Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dawn's Science Class

1: Amateur Rocketry

This is a launch at the Black Rock Desert in Nevada: - Homemade Rocket Launch.  This launch went to 121,000 ft; approximately 23 miles up.  At this altitude you can start to see the curvature of the earth.  As you can see, amateur rockets are not model rockets.  These are the real things and have to be treated accordingly. 

The Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society is an amateur rocketry group located just over the hill in Silicon Valley.  Their static test facilities are at the Rocket Ranch, which is an amateur rocket test facility in the hills east from San Jose.  I'm not sure how active they currently are. 

Friends of Amateur Rocketry is probably the most active amateur rocket group in the world today.  They operate out of the Mojave Desert in Southern California.  The video below shows a static test of a rocket built by an engineering team at San Diego State University.  Static testing is when a rocket is strapped down so that it can be instrumented to measure things like thrust, pressures and temperatures during operation.  One thing that this video doesn't do justice to is the incredible loudness of a rocket test. 

The X-Prize Foundation sponsors multi-million dollar prizes that are offered for engineering achievements.  I followed this particular contest because one of the entries was a father/son team Unreasonable Rocket.  They just missed sharing the prize because their rocket ran out of fuel a few seconds short of the prize's required time of flight.  But they were competing against two commercial operations that were backed by millions of dollars each. 

2: Amateur Astronomy

The Fremont Peak Observatory is located just south from San Juan Bautista, CA.  I think it might be the largest amateur telescope in the world.  It is open to the public once a month or so.

3: Amateur Radio Astronomy

The Society of Amateur Radio Astronomy lists a number of interesting tech projects that a student can take on; things from listening to the planet Jupiter, gamma ray burst observations, to project SETI.

 4: Amateur Robotics

Something that should have gotten a lot more press than it did was Aptos High School's robortics team taking first place in this years Marine Advanced Technology Education(MATE), competition.  This is an international competition that includes college teams as well as high school teams. and was hosted this year by the Neutral Buoyancy Lab (NBL) at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston 

Another fun area is RoboGames.  These events are held just up the road at the San Mateo Fairgrounds.  The most intense to watch and the most demanding, from an engineering standpoint, are the combat robots. 

Here is just a sample of the action from this year's RoboGames.  If you've never been to one of these events, they are impressive!  If you fast foward to about 25:50 you'll see The Great Pumpkin vs.Raging Scottsman.  Raging Scottsman is a high school team from Piedmont High School, Piedmont, CA.

5: Medical Device Engineering

Boston Scientific is a major manufacturer and supplier of medical devices.  A fun exercise is to go to their web site, click on the "View All Products" link, and take a look at the wide variety of devices that are used in medicine today.  Most of the devices listed contain additional entries with accompanying detailed descriptions.  And for some of the devices, case studies are also linked to.   Below is a case study for a device I helped design for a company called CryoVascular Systems.       
Acute Popliteal Case Study

Most medical device design is done by small startups like CryoVascular Systems or contract engineering houses such as Circle Medical Devices.  Because the costs of getting a new medical device to market are so enormous, all small startups like CryoVascular Systems are eventually acquired by a large firm such as Boston Scientific.  Only firms the size of Boston Scientific have the resources and international presence necessary to get a new product through all of the reviews and acceptance processes that all of the various nations of the world require before a new device can be licensed, sold and used in them. 

6: Engineering Challenges in the Future

Just to tweak the imagination, here are some engineering challenges that young people in school today can look forward to in the future.  The first is a robot mule from Boston Dynamics called AlphaDog.  The guys you see in the video are probably some of the engineers that designed the AlphaDog.  They get to do fun things like kick their mule as part of its motion stability testing.

This video shows just one example of a whole new area of research and development in the field of prosthetics.  By surgically tying into a patient's remaining nerve endings, the mind can be retrained to use a bionic replacement as if it were just another part of their body.  And it's not just arms, hands and legs being replaced this way, but sight and hearing, too.  The exciting thing for the future in this video is that our patient is controlling the hand with only four nerve contacts being used.  The muscle control nerve in the arm, the radial nerve, has thousands of individual axons.  Imagine what could be done if even a few hundred of these nerve axons could be accessed instead of just four?

This example shows an engineering development that some might find a bit unsettling in its implications.  This robot is being controlled by a culture of rat brain cells being kept alive on a matrix in the researcher's lab.

This last example shows an engineering development in the field of nano-fabrication.  Engineers now have the ability to fabricate structures on an atomic scale, one atom at a time.

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