Category Archives: Engineering

Fun STEM children’s books for young girls – Rosie Revere Engineer

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I’m always looking for subtle ways to expose my daughters to the fun that is engineering and science.  Of course I also do lots of not so subtle exposing (Tinker Bell doesn’t tinker, she’s an engineer!).  The girls really can’t get away from it with 2 parents who are engineers. 🙂

One of my favorite ways to show the girls how awesome engineering and the sciences are, is to read them stories where science/engineering is the focal point.  If the main character is a girl? Even better.  I’ve scoured Amazon and have only been able to find a handful of books that Rose and Evelyn would enjoy at their age (2 and 5) that feature female engineering/science roll models.  I’m going to post reviews of the ones I like the best over the next few weeks to save other parents the effort.

I thought I would start off with my favorite so far, Rosie Revere, Engineer.  I think the reason I like this one so much is that it combines both mechanical engineering (one guess why I love that) and encouraging “try try again”.  This is something that my Rose in particular really struggles with.  When something doesn’t work right off, she reeeeeeally wants to quit.  Plus, the main character’s name is Rosie.  How can I go wrong with that?

The story goes that Rosie Revere is a 5 (6?) year old little girl that loves to invent things.  She can take every day objects and create inventions that solve problems in a really cool and fun way (most inventions involve spray cheese as a inducer of motion).  One day she makes something for her uncle who laughs at it.  (They don’t make him mean, he is just laughing because it looks a little silly) She is so embarrassed that she gives up inventing all together.  Then her great-great aunt Rose (her namesake aka Rosie the Riveter) comes and gives her love and encouragement to realize it’s ok to fail because “Life might have its failures, but this was not it. The only true failure can come if you quit.“.  It’s a great book to both encourage invention/engineering and to teach that not everything works the first time and that’s ok.

The girls and I give Rosie Revere, Engineer 5 out of 5.

*For a HUGE list of books that are inspiring to girls/women you can check out the Mighty Girls site.  The books are a mix of age groups and themes (not all science based) but are a great source for children’s  reading material.

Additional blog posts about STEM books that the girls and I like:

Going Places

I am Ameila Earhart

Me…Jane

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Engineering is cool #1 – Machine in Concrete

Machine in Concrete

We took Rose to The Exploritorium last week for the first time.  Oh my.  She was like a kid in a candy store.  So many things to play with!  At 5, she isn’t quite ready to hear “how” everything work (she pretty much ignored us when we tried to explain it. lol) but completely enjoyed manipulating everything.  If you are ever in San Francisco with your kids (or even without them), go there.  Seriously, go there.  It’s filled with tons of examples of interesting science/physics/engineering with easy to understand explanations of “why”.

I was in engineering heaven.

Out of the literally hundreds of exhibits, the Machine in Concrete fascinated me the most.  The motor runs at 200 rpm but after 12 pairs of worm gears which reduce the speed by 1/50th for each gear, the output shaft rotates so slowly, it will not make a full rotation for 13.7 billion years.  Yes, you read that right, 13.7 BILLION years.  Whoa.  The output shaft was able to be encased in concrete with no stress on the drive train.  Seriously….whoa.

Engineering is cool ya’ll.

Just for fun, I found a guy on Reddit that did the calculation for what would happen if worm gears worked in the opposite direction (they don’t so you can’t turn the output shaft and the anything turn on the drive train so this is a hypothetical calculation).  Have I mentioned I love engineering?

“And even if you ignore the worm gear issue, if you turn the final gear at 1mm/s, the first gear will move at 814365469 times the speed of light. [5012 / (c * 1000) = 5012 / 299 792 458 000 = 814365469]

To make something move at the speed of light you need an infinite amount of energy. So if you try to turn the final gear there will be a high amount of resistance, infinite to be exact, because the first gear can’t turn that fast. It’s almost like the first gear is now also trapped in concrete (although this is a speed restriction and not a movement restriction), except that concrete is made of “Unobtainium” and cannot break. (The gears will also have to be made of Unobtainium because they will strip long before you reach the speed of light.)

Staying with the same scenario you should be able to turn the final gear at 0.12 picometers/second and the first gear will turn at only 0.1 times the speed of light. (The radius of hydrogen atom is 25 picometers.)

EDIT: The energy needed to get the first gear up to 0.12 picometers/second (assume no friction) would be about 1.12*1015 Joules or 1.5 Hiroshima nukes.”

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Is the Cinderella 2015 movie an inspiration for young girls?

