Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Big Bang Theory and Its Quirky

You wouldn’t expect to see a mechanical engineer portrayed on network television very often, period, but on the number one sitcom in the U.S.? Well, character Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory is used to taking on the impossible. Just look at the odds of him marrying the beautiful Bernadette. But when he’s not trying to keep his marriage together and please his overbearing mother, he’s been a part of some interesting engineering work. David Saltzberg, science consultant for the show and professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, says the staff takes pains to make sure the facts are accurate.

Engineering Props

Take Wolowitz’s work on the space station. “The writers talked with NASA to make sure they got it right,” he says. “Now, for fixing the space station toilet, they actually thought up what a weak spot would be. A few months after the episode, the real space toilet had almost exactly that same problem.” For our mechanical engineer, the challenge was inventing a device to help waste material avoid the spinning turbine in the toilet, otherwise known as “The Wolowitz Zero Gravity Waste Disposal System.” Let’s just say his friend Raj Koothrappali had an interesting joke involving something hitting the fan.


David Saltzberg is a science consultant for the hit showThe Big Bang Theory.





The space station plot line also led to real-life NASA astronaut Mike Massimino making a guest appearance. Having helped the show in the past, Saltzberg said they found Massimino too funny not to get him in front of the camera.

Other engineering props have also been a challenge. From a hydraulic thermal press to (of course) toast paninis to finding a 3-D printer to making miniature action figures of Wolowitz and Koothrappali, they never know what the script will call for. “The propmaster Scott London has built a lot of things for the show,” he says. “They’re lucky they have someone so mechanical.”

Science Critics

But maybe the biggest engineering challenge on the show is Howard himself. Before he settled down, he would do just about anything—anything—to get a girl. A line of “How’d you like to visit a secret government facility?” led to the subject of his affection getting the Mars Rover stuck in a ditch. He didn’t get a second date.

Even though The Big Bang Theory is a big hit in the science community, that doesn’t mean it’s never criticized. “It was the second episode where they do some welding of aluminum with an Oxy-Acetylene torch,” he says. “An engineering friend later told me he thought that it could catch on fire.” But then Saltzberg goes on to say that other people have refuted that claim.

It just shows once again that it’s true what they say: Everyone is a critic.


Siddhant Raghav: Was the Automobile invented in France or Germany??

Starting off from the Very basic, What is Automobile?? From Where did it came from??When it came in Existence??

The Word AUTOMOBILE came from Ancient Greek Word  αὐτός (autós, “self”) and the Latin Word Mobilis(“movable”), meaning a vehicle that moves itself. This Word was First Adopted in English in the Year 1899,by The New York Times.

When Was the First Automobile Built?

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen (or motorcar), built in 1886, is widely regarded as the first automobile; i.e, a vehicle designed to be propelled by a motor. The vehicle was awarded the German patent, number 37435, for which Karl Benz applied on January 29, 1886. Following official procedures, the date of the application became the patent date for the invention once the patent was granted, which occurred in November 1886. Benz officially unveiled his invention to the public on July 3, 1886,on the Ringstrasse in Mannheim,Germany.

Daimler and Benz are traditionally credited with building the first car in 1886, but the French claim it was first built in 1884 by Delamare-Deboutteville. Still others claim it was built in 1860. It all depends on your definition of a car.

When Daimler-Benz (makers of Mercedes-Benz cars) says that the automobile was invented in 1886 by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, it’s basing its claim on its own definition: a light carriage for personal transport with three or four wheels, powered by a liquid-fueled internal combustion engine.

But even by that definition, the French have a prior claim: Belgian-born Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir, who settled in Paris and became a naturalized French citizen, invented his gas engine in 1858 and patented it in 1860. He used electric spark ignition, but the engine ran on stove gas and had no compression. It was shown to the press in a three-wheeled cart in 1860. A liquid-fuel version, with a primitive carburetor, was built in 1862 and installed in a three-wheeled wagon early in 1863. It is on record that it successfully covered the 11.2 miles from Paris to Joinville-le-Pont and back, securing its place in history as the first spark-ignition petroleum-fuel car to demonstrate its roadworthiness.


