The Young Engineers Guide To University Capstone Projects

Engineering degrees are as wide and varied as the potential careers on offer out in the real world. There’s plenty of maths to learn, and a cavalcade of tough topics, from thermodynamics to fluid mechanics. However, the real challenge is the capstone project. Generally taking place in the senior year of a four-year degree, it’s a chance for students to apply everything they’ve learned on a real-world engineering project.

Known for endless late nights and the gruelling effort required, it’s an challenge that is revered beforehand, and boasted about after the fact. During the project, everyone is usually far too busy to talk about it. My experience was very much along these lines, when I undertook the Submarine That Can Fly project back in 2012.  The project taught me a lot about engineering, in a way that solving problems out of textbooks never could. What follows are some of the lessons I picked up along the way. Continue reading “The Young Engineers Guide To University Capstone Projects”

The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning

It’s often said that engineers aren’t born, they’re made. Or more accurately, taught, tested, and accredited by universities. If you’re in high school, you’re probably starting to think about potential career paths and may be considering an engineering degree. A lot of work goes into a good college application, and it might seem like the hardest part is getting in. However, if your end goal is to get yourself a great engineering job at the end of your studies, it pays to have your head up from day 1!

I Just Need A Degree, Right?

Back in my freshman days, there was a saying that was popular on campus, particularly with those studying STEM topics. “Ps get degrees.” Your college’s grading system might use different letters, but the basic gist was that a pass mark was all that was required to get your piece of paper at the end of your four years. While this is technically true, it’s only really a useful ethos if your aim is to simply get a degree. If your goal is to use that degree to score yourself a plum job in your field, it would be unwise to follow this credo.

This attitude will net you plenty of wonderful memories at the bar, but it will dent your chances of landing a solid job upon graduation. All in moderation!

The reality of the modern job market is that it’s highly competitive. Recruiters can receive hundreds of applications for a single job, meaning the vast majority of applicants don’t even make it to the interview stage. To trim down the pile, various criteria are used to pick out the ideal candidates. An easy way to do this is to sort by grades. Having a low GPA can therefore see your application relegated to the trashcan, before you even get a chance to impress anyone with your carefully honed skills. Continue reading “The Young Engineers Guide To Career Planning”

Student-Built Rocket Engine Packs A Punch

A group of students at Boston University recently made a successful test of a powerful rocket engine intended for 100km suborbital flights. Known as the Iron Lotus (although made out of mild steel rather than iron), this test allowed them to perfect the timing and perfect their engine design (also posted to Reddit) which they hope will eventually make them the first collegiate group to send a rocket to space.

Unlike solid rocket fuel designs, this engine is powered by liquid fuel which comes with a ton of challenges to overcome. It is a pressure-fed engine design which involves a pressurized unreactive gas forcing the propellants, in this case isopropanol and N2O, into the combustion chamber. The team used this design to produce 2,553 lb*ft of thrust during this test, which seems to be enough to make this a class P rocket motor. For scale, the highest class in use by amateurs is class S. Their test used mild steel rather than stainless to keep the costs down, but they plan to use a more durable material in the final product.

The Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group is an interesting student organization to keep an eye on. By any stretch of the imagination they are well on their way to getting their rocket design to fly into space. Be sure to check out their other projects as well, and if you’re into amateur rocketry in general there are a lot of interesting things you can do even with class A motors.

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A Professional-Level Desk In A Dorm

Heading off to college comes with its own set of challenges. Harder course material, living away from home for the first time, and dealing with roommates are common hurdles to overcome, but an oft-overlooked issue is the poor quality dorm room desks. For a place that a student is expected to spend a majority of their study time, colleges and universities don’t often provide inspiring areas in the dorm rooms for this task. With a few tools and some time, though, anyone suffering in a dorm can have a much better place to work.

This desk build comes to us from reddit user [lucas_talbert] and is noteworthy for using simple tools and materials to transform the standard, boring desk in a way which won’t upset the facilities manager in charge of the dorm furniture. The backer is a piece of plywood which was covered in bamboo flooring. It was screwed into the back of the desk and secured with L-brackets. A piece of 1×4 was attached around the edges to help hide the LED lights and cables as well.

We like this build for its impressive transformation of an otherwise drab dorm room into a place that most of us wouldn’t mind having as our main workstation, even beyond college. It also uses common materials and is easily removable, both of which are perks when living as a student. The one thing it doesn’t have, though, is the ability to exercise when using it.

Battlebots To The Skies!

If you’re too young to remember Battlebots on the television, there are two things that you should know. First is that there are plenty of highlights of this epic robot battle royale on YouTube, and the second is that now there’s an even better version with drones instead of robots merely confined to land. It’s called DroneClash 2019, and it looks like it was amazing.

Not only were the robots set up in a box and asked to battle each other, they first had to navigate down a corridor with anti-drone measures. The drones have to make it through and into a battle royale in the final room. If this wasn’t good enough, the event was opened by a prince of the Netherlands and is put on by a university.

This is an annual event to push the state of the art in drone and anti-drone tech, but we’d be happy to see it optioned for a TV show. If it doesn’t, you might be satisfied with a giant human-driven robot competition from a while back, or maybe just head down the rabbit hole of old Battlebots clips.

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Back To School Online

In 1961, FCC Commissioner [Newt Minow] famously described TV as a “vast wasteland.” But TV can do great things; educational programming, news coverage, and great performances do appear, just not all that often. You can draw the same parallels to the Internet. Sure, it’s mostly cat pictures, snarky comments, and posts of what your friends had for dinner. But it can also be a powerful tool, especially for education. Recently, top-name schools and other institutions have posted courses online for everything from Python to Quantum Mechanics to Dutch. The problems are finding these classes and figuring out which ones are gems and which are duds. A site called Class-Central aims to solve these problems.

The site aggregates class descriptions from a variety of sources like edX, Coursea, and more. Users can rate the classes. Many of these courses are free to take. The recent trend is to offer the content for free, but charge for people who want an assessment, such as a certificate of completion or even a full-blown degree. Even then, the cost is typically far less than traditional college costs.

There’s also news about courses. For example, a recent post highlighted that edX now offers nine online master’s degrees in conjunction with major schools. A computer science masters from the University of Texas, for example, runs about $10,000. A Georgia Tech cybersecurity masters degree costs even less. There are another seven not ready yet, including one for electrical engineering.

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Touch Anything And Everything

Powering IoT devices is often a question of batteries or mains power, but in rare exceptions to this rule there is no power supply (PDF Warning). At the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California, San Diego, researchers have gone the extra mile to make advanced backscatter devices, and these new tags don’t need the discrete components we have seen in previous versions. They are calling it LiveTag, and it doesn’t need anything aside from a layer of foil printed or etched on a flexible ceramic-PTFE laminate. PTFE is mostly seen in the RF sector as a substrate for circuit boards.

We have seen some of the wild creations with wifi backscatter that range from dials to pushbuttons. RF backscatter works by modulating the RF signals in which we are continuously swimming. Those radio waves power the device and disrupt the ambient signals, which disruption can be detected by a receiver. With a BOM that looks like a statement more than a list, integration with many devices becomes a cost-effective reality. Do not however broadcast important data because you cannot expect great security from backscatter.

[Via IEEE Spectrum]