Yes, I was quite surprised by that story. I've spoken to engineers who say many of these process plants have planned shutdowns about once a year, often between Christmas and New Year's for planned maintenance and updates. So it's a relatively rare occurrence. And there is a series of steps involved in the shutdown. Now, apparently many plants are programming the shutdown process to make sure it is done correctly
Rob, I just hope that instructions for such important functions as shutting down the plant are caught and recorded before all those people retire. OTOH, if all that information winds up in software, instead of inside people's heads, I hope it's backed up multiple times.
@Michael Grieves: Dean Orsak's article contains exactly one sentence about the role of physics departments in supporting other departments (including -- but not limited to -- engineering departments), and exactly one sentence regarding potential effects on his university's engineering program. Maybe you think the "thrust" of his article was the effect that cutting physics departments will have on engineering schools -- rather than the effect it will have on the U.S. in general. Clearly we disagree about this.
At any rate, both of us have repeated our respective points enough times that I think our positions should be very clear to anyone reading this. If you want to continue this discussion by e-mail, you can reach me at dpalmer01 at gmail dot com.
We were not "talking past each other." You were making an unsupported charge of parochialism in a pseudo-superior manner by term dropping. The thrust of the Dean's article was that engineering schools would be dimished by colleges dropping their physics departments. My position (and a number of other posts) basically disagree with that position. I further think the Dean's position is indicative of the siloing in education of professors who should know a lot about a lot but instead know a lot about a little. My further position is that colleges need to rethink how we educate students. We can teach physics without having physics department.
So, on to your point about there being other considerations about whether institutions should have physics departments. There are. It's called economics. Some institutions can't afford departments. Does that mean they can't afford physics education. No. it means they can't afford the cost of having a department which would entail supporting professors spending a chunk of their time doing "research" and writing papers. At these level of institutions (third tier and below and maybe even second tier), the research is at best on the fringes of advancing physics and more often is simply to allow the professor to obtain tenure.
The Dean takes the traditional approach of supporting physics departments in institutions that can't afford them instead of thinking about how his engineering department should integrate phsyics (and math) into core engineering. You confuse physics departments in institutions who can't afford them with the advancement of physics and accuse those of not buying into that of "parochialism." You are wrong on both accounts.
@Michael: We seem to be talking past each other. Maybe the issue to you is whether or not this will diminish engineering education. Okay. My point is that there ought to be other considerations besides whether or not this will diminish engineering education. Clearly we disagree about this.
You seem to be missing the point. Some of these schools can't afford a physics department. Whether it's politicians deciding or some other group, reality is that there is no money in the checkbook for every school to have a physiscs department.
The issue is whether this will diminish engineering schools. My answer - it shouldn't. Engineering professors should be well-versed and multi-disciplined enough to incorporate an engineer's undertstanding of physics in their programs.
Using examples of string theory or the search for Higgs-Bosum particles only makes my point. Great research for the top schools. It won't make for any better engineers if their school have a physics department searching for the God particle.
You like exotic physics, great. But don't confuse that with producing engineers well-versed in the physics they need to do great engineering. What great phsyics would a second or third tier school do anyway. Answer, not much.
One of the best anecdotes I've heard comes fron a process plant. Not sure what type. It was one of those plants that runs 24/7. Turns out the last engineer who knew how to shut down the plant retired. A vendor had to come in and program the automation system to shut down the plant -- when needed for certain maintenance work (usually just once a year).
At the end of the day, only the software knew how to shut down the plant.
Now plants are trying to capture basic knowledge such as this in the software before the boomer retires.
Dave, that's an interesting point about how we do, or don't, compare ourselves with what other developed countries accomplish. We didn't bother to make those comparisons when the US was the 800-lb. gorilla in the room, but those days seem to be passing. And I agree with you about the huge waste in potential talent. Much of this is going on in the less fortunate classes and among blue-collar workers, or grown children of ex-blue collar workers.
@Alexander Wolfe: Thanks for sharing the interview with Craig Barrett. I strongly agree with him that a big part of our problem is at the K-12 level, and I agree that we should try to bring our K-12 education system up to the level of other developed countries. However, I don't quite see how judging our educational performance based on international standards -- in itself -- will accomplish anything. It's one thing to say that we ought to meet international standards. Ok, good. But how do we get there? As all engineers know, quantifying a problem is different from solving it.
Barrett is also right when he says that "the 30% of the kids in the U.S. who don't even graduate from high school are boat anchors around the economy's neck." We have a tremendous amount of potential talent which is going to waste at all levels. As a country, we simply can't afford this. Maybe we could afford it when, as Barrett says, the U.S. was "the only game in town." We aren't the only game in town anymore, and we need to make sure that all of our students have the opportunity to realize their full potential.
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