Engineering Students Bring Clean Water to Small Community with 'Local Tech'
March 10, 2011
A team of Rowan University engineering students recently traveled to La Ceiba, El Salvador to install biosand water filter systems. The filters are part of a pilot program that serves ten homes in the small village, with more to come in future visits. The students are members of Rowan University's chapter of Engineers without Borders (EWB), which has some 250 chapters in the U.S., including 180 chapters on university campuses.
This story provides an important lesson beyond how these student-engineers found personal fulfillment in "making the world a better place." There is a larger story of how organizations are now able to focus on small, "local tech" projects as the way to get things done.
EWB-USA currently has more than 350 active projects in 45 developing countries around the world including water, renewable energy, sanitation and construction projects, such as a bridge across a mountain river. Most projects involve water or wastewater treatment. These projects are completed in partnership with local communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). All chapters work with communities for a minimum of five years:
"EWB-USA's unique grassroots approach requires that all program proposals come directly from the communities themselves. This increases the likelihood of success by ensuring that the needs addressed by our chapters are being identified and driven by the community. Every program begins with an assessment trip where the chapter performs a community needs assessment and works with the community to identify their priorities. During the following years the chapter returns to perform further assessment, implementation, training, and monitoring and evaluation trips. Throughout the program community members receive training on the maintenance and operation of their infrastructure and a financial mechanism is established to ensure long term economic sustainability."
You could think of EWB's approach to these small-scale infrastructure projects as "long tail engineering," following the online marketing pattern Chris Anderson described in an October 2004 Wired Magazine article and later in a book published in 2006. With its ability to share information instantly and at very low cost, the Internet has tipped the value proposition of engineered projects from mass solutions, brought to us via mass production and mass communication.
Now organizations can fund lower cost, local solutions, with easy to produce custom solutions that rely on targeted, very local communication. To get the benefits of economies of scale, mass solutions required large-scale, one-size-fits-all projects.
Today, the Internet makes it possible to share engineering expertise cost-effectively for customized, very small, truly localized projects.
Make Your Nominations Here for Water and Waste Water's Engineering Rock Stars
August 13, 2009
Last night I saw Ajay Bhatt on TV for the first time. He's Intel's latest "rock star" in their "Sponsors of Tomorrow" marketing campaign.
Bhatt is a good sport in playing what must have been an uncomfortable video role. But this send up of modern fan adulation does more than bring attention to one of Intel's many stellar engineers.
Intel's rock star video serves as a reminder that real people make the things that make the world a little better. And while we can't elevate every engineer--or engineering team--to the star status they deserve for their innovations, we can at least share the names of the ones we know of.
Announcing the Water and Waste Water Engineering Star Quest
So here's your chance to join in the nomination of our own process industry rock stars. You can nominate historical figures or contemporaries. To help get you started, here are some individuals who might qualify for star status:
Joseph Priestly (1733 – 1804): Water and Wastewater dot com publisher Joe Taylor nominated Joseph Priestly because "he's the guy who figured out oxygen and gases."
Priestly actually received a rock star's welcome when he emigrated from England to the United States in 1794. But the adulation was more for his outspoken support of the new republic than his discovery of oxygen.
According to the Chemical Heritage website, Priestly had been encouraged by Benjamin Franklin, when the later was in London, to complete his first scientific work, The History of Electricity (1767). Priestly went on to publish more than 150 works. In addition to his scientific research he was a noted English theologian, natural philosopher, educator, and political theorist.
While Priestly is credited with the discovery of oxygen (he called it "dephlogisticated air"), Carl Wilhelm Scheele and Antoine Lavoisier also hold claim to the discovery. Priestly wrote six volumes on Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air.
In Birmingham, England Priestly joined the Lunar Society, a group of manufacturers, inventors, and natural philosophers who met monthly to discuss their work. The group included manufacturer Matthew Boulton, chemist and geologist James Keir, inventor and engineer James Watt, and botanist, chemist, and geologist William Withering.
Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC): Going even further back in history, my top choice for engineering rock star is Archimedes whose breakthrough screw design is still used for pumping water and in bulk material handling. It's the basis for the screw feeder, by far the most commonly used volumetric or gravimetric feeder found today. You can find the Archimedes screw pumping and metering liquids and bulk solids in virtually every industry.
Archimedes wrote the earliest known explanation of the principle involved in the lever. He is said to have remarked, "Give me a place to stand, and I will move the Earth."