Deboutteville and his Work:

Deboutteville was 22 years old, when he went to work in his brother’s textile plant just outside Rouen,France. A year later, in 1879, he invented a Universal Machine capable of cutting, milling, drilling, and turning. He became interested in the internal combustion engine primarily as a source of power to run the machinery in factories, and secondarily for propelling road vehicles.He was aware of the patents of Beau de Rochas and Lenoir, and also knew of Otto’s patent.




So the Question Arises who is Beau de Rochas & Nikolaus August Otto…??

Alphonse Beau de Rochas was a self-taught civil engineer working in a laboratory in Paris. In 1861, he was the first to spell out the Sequence of the four-stroke cycle and provide a theoretical pressure diagram — but he never built an engine. He received French patent No. 52,593, dated Jan. 16, 1862.

As Far as Nikolaus Otto was conserned most of us know about him,but for those who doesn’t here’s a bit about him:

Nikolaus August Otto was a merchant who dropped out of business to experiment with gas engines at the age of 22. He had an atmospheric gas engine running in Cologne in 1862 and began production, selling about 50 units a year. Realizing the value of compression, he also invented charge-stratification. His first experimental four-stroke engine ran in 1876, and his patent (No. 532) is dated Aug. 4, 1877.


So Coming back to The German-French Spat…

Deboutteville’s first engine was a single-cylinder four-stroke unit, built early in 1883. It ran on stove gas, but Deboutteville had also created a carburetor for running on liquid (petroleum) fuels. The outstanding things about his engine were:


  • Coil-and-battery ignition, with a sparkplug.
  • Mechanically operated overhead intake and exhaust valves.
  • High compression ratio.

This engine was put in a three-wheeled vehicle that was destroyed in an accident. Undaunted, Deboutteville built a four-wheeled car with a two-cylinder engine.The vehicle was a modified horse-drawn wagon, but the new engine was note worthy for the following:


  • Pistons with rings
  • Provision for air- or water-heating of the carburetor
  • Air- or water-cooling of the cylinders
  • Speed control on the intake manifold
  • Exhaust muffler
  • Progressive clutch

It is certain that the car was built, but the evidence that it ever ran is weak.

So this way Deboutteville’s Patent went Un-Noticed and his hard work went in vain.

Pity for the French Guy,even though what he proposed was extremely well though but he has to give up on all his experiments,So that he can concentrate on making a living.Even though he had Solutions to all the basic problems.Then He became a manufacturer of industrial engines, but had nothing more to do with automobiles.


In the mean time, if the German Guys would have known about the Work done by Deboutteville,they could have gained a lot.As their First Vehicles was Primitive in several regards.



Daimler’s engine from 1885 was a vertical single-cylinder of 462-cc displacement, delivering 1.1 hp at 650 rpm. It had a suction-operated intake valve and hot-tube ignition. It had an evaporative “surface” carburetor, and the speed control was a butterfly valve mounted on the exhaust pipe. He did not design a car for it, but installed it in a horse carriage with a centrally pivoted front axle. And it did not run in 1886. The first test drive took place on Mar. 4, 1887.

In 1885 Karl Benz turned his attention to a Four-Stroke Cycle. He put a slide valve on the intake port and fired its sparkplug from a high-tension coil. The mixture was produced in a surface carburetor, and he put a speed governor on the intake side. The single-cylinder Benz engine had 954-cc displacement and delivered 0.67 hp at 250 rpm.


The So called “CAR” Benz designed around the engine was a light three-wheeler with belt drive, which first ran on the streets of Mannheim in June 1886.


So the Question remains :Was the automobile invented in France or Germany?

