Engineering

  • STEM educationCreating sustainable university and college STEM programs

    A new study has identified two factors that characterize sustainable university and college programs designed to increase the production of highly qualified physics teachers. Specifically, one or more faculty members who choose to champion physics teacher education in combination with institutional motivation and commitment can ensure that such initiatives remain viable. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher shortages are especially acute in physics, and the study points the way for institutions seeking to increase the number of STEM graduates prepared to teach.

  • STEM educationSocioeconomic status may influence understanding of science

    When it comes to science, socioeconomic status may widen confidence gaps among the least and most educated groups in society, according to a new study. The findings show that similar levels of attention to science in newspapers and on blogs can lead to vastly different levels of factual and perceived knowledge between the two groups. Notably, frequent science blog readership among low socioeconomic-status groups actually lowered their scores on factual tests of scientific knowledge while high levels of attention to science in newspapers caused them to feel they were less knowledgeable compared to those who read less or those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

  • Infrastructure protectionEarthquake researchers get online primer for simulation method

    Researchers now have access to expert instruction for an emerging simulation method to study seismic effects on structures and to design buildings that better withstand strong earthquakes. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) is providing a primer on its NEEShub. he primer explains how to use hybrid simulations, methods that are helping researchers study the effects of earthquakes on buildings and other structures.

  • STEM educationCorrecting pipeline problems to aid STEM diversity

    Educators and policymakers have spent decades trying to recruit and retain more underrepresented minority students into the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pipeline, to no avail: Traditionally underrepresented groups remain underrepresented. A new analysis of disappointing results in the pipeline’s output leads two Brown University biologists to suggest measures to help the flow overcome an apparent gravity.

  • Seismic risksL.A. to catalog buildings at risk of collapse during a major earthquake

    After years of efforts to get officials to catalog buildings at risk of collapse during a major earthquake, Los Angeles City Council late last month instructed building officials to establish a database of such buildings. About 29,226 buildings built before 1978 are subject to survey, but city officials would use mapping programs to narrow down which structures need further field inspection. The city estimates roughly 5,800 buildings are at risk, and an additional 11,690 buildings will need inspection on site to determine whether they are soft-story buildings or not. Los Angeles has yet to decide what to do once it compiles the list, and whether to require retrofitting of vulnerable buildings, but seismic experts and policymakers insist that finding out which buildings are vulnerable is a necessary first step.

  • FloodsUrban man-made drainage may increase risk of flooding

    Installing drainage systems in developing towns and cities can cause water to reach rivers more quickly, potentially raising the risk of flooding, say scientists. They suggest that, in some cases, storm drains may do more to increase the risk of flooding than changes in the land surface.

  • STEM educationNew, more effective teaching approach for engineering education

    Purdue University researchers who developed a new approach more effectively to teach large numbers of engineering students are recommending that the approach be considered for adoption by universities globally. The system, called the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom, allows students to interact with each other and faculty online while accessing hundreds of instructional videos and animations. The approach also might be used for any large STEM-related courses.

  • Infrastructure protectionBetter building design, maintenance would cut building sector’s emissions by around 80%

    The construction industry, which uses half of the 1.5 billion tons of steel produced each year, could slash its carbon emissions by as much as 50 percent by optimizing the design of new buildings, which currently use double the amount of steel and concrete required by safety codes. If buildings are also maintained for their full design life and not replaced early, the sector’s emissions could in total be cut by around 80 percent.

  • STEM educationForeign graduate enrollment in science and engineering continues to rise

    The number of citizens and permanent residents enrolled in science and engineering (S&E) graduate programs in the United States declined in 2012, while the number of foreign students studying on temporary visas increased, according to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

  • STEM educationActive learning of STEM subjects improves grades, reduces failure

    A significantly greater number of students fail science, engineering, and math (STEM) courses which are taught lecture-style than fail in classes incorporating so-called active learning that expects them to participate in discussions and problem-solving beyond what they have memorized. Active learning also improves exam performance — in some cases enough to change grades by half a letter or more so a B-plus, for example, becomes an A-minus. The researchers found that, on average, in a STEM course with 100 students signed up, about 34 fail if they get lectured to but only 22 fail if they do active learning. If the failure rates of 34 percent for lecturing and 22 percent in classes with some active learning were applied to the seven million U.S. undergraduates who say they want to pursue STEM majors, some 2.38 million students would fail lecture-style courses vs. 1.54 million with active learning. This 840,000 additional students failing under lecturing, a difference of 55 percent compared to the failure rate of active learning.

  • NukesFloating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    By David L. Chandler

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • STEM educationWisconsin YES youth business plan contest helps promote STEM education

    The number of skilled individuals needed in STEM industries is enormous, and growing, making it more and more crucial to promote the education of students in these disciplines. Wisconsin Yes! Aims to foster interest in science and tech education and encourages students to be independent, creative thinkers capable of problem solving. The statewide Wisconsin YES! youth business plan contest will close to entries 5 p.m. Monday, 17 March. Public, private, and home-schooled students across Wisconsin are eligible to turn their science- and tech-related ideas into business plans and compete for cash and prizes.

  • STEM educationConnecting individual K-12 STEM subjects for better results

    A new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council examines current efforts to connect the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines in K-12 education, both in formal classroom settings and informal learning environments, and suggests research to help determine the conditions most likely to lead to positive outcomes such as greater student retention and achievement, improved college-readiness skills, and increased interest in pursuing a STEM-related career.

  • Flood defenseUnsupervised robotic construction crew to build flood defenses

    See video

    On the plains of Namibia, millions of tiny termites are building a mound of soil — an 8-foot-tall “lung” for their underground nest. They do so without a supervisor, foreman, or CEO to tell them what to do. During a year of construction, many termites will live and die, wind and rain will erode the structure, and yet the colony’s life-sustaining project will continue. Harvard researchers, inspired by the termites’ resilience and collective intelligence, have created an autonomous robotic construction crew. The system needs no supervisor, no eye in the sky, and no communication: just simple robots — any number of robots — that cooperate by modifying their environment. In the future, similar robots could lay sandbags in advance of a flood, or perform simple construction tasks on Mars.

  • Planetary securityLimitations and side effects of large-scale geoengineering

    Despite international agreements on climate protection and political declarations of intent, global greenhouse gas emissions have not decreased, and with the accelerating industrialization of emerging markets, are not likely to any time soon. Therefore, large-scale methods – called geoengineering or climate engineering — artificially to slow down global warming are increasingly being discussed. Scientists say that the long-term consequences and side effects of these methods have not been adequately studied.