Buildings want to float, and cars want to fly. These are just a couple of the counterintuitive engineering principles taken from the book, 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School (Grande Central Publishing) by John Kuprenas with Matthew Frederick.
We also learn that skyscrapers are built mostly to resist pressures from the side, not weight from the top. We discover that a triangle is more stable than a square β- thus many bridges and buildings are based on triangles.
Using the comment section below, let us know the unusual-but-obvious-once-you-think-about-it principles you learned in engineering school. We'd also like to know what you learned after engineering school that you wish you had known when you were a student.
Click the image below to start our slideshow on things learned in engineering school.
A skyscraper is a vertically cantilevered beam. The primary structural design consdieration is not resistance to vertical (gravity) loads, but resistance to lateral loads from wind and earthquakes. For this reason, tall structures function and are designed conceptually as large beams cantilevered from the ground. (Illustration source: Earthquake Buddy)
Rob, at first I thought this would be stuff YOU learned in engineering school. I was prepared to be amazed at your memoory (or imagination).
As it is, there are some very good points made in the slide show. I like the one about the roundabouts. While living in the UK I got used to them and they are very good. As applied here, not so much. People are just not trained in how they work.
Slide 10 is something I am very knowledgeable about (for decades). I did run into a book about UML for embedded systems where the author turns this on its head and talks about requirements defects having a big impact on development. While this is true, it is easier to work with requirements and make changes than it is with code or silicon.
I learned a fair amount of math in engineering school -- four semesters of calculus, one semester of differential equations and one semester of vector calculus. So I was amazed, while working as a coop student in my first engineering job, to see a bunch of experienced engineers standing around one guy's desk, arguing about how to calculate the area under a curve. I suppose the lesson for me was that a lot of the things you learn in engineering school disappear into the gray matter after a few years.
I agree with you about roundabouts, Rich. They may reduce traffic, but I suspect you're right about the accidents. In my area of Chicago, we have only one roundabout that I know of, and the drivers at the intersection always seem confused.
Liz, The problem is that many Americans just don't know how to drive, period. All we need do is make it mandatory that all drivers be required to pass the CDL-A with all endorsements written test and an actual on-road skills test every four years. We don't need any studies to know that roads would be much safer when they're not populated with incompetent drivers.
I tend to agree with you, fire-iron.biz. I was surprised to hear that in Portugal, for example (where I live), students have to pay at least 800 euros to learn to drive and get their driving license because they are required to take a certain amount of hours for lessons (which of course they pay for). I hear in other places in Europe it is the same. I found this quite a stark contrast to the U.S. I am watching my nephews now getting ready to get their license and while they have to have their permits for quite awhile and get so many hours driving with other licensed drivers, it seems pale in comparison to the rigor of learning to drive in some other countries.
Well I know for fact that Italy cannot be lumped into the "Euro" group because pedestrians are targets and if you survive a taxi ride your heart is in perfect health. ;)
It's not a matter of money or time because I have seen many people go through driving schools learning everything necessary to pass the tests and still be a complete idiot behind the wheel. Round-abouts certainly aren't the answer here either, all one need do is see how many times vehicles repeatedly traverse the circle or return to the circle because they repeatedly take the wrong street. Some brainchild in New Jersey came up with an "All Turns From Right Lane" scheme that consumed billions of dollars and massive amounts of real estate yet accident rates remained unchanged or increased. I don't know what the answer is but requiring all to learn CDL-A material and repeated testing certainly wouldn't hurt.
Yes, you make some very good points, fire-iron-biz, and to be honest, Portuguese drivers--even with all the investment in lessons--are not the safest, either! I think roundabouts are quite logical but if like Americans you are used to grids and traffic lights, they don't make a lot of sense. I myself enjoy them and think they do make traffic flow better, but I have been driving on them for some years now.
LOL judging by the number of crashes, I'd say there's a lot of Americans who can't handle grid patterns either. Seriously, the patterns don't matter, it all boils down to lack of education and lack of common sense. So glad we now live in a rural area now, I avoid metro areas like the plague!
Yes, driving can be very dangerous, no matter where you live, I think, but it's better to be in places with less people on the road. I, too, live in a rural area that is quite seasonal with visitors, and really detest when lots of people converge on my town in the summer months for holidays because it means a lot more (and a lot of rushed, city) drivers on the road.
It's similar here in Florida we have "snowbird season" when people from the north invade Florida for the winter. My wife was almost killed in 2008 by snowbirds, they hit her from behind at a speed in excess of 95 Mph on a long straight stretch of four-lane secondary highway. In 2010 she almost died again as a result of secondary complications from the injuries sustained in the '08 crash. Actual "accidents" happen easily and frequently enough without adding ignorance and stupidity into the equation which is why I am a firm believer in education and fequent knowledge & skills testing.
