Sunday, March 13, 2011

Celebrating Engineering

March is National Engineering Month in Canada. (Image from University of Toronto.)
March is National Engineering Month (NEM), and there are a number of events happening across the country - both professionally and at Canada's academic institutions - to help celebrate the wide-ranging and far-spanning work done by engineers.  This year's NEM theme is "Designing the Future", which has a rich flexibility in interpretation but also includes concepts such as progress and sustainability in the discipline as a whole.  Besides learning more about the discipline and what engineers do at the official NEM site, here are a few sources for information:

First, Engineers Canada is the national organization that regulates the profession within the entire country.  This should be a first stop for high-level information, national programs, memberships, and projects.  On a more local scale, you can collect information specific to particular provinces - such as Professional Engineers Ontario, the Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of BC, or Engineers Nova Scotia.  There are also groups divided further by discipline, which are far too numerous to include here.  For a large list of the engineering societies which exist (both in Canada and internationally), the Wikipedia page is a good start.  Basically, there's a lot of information out there - so start Googling!

Second, academic institutions provide fun, simple, and interactive engineering demonstrations.  Designing an energy-absorption apparatus to enable the safe landing of an egg from a fall is one easy example; the design and operation of Rube Goldberg machines is another.  For example, as part of this year's NEM, the Engineering Students Societies Council of Ontario (ESSCO) put into motion the world's largest Rube Goldberg machine (constructed using the internet), which finished by lighting the CN Tower.  Watch the YouTube video here.

Universities also tend to showcase some of the more impressive and cutting-edge (not to mention concise) examples of engineering design, prototyping, and the progression from scientific and mathematical fundamentals to a working product.  Highlighted on the University of Toronto website, for example, are a number of the NEM events as well as stories that emphasize the "Designing the Future" theme in engineering disciplines.  Universities also display how discoveries in the laboratory have lead to significant commercialization opportunities.  For example, the Toronto-based engineering company Integran Technologies Inc. - co-founded by U of Toronto alumnus Dr. Gino Palumbo - has brought to fruition advancements made in the field of materials science, leading to significant and novel product developments for high-performance applications.  Not to be outdone, NEM events are also in focus this month at the University of Waterloo, University of Ottawa, Dalhousie University, or University of Alberta, among others.  Find an interactive event nearby to see the science at work and the progress behind the profession.

Also recently, there have been international events to help promote the engineering profession across the world.  Last October in the U.S., for example, the First USA Science & Engineering Festival was held in Washington D.C.  It was there that Dr. Chuck Vest - a former president of MIT and currently the president of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) - was interviewed about the future of engineering as a career and profession (see video interview here):

"[W]e've done a miserable job of communicating the excitement and the importance and what engineers and what scientists really do ... One of the things that I think is important, is that the message gets out there that these great challenges that face humankind - in the United States and around the world - none of these things can be solved without engineering."

Dr. Vest also presents an interesting set of statistics: the percent of college graduates (both men and women) in the field of engineering is 21% in Asia, 13% in Europe, and 4.5% in the United States.  According to Dr. Vest, this problem can be rectified:

"Part of the mission of the National Academy of Engineering is to promote increases in the quality, the quantity, and the diversity of our engineering workforce; in my view it's absolutely essential for a good future for this country."   

Because Canada tends to be somewhere between the U.S. and Europe in engineering graduate percentages, communication and interaction is also critical here to help bridge gaps and build them anew to the new students and future generations of engineers.  Communication and interaction are also critical to maintain a fluent, open, and accessible scientific dialogue for those who are not engineers but who interact daily with engineering technology.  In this way, the sustainable practice of engineering design and its core principles can continue to be respected and upheld.

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