The argument may never be resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.One thing to bear in mind is that the car is not one invention but a mechanical creation composed of hundreds, if not thousands, of inventions.Being honest we are still inventing the car, for the car is an ever-changing assembly of ideas, systems and parts. In the past 100 years, the French contribution to its advance has been as significant as that of the Germans.



                                                                                                                                                -Siddhant Raghav

Forensic Reverse Engineering

Engineers can often recount a story from their youth about taking apart a clock, a small engine, or some gadget, to figure out how it works and to try to put it back together again. Now those same engineers can trace over existing parts and assemblies—whether small or large—and input those shapes into a CAD system, perhaps in the hopes of coming up with a competing design. In both cases the reverse engineering is done to find out how a product works.

Colin Gagg, though, uses reverse engineering to discover how a product doesn’t work. An associate lecturer in forensic engineering at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England, Gagg makes his livelihood by understanding how and why products fail.

“To recognize how a component or system failed, the engineer must understand how it worked and was manufactured in the first place,” Gagg said. “By stepping back through the transformation stages, he’ll be in a better position to determine the most probable or expected points of failure within a component or system.”

An archetypal example comes from his book, Forensic Materials Engineering: Case Studies, co-authored, with Peter Rhys Lewis and Ken Reynolds. This case began when a dock worker noticed a split in the end panel of a loaded 33-foot-long container being lifted from a ship. The container showed no other obvious signs of external damage, and the piece of machinery it held was still anchored inside.

Shortly after that first split was found, workers at other ports noticed similar failures in the same type of freight container. Costs quickly escalated. Machines had to be loaded into other containers, empty containers needed to be shipped to those ports, and the damaged containers had to be either disposed of or repaired.

Investigators found that all the containers had been made at the same factory during a two-month period. On each one, the riveted seam between the two end panels in the side of the container had split open from bottom to top. All the containers had split in the same way, and all had been carrying heavy machinery rather than bulky loads evenly distributed throughout their length.

A mechanical engineer found nothing wrong with the original design or with the construction of the containers.


Cargo Container



Forensic reverse engineers were called in to track each part and how it had been manufactured. They determined that the container’s side panels were sheets of aluminum alloy, riveted to each other and to the frame along vertical lap joints. All the failures involved the unzipping of the vertical lap joint between the first and second sheets from the end of the container.

As the aluminum sheets were deemed innocent, their focus turned to the rivets. Although microscopic examination found no internal fault, wear, or corrosion, investigators found that if one rivet near the end of a seam failed, it would throw the extra load onto its neighbors, which could overstress them, causing all the rivets to unzip. After looking at the specification for the rivets on the engineering drawing, they performed a hardness test on the failed rivets. They were well below the strength indicated on the drawing.

A mechanical engineer then found that a batch of containers was produced with rivets that had been set without being first solution treated, as specified on the drawing. It was subsequently discovered that a single employee at the container factory had omitted the solution heat treatment. Case solved.

“It’s my view that a good forensic engineer will glean relevant information through meticulous investigation and by taking a reverse-engineering approach,” Gagg said.

The same could be said of engineers charged with creating a parts in the first place. “Any engineer should be aiming to train himself to become a failure detective,” Gagg said.

Engineering Students, Start Your Engines !

Steve Daum, collegiate projects manager for SAE International, Warrendale, PA, has watched many students find a career in the automotive industry through the Formula SAE Series, a popular car designing competition.

“It’s definitely evolved over the years. You originally had the tube frame car but now the work on the engine, chassis, and structure has become very sophisticated.” Though Daum says they can’t race at top speeds for obvious safety reasons, these events still have the feel of high-level competition. Judges look at areas such as cost justification, while a panel plays the role of potential investors. “They’re asking, ‘Why did you do the suspension this way? What research did you do? Why this engine setup? What if we made this change?'” he says. “A lot of things to answer.” Other events include a measure of acceleration and a 22-kilometer endurance race.

