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Happy 160th Birthday Nikola Tesla!!

Happy 160th Birthday!!!
Nikola Tesla
July 10, 1856 – January 7, 1943

Photo Credit:

Nikola Tesla  had a fascinating childhood. The son of a Serbian Orthodox Priest and a mother, who came from a long line of inventors, he was able to spend much of his childhood inventing and trying new things. During a long, cold and dry spell, he ‘discovered’ static electricity. He thought of this often and it profoundly influenced his adult life and his inventions. As a child he invented a cornstalk popgun, which contained the principles he adapted when he devised particle-beam weapons. And, after seeing a picture of Niagara Falls, young Nikola (he was somewhere between 10- and 14-years-of-age) told his Uncle Josip that one day he would place a gigantic wheel under the waterfall and harness it. In 1895, he and George Westinghouse built the first hydro-electric power plant in Niagara Falls.

His older brother died after a fall from a horse and thereafter Nikola began having “out-of body” experiences. In fact, those experiences were so real he sometimes needed his sisters to help him tell which were real and which were hallucinations. Those experiences continued throughout his life and actually were an asset to his creativity. He could visualize his finished inventions and modify them in his mind before committing them to paper.  To learn more about the life of this fascinating and influential man, check out Wizard : the Life and Times of Nikoa Tesla : Biography of a Genius

Nikola began his career as an electrical engineer in 1881 while working with a a telephone company located in Budapest. It was there that the solution to the rotating magnetic field flashed through his mind, which led to the creation of the induction motor. In 1884, Tesla moved to the United States to work with Thomas Edison. He and Edison disagreed on direct current versus alternating current. Edison promoted the direct current, while Tesla believed the alternating current was more efficient. Tesla won that disagreement…

He was a pioneer in many fields – in 1896 the Electrical Review published X-rays of a man which had been taken by Tesla. Others were also experimenting with X-rays at the same time but Tesla didn’t claim priority. It is reported that he said, “I don’t care that they stole my idea…I care that they don’t have any of their own.”

Interestingly, in 1901 Tesla imagined a means of instant communication – he imagined receiving telegrams, stock quotes, etc., assigning them each a different frequency, which would then be broadcast to a device held in your hand. He essentially envisioned the internet and smart phones…

220px-TeslacoilHe is perhaps most well-known for the Tesla Coil, which he developed in 1891. The Tesla Coil transforms energy into extremely high-voltage charges, which create powerful electrical fields capable of producing electrical arcs. A Tesla Coil is made of two parts – a primary coil and a secondary coil. Each has its own capacitor (which stores electrical energy like a battery does).  The whole system is powered by a transformer. The two circuits are connected by a spark gap. The Tesla Coil revolutionized the way electricity was understood. Variations of the Tesla Coil are still used in radios and televisions.

Interesting Facts About Nikola Tesla:

  • He was born during a lightning storm, which the midwife claimed was a bad omen. She said he would be a child of darkness. The family legend is that his mother replied, “No. He will be a child of light.”
  • By around the age of 12, he developed strange “habits.” He developed an aversion to women’s earrings, and the sight of a pearl would give him “fits.” He would never touch another person’s hair and could develop a fever looking at a peach.
  • Not all his ideas were practical. One such idea was a ring around the equator which would transport people from one end of the globe to the other…

(Wizard : the life and times of Nikola Tesla : Biography of a Genius).



Seifer, Marc. 1996. Wizard : the life and times of Nikola Tesla : biography of a genius. Seacaucus, N.J. : Carol Pub. Engineering Library TK140.T4 S65 1996

Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse built the first hydro-electric power plant…. Tesla Memorial Society of New York. Date accessed July 7, 2016.

The 10 Inventions of Nikola Tesla That Changed the World. January 10,2012. Activist Post.

