Universities and Wine

A few people have commented on my rather tongue-in-cheek post about solar car racing and beer. I don’t think the correlation there was actually spurious – there really is a tradition of excellent engineering education in the beer-producing areas of Europe, and both the beer production and the approach to engineering education have been exported around the world.

In the USA, for example, we have the influence of Stephen Timoshenko (1878–1972) at the University of Michigan and at Stanford. And we have the influence of Friedrich Müller / Frederick Miller (1824-1888) in the brewing industry.

But lest I be accused of some kind of pro-beer bias, the chart below shows national wine consumption (consumption this time, not production) compared to the date of the oldest university in the country (excluding universities less than a century old). Here we have universities (in the modern sense of the word) growing out of the wine-drinking areas of Europe, beginning with the University of Bologna. Once again, I think the data can be understood as a case of parallel exports:


Girl, flaunt those hoops!

American private liberal arts colleges constantly seem to be in the news (not, unfortunately, for their educational successes). Pitzer College, located in Claremont, California (and ranked 44th among liberal arts colleges in the United States by Times Higher Education), recently made the news when a college Resident Assistant announced that “white girls” should not wear hoop earrings.

Left: Greek hoop earring with lion head, 4th century BC; Right: Italian (Lombard) hoop earring with basket, 7th century AD

The strange thing is that hoop earrings are almost a cultural universal. They have been worn across the world, including in Europe and the Middle East. And not just by “girls” with skin of various colours – men have worn them too.

I must also say I’m grateful that the Greeks haven’t stopped the rest of the world from “cultural appropriation” of their philosophy, mathematics, and democratic ideals.

Left: Croatian hoop earring, 14th century AD; Right: Egyptian hoop earring, Roman Period or later

Education in the USA

The pie chart above shows the breakdown of elementary and secondary students in the USA. Data is for 2013, from the National Center for Education Statistics (with homeschooling numbers extrapolated from 2012 data). Educational options are a hot political issue right now, with changes to education policy likely under the Trump administration. What those changes will be is unclear.

Of course, the US educational system does need some improvement. In the 2015 PISA global education survey, the US ranked equal 23th in reading, 25th in science, and only equal 39th in mathematics. Canada did much better (2nd, 7th, and 10th), and Singapore came 1st in all three categories.

Chemical Compounds: the board game!

I have previously mentioned my strong interest in science / technology / engineering / mathematics education and in networks and in board games. This has prompted me to start designing educational games, such as the World Solar Challenge game. Joining the collection is my new Chemical Compounds game, which looks like this:

The online game store (faciliated by the wonderful people at The Game Crafter) has a free download link for the rules, should anyone wish to take a look. I also have a few other educational games there.

World Solar Challenge: the board game!

Readers of this blog will know that I am passionate about science / technology / engineering / mathematics education, and that I am passionate about board games, and that I am passionate about solar car racing (with the ESC and the Sasol Solar Challenge coming up soon). Wouldn’t it be great if those three things could be combined?

Well, now they can! To assist solar car teams with education/outreach efforts, I’ve put together a simple board game based on the World Solar Challenge, and aimed mostly at kids. It looks like this:

The online game store (faciliated by the wonderful people at The Game Crafter) has a free download link for the rules, should anyone wish to take a look. I also have a few other educational games there.

Making America great again?

I have pointed out before that I am a child of the American post-Sputnik boom in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, which spread to other countries through books like the ones below, but which faded away in the US over the decades that followed.

I have also previously written about the Times Higher Education “top 100” university list for Engineering and Technology and its relationship to solar-car racing. The USA has 31 of the institutions on the list, making it still the world leader in STEM. But things change when we look at the number of such institutions per million of national population (plotted in the bar chart below). Then the USA ranks only 13th. The top six countries/regions become Hong Kong (with 4 institutions), Singapore (with NTU and NUS), Sweden (with 3 institutions), Australia (with 7 institutions), Switzerland (with 2 institutions), and the Netherlands (with Delft, Eindhoven, and Twente).

So where might one create the next Silicon Valley?

  • In Ontario, Canada, perhaps (near Toronto and the University of Waterloo).
  • Or in the vicinity of Melbourne, Australia (near Monash University and the University of Melbourne).
  • Or in the vicinity of Sydney, Australia (near UNSW and the University of Sydney).
  • Or in Hong Kong (near HK Polytechnic University, HK University of Science and Technology, the University of HK, and the Chinese University of HK).
  • Or in southeast England (near Imperial College London, University College London, Oxford University, and the University of Cambridge).
  • Or in the southern Netherlands (near Delft, Eindhoven, Twente, and Leuven across the border).

The San Francisco Bay Area has to work hard to compete with those locations! If the US truly wants to lead the world in STEM, it may need to lift its game a little. And a nation cannot be “great” in the modern era without excellence in STEM.

Moving on from the World Solar Challenge

Participating in the World Solar Challenge is a great experience for an engineering, mathematics, computer science, marketing, or media student – and a fantastic thing to put on a CV. Since 1987, close to 10,000 students have participated in the race. But what comes next?

Here is a selection of nine WSC alumni who are contributing their talents to the world in a variety of ways:

  • Ian Girard (Stanford, 2009–13, Driver/Mechanical) – now a battery pack designer for Tesla
  • Sam D’Amico (Stanford, 2011, Embedded code lead) – now a hardware engineer at Oculus VR
  • Marlies Hak (Nuon, 2013, Team Leader) – now a project leader at a transport-related IT company
  • Pujith Vijayaratnam (UNSW, 2013, Aerodynamics/Mechanical) – now doing a PhD in the biomechanics of blood flow
  • Amy Gunnell (Team Arrow, 2013–15, Driver/Mechanical) – now an automation engineer in a factory
  • Irene van den Hof (Twente, 2015, Team Leader) – now an intern at a Defence firm
  • Elmar Peters (Twente, 2015, developed the SABINE system which won the technical innovation award) – now runs a small startup developing bluetooth speaker technology
  • Daniel Haynes (Adelaide, 2015, Team Leader) – now a project engineer for an air conditioning company
  • Mark Hupkens (Nuon, 2015, Team Leader) – still heading the team and taking the car to South Africa

The thousands of other WSC alumni are, of course, also doing interesting things. I wonder what the current team-members will move on to after the 2017 race?