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Diego Fonstad

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Blog entries categorized under True (or so we're told) Stories

Did abstract art influence quantum physics?

Posted by Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad has not set their biography yet
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on Monday, 11 April 2011
in True (or so we're told) Stories

Teachable Moment: This is a wonderful example of the power of conceptual blending and the need for scientists to nurture a wide  breadth of interests.

In the early 1920s, Niels Bohr was struggling to reimagine the structure of matter. Previous generations of physicists had thought the inner space of an atom looked like a miniature solar system with the atomic nucleus as the sun and the whirring electrons as planets in orbit. This was the classical model.

But Bohr had spent time analyzing the radiation emitted by electrons, and he realized that science needed a new metaphor. The behavior of electrons seemed to defy every conventional explanation. As Bohr said, “When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.” Ordinary words couldn’t capture the data.

Bohr had long been fascinated by cubist paintings. As the intellectual historian Arthur Miller notes, he later filled his study with abstract still lifes and enjoyed explaining his interpretation of the art to visitors. For Bohr, the allure of cubism was that it shattered the certainty of the object. The art revealed the fissures in everything, turning the solidity of matter into a surreal blur.

Tags: Physics
Hits: 115104

Lessons from the O-Ring Analysis of The Challenger Disaster

Posted by Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 09 April 2011
in True (or so we're told) Stories

Teachable Moment: The Challenger disaster was blamed on gas escaping from a faulty o-ring and much debate and discussion has emerged about how engineers should have known that that could have happened.  The data is readily available for students to analyze and plot themselves and can lead to a great case study or discussion.

Richard Feynman was one of twelve members appointed to a commission tasked with investigating the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Feynman's experiments showed that the tragedy was caused by a failure of the craft's rubber-like O-rings. Made of material with reduced resilience at temperatures below freezing, the rings were cracked by freezing weather, cracks which led to the escape of hot gasses leading to the fatal explosion. Much to the annoyance of commission chair William P. Rogers, Feynman used a glass of ice water and an O-ring to conclusively show the seal's vulnerability — at a press conference in front of live television cameras.

Tags: Engineering, Math
Hits: 97239

Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer

Posted by Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 09 April 2011
in True (or so we're told) Stories

Teachable Moment: When I first heard this story I was told the iron was made from the failed Quebec Bridge, which I guess isn't true but the ceremonial message of responsibility still holds... this ring is a great reminder of how important engineering decisions can be.

The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer has a history dating back to 1922, when seven past-presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada attended a meeting in Montreal with other engineers. One of the speakers was civil engineer Professor Haultain of the University of Toronto. He felt that an organization was needed to bind all members of the engineering profession in Canada more closely together. He also felt that an obligation or statement of ethics to which a young graduate in engineering could subscribe should be developed. The seven past-presidents of the Engineering Institute of Canada were very receptive to this idea.

Tags: Engineering
Hits: 18149
Posted by Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad
Diego Fonstad has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 07 April 2011
in True (or so we're told) Stories

Teachable Moment: "Applied Math" can often be full of tortured attempts to make a math problem relevant by layering a story... but real life failures!  That's fun and memorable ;-)
Use the second link in the reference for the answer key.

Story 1: On September 23, 1999 NASA lost the $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft after a 286-day journey to Mars. Miscalculations due to the use of English units instead of metric units apparently sent the craft slowly off course - - 60 miles in all. Thrusters used to help point the spacecraft had, over the course of months, been fired incorrectly because data used to control the wheels were calculated in incorrect units.

Lockheed Martin, which was performing the calculations, was sending thruster data in English units (pounds) to NASA, while NASA's navigation team was expecting metric units (Newtons).

Problem 1 - A solid rocket booster is ordered with the specification that it is to produce a total of 10 million pounds of thrust. If this number is mistaken for the thrust in Newtons, by how much, in pounds, will the thrust be in error? (1 pound = 4.5 Newtons)

Tags: Engineering, Math
Hits: 53849