I’m not one to post movie reviews on this blog but I was lucky enough last night to be able to watch a screening of the live action Disney Cinderella movie coming out in March of 2015.  I was excited to see if it was as inspirational to young girls to be a strong independent female as with previous Disney movies (Brave, Frozen).  Although I didn’t hold out hope for an engineering role model like I found Tinker Bell. (wishful thinking of a engineering mom)  I took Rose (and her Aunt) and am very happy to say that unlike Maleficent it was very age appropriate for even little girls.  I came out of the movie with that nice warm fuzzy feeling that good romantic comedies give.  The guy gets the girl, the bad people are punished, and everyone lives happily ever after, all interspersed with some comedy and light drama.  Rose’s aunt was almost giddy because it paired an actress from Downton Abby (Lily James) and an actor from Game of Thrones (Richard Madden) together as the romantic leads.  😉

The story line follows the cartoon movie almost verbatim but with a nice addition of expanded back story and heartfelt drama.  The acting was great (how could it not be with Cate Blanchett as the Evil Stepmother) and the scenery beautiful.  (Rose wanted to take home the gorgeous grey horse she rides around on)  If the costumes don’t win an Oscar, I don’t know what’s wrong since they were absolutely stunning.  I think her wedding dress alone is going to inspire a whole new wedding dress line.  And of course, the shoes*….

Here’s the thing.  Once I got home and started to move beyond my initial “awwww” reaction, I realized that Cinderella is still a bit of a subservient character.  I get the whole “wait for your prince to come” theme from in the 50’s when the cartoon was made but this is 2014 (or 2015 when it comes out).  Cinderella’s mom’s dying quote is “have courage and be kind”.  So I guess the whole “have courage” thing is have to courage to wait around for rescue?  Or maybe it was to have courage to be kind in the face of adversity?  But does being courageous and kind mean you should stay quiet and kind in a bad relationship/home life because something good might happen if you do?  (50 Shades of Grey anyone?)  I think they were trying to make Cinderella be “self assured” and “finding joy in the life you live no matter what” but it seemed like she was a bit of a door mat.  I know, I know, it’s just a Disney movie and a remake of an existing one at that.  I shouldn’t expect huge life affirming, girl empowering stuff every time.  Sigh…  (Of course they remade Sleeping Beauty and Maleficent and Aurora turned out pretty bad ass)

It isn’t all bad of course.  For the most part, she doesn’t let herself get depressed over her situation and she did have a stand up for yourself moment at the end but then apparently gave up and sat around moping after that.  As of the editing on the screening, she didn’t even free herself with the help of the mice like she did in the cartoon.  Humph.  I think I am just spoiled by the Ever After story line with the female lead that saves herself in the end but still gets the prince.  I know this was the “olden times” where it would be very difficult to be a woman out on her own but as a mom who is taking her young daughter to this, I know she will not be analyzing the social economical trials of the time period.  She will be looking at Cinderella as someone to look up too.

The Step Mother is actually the strongest female character but of course, she is evil.  It almost gives the message that being strong and opinionated is “evil” and being quite and subservient is “good”.  Deep thoughts there!  There is a whole nuther blog post that can be written about her but I’ll wait until the movie is out since it would contain a bunch of spoilers.

Oh, and don’t get me started on how skinny they made Cinderella’s waist.  Like “did they computer generate her waist that skinny?” skinny.  Not a good message to our girls.

Disney really did a step back for our impressionable girls with this movie.  After wonderful strong female character movies like Brave and Frozen (sister power!), it was disappointing to see them go back to the old standard.  Maybe because it was directed by Kenneth Branagh who isn’t exactly known for his movies with strong female leads?  There was a woman writer (along with a man) but….

So long winded rambling aside, the latest Cinderella is a beautifully filmed movie with a nice romantic story line.  Your little girls will love it.  Just don’t expect it to inspire them much beyond playing dress up.  Or dream of galloping a beautiful horse across flower strewn fields until a prince comes along to save you from your run-away horse…. wait.  Damn it!

*On an engineering side note, I have to give props to the prop department (see the pun I made there?) for designing a glass slipper that might just hold up under the force of Cinderella running around.  The thickness of the heel and area under the ball of the foot are surprisingly thick.  The heel is even thicker then in the poster and not as high.  Hopefully the fairy godmother put some Dr. Scholl’s in there for shock absorption but otherwise I bet a stress analysis would show the shoe would withstand basic use. 