Getting Started

A typical team forms when they start the fall semester, and the designing for that year’s car can take four to five months, Daum says. “You may not be making your own tires or microchips but just about everything else is you,” he says. “Welding all the tubes together, how you want it to be constructed to hold things together….For many students, it’s their first chance to do anything like this. And some get very serious. Cornell actually won’t add anything to their car unless they’ve tested it for a year.” Daum says the size of the teams vary, usually ranging from six to forty. “Some have just had four but it’s usually a struggle that way,” he says. 


University of Kansas, Lawrence was awarded the First Place Overall finish at the 2012 Formula SAE Lincoln competition. Image:


But beyond competition is the chance for another kind of learning. “What isn’t covered heavily in many engineering schools is how to manage products,” Daum says. “You think of this as an engineering competition but it’s even more a product management competition.”

It’s not all planning—sometimes it’s quick thinking. Take the Rochester Institute of Technology, years ago. “When the car got to the line [for competition], it was spraying gas out of the injector,” he recalls. “You’re not allowed to run that way. They were the tenth car from the end and they asked if they could still run if they could change the injector before their turn. The team members found what they needed and ran to the engine hot area, handing tools and the parts, they somehow changed it in time. Not only did they run the event, they won it.”

Undergrads, grads, and doctoral students are all allowed to compete, and it may just lead to another finish line.

“Many people who work in the auto industry are former competitors,” he says. “Employers want to know how you solve problems and you have the answer many times through this experience. If you were on a good team, then you learned efficiency. It’s also easier for the potential employer to relate to someone talking about their experience in a car competition than work they did with a professor on some widget drill.”

The Banjo: The Engineer’s Instrument

Steve Martin plays one. So does Winston Marshall from the group “Mumford and Sons,” and even Taylor Swift, kind of (it’s a six-string). And yet, however much polish this recent uptick in popularity has lent the banjo, it’s not yet shed its image as an instrument better suited to Appalachian unsophisticates than rock stars. Never mind the fact that all the early bluegrass banjo players wore suits and ties on stage. (The hillbilly image persists, thanks, largely, to a five-minute scene in the movie Deliverance, reviled by banjoists everywhere.)

The truth is somewhere on the other end of the backward/advanced spectrum. In fact, a strikingly large percentage of bluegrass banjo players are engineers, tinkerers, mathematicians, and programmers.

Noam Pikelny, whose instrumental banjo album was recently nominated for a Grammy, studied engineering at the University of Illinois. Ben Eldridge, of the once hugely popular bluegrass band “Seldom Scene,” develops signal-processing algorithms for the Navy’s underwater acoustics programs today. Tony Ellis, who played with Bill Monroe, studied engineering between musical pursuits. Lamar Grier, also a “Blue Grass Boy” for Monroe, went on to work for IBM for 17 years.  

And that’s just to name the famous ones. “I will say that the number of engineers I have run into playing banjo is statistically significant,” says Stan Moore, an electrical and computer engineer and an accomplished banjo player for some 35 years.

So what leads the engineering-minded to pick up the five-string? The answer has something to do with how the instrument is played and how the instrument is made.


Bill Keith engineered what have become standard tuning pegs for the banjo. Image:


Playing Five Strings

The bluegrass banjo is not as straightforward as other instruments. With a piano, a trumpet, or even a saw and a bow, if you need to play a note of a melody, you play the note of the melody. With the banjo it’s not so simple. This has something to do with the fact that eliciting the traditional sound requires three fingers playing five strings with four beats to a measure. To get the ring and drive associated with the banjo, each consecutive note is played on a different string. (On other stringed instruments, like the guitar or the fiddle, it’s common for several consecutive notes to be played on the same string.) This means that melody notes are not always where you want them. It takes a certain kind of problem-solving to learn how to work melody notes into that string-changing ringing sound.