Wow that is really terrible, fire-iron.biz, I am glad your wife has survived, but it sounds like she has suffered from her injuries. I used to live in Arizona and there is a similar snowbird situation there that made the roads fuller and generally more dangerous. I can understand why you are such an advocate of safe and educated driving practices. Let's all try to stay safe and mindful out there as we're on the roads.
The problem with drivers in Michigan is that if you can pay the $16 you get a license, if you are over 21 years old. If you fail the written test they tell you the right answers and then give you the license. It seems that driving is regarded as a right, not an earned privaledge. And so we have a whole bunch of people who have no clue as to how to merge and are unable to focus their attention in order to drive safely. In addition they simply don't understand anything about inertia or friction, and how that relates to stopping a vehicle.
In addition we have a good number of folks with the classic "17 second reaction time" symdrome, and they often make for some real excitement on our roadways. And those snow-bird-brains are one more reason why I would nevber ever visit Florida again.
Charles , i agree with you that engineering is full of calculus, trignometry and differential equations but as you said that u have never come across using calculus in your job i guess calculus is somewhat related to signals and systems and transmission jobs and over there you have to use and have good know and how of calculus then only you can interpret signals .
On the roundabout point, I live in Portugal where we have lots of them. I learned to drive and spent most of my life driving in the states, so getting used to them was a bit strange. But I do think they are a lot better than traffic lights in terms of flow and the rate of accidents, as long as people use them correctly and also use turn signals properly. The lack of turn signals from drivers using roundabouts is one of my biggest pet peeves! But I think generallly they are better than alternatives.
I find the list rather skewed toward mechanical and civil engineering. I learned a lot of important stuff about electrical engineering that is as important or more important than the stuff listed.
I did not learn a thing about roundabouts in college. But having seen and experieinced them in my business travels to Europe I think in many ways they are superior to the heavily trafficked traffic-light controlled intersections in the states. For one they are very energy efficient, you spend a lot less time waiting and esp when traffic is light, plus no traffic light mainteneance and power consumption, the power never fails. Traffic seems to flow more smoothly instead of the start stop herky-jerky of traffic lights. But in the US, they may be a hard sell - one you need to devote more real estate - roundabouts take more room around the corners esp. for multi-lane ones which will require some serious emminent domain actions for very small pieces of people's property and second the US drivers just aren't used to them.
Carmel, Indiana has replaced virtually all traffic-lighted intersections with roundabouts. There are currently around 90 major intersections without traffic lights. Traffic flow is smoother, accidents are fewer, with reduced damage and there is no ongoing energy usage or equipment maintenance needed. Uniquely, the city has also avoided the use of costly cloverleaf structures through the use of a double traffic circles over the top of major roads, allowing the major road traffic to flow without interruption, while on and off ramps handle the interchange traffic.
I live in Roswell, GA and a few roundabouts have been implemented with good results. Up the road from my house was a 5 way intersection on 2 lane roads with a traffic light that was a constant source of accidents. Drivers would pass on the right (illegally) to get around cars turning left and have head collisions with opposing, left-turning traffic. I was run off the road twice. A roundabout was developed and constructed while the intersection was active. It took about 6 months to complete but the results have been a great success. Even before all the concrete was poured, the main outline was placed on the street. One morning I went to work through the traffic light, and when I came home that afternoon, the traffic was alread routed in the circular path. I was really impressed. More roundabouts are already being planned.
We have lots and lots of four way stops, and a few 5-way stops also. In addition we have the "Michigan Flip" arrangement for making left turns on almost all divided roadways, residential or main. And no oil production anyplace to be seen, although there are some old wells that are not working. So please don't blame the oil companies for municiple government stupidity. They are the same fools who claim that stop signs at every single corner prevents speeding.
The whole problem is that if the politicians admit that it was a mistake, that they will be expected to correct the problem. So nobody in Michigan politics admits to ever making a mistake. That is probably a political thing, I suppose.
Nobody will acknowledge that the four way stops reduce fuel economy, increase pollution, and make the intersections less safe. So that problem does not go away either.
Don't forget to add the "Stop for pedestrians" zones in the middle of most blocks on college campuses to the inefficient stop conversation. I wonder how much greenhouse gasses are added to the atmosphere because of these feel good zones.
TRaffic circles are a problem in Michigan, primarily because we have way to many really stupid people driving. If one has $16 one can get a license, not much other requirement, at least for those over 18.
Slide 6, the Good/Fast/Cheap model. I have always maintained that Engineering Economics is critical and must be integral to effective Product Development. I tell my clients, a formula to remember when starting a program is this:
□LOW COST □TIME to MARKET □HIGH QUALITY ---Pick TWO.
But the graphic on Slide 6 shows the overlapping circles of possibility in a better, more communicative way; still depicting that the intersection of all 3 is impossible, but also illustrating the results of the other 2-part intersections. Great Chart-Slide – I will 'borrow' that in the future!