Update 5/23/2016:  I just saw the teaser trailer for the live action Beauty and the Beast.  Please let it be a better influence for our girls!

cinderella 2015 Live Action

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Tinker Bell the Mechanical Engineer

Anyone other parents as thrilled as I am over the Tinker Bell movies?  I mean sure, her skirt is a little too short, and some of her friends are a little stereotypicaly ditsy but dang, that girl (woman?) is an ENGINEER!  Yep.  Tinker Bell is an engineer, a mechanical engineer non the less.  (woot!)

I had actually resisted watching the Tinker Bell movies at first.  Rose had started to watch them on Steve’s phone (Netflix) and while I was getting certain dialog memorized, I hadn’t been able to get myself to watch what I was sure was another silly movie with silly characters.  Finally she asked to watch it on the tv and I was pleasantly (and happily) surprised by how intelligent her character is and to see all of the cool things she creates.

Long lost sister can’t visit because she’s a winter fairy and can’t get warm?  No problem, she designs a snow machine.

Tinker Bell Snow Machine

Everything is messed up and spring may not come because the other fairies can’t gather all the spilled acorns in time?  No problem, she designs a industrial size vacuum out of a glove and a harmonica.

Tinker Bell Glove Vacuum

Need a boat to take fairy dust to remote outposts?  She’s your girl.

Tinker Bell Boat

Sure she messes up sometimes in her eagerness to build things but it’s ok.  She just goes back to the drawing board and tries again.  Seriously great example of a “don’t give up when things don’t go your way” attitude.

Armed with a new appreciation for the awesome engineering powers of this little fairy, I scoured the toy aisle on Rose’s birthday to find something that would play off her new obsession and encourage her own “tinkering”.  Nothing.  Nada.  Nilch.  Lots off jewelry, tea party sets, and makeup.  Lots of clothing too.  Some of which depict Tinker Bell as down right sexy.  Anything at all that had anything to do with her engineering?  Nope. 

Seriously Disney?  You have five (soon to be six) movies that actively encourage girls to use their minds to create and build and you don’t have anything for them to implement that desire.  Instead all you give them is things to make them “pretty”.

Multiple studies have shown that the earlier girls are introduced to and encouraged to explore engineering concepts, the more likely they are to pursue engineering or some other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)  fields as a career choice.  Thing is, you can’t force these things on kids.  I know, I’ve tried.  Last week I took Rose to Target to choose a new toy with her Christmas money.  As we wandered the aisles she immediately turned around when she got to the section that wasn’t full of pink.  “Mommy, lets go back to the girl toys”.  Nothing I could say would convince her that she couldn’t choose something in the “boy toy” section.  Those girl toys?  They were all dolls and dress up.  Luckily she found a Brave bow and arrow set (in purple of course) that turned out to be a pretty fun hands on toy.

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So here’s my idea.  Disney has already teamed up with Lego for a number of other movies and just released a “princess” set.  Lego is actively trying to capture the girl market with their “girl legos” but they don’t go on adventures, just to the store/salon/restaurant.  What about Tinker Bell legos?*  You could build her cart or the boat or any of her many inventions.  I know that Rose and thousands of other little girls would jump at the chance to “tinker” on their own.

Better yet, team up with Goldie Blox!  Their whole business model is based around encouraging the next generation of female engineers by creating toys that tickle the creative mind while appealing to the seemingly ingrained “girl toy” desire.  It’s almost tailor made for Tinker Bell.

So Disney, if you happen to come across this blog post and want to take this and run with it, I hereby wave any and all rights for this idea.  I would be more then happy to just have toys like this on the market that encourage our young girls to use their brilliant minds to design and build.  Pretty please?

*Update: I came up with a solution to the lack of Tinker Bell Lego sets.  Create your own!

*Updated #2: As of May 2015, there is a live action Tinker Bell movie in the works.  Fingers crossed she is an engineer!!

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To squeeze or not to squeeze the soda bottle

I’m the first to admit that sometimes I can be a little nerdy.  Take the subject of this blog post for example.  I have long wondered who has it right.  The person who just closes the soda bottle for storage or the person who squeezes it tight before closing.  Before you say “Of course the squeezing is better.  It gives the CO2 less space to escape into.”,  think about the fact that the bottle is trying to return to it’s original shape, thus potentially pulling the CO2 out of the liquid via a vacuum effect (told ya I was a little nerdy).

Soooo, I performed a little experiment to investigate just who is right.


Question: Should you squeeze the soda bottle to prevent CO2 from escaping the liquid?


Hypothesis: The smaller the volume of air available for the CO2 to escape into, the better.