Archimedes designed block-and-tackle pulley systems, allowing sailors to use the principle of leverage to lift objects that would otherwise have been too heavy to move. He is also credited with improving the power and accuracy of the catapult. During the First Punic War he invented the first odometer. As a cart outfitted with the odometer moved forward, a gear mechanism dropped a ball into a container upon each mile traveled.
Archimedes was born, lived and died in the Greek city-state of Syracuse, in Sicily. Like all the early innovators, he was a generalist and is known as a Greek mathematician, physicist, inventor, and astronomer. And he was most definitely an engineer. "His name is inextricably associated with the genesis of engineering in ancient Greece," according to this profile on the website of the Technology Museum & Science Center in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Gordon E. Moore (1929 - ): Gordon E. Moore didn't invent the computer, and he can't take full credit for the microprocessor, though he and Intel co-founder Robert Noyce certainly gave it a hand. Over the years, his Intel engineers have taken a commanding lead in development of the computer chip that has become the backbone of countless products and the transformer of nearly every business and industry.
The thing that makes Moore stand out from all the others is his early recognition of just how big this chip revolution would be. In 1965, his Moore's Law predicted the trajectory of how many transistors could be placed on a computer chip. The time frame has stretched from a year, to 18 months to two years as the size and complexity of the chips have grown, but the law has held for more than 40 years. Each new generation of chips has doubled the computing power of the previous chips. As a result computing costs have been cut in half every one to two years, while speed and computational capacity have grown exponentially.
The impact of the microprocessor on every industry cannot be overstated. Many modern processes simply would not be possible without today's digital controls and sensors. Just to take one example, highly accurate loss-in-weight and weigh belt feeders wouldn't be so accurate without their microprocessor controls. Digital weighing technology simply isn't possible without their onboard microprocessors.
Moore earned a bachelor's in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1950 and a Ph.D. in chemistry and physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1954. For those who might say he's a chemist or a business manager, not an engineer, it should be noted that Moore is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Engineers. He serves on the board of trustees of the California Institute of Technology and received the National Medal of Technology in 1990 and the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in 2002.
Who Are Your Engineering Stars?
So now it's your chance to nominate our own engineering rock stars. They may be historical figures whose work we continue to build upon today. Or you may want to nominate a contemporary like Ajay Bhatt whose work is moving us toward tomorrow. Post your comment here, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Engineering Stars.
"Infrastructure" Reveals and Celebrates the Often Unnoticed Engineered Environment
January 22, 2006
With "Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape," Brian Hayes brings to public attention the essential underpinnings of the modern world. Like the air we breathe, and the water we drink, the technological structures Hayes documents in "Infrastructure" are easily taken for granted. Yet without these engineered structures and transports, civil life as we know it could not be sustained.
The the story of water, from the water we drink, to the water we flush, can be found in "Waterworks," the second chapter of this field guide to the industrial wilds. The guide takes us to places often set in remote locales, surrounded by chain link fences. We go inside plants filled with mysterious machines that few non-engineers could comprehend without this expert guide to show where to look and explain what we’re seeing. Hayes helps us see the beauty and art in the common and unglamorous, such as the sludge digesters in Deer Island, MA.
Hayes spent 12 years crossing America, photographing and gathering the stories of our industrial landscape. The book contains more than 700 hundred photos, taken from afar--from the air and from the roadside--and close up and inside the structures and machines built to work so well that we seldom give them a thought. Hayes compliments his pictures with a narrative that helps the reader appreciate both the industrial history and the engineering behind the visual revelations his camera sets before us.
Hayes received support for his project from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which helps fund efforts to promote public understanding of technology. A senior writer for American Scientist, Hayes talks about his book in an interview at American Scientist Online. In the interview, he says he grew up in the era of Sputnik and expected to become a scientist or engineer. But "somewhere along the way," he says, "I neglected to collect a university education, or even a high school diploma. Lacking those credentials, I found it a good deal easier to get a job as a writer…" After a brief period working as a news writer, he joined Scientific American, "a splendid place to learn both science and writing," he says.
Hayes takes us on a grand tour of our dams, mines, power plants, refineries, waterworks, highways, railways, electrical grids, waste and recycling facilities, shipping, aviation, bridges, tunnels and communication systems. It’s great introduction for the uninitiated into the engineered world, and for the engineers who build and maintain them, it’s a long overdue acknowledgment of the works they create and sustain.
A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape
By Brian Hayes
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
536 pages, $49.95 ($32.97 on Amazon)