Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What do engineers do?

The first week's activity starts with a gentle introduction to the engineering process, which the Tufts curriculum describes as consisting of 8 parts:
  1. Identify the Need/Problem
  2. Research the Need/Problem
  3. Develop Possible Solution(s)
  4. Select the Best Possible Solution(s)
  5. Construct a Prototype
  6. Test and Evaluate the Solution(s)
  7. Communicate the Solution(s)
  8. Redesign
Current events provided us with an excellent illustration of an engineer's work: The weekend before, a truck carrying a large backhoe was 6 inches (15 cm) higher than the Mathilda Ave. overpass at Highway 101. Large chunks of concrete were ripped out of the bridge (fortunately, not causing any injuries) causing the bridge to be closed for a few days while they figured out how bad the damage was. This gave us some great talking points about engineering:
  • Why didn't the bridge fall down? [Engineers designed it to be strong against heavy loads, earthquakes, and damage like this.]
  • Who did they call in to see whether the bridge could safely carry traffic and be re-opened? [Engineers, of course.]

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