When I was growing up, I wanted to become an architect. I like to design and build things and am pretty good at 2D to 3D visualization. I took drafting and architectural design "shop" classes in high school where we worked with pencils, paper, triangles, and a T-square. I sure wish those opportunities were still more available in schools today for students to learn and explore. As I was completing high school and approaching college, I was disappointed to learn that the forecast for architects was not very good because there were already plenty of them and not a lot of new opportunities would arise. What to do?
I didn't really have much experience with electronics and computers, but was interested in both. I perused a college course catalog and found a major called electrical and electronics engineering with a computer option that seemed exciting. A mouthful for sure, but a tasty idea for my young mind. I applied and was accepted.
Computer engineering, as they called it, was both a fascinating and challenging major. I worked hard and learned a lot. One of my favorite classes was Digital Circuits and Microprocessors by Herber Taub -- I have the book in my office. I learned all about logical functions, combinational circuits, De Morgan's theorem, and Karnaugh maps. That was where I was hooked!
My children also enjoy math and science. They've participated in science and engineering fairs through their schools for many years, have advanced to higher levels, and have even won some awards. I've tried to teach and guide as needed, without doing the projects for them. It was thrilling for me last year to pull out some old electronic components and teach them about Ohm's law, power, and how to use a breadboard, multi-meter, and oscilloscope. Their project this year is trying to harvest energy from walking by placing a piece of piezoelectric material in an athletic shoe attached to a small circuit and battery on the back of the shoe.
My children built a circuit that harvests energy from walking for a science fair.
These types of science and engineering fairs are invaluable for our youth who want to learn and explore beyond the material taught in their regular classwork. Many companies sponsor and support these students and fairs and they are to be applauded, in fact a standing ovation would be appropriate. My company, Mentor Graphics, hosts a variety of events at our main campus, including MathCounts events and the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics tournaments.
The high-school fair winners from our school district advance to the state level of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). Wikipedia says that ISEF "is the largest pre-college scientific research event in the world." Many awards, grants, internships, and scholarships are awarded to the best project students. It also states that, "As of 2012, seven ISEF alumni went on to win Nobel Prizes."
ISEF and other science and engineering fairs wouldn't be possible without volunteers; thousands of them are needed for these fairs. Just last week, I volunteered and participated for the first time as a judge for the middle school competition in our school district. It was a blast! I saw projects about a pneumatic prosthetic arm, a hovercraft skirt design, and numerous energy projects including both horizontal and vertical wind turbines -- and this was middle school. The projects at the high school level were even more complex and impressive.
I never knew about science and engineering fairs when I was growing up, maybe they didn't have any where I lived. The fairs are so valuable and I encourage each of you to consider becoming involved in a fair in your area. If you have already been involved please comment and let us know the highlights for you. I'd also like to hear about what was your hook into science or engineering?