a natural way as adjacent passengers are frequently sitting in widely separated rows.

We have seen experimentally that there is a marked difference in the time required to board an aircraft depending upon the boarding method used. The evidence strongly supports the heuristic argument from Ste en that methods that parallelize the boarding process by more efficiently utilizing the aisle (having more passengers stow their luggage simultaneously) will board more quickly than those that do not. The relative benefit of the application of this theory will grow with the length of the aircraft. Here, we used a 12-row mock airplane, but a more typical airplane with twice that number of rows will gain more by the implementation of parallelized boarding methods.

How this improvement scales with the cabin length is different for each method. For the Ste en method, the benefit will scale almost linearly. If the airplane is twice as long, the time savings will be nearly twice as much since the density of luggage-stowing passengers will remain the same and the boarding will still be maximally parallel. For Wilma and random boarding the benefit will not be as strong since the benefits of parallel boarding are randomly distributed along the length of the cabin instead of being regularly distributed.

I am not optimistic that airlines will even test out this method. People tend to think companies apply sensible, proven concepts and methods. But that is much less likely to be done than people think. The failure of many places to use simple queuing theory improvement (customers should form one line and be served the next available person not form many individual lines) is one example of failures by companies to apply decades old proven better methods. The poor adoption of multivariate designed experiments is another. Applying better ideas is a process that is not done very efficiently in business, health care, education or even science and engineering – in fact in any human endeavor. This is a waste that impacts each of us every day. It is also an opportunity for you to gain advantages just by applying all the good ideas lying around that others are ignoring. You need to test the ideas out in your setting (using the PDSA cycle in an organizational context a good method).

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesSuccessful Emergency Plane Landing in the Hudson RiverChecklists Save LivesImproving Engineering Education

The Politics of Anti-Science

In the 1960’s the USA had an unrealistic view of how much studying and learning about science and engineering could do. Investing is science and engineering is an extremely wise economic (and cultural) endeavor but it isn’t going to solve all the problems that exist. Somehow today we find ourselves with a large number of politically powerful people we take strong anti-science positions. These tactics reduce funding and support for beneficial research and are short sited approaches to public administration. This is an unfortunate turn of events that is damaging the American economy and will have huge damages going forward.

Thankfully other countries have seen how wise investing in science and engineering is and have more than taken up the slack created by the anti-science community. Two favorite tactics of the anti-science leaders is to try and create confusion where there is none and to turn the focus away from serious matters and instead playing silly political games. The silly games will draw donors and voters so if they care about those things more than the country and the future of the country it is a sound tactic. The damage it causes the country however I would hope would limit the use of such tactics however that has not been the case recently.

‘Shrimp On A Treadmill’: The Politics Of ‘Silly’ Studies

Take the case of the “shrimp on a treadmill.” Burnett says the senator’s report linked that work to a half-million-dollar research grant. But that money actually went to a lot of different research that he and his colleagues did on this economically important seafood species.

The treadmills were just a small part of it, a way to measure how shrimp respond to changes in water quality. Burnett says the first treadmill was built by a colleague from scraps and was basically free, and the second was fancier and cost about $1,000. The senator’s report was misleading, says Burnett, “and it suggests that much money was spent on seeing how long a shrimp can run on a treadmill, which was totally out of context.”

John Hart, a Coburn spokesperson, said in an email that “our report never claimed all the money was spent on shrimp on a treadmill. The scientists doth protest too much. Receiving federal funds is a privilege, not a right. If they don’t want their funding scrutinized, don’t ask.”

What the politicians are doing is exactly what this spokesperson suggests – they are withdrawing from the anti-science culture created by some in Washington: they are moving their research to countries that support rather than attack science. That is a very bad thing for the USA. There are a number of very bad economic policies a government can take. Driving scientists and engineers into the arms of other countries is one of the worst.
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Career Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look Positive

As I have written previously the career prospects for engineers are bright around the globe. Many countries realize the importance of engineering and have taken steps to compete as a center of excellence for engineering. It is a smart economic policy. Ironically, the USA, that did such a great job at this in the 1960’s and 1970’s, has been falling down in this regard. A significant reason for this is the USA can only fund so many things and a broken health care system, military complex, bailouts to bankers (trust fund babies and others) cost a lot of money. You chose what to fund, and those are taking much of the available USA funds. There are also non-economic reasons, such as the turn in the last decade in the USA to make the barriers for foreigner engineers (and others) to go through to go to school, visit and stay in the USA have all increased dramatically.

Back to the prospects for engineers: their are shortages of good engineers all over (and the future projections don’t show any reason to believe this will change). Germany Faces a Shortage of Engineers:

In June, the Association of German Engineers (VDI) reported that there were 76 400 vacant engineering jobs—an all-time high.

