Jon, I hope you are including a discussion of Engineering Ethics in your presentation to budding engineers & scientists.
In many cultures, denying water to those who need it is considered a Sin. eg in the Koran. Making profits out of selling drinking water is vaguely obscene even though it is as prevalent in the so called 'advanced' Muslim countries as in the West.
Probably the most important aspect of a bottled water product is the possible use of the container to store tap water after the expensive contents have been drunk.
Bottled drinking water perfectly sums up our 'advanced' 21st century ethos.
Is this what our noble profession serves today. In much of the previous century, engineers had a somewhat higher calling.
"The next to lighten all man, may be you." - John Masefield.
John, this is indeed a very good example that not only is able to demonstrate the large amountmof engineering needed to produce a simple water bottle, it is also a very good vehicle for theahing folks to consider unintended consequences of various decisions. You didn't mention that, but it is one more application for your excellent example.
Thanks for the link to IPRO, Dave! What a fantastic program! Our tiny interdisciplinary major here at La Salle was modeled after the much larger program at James Madison University. It is really heartwarming to learn of additional "inter" programs in academia. There is more than a bit of irony that such interdisciplinary, project-based education programs do such a poor job of networking and collaborating among themselves. Maybe we are just following the natural dynamics that govern the isolated pockets of replicated organic matter within the primordial soup... I only hope that with increases in social networking technology it doesn't take millions of years for these types of collaborative educational approaches to coalesce and share their best practices.
@williamweaver: I'm impressed that you were able to condense a critique of modern educational methods into three concise points. I think you nailed all three.
Not only do compartmentalized teaching methods fail to prepare students to tackle real-world problems -- they're not even good for teaching the subject matter they're supposed to teach. The essence of learning is making connections between things; physiologically, it's all about forming new synapses between neurons. The more connections you form to a given piece of information, the easier it will be to recall that information later.
I was fortunate enough to go to a university which encourages teamwork and interdisciplinary learning. My favorite professor was well-known for giving open-ended test questions which required actual engineering thinking to solve. Even with IIT's emphasis on developing real world problem solving skills, many students had a terrible time in his class, because they were acustomed to test questions that could be solved using a cookie-cutter approach.
I was sad to see that, since he retired, his class has been written out of the curriculum. (They retired his jersey, so to speak). I hope the university will find a way to keep students' brains working. I heard there were concerns about the effect his class was having on some students' GPAs, but having a wonderful GPA in classes which don't challenge you to think like an engineer doesn't prepare you to solve problems in the real world.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, many product designs go that way, but when talking with young people about engineering I want them to understand that even the simplest products require much design and development work before a factory can turn out the product as a routine.
William, for most of the products we are looking from application level angle, so we are not able to realize the pain behind such inventions. Design of a power plant or space vehicle is much complicated, but how many of us have the patience to know how it’s designed or how it’s working. As long as we are getting uninterrupted power supply or service from satellites we are satisfied. I think we have to educate the students in school level itself, then only they will know more about science and motivated towards it.
Jon, yes you have narrated the pain behind a product in simple words. But normally all such pains are only for the first product or invention. There after the process are just copying and imitating. I mean once the system or product is in place, just copying or following the same procedure.
Well stated, JimT. "You can only see what you understand" has long been a guiding principle for me as an educator. When we start out the semester viewing a complex system, say a power-plant for instance, it is easy for the young students to file that away in a mental folder called "power plant" and then continue to scribble propaganda on the outside of the folder: Dirty, resource-consuming, global warming, dangerous, asbestos, radiation, pollution. Only after we take the time to "open" the folder and go through many of the subsystems and explore their design, installation, coordination, maintenance, and upgrades do they begin to use concepts like: Innovative, challenging, difficult, quality, good-paying, useful, life-saving... This is not a slam on my fellow educators but ask a random person on the street what comes to mind when you say the word "Water Bottle". I suggest not many will offer words like Design, innovative, cost-effective, safe, convenient, inexpensive.
Hopefully SpaceX will bring Sexy back to space travel. For now I've removed all problems associated with space and rocket flight from my General Physics classes. Nearly all of my freshmen students have no concept of the word "rocket". They can do Harry Potter, but few know that we've gone to the moon.
Because I've spent 30 years in small, portable electronics, you definitely have hit on a long standing wonder of mine; that being the complete design, fabrication, manufacturing and assembly of the average 2 ton automobile; not to mention that major car companies (ALL of them) put out new models EVERY YEAR.For people like us [design engineers] we can understand the magnitude of this – but for the general population, it has become an expectation.Vastly underappreciated, and a little sad, actually.
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