Tag Archives: engineering


I’d like to make a comparison. Lego’s new Friends series, the robot workshop:

And “engineer” Barbie:

  • Which is “more sexist”?
  • What skills and perspectives does each of these toys encourage? Go with a venn diagram.
  • If we replaced the pink and purple with orange and green how would you feel about each?
  • Why do kids like some toys instead of others?

Marge the cow

http://news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=825282007 in the Scotsman, Marge and her offspring are the result of a $110 million research program going on in New Zealand by the biotech company "ViaLactia":http://www.vialactia.com/. If they succeed at breeding bulls that can pass on Marge's skim milk trait we are well on our way to yet another species with a narrow gene pool. It's working well for the "cheetah":http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheetah#Genetics_and_classification. "Photo":http://flickr.com/photos/ramirezlook/288814587/ taken from "AnaC.Ramirez'":http://flickr.com/photos/ramirezlook/ Flickr stream.

Let's Cornhole 'Em!

My alma mater, the “University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign”:http://www.uiuc.edu, recently removed “Chief Illiniwek”:http://www.uillinois.edu/chief/index.html as its mascot. The appropriateness of The Chief as a mascot has been a hotly contested issue for decades, but at long last Illinois students have a solution to the mascot situation that they can all rally behind.

That solution is Farm Bot.

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Farm Bot represents Illinois’ rich, agricultural tradition and its commitment to excellence in engineering via its unique, “Mega Man-style”:http://img340.imageshack.us/img340/4766/xpw8.jpg corn cannon, Abraham Lincoln hat that shoots fireworks, and jetpack that also pops popcorn. Not convinced? Let Farm Bot come to life in this nine-minute masterpiece!

Fun with electricity

“Peter Terren”:http://tesladownunder.com/aboutme.htm from Australia clearly has no fear of electricity. Like Ben Franklin with his kite, Terren plays with homemade “Tesla coils”:http://tesladownunder.com/Tesla_coils_intro.htm and “rail guns”:http://tesladownunder.com/Rail_gun.htm like they’re, well, play-things. Also worth checking out are his experiments with far-too-powerful “can crushers”:http://tesladownunder.com/CanCrushing.htm and lots of cool “lasers”:http://tesladownunder.com/Lasers_%20HeNe_YAG.htm.

The above photo was taken by Terren of he and his son sitting in his Hyundai under a homemade 5-kilowatt Tesla Coil. The car and its jolting accessory are profiled “here”:http://spectrum.ieee.org/may07/5053

Mahogany car

Normally reserved for high-class furniture, mahogany is an especially strong slow-growing African hardwood. No wonder it was the material of choice to make this all-wood car, the Tryane II. The three-wheeled car can reach a top speed of 101 mph and can apparently get 55-70 miles per gallon. Like many home-built cars, the Tryane II is built on the classic Citroen 2CV engine. Enjoy the picture and if you want to know more, check out “this article”:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=451055&in_page_id=1770 from the Daily Mail newspaper.

The ultimate folding bike

Folding bikes are really great for commuters, people living in small apartments, or for traveling. The original paratrooper folding bikes, while foldable, weren’t very good as bikes. Recently that has changed as most convertibles are great at everything, although they can be somewhat ungainly to carry in their folded forms. That’s why this adaptation of the folding bike concept is so cool. The whole thing fits inside the suitcase-looking body shown above. Here’s a corny animated video showing how the folding mechanisms work:

I couldn’t find the original company website, but I got the story from “TreeHugger”:http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/the_suitcase_bi.php who in turn took it from “Ride This Bike”:http://ridethisbike.com/2007/04/suitcase-bicycle-video-photos-price.html.

Homemade 3-D printer

“TreeHugger.com”:http://www.treehugger.com/ posted an “article”:http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/downloading_des_5.php the other day about a cool DIY project at the “Evil Mad Scientist blog”:http://www.evilmadscientist.com/. It’s all about a home-made “3-D or CNC printer”:http://www.evilmadscientist.com/article.php/3printerpreview that uses sugar as the primary building material. TreeHugger already did a cool review of the machine with their post, but they neglected to mention the really cool “toaster mod”:http://www.evilmadscientist.com/article.php/cnctoast pictured below.

http://reprap.org/bin/view/Main/WebHome and "Fab @ Home":http://www.fabathome.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page, both really good places to find out about the grassroots of this revolutionary technology. For a really great treatment about just how revolutionary 3-D printing could be, read Charles Stross' "Singularity Sky":http://www.librarything.com/work.php?book=14432707.

First aquanaut emerges from two weeks of underwater living

Lloyd Godson, an Australian marine biologist with the “BioSUB project”:http://www.biosub.com.au/ has been living underwater for two weeks. His home was this “underwater room”:http://www.biosub.com.au/Down%20under.htm fully-equipped with internet access, an electricity-generating exercise bike and an algae farm. Some of the stuff on board was pretty innovative, including the “‘biocoil'”:http://advbio.cascadeschools.org/Biocoil.html photosynthetic bioreactor developed by a high school in Idaho. From what I can gather, the point of the experiment was to show how people can create sustainable ecosystems underwater and live without bringing all their gases/needs with them. Now this is me thinking out loud, but could this be the key to living in similarly hostile environments like space?

There are a lot of interesting things to learn about this, so start out by reading this “TreeHugger post”:http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/man_underwater.php about the project before it started and “this one”:http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/04/man_resurfaces.php about the end of it. There’s also this “short report”:http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200704/s1900699.htm from ABC Australia.

Floating nuclear reactor built by Russians

In a move straight out of a bad James Bond plot (is there another kind?) Russia is building is building a nuclear power plant on a free-floating ship. Developed to power far-off Siberian ports and shipyards, this reactor-ship is the first of seven planned. There’s probably a lot to say about the ludicrous nature of putting a nuclear power generator on a boat, but I’ll leave that to you. For now, here’s a picture:

Here’s a “BBC article”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6562925.stm for more information

Ever wanted to know how to power your moon colony?

My good friend Mike McCambridge (second from the right in the picture below), a senior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, has been working with several peers on an amazing senior capstone project: designing a power plant that takes advantage of the moon’s particular thermodynamic characteristics in order to generate power.

The basic idea involves using a large, reflective panel to collect solar energy, heating a fluid to great temperatures, and transmitting the heated fluid to power a turbine. The group traveled to Huntsville, Alabama to speak with scientists at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and trade ideas about the particulars of such a system.

Read more about this project “here”:http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=590355. It is amazing what brilliant projects and ideas can be generated even by undergraduate research.