Team UV Crest, representing our principal application (ISR), and our potential future applications (Mine Detection, Underwater Inspection, and Exploration).
It has been quite an adventure writing the posts for this site, I know I have learned a lot, and hopefully you have too. While this blog catered mostly to people interested in the science technology engineering and math fields I did what I could to make it accessible to all. One of the best ways to learn something new is to try and explain it, so thank you for letting me learn by explaining to you.
Hopefully most of you will continue on the Engineering A Future. I will not, my blog writing journey has reached its end here. It was fun while it lasted stay curious and stay creative, always stretch your minds to the limits!
Charcoal barbecue. Photo Credit: green.funtimesguide.com
Summer is here and with it brings barbecuing season. While the average charcoal BBQ may seem like a pretty simple appliance there is some solid engineering behind its design.
First let’s look at the charcoal briquettes. An engineer took chunks of wood and organic matter and heated it up in the absence of oxygen to produce an energy dense fuel that is fairly clean burning. This process is called pyrolysis and it removes all the moisture and fumes so that the avid BBQ enthusiast will be able to cook their food without coating it in a black smoke of tiny particles.
The BBQ itself is designed to control the combustion process. By opening and closing vents the user is able to regulate the flow of oxygen to the fuel. This directly affects the combustion rate, the rate at which energy is released in the form of heat.
And, as with any cooking process, heat transfer is an important consideration. When the coals are glowing hot they are emitting a lot of their heat as radiation. Radiation requires a direct line of sight and this is what causes one side of your food to get a nice sear on it before you flip it. When the lid to the BBQ is closed the air inside heats up and this allow for some natural convection, heat transfer from the hot air moved by its change in buoyancy (hot air rises). There is also some conduction, from relatively still hot air and the heated metal components that compose the grill (not to mention conduction through the food itself). Each one of these modes of heat transfer provide a different aspect to the grilling process. Radiation causes the sear, conduction is responsible for the grill marks and convection is responsible for the even heating and temperature of the food.
A deeper understanding of any process can lead to better results and engineering gives perspective into many of these processes. As far as grilling goes most of it can be picked up from experiences, but isn’t it more fun to know why these things happen! Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, no matter who does the grilling!
Ball bearings and technical drawings. Photo Credit: amanoverseas.com
Creativity is a huge part of being an innovative engineer. Thinking outside of the box it what has allowed the human race to advance their science and technology to the levels that we see today. While there are a few exceptions most of the engineering courses taken to receive the final degree focus on building a foundation of knowledge. These classes are designed to give a future engineer a solid base to develop ideas from. Creativity is a difficult thing to teach because it comes to everyone in a different way. Here are a few things that I do to help me become more creative.
The biggest thing, at least for me, is that I keep an idea notebook. It is just a small composition notebook that usually remains in my backpack, but when ever I see something that is frustrating or looks like it could be improved I jot it down. This way I have a list of problems that need solving.
Another thing for me is staying in touch with the advancements in technology by reading science blogs and sometimes the journal articles that they refer to. This keeps me learning and stretching my mind into new areas. Some of these new ideas I can tie to the list of problems that need solving and then I can start designing as system that would solve this problem.
Practicing the creative process is one of the best ways to get better at it. By seeing a problem and then attempting to design a system, either as a thought exercise or on paper, more problems come up, which in turn need solving. By going through this process, solving problems, learning new things, applying these things to existing problems, new and innovative solutions arise.
This is the method that I use to come up with new ideas and inject creativity into my work. Please feel free to comment with methods that you use. Everyone’s mind works a little differently and there are so many different ways to find inspiration.
2012 ROUSH Stage 3 Mustang. Photo Credit:premiumphotoshop.com
Friction is one of the most important and unappreciated forces in nature. It is the reason cars’ tires grip the road and handle turns while remaining in control. It is also one of the major reasons your car’s gas millage isn’t what it could be. What if there was a way to keep the helpful aspects of friction while removing the bad ones.
The oil in your car serves as a lubrication system which reduces friction quite a lot by coming between two surfaces that are rubbing together. This system allows cars to have long lives without wearing out, and gives pretty good gas millage. But what if there was a way to totally eliminate friction so that cars could travel much farther on a single gallon of gas and would last much longer without costly maintenance.
To create a system with almost no friction the fundamental mechanics behind friction must be understood. On a large scale friction is caused by tiny ridges in the surface of one material grabbing on to ridges in the other. This has been known for a while but researchers have just found a way to understand what’s happening at an atomic level.