The concept of the floating house is not quite as counterintuitive as the floating swimming pool. In many areas swimming pools must be built with a device to allow ground water to enter an empty pool when the water table rises.
I once bought a house with an in-ground vinyl pool that had a hydrostatic valve - that's what those devices are called. We didn't have the property or pool inspected (mistake), so I didn't know the pool had that 'feature.' Had a dickens of a time for the first year or so keeping the water clear. I was sure that I had some sort of crack in the underground piping that was letting Georgia-clay-colored water in. Still, I couldn't make sense of how the pressure differentials on that crack would cause ground water to be sucked in rather than causing pool water to leak out. Water level tended to stay high, though, supporting the leaking-in hypothesis. Then day I was in to get pool supplies and described my problem to one of the service folks there. The fellow asked about where my pool was located. It turns out he had installed that pool. He recalled installing a hydrostatic valve in the bottom drain, and he told me why and how the valve worked. But I was having the problem even in relatively dry conditions. Hmm... What I realized was that conditions other than high water table could cause the valve to actuate. Specifically, if something obstructed most of the bottom drain, or the skimmer -- think leaves and pine needles, of which we had plenty -- the pump suction + the groundwater pressure was sufficient to pop the valve and pull in groundwater. I never saw the valve, but it's described as being like a spring-loaded bath tub pop-up valve. Armed with that knowledge, I was more diligent about keeping the drain and skimmer clear, and water clarity was much easier to maintain.
A far better solution to the valve would have been to have multiple, equal, suction openings connected to the filter pump inlet. The main benefit is that it would eliminate the danger of drain suction capturing somebody.
The valve was not for the safety of persons or the pump system, but rather a pool-liner-saving device. We were located just uphill of an old stream and beaver pond, and there was a gentle grade from our house as one moved further from the pond. Groundwater level and ground water pressure could get high enough under certain conditions that it would tend to float the liner of the pool - even with the pool at normal fill level. The hydrostatic valve was there to relieve the bouyant pressure by venting ground water into the pool. Loss of pool chemicals to groundwater dilution is preferable to the expense of repairing/replacing the liner and its sand "foundation."
Now mulitple suction openings to the pump might have worked, but would have been costly for the original installation, prohibitively so for a retrofit. A variant on that for new installation would have been one main drain linked to the pump suction, and a second pseudo drain near by that contained only the hydrostatic valve. I can already foresee some issues with that, but there would be some benefits. As a buyer of the home, I'd look and ask, "Why does this pool have two drains?" And in normal use, I'd probably be able to see - from the small plume of discolored water - when the valve was relieving groundwater pressure into the pool.
That's why in our village, all homes are required to have drain tiles inside and outside the foundation base draining to a sump well with a pump. Yes, it helps keep the basement dry, but it also prevents the basement floor from buckeling up as it tries to lift the house.
Well I would have to say in all honestly that very few engineers use calculus. I however use it to define odd area centroids for beam analysis and pendulum acceleration/kinetic problems. Biggest things I found out after school:
1. A sphere is not the strongest structure if loaded from one exterior point. Same goes for triangle if not loaded from exterior apex point . Load direction and orientation is everything.
2. Increasing only the ultimate tensile strength of a beam does not reduce deflection, only changes failure mode.
3. Finite element analysis results mean nothing if you do not understand beam theory.
4. A square bar is 2.5 times stronger in bending than a round bar with same outside dimensions.
I am absolutely amazed of the complexity and knowledge of previous engineers, scientists and mathematicians before us. I cannot begin to phantom the work and thought that went in to the discovery of calculus for example.
Much of the math I had to do while creating mechanical designs did need some calculus, but then, as I am an EE, I quickly found out feom some senior Mechanical engineers that "nobody designs things that close", and I could do very well with much easier algebraic calculations, always providing myself with an adequate safety factor. That also works for device power dissipation calculations, and quite a few other areas.
But the concepts and the understandings are handy on quite a few occasions. Of course I did need calculus for the physics, statics, and dynamics classes, and also for some of the second term chemistry stuff. But based on what I see from some recent graduates they must not require chemistry or any form of kinematics for an EE degree any longer.
Economics with a greater emphasis on business pracices would have been more valuable, and the public speaking and discussion leading courses that I had as electives were very useful. Also all of the technical writing classes have been very valuable in my career.
I have seen a whole lot of engineering positions requirements including "excellent communications skills", and it makes sense. If nobody can understand you, it does not matter how brilliant your design may be. And if one needs to address a room full of VPs it is quite handy to be able to speak sensibly.
My continuing education in that area has been from collections of MBA textbooks provided by various friends. I ignored the accounting texts because I really have no interest in being a bean counter, but the management and business plan development texts have been quite educational. Of course, my continuing education also included learning how to run a mill and a lathe accurately. That skill is handy when designing things and when reviewing designs.
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