“It’s sort of an engineering mindset or logical mindset. I don’t know what you call it, but it’s the kind of stuff I’m into,” says Bill Keith. Keith is one of bluegrass banjo’s most influential players thanks to the melodic style he developed. In short, he figured out how to play melodies and scales with higher notes being played on lower strings—a counterintuitive concept to string players of any genre. He was also a Blue Grass Boy in 1963.

Keith was a dissector of more than music. When he was 15 he bought his first car, a Model A Ford. “I took the car completely apart,” he says. “The body was off the frame, the engine was out. I did all the frame restoration, the brakes, replaced the rings and the engine and did a valve job the old fashioned way.” Later he acquired a 1910 single cylinder Brush. He needed help with the engine and wound up making the acquaintance of a machinist. “A real antique guy. Old equipment, overhead shafting, big fat leather belts. The whole shop ran on DC using drain oil to power a Hercules diesel.”


Keith Banjo Tuners. Image:


A Tinkerer’s Dream

A lot of important stuff for the banjo happened there. After examining the planetary transmission found in a model T as well as his Brush, he thought of using a similar idea for tuning pegs. With his friend Dan Bump, he engineered a tuning peg that would allow players to bend notes lower, to a specific, predetermined pitch (listen to the first notes of “Flint Hill Special” and you’ll understand). These pegs—known as Keith tuners—became the industry standard. They also represent a sizable portion of Keith’s income.

“When I was trying to learn Earl Scruggs’ stuff I basically had to take it apart to see what he was doing. That was fairly analytical, sort of reverse engineering. I had the product and I had to figure out what it was made of.”

Though Keith recognized the connection between the analytical and the musical, other engineers claim that the primary attraction is the hardware itself. “I chose the banjo because given the tools available to me, I could make the most parts for one, of anystringed instrument that I could think of,” says one mechanical engineering graduate student.  

“Music is what engineers hear in their heads when they finally connect the dots to some problem,” says Marc Smith, a senior engineer for a defense contractor. “You’ll find many, many musically inclined engineers. I’ve found that the more artsy they are, the more they gravitate towards guitars and keyboards. The more mechanical and ‘hands on’ they are, the more they’re likely to pick the banjo.” Smith “grew up working underneath cars and listening to Tchaikovsky, Texas swing, WWII era swing, Country and Ragtime.” He took to engineering “like a baby duck to water.” He’s been playing banjo since 1979 and is a master of “Classic” and “Minstrel” styles as well as bluegrass banjo.

“For me, the banjo represents a tinkerer’s dream. Endless hours may be spent on just getting all the components to hang together efficiently,” says Smith.

Mechanics of Music

Unlike a guitar, or a cello—or a piccolo for that matter, a banjo can be completely disassembled and put back together in a matter of hours. Every part of a banjo can be swapped out and tweaked. There’s a drumhead sitting on a metal tone ring resting on a wooden rim. Behind it all is a resonator to bounce the sound away from the player’s body. It’s all held together by brackets and just waiting for adjustment and improvement. And that’s ignoring the neck, the bridge, the tailpiece, and more.

“More patents have been granted on banjos, their parts, and pieces than almost any other single item . . . ever,” says Smith.

“When it comes to taking a banjo apart, putting back together, the physics of the banjo sound, the angles of attack etc, I very much go into engineering mode,” says Andrew Cartoun, an engineering consultant for high rise buildings in New York. Cartoun received his degree in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt, a school he picked because of its location in Nashville, TN. “The engineering had more to do with the actual instrument, setup, than the act of playing music.” He admits, though, that there may be “subliminal” problem-solving that goes on while playing.

Of course, for many a banjo-playing engineer, the mechanics of the instrument, the peculiar difficulties of playing it, even the precision and intricacies of the sound, have little to do with why they picked it up in the first place—it was just the music. “The banjo is a weird and joyous instrument,” says Smith. “It begs to be improved and yet resists improvements in every direction. It is frustrating and mind-numbing, exhilarating and relaxing. It attracts young and old, rich and poor, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, whites, blacks, Asians, Martians . . . and engineers.”