Policymakers in Berlin have responded to the shortage of skilled workers with a number of measures, including changes in immigration rules that allow German companies to hire engineers from other countries, including those outside of the European Union. Among them: The annual salary that companies must pay foreigners has been lowered from 60,000 Euro (US $95,000) to 40,000 Euro, which is roughly the starting salary of an engineering graduate in Germany…

To make it easy for engineers to move around Europe, engineering associations and other groups across Europe are working with the European Commission (the executive arm of the European Union) to launch the new Engineering Card. The card, which German engineers can apply for now and other countries are planning to launch, provides standardized information about the engineer’s qualifications and skills for greater transparency.

“We don’t expect many engineers will come, because among other reasons, there is a shortage of engineers across Europe,”

Related: Engineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree ProgramsS&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the TopChina’s Technology Savvy LeadershipEngineers: Future ProspectsEconomic Strength Through Technology Leadership

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How Algorithms Shape our World

Our modern world is influenced greatly by algorithms. As computing power allowed incredibly complex calculation we have taken advantage of that and used algorithms to find solutions to our desires. Great things are done but we also find ourselves getting into trouble occasionally as we develop these algorithm.

Related: Algorithmic Self-AssemblyComputer Science RevolutionGoogle’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an AlgorithmWhat are Genetic Algorithms?Google Prediction API

The State of the Oceans

World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline

In a new report, [an expert panel of scientists] warn that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”. They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.

ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs – so much so that three-quarters of the world’s reefs are at risk of severe decline.

The report also notes that previous mass extinction events have been associated with trends being observed now – disturbances of the carbon cycle, and acidification and hypoxia (depletion of oxygen) of seawater.

Levels of CO2 being absorbed by the oceans are already far greater than during the great extinction of marine species 55 million years ago (during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum), it concludes.

The overfishing of our oceans has been a problem for over 100 years and a known problem, that we continue to give too little attention to. Adding to that impacts of climate change and the state of ocean life is in trouble. The decision of our population to not deal with the causes of climate change will have very bad consequences. It is a shame we have so little caring about the consequences of our decisions. And even sadder that our “leaders” do such an appalling job of leading – instead they pander to selfish immediate gratification.

Related: Altered Oceans: the Crisis at Sea (2006)Unless We Take Decisive Action, Climate Change Will Ravage Our PlanetArctic System on Trajectory to New, Seasonally Ice-Free State (2005)

Engineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College Degree Programs

As usual most of the highest paying undergraduate college degrees in the USA are engineering. Based on data from payscale, all of the top 10 highest paying fields are in engineering. The highest non-engineering fields are applied mathematics and computer science. Petroleum Engineering salaries have exploded over the last few years to $93,000 for a starting median salary, more than $30,000 above the next highest paying degree.

Mid-career median salaries follow the same tendency for engineering degrees, though in this case, 3 of the top 10 salaries (15 years into a career) are for those with non-engineering degrees: applied mathematics, physics and economics.

Highest Paid Undergrad College Degrees
Degree Starting Median Salary Mid-Career Median Salary 2009 starting salary
Petroleum Engineering $93,000 $157,000
Chemical Engineering $64,800 $108,000 $65,700
Nuclear Engineering $63,900 $104,000
Computer Engineering $61,200 $99,500 $61,700
Electrical Engineering $60,800 $104,000 $60,200
Aerospace Engineering $59,400 $108,000 $59,600
Material Science and Engineering $59,400 $93,600
Industrial Engineering $58,200 $97,400 $57,100
Mechanical Engineering $58,300 $97,400 $58,900
Software Engineering $56,700 $91,300
Applied Mathematics $56,400 $101,000
Computer Science $56,200 $97,700 $56,400

Related: PayScale Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest Pay (2009)Engineering Majors Hold 8 of Top 10 Highest Paid Majors (2010)Engineering Graduates Get Top Salary Offers in 2006Shortage of Petroleum Engineers (2006)10 Jobs That Provide a Great Return on Investment

More degrees are shown in the following table, but this table doesn’t include all the degree; it just shows a sample of the rest of the degrees.
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Appropriate Technology: Washing Clothes by Machine Instead by Hand

Hang Rosling provides great presentations exploring economics and human well being. I agree with his point that we should be thankful for economic and engineering progress that has freed us from menial tasks and allowed us to spend our time in higher value ways.

We need to remember (as he shows) there are many in the world that still do not enjoy these advances. For example, a majority of the world must hand wash their clothes. Engineers should continue to focus on the mass of humanity that needs fairly simple solutions.

He is also right that we need to find solutions to the extremely heavy use of fossil fuels by the rich countries. If the rich countries don’t reduce the pollution there will be great problems. And if the costs of clean energy are not decreased (which they should do) fast enough (which is the question), those that start to be able to afford the rich lifestyle, will add to the dangers we face economically and environmentally of continuing the unsustainable energy footprint the rich countries have been making.

Related: Washing Machine Uses 90% Less WaterClean Clothes Without SoapHans Rosling on Global Population GrowthAutomatic Dog Washing Machine

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