Yes You Still Need to Know This.. Engineering Day Brings Real Life Application to the Classroom

Pi Day falls on a Saturday this year.  However, it is not just any Pi Day.  That is because this year Pi Day is March 14th, 2015 or 3/14/15. As many math scholars know, Pi is a decimal which begins as 3.1415 and goes on indefinately.  So Pi Day has even more meaning this year (making use of even more decimals than usual).  

Last month the ASCE celebrated their annual Engineering Week at Anthony's Pier Nine.  Among the celebration was a poster competition by area students representing the intersection between math and modern technology.  Over 100 people came out to have dinner and view the work of several dozen students who submitted entries.  The audience was also treated to a talk about  Men of Action: The Founding of American Civil and Military Engineering by  J. Ledlie Klosky, Ph.D., P.E.

Check out the winning entries in all three categories: 

Actual Tunnel by Tom Conti and Liz Davis - Cornwall Central High School - First Place (Grades 11 -12)

19th Century Engineering by Katelyn Lipton and Danielle Martini - Cornwall High School (Grade 10)

The Brooklyn Bridge  by Allyson Ellett - West Point Middle School - Grade 7 

Celebrating Math on a more numerical level, Engineering Day at Cornwall High School took place last October and has become an annual event.  Eight volunteers, mostly Civil Engineers from the American Society of Civil Engineering, each took over several Math classes during the day and showed the students real world examples of how the math that they are learning about in their classes can be relevant to their future careers.  Many of the volunteers had examples related to civil engineering, such as how roads or bridges are designed.  A big talking point is the construction of the new Tappan Zee bridge, which is currently underway.

There was also a Chemical Engineer and a Chemist among the volunteers, who had slightly different points of view.  They focused more on how math can be used in relation to materials used in processes.  For instance, in Analytical Chemistry, math is used to quantify how much of a material is in a certain sample, or what percentages of certain chemicals are in a sample being examined.  This can be done by fancy instruments similar to what you see on TV, however they do not work quite the way that TV shows portray them.  Samples can also be analyzed by more traditional ways, such as titrations or other wet chemistry techniques.

One of the activities that the students were able to observe was an acid base reaction.  A solution, in this case an alkaline solution of sodium hydroxide in water, was turned pink when an indicator solution, phenolphthalein, was added to it.  The students were able to observe qualitatively that when an acid is added to the solution, in this case vinegar or acetic acid, at some point the solution turns colorless.  The students had the opportunity to use their calculators and a mathematical formula to determine how much of the active ingredient was in their original solution by plugging in a few numbers such as the weight of the original solution and how much of the acid (titrant) was used.  Since many of the students in the classes had not taken Chemistry yet, it was an interesting experience for them.  

When asked to relay some of the importance of why the volunteers participate in this activity, Aileen Leahy, Project Engineer from Cornerstone Environmental Group in Middletown said, 

 I hope that, with a combination of information, interesting videos, and a fun activity, the students are more open to the possibility of engineering as a fun and exciting career choice for their futures. The greatest achievement of the day is when the students express their thanks or tell me that they are now considering engineering as a career.

Interestingly, Many people around the country and locally celebrate Pi Day.  Even during the summer, since Pi can be represented as a fraction as 22/7 so some people celebrate the other Pi Day in July.  This past summer Renegades fans at Dutchess Stadium were able to get in on the action, as one of the promotional days was all about Pi(e).  They had dessert specials and a Pi trivia table. Pictured are two of the concession staff selling desserts and one is holding a slide rule.Unfortunately inflation set in at the Dutch, and the prices were a little bit more than $3.14.  Still the prices are quite reasonable.

Article and photos submitted by George Ruger, Happy Hudson Valley STEM correspondent and resident scientist for hire