MOOCs are the ongoing revolution on education: courses from the best universities in the world, available online for free. It is a new and very attractive way to learn new things in the most varied fields of interest.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has recently issued this amazing trailer for a MOOC on basic structures. I’ve been taking far more advanced courses on structures for many years now, but I’ve loved their fresh new approach so much that I’ve decided to take this one.
As they say, in their own blog, how can you not want to take this course?
I hope not to sound too much like Morpheus if I tell you that the human body is an amazing source of energy. As long as given food, water and oxygen, it will burn hydrocarbon chains to keep a steady temperature of some 37 ºC in a wide range of situations, activities and external weather conditions.
We use that energy in every interaction with the world. When I push these plastic keys against their springs, so that they can come in touch with the other contact of their respective switches and send an electric signal to the CPU (who will process it and translate it to that precise letter shown on my screen), I’m using the body energy to produce some work on them, which overcomes the stiffness of the springs and produces an elastic deformation that will be recovered the moment I raise my finger from them, so I can press them again and make that same letter appear onscreen if I want to. In nearly every other action we do, the same scheme applies: we transfer some of our body energy to some other object of the external world (e.g., to the floor when we walk, to the door handle when we open it, etc) by means of work. But we also exchange heat.
One colleague has just sent me this. It’s a video taken on board of an anchor handling tug supply vessel. During a laying operation, something went wrong and the steel chain got way too much tension. The result is as spectacular, and dangerous, as you can see: a 3 ton whip violently sweeping the deck.
“Structural Engineering is the art of modelling materials we don’t fully understand, taking shapes we can’t analyse in a precise way, to withstand stresses we can’t assess properly, in a way that the big public doesn’t ever notice the true reach of our ignorance” – Javier Manterola Armisén, Civil Engineer.
Many people don’t know about civil engineers, or they have a very slight idea of what they do. This may be because you rarely come across one of them in your daily life. But, whatever you know it or not, they build and shape the world you live in.
Can you imagine a world with no water delivered to your home, with no electricity and no roads? Can you imagine having to walk fot two hours to reach your workplace or school, because there is no subway and no bus? For too many people, this is the very real world they live in. Everyday.
If you’re not one of them is, of course, because of the country you were born in. And of civil engineers. Without civil engineers, that country that provides you with water, energy and transport simply wouldn’t be able to, because it wouldn’t know how to.