Martin, Thomas Commerford. 1995. The inventions, researches, and writings of Nikola Tesla. 2nd Edition. New York : Barnes & Noble. Engineering Library TK140.T4 M37 199

Wireless Electricity? How the Tesla Coil Works, by Kelly Dickerson. July 10, 2014.

Tesla Coil.  Wikipedia. Page last modified July 5, 2016, accessed July 7, 2016.

**Other Resources:

Nikola Tesla : the Genius Who Lit the World. July 10, 1998. Tesla Memorial Society of New York.



InfoHawk+ Is Coming!

InfoHawk+ Is Coming Soon!!

The University of Iowa Libraries is introducing a new way to access library resources and materials. This month, July 2016, we will switch to a new library management system. Changes have already begun and will continue throughout the month.

InfoHawk, which has been our online catalog system for the past 16 years, has been taken out of service. Links to InfoHawk will temporarily take you to Smart Search. Smart Search has already been available as an alternative to the InfoHawk search tool.

InfoHawk+ will replace Smart Search and the InfoHawk basic catalog and should be available on July 18th. InfoHawk+, will merge the two search engines into an easy-to-use, streamlined search which will allow clear access to the UI Libraries holdings and resources. Users will be able to search for print journals and books, available electronic resources, and other resources which are unique to the UI Libraries collections.

Since the staff side – “behind the scenes” – will also be changing, some services will be either temporarily unavailable from July 14th through the 18th.  We apologize for any inconvenience this causes and are working to minimize the disruption in services.

If you’d like more information about the transition, please check the Library Guide.





Holiday Hours for the 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!!


We will be CLOSED on Monday, July 4!

We will reopen at 8:30 on Tuesday, July 5

Have a fun and safe holiday!!


Engineering the Bike – New Exhibit!

It’s summer! The perfect time to learn about the engineering of the bicycle and we have a new exhibit highlighting bicycles and their engineering!


Do you remember your first bike? And telling your folks “don’t let go” the first time the training wheels came off? Most of us loved the exhilaration and freedom riding a bike brought and didn’t really think about the history and engineering of the bicycle…

Cycling - Herne Hill - Penny Farthing Race - London - 1932.

Cycling – Herne Hill – Penny Farthing Race – London – 1932.

The history of the bike begins with the velocipede which was designed after the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815). From there it developed into the ‘penny farthing,’ to the safety bikes, and then to the bikes we have today. And there are a myriad of types of bicycles today. Not just for pleasure or riding to work, there are many bikes designed for racing and extreme sports. There are road events (i.e. Road Criterium), off-road events (i.e. Cyclo-cross), and track racing (i.e. Olympics).

yellow_bike_squareA lot of engineering is involved in designing and creating a bike. Designers look at multiple factors – aerodynamics, the wheel & spokes, tires, balance, ergonomics, and the different material with which to make the body and the tires. Looking at aerodynamics means exploring the shape of the bike and how that affects the air flow and drag. The design of the wheel looks at the width and diameter of the wheel, and the type of spokes. The wheel design and the tires also vary depending on how the bicycle will be used – city streets? Off-road? Tour de France? There are also ergonomic factors – pedal to saddle distance, crank length, saddle to handlebar dimensions…. And the frames – what materials are used – steel, low carbon, chrome moly. Performance bikes often use low alloy steel and chrome moly which meet aviation industry specifications.


Make: Bicycle Projects. Engin Lib TL410 .B35 2015


Want to try your hand at hacking your bike? Make: Bicycle Projects will help you do just that! It includes everything from a list of what should be included on a bike hacker’s workbench to commercial add-ons, to SpokePOV (Spoke Persistence of Vision). Want a bike that glows in the dark? Or a ‘parade bike’ which has built in speakers? Make : Bicycle Projects will walk you through and help you create your own unique hacks.