They created a surface of charged ions then shot a laser over the surface. The charge in the ions refracted the laser in ways that allowed the researchers to measure the forces involved in friction on an atom by atom basis. This system was only conceived a few years ago and it give researchers a powerful tool in the hunt for practically friction free surfaces.
A more technical and in depth discussion of this research can be found here: http://www.nature.com/news/friction-of-a-single-atom-measured-with-light-1.17698
We’ve all been taught that water freezes at 32F (0C) but in actuality water can remain liquid below this temperature, under special conditions. Imagine you’re sitting on your couch after a long day, you’re tired and you’re starting to feel a bit hungry, but the fridge is so far away. Eventually you get hungry enough to get up, go to the fridge, and satisfy your hunger. Water can relate. When the temperature of the water drops below 32F it would prefer to be a solid, but it takes energy to change from a liquid to a solid. As the temperature gets lower the water gets “hungrier”, it wants to be a solid even more, eventually it wants to be a solid enough to overcome the energy barrier, the “walk to the fridge”.
When water wants to become a solid there are two ways it can go. It can either grow on a surface, like condensation on a cool drink or around a dust particle like rain, or, if it has enough energy, it can grow little spheres of solid within the liquid, without the help of a surface. The amount of energy required for this phase transformation is directly related to the amount of surface created. When the transformation is happening on, say the inside surface of a water bottle, the liquid only has to support the area of a dome, the bottle takes care of the rest. When there is no bottle to work with, or the liquid is far from the surface of the bottle, it has to have enough energy to support the surface area of a whole sphere.
If you’re trying to replicate the video above it’s crucial to have very clean water. This means there are no little particles that the water can use to lower the amount of energy required to freeze, it has to save up enough to grow the spheres without any help. The water also needs to be cooled slowly and handled gently because any significant energy changes, thermal or kinetic, can give the water enough energy to start freezing. This is why hitting the bottle will start the reaction. When the bottle is hit, it finally gets the “oomph” it needs to get to the fridge (freeze).
These phenomena (heterogeneous and homogenous nucleation) are also responsible for the famous Mentos and Coke experiment, why bubbles in carbonated drinks seem to come from specific points in the glass, and how engineers make aircraft aluminum strong enough to keep planes in the sky.
SCUBA diver. Photo Credit: wisegeek.com
The underwater world is beautiful and mysterious and as it makes up most of the livable volume on this planet it’s natural that humans would be interested in exploring it. SCUBA diving is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to explore the world under the waves. Getting humans to stay alive and comfortable for any length of time requires some pretty intense engineering.
The big problem is that humans need air. So SCUBA divers carry on their backs tanks of compressed air that they breathe for the length of the dive. The more air a diver can bring with them the longer they can stay under. The divers could either take larger tanks or try and pack more air into the tanks they already have. Really large tanks are impractically heavy and expensive so that option is out. That leaves packing more air into the tank, as more air is added the pressure increases because, for standard conditions, air follows the ideal gas law, PV=mRT. Where “V” is the volume of the tank, so that’s going to stay the same, R is the gas constant, T is the temperature which will stay constant as long as it’s filled slowly. This leaves P, the pressure of the tank. Modern SCUBA tanks are filled up to 3000 psi. That’s 3000 pounds of force on every square inch of the inside surface of the tank, or a large elephant standing on every 2″x2″ square of interior surface area. It takes some serious engineering to handle that without exploding.
Keeping an open mind, and being aware of the engineering that goes into many of the things that allow humans to explore where they could never go before, from the ocean to outer space is important. Advances in materials, mathematics, computers, and physics keep pushing the boundaries so that things once thought impossible become commonplace. Keep an open mind and keep learning, the future is going to be unimaginably incredible!
3D Bioprinter printing a Kidney. Photo Credit: on3dprinting.com
3D Printing is coming up in the news and research more and more these days. But that just goes to show the versatility of this additive manufacturing technique. The majority of manufacturing up to this point has focused on taking a block of material and removing the parts of it that do not belong, like Michelangelo sculpting the David. New techniques based on adding material have opened a new venue for the creation of products and allowed engineers and scientists to create designs that would have previously been limited by old manufacturing techniques.
One of the cool new applications of the 3D printer idea is for organ creation. Scientists at Princeton University and John Hopkins University have created a 3D printer that can print a human ear. The device first creates a scaffold, something for cells to grow on and maintain shape, out of hydro gel, then it adds cells that will grow and form cartilage that will be the final structure of the ear. Read more about it here.