The Experiment:


I chose root beer for my experiment because it tends to have the largest amount of bubbles (head) when poured which makes it easy to see how much CO2 is left.


I started off by carefully pouring 1 cup of root beer out of two separate bottles into measuring cups.  You can see in this photo how I closed the two bottles.  One closed with no modification, the second squeezed until the soda was at the top of the bottle and sealed.


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I then poured the soda into a glass with 2 ice cubes (to promote bubble formation) from a height of 2 inches over the glass.  Then I measured the head created in the glass.  Finally, I tasted the soda to see how “bubbly” it tasted**.  I repeated this approximately every 12 hours until the soda was gone.  
 
1st Opening:
Both – 1 3/4 inch head. Very bubbly tasting.
 
12 Hours:
No Squeeze – 1 inch head. Very bubbly tasting.
Squeeze* – 1 1/2 inch head.  Very bubbly tasting.
 
*Interesting note: The bottle had unsqueezed itself a bit over the time period even though the top was firmly closed.  Maybe my CO2 extraction by vacuum theory has some merit.
Root+Beer+5
 
24 Hours:
No Squeeze – 3/4 inch head. Slightly less bubbly tasting.
Squeeze – 1 1/8 inch head. Slightly more bubbly tasting then no squeeze.
Root+Beer+3
 
 
36 Hours:
No Squeeze – 1/2 inch head. Not very bubbly tasting anymore.
Squeeze – 1 inch head. Slightly bubbly tasting.
 
48 hours:
No Squeeze – 1/8 inch head. Almost no bubbly taste.
Squeeze – 1/2 inch head. Slightly bubblier tasting then no squeeze.
Root+Beer+7
 
 
60 Hours:
No Squeeze – Almost no visible bubbles. Very flat tasting.
Squeeze – 1/8 inch head.  Only slight bubble taste.

 

The Bottom Line:
The carbonation defiantly lasted longer in the soda that I squeezed before closing both in taste and looks.  It would be my recommendation to squeeze the heck out of the bottle each time to increase the life of your soda.  That being said, either way you do it, once you hit the two day mark neither method was able to preserve enough CO2 to keep the drink very bubbly tasting so drink up!

**Yes, I know that “bubbles” can not be tasted but you know what I mean.  The fizzy feeling on your tongue you get from drinking carbonated drinks.

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An engineer’s guide to toy assembly

Last weekend I was assembling a bubble gum pink plastic shopping cart for Rose (that she got for her *ahem* birthday.  Don’t judge.) when I realized that I was using a number of engineering principles that I learned in my 4 plus years of college.  I thought my fellow engineer’s and those of you who may as well be one (or were one in a previous life) would appreciate that those hard learned lessons can be put to use in real life.  If your not a nerd like me, you can skip down to the end where there’s a cute picture of Rose with her fully assembled cart complete with play food that I found on clearance at Target (score!).  Please excuse any and all bad spelling or grammar.  I am an engineer.

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3.  Leverage:  The use of a lever to gain a mechanical advantage when attempting to remove a lock washer from a metal post that was incorrectly installed because of misreading directions. 

4.  Strength of Materials:  Calculating, by a force till deformation method, the force needed to overcome the shape memory of the plastic cap on the above mentioned lock washer (see item 3.) when attempting to remove said washer.

5.  Trajectory Calculation:  Calculating how far the plastic cap and lock washer will fly when hit with a hammer in an attempt to reapply it to the metal post.
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6.  Optics:  Seeing through an opaque object (one 17 month old baby) to detect that said baby is picking up a pile of screws to eat/hide/poke the cat with.  (This one is less engineering and more mommy super power)

And finally the promised picture.
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Yes I am a geek.

This is what was on the two screens I have at work on Thursday. On the right was the report I was writing. On the left is multiple views from the ROVs working on installing the cap over the broken oil line. Click on the pic for a easier view.

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Rose, the future physicist

Apparently Rose was paying attention during Physics 1D at UCDavis (since she was nestled in my ovary at the time obviously the intelligence comes from my side of the family).  She has determined that if she tries hard enough she can Tunnel.  Tunneling is the phenomenon in which a particle penetrates a barrier previously thought to be impenetrable.  Once she mastered crawling, she felt strongly that she should be able to crawl through ANYTHING!  This includes walls, chairs, boxes and people.  I’ve watched her try to crawl through the couch, pause, try to crawl through the couch, pause, and try again.  Goof.  Someday, she may be written into history as the first baby to successfully Tunnel through the kitchen wall, but until then, note the red mark at the top of her forehead from her latest failed attempt.

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