Here at the University of Iowa, Steve McGuire, Professor of Metals Arts & 3D Design and Studio Division Coordinator in the School of Art & Art History, has created a handmade bicycle curriculum. The UI is the first academic institution to be selected to exhibit the work of students at the North American Hand Built Bicycle Show. It is the most prestigious venue of its kind internationally. The program was started in 2010, and since then over 70 students have built bicycles and some have gone on to become engineers and craftspeople in the bike industry.

What else is going on locally in the biking environment?

In an article from the May 18, 2016 The Gazette, B.A. Morelli explains how Iowa City and Cedar Rapids are working to make both cities more bike friendly. Iowa City is testing a low-volume and low-speed street that gives priority to cyclists – a bike boulevard. Cedar Rapids has painted green dedicated bike lanes. It has also expanded the use of “supersharrows,” (paint markings are the silhouette bordered by dashed lines that you see painted in the center of the travel lane). Road diets may also be in the future. A road diet squeezed four lanes of traffic into three with the center lane for turning and with bike lanes on each side.

It is hard to live in Iowa and not know about RAGBRAI (the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) which is now an international event and has 8500 registered riders. Many riders hop in for a leg or two of the ride, so there are more than 8500 riders biking through Iowa during the week-long trek. This year the ride begins in Glenwood and ends in Muscatine. The longest leg of the ride is 75.2 miles and has a total of 3,994 feet of climb!

Iowa City will host the Cyclo-Cross World Cup on September 24, 2016 at the Johnson County Fairgrounds. The event is expected to attract 15,000 spectators and be televised internationally. Iowa City is the second date on the 2016-2017 Cyclo-Cross World Cup circuit.

Elite Men’s Race Highlights | 2016 Cyclo-cross World Championships | Heusden-Zolder, Belgium

Iowa City also has a Bike Library. Bikes are donated and then repaired and offered to the public. Bikes are priced with a deposit and checked out for 6-month periods. If the bike is returned in good condition, the deposit is returned. The patron may also choose to keep the bike and forfeit the deposit. They also have “Rent-a-Bench” where you can work on your bike for $5/hour during specified hours. A big thank you to them for donating several of the items in our display!

Stop in and check out our bike exhibit – you


Burrows, Mike. Bicycle design : the search for the perfect machine. 2008. London : Snowbooks, Ltd. Engineering Library TL410 .B8 2008

Baichtal, John. 2015. Make : bicycle projects. San Francisco, CA : Maker Media. Engineering Library TL410 .B35 2015 

Steve McGuire. University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Science, School of Art & Art History. University of Iowa. Date accessed: June 10, 2016.

Cycling – Herne Hill – Penny Farthing Race – London – 1932.  by Susanne Colwyn. October 20, 2014.

James Starley, British Inventor. Written by the Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. January 8, 2015. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc.

RAGBRAI. 2016.

Iowa City lands cyclo-cross World Cup.  Josh O’Leary. Iowa City Press Citizen. January 29, 2016.

Elite Men’s Race Highlights | 2016 Cyclo-cross World Championships | Heusden-Zolder, Belgium. UCI, January 31, 2016

The Walking Bike or Sneaker Bike. Designed by Arkitipintel.

The Walking Bike or Sneaker Bike. Designed by Arkitipintel.

Other Resources:

Chaline, Eric. 2012. Fifty machines that changed the course of history. Buffalo, NY : Firefly Books. Engineering Library TJ15 .C44 2012

Rapley, David. 2012. Racing Bicycles : 100 years of steel. Mulgrave, Vic. : Images Publishing Group Pty. Photography by Susie Latham. Engineering Library TL410 .R37 2012

Rogner, Thomas, editor. 2012. The bike book : lifestyle passion, design. Kempen, Germany : teNeus. Engineering Library FOLIO TL410 .B54 2012

Graham, Brad; McGowan, Kathy. 2008.  Bike, scooter and chopper projects for the evil genius. New York : McGraw-Hill. Engineering Library TL400 .G689 2008

Oldenziel, Rugh, editor. 2015. New York : Berghahn Books. Engineering Library HE5736 .C926 2015

Embacher, Michael. 2011. Cyclepedia : a century of iconic bicycle design. San Francisco : Chronicle Books.  Engineering Library FOLIO TL410 .E43 2011

Sinn, Matthew. 2010. Build your own electric bicycle. New York : McGraw Hill. Engineering Library TL437.5 .E44 S595 2010

Moore, Richard; Benson, Daniel; Penn, Rob, contributors. The racing bicycle : design, function, speed. 2013. New York : Universe. Engineering Library TL437.5 .R63 2013

Hadland, Tony. 2014.  The F-frame Moutlons. Zurich : Lit Verlag. Engineering Library TL437.5 M68 H329 2014

20 Sculptures That Upcycle Your ‘Cycle. by Jeremy s. Cook. April 19, 2016.

Simple Bike Upgrade: glowing Wheels That Recharge Themselves. by Bill Livolsi. April 29, 2016.


20th Anniversary of Twister!!

May 10, 1996
Twister© was released.

Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in Twister, released in 1996.

The movie Twister,© which was filmed in and around Ames, Iowa, was nominated for 2 Oscars, 13 other awards and won a total of 10 awards. “Bill and Jo Harding, advanced storm chasers on the brink of divorce, must join together to create an advanced weather alert system by putting themselves in the cross-hairs of extremely violent tornadoes.” (Plot summary,


TOTO before and after deployment. Storm Prediction Center NOAA. NSSL photos.

Their team of storm chasers, competing against a better-funded team, are trying to create a device meant to be released into a tornado. The plot is a dramatized view of research projects like Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes (VORTEX) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The device used in the movie, named “Dorothy,” is copied from “TOTO” (TOtable Tornado Observatory)- the real device used in the 1980s by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL). Dorothy (i.e. TOTO) was an instrument designed to be placed in the path of a tornado, and then sucked up into the tornado. When TOTO was sucked into the tornado, sensors would be released and these sensors would measure, among other things, pressure and humidity. Unfortunately, TOTO was too light and fell over when it was sideswiped by the edge of tornado. It was later deployed as a portable weather station to measure thunderstorm gust fronts and non-tornadic mesocyclones.

VORTEX was designed to answer questions about the causes of tornado formation. It documented the entire life cycle of a tornado from beginning to end, for the 1st time in history. VORTEX2 has many more instruments than the original VORTEX and is now mobile. Currently, in 2016, NSSL researchers are embarking on VORTEX Southeast. With this research, scientists seek to understand the environmental forces in the southeastern United States – studying the intensity, structure, and path of tornadoes in the region.

Storm Chasers in South Dakota.

A twister snakes toward storm chasers in South Dakota. Photography by Carsten Peter, National Geographic Creative.

What does it take to be a storm chaser?  Anyone can become a storm chaser – there are no procedures, certifications or permits required unless you want to become a SKYWARN® spotter.

SKYWARN® is a National Weather Service (NWS) volunteer program with between 350,000 and 400,000 trained severe weather spotters. The main responsibility of a SKYWARN® spotter is to identify and describe severe local weather and storms. They are different than chasers, usually staying in one place to observe, until it is necessary for them to move. Their training includes learning about basic severe weather structure and development, how to report, and basic severe weather safety. If you are interested in becoming a SKYWARN® volunteer, training is free and typically lasts about 2 hours. Check here for information and find the closest SKYWARN® program in Iowa!

Tornado Alley is a nickname given to an area in the southern plains of the central United States that consistently experiences a high frequency of tornadoes each year.

Tornado Alley is a nickname given to an area in the southern plains of the central United State.

Storm chasing is an expensive as a hobby – mainly because it involves a lot of travel.  The term “chaser” refers to the careful forecasting and tracking of storms and then going to those storms to make observations. Many chasers have to drive or fly to “tornado alley,” stay in hotels, and can drive over 500 miles in a single chase day, all of those expenses add up to be pretty costly

If you do decide you want to venture out on your own to watch a storm, you must be very careful – not only because of the storm, but also because of the other chasers in the vicinity. Often amateur storm chasers will park in the middle of a road to watch and photograph the approaching storm. Parking in the middle of the road makes it nearly impossible for vehicles to leave the potential danger zone and they are often in the way of the trained and seasoned storm chasers. In some locations it has been reported that as many as 100 amateur storm chasers may all converge in an area where the chance for tornadoes is high.

Storm chasing is dangerous – even for the seasoned chasers. In May, 2013, 3 chasers and 1 civilian were killed by tornadoes near El Reno, OK. Local resident, Richard Henderson, was killed when he decided to follow that storm. Tim Samaras (a chaser and a meteorologist), his son Paul Samaras, and Carl Young were experienced, seasoned chasers and considered to be the safest storm chasers at the time. Tim founded and headed the Tactical Weather-Instrumental Sampling in/near Tornadoes EXperiment (TWISTEX).  The TWISTEX vehicle in which the three were chasing was struck by a violent wedge tornado with winds up to 295 mph.

If you are intrigued by the idea, but don’t feel up to chasing on your own, you can actually be a “tornado tourist.” A 10-day, professional storm chasing tour (sometimes called “tornado safaris”), typically costs between $2000 and $3000. That includes lodging and fuel costs…

For a fascinating look at the personal stories and experiences of a storm chaser, check out Out of the blue : a history of science, superstition, and amazing stories of survival by John s. Friedman.

For more information about tornadoes and severe weather, check our blog, “Stormy Weather,” from April 29, 2016.

Interesting Twister©  facts:

Twister© is the 1st Hollywood feature film to be released on DVD and one of the last to be released on HD DVD. It has since been released on Blu-ray.

Both Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt were temporarily blinded by bright electronic lamps used to get the exposure right for the dark, stormy sky. They also both had to have hepatitis shots after filming in an unsanitary ditch.

If you live in the tornado alley and are up for some excitement – you just might want to watch Twister©Even if you don’t live in tornado alley, you should get some popcorn and watch, and learn about storm chasing!


Twister (1996 film). Produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

Horvitz, Leslie Alan. 2007. The essential book of weather lore : time-tested weather wisdom and why the weatherman isn’t always right. Pleasantville, NY : Reader’s Digest Association. Engineering Library QC995.4 .H665 2007

Mogil, H. Michael. 2007.  Extreme weather : understanding the science of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, heat waves, snow storms, global warming and other atmospheric disturbances. New York, NY : Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers : Distributed by Workman Pub. Co. Engineering Library QC981 .M65 2007

Svenvold, Mark. 2005. Big weather: Chasing tornadoes in the heart of America. New York : Henry Holt. Engineering Library QC955.5  U6 S75 2005

The TOTO Home Page. Storm Prediction Center. Date Accessed May 9, 2016.

Weather Library > Storm Chasing: Frequently Asked Questions. Dan Robinson, Storm  Chaser/Photographer.

What is VORTEX2: Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment. VORTEX@NSSL. Date Accessed May 4, 2016

National Weather Service SKYWARN™ February 29, 2016. NOAA National Weather Service.

Storm Chaser Tim Samaras: One Year After His Death, His Gift is Unmatched. By Robert Draper, for National Geographic. May 27, 2014. National Geographic.

TWIRL – Tornadic Winds : In situ and Radar observation at Low levels. 2016. Center for Severe Weather Research.

Tornado Alley. NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Date accessed, May 9, 2016

NSSL The National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Other Resources:

The Online Tornado FAQ. Storm Prediction Center. Date Accessed May 9, 2016

Storm Chasers Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras and Carl Young Killed in Oklahoma Tornadoes. June 2, 2013, by Leezel Tanglao. ABC News 

Tornado Chaser Tim Samaras Killed: Fans Pay Tribute. June 3, 2013, By Melody Kramer. National Geographic.


Finals Week Hours and Free Coffee!!

Hard to believe that it is already time for finals! We have added hours and free coffee to help you make it through!

Extended hours:

Sunday, May 8th: 2:00 p.m. to Midnight
Monday through Thursday, May 9th through 12th: 8:30 a.m to midnight
Friday, May 13th: 8:30 to 5 p.m.
May 14th and 15th: Closed


coffee_SteamWe also will have free coffee, and lemonade (while supplies last)! We’ll keep the coffee hot and the lemonade cold for you!

Please help save the environment and bring your own cup!



Don’t forget the lower level of the library is a dedicated quiet study space, with study carrels, easy chairs, bean bag and gamer chairs!

We also have plenty of space on the main level for individual or group study. We have two group study pods with white boards and pod 1 has MediaScape®. (Please reserve study time in the pods by using the sign-up sheets by each pod).  We have several group study tables. We also have 2 print stations, 2 scanners, study carrels, and computers. And, don’t forget the computers in the multipurpose room!

crayonsIf you are in need a bit of a break – we’ve got you covered there, too! We have more Color by Number – Engineering Style grids! There will also be Legos® on hand! Take a break and let your mind relax for a bit!

Good luck with finals! 


May The 4th Be With You!!

Happy Star Wars© Day!
May the 4th Be With You!


While you are having your Star Wars© movie marathon you might want to create your own Star Wars© Universe. After all, who doesn’t need their own Han Solo in soaponite? An Ewok flower vase, or a Space Slug draft blocker?

The Star Wars Craft Book will help you create these, and oh, so many more!

There is a complete list of supplies needed to create any of the crafts in the book. Most of them are easily accessible or found around the house. Supplies include (but are not limited to) a needle-nose plier, sandpaper, tape measure, ruler, tape and binder clips. Each of the crafts has step-by-step instructions and are illustrated in full-color.

The book is divided into 5 sections:

Playtime includes finger puppets, a washcloth Wampa, and, for you cat lovers, a mouse Droid cat toy. Home Decor: Every Star Wars© home (universe) should have a Chewbacca tissue cover, Jabba the Hutt body pillow. And, of course there is Han Solo soaponite!

Han Solo Soaponite

Han Solo Soaponite

For the holidays you can have a Wookiee pumpkin for Halloween, a Mistle-TIE Fighter, or a Hanukkah Droidel. Nature & Science includes a Dagobah carnivorous plant habitat, a Wookiee bird house and an AT-AT herb garden.

AT-AT Herb Garden

AT-AT Herb Garden

And for those of you who want that Star Wars© style, there is a chapter that includes character rings, 5 things to do with your Star Wars© t-shirts, and my favorite – a crocheted R2-D2 beanie!

Perhaps, you’d like to create your own Daisy Ridley (Rey) blaster that she used in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.©  This youtube video will help you do just that!

If you are more into the gaming side of Star Wars©, check out Game On, Hollywood! Essays on the Intersection of Video Games and Cinema. The essays in this book look at how games and films intersect. The book looks at adaption, both video game to film and film to video game, but is mostly about narrative, bringing attention to the ways and possibilities of telling a story in the present moment. Felan Parker, author of the essay titled Millions of Voices: Star Wars©, Digital Games, Fictional Worlds and Franchise Canon, discusses how “the Star Wars© franchise has come to be defined by its emphasis on a singular, cohesive canon and larger fictional universe.” (pg. 156). This is the perfect resource for you to explore consequences of time, place and ideology, and examine approaches to the narrative in the age of multimedia storytelling.

Whether you choose to celebrate by making your own Daisy Ridley’s blaster (or a lightsaber!), or looking at the intersection of games and film, enjoy and May the 4th be with you!!


Papazian, Gretchen, Sommers, Joseph Michael, editors of compilation. 2013. Game on, Hollywood : essays on the intersection of video games and cinema. Jefferson, North Carolina. Engineering Library, PN1995.9 .V46 G37 2013

Burton, Bonnie. 2011. The Star Wars craft book. 2011. New York, Del Rey/Ballantine Books. Engineering Library TT157 .B87 2011

Wookieepedia : the Star Wars Wiki. Date accessed April 29, 2016

Butler, Nathan P., creator and compiler. Star Wars: Timeline GoldDate accessed April 29, 2016

Bongiomo, Joe, chronicled by. The Star Wars Expanded Universe Timeline. Date accessed April 29, 2016

Star Wars Jedi Academy. July 31, 2007

Jakespeare, William. How to Make a Lightsaber (DIY). Jan. 3, 2012.




Stormy Weather

“Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather…”
Written by Harold Arien & Ted Koehler, 1933

Severe weather has been much in the news lately. How much do you really know about weather and what to do to stay safe?

When compared to hurricanes and winter storms, thunderstorms affect a relatively small area. Most thunderstorms cover an area about 15 miles in diameter and last about 30 minutes. Want to know how far away a thunderstorm is? After you see a flash of lightning, you really can count “1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi…” The rest – which most of us don’t know – is you divide that number by 5 and that will give you the approximate distance… So 10 “Mississippis” means the storm is really 2 miles away, not 10.

graphicThe conditions have to be right for a thunderstorm to develop. There must be moisture (creates clouds and rain), unstable air (warm air that can rise rapidly) and lift (caused by cold or warm fronts, sea breezes, mountains, or the sun’s heat). If a thunderstorm is considered severe, it brings wind over 58 mph, hail larger than 1/4 inch in diameter, causes wind damage and may produce tornadoes.

There is no thunder without lightning. Lightning is an electrical current and the channel of air through which it passes can be heated to 50,000°F – hotter than the surface of the sun! The energy from one lightning flash could light a 100 watt bulb for more than 3 months. The power of a bolt of lightning means there is no safe place outdoors in a thunderstorm. In the United States alone, lightning causes  between 50 and 100 fatalities and several hundred injuries each year. If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning!

lightning_SquareThere are many “facts” about lightning that really aren’t facts… “Lightning never strikes the same place twice.” In reality, lightning prefers high places and the Empire State Building is struck about 25 times a year. “Rubber soles of shoes or rubber tires will protect you from being struck.” Nope. They provide no protection from lightning. The steel frame of a hard-topped vehicle will provide increased protection – just don’t touch the metal. “People who have been struck by lightning should not be touched.” Again, nope – lightning strike victims carry no electrical charge and should be helped immediately.

Rain, flash flooding, and hail are often parts of a severe thunderstorm. A flash flood occurs within a few hours (generally fewer than 6) of heavy or excessive rainfall – or if a dam fails or an ice jam breaks apart. Floods, as opposed to flash floods, are an abnormally high water flow that covers a naturally dry area. It usually takes floods much longer (more than 6 hours) to build up to dangerous levels. Floods and flash floods are the #1 cause of deaths associated with thunderstorms – more than 90 fatalities a year. More than half of those occur when a vehicle is driven into hazardous flood water. Six inches of rushing water can knock you off your feet and 2 feet of rushing water can wash away most vehicles, including SUVs and pickups. Turn Around, Don’t Drown!

Ever been hit by a hailstone? Water droplets are carried by an updraft to a height where they freeze, then when they grow in size and are too heavy to be supported by the updraft, they fall to the ground. They can fall at speeds 100+ mph! No wonder they hurt when you get hit! It is also why they cause so much damage to homes and vehicles.

fujita-tornado-scaleAnd then there are the tornadoes. They occur in many parts of the world, but most frequently in the United States. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air which is nearly invisible until it collects dust and debris within the funnel. They generally move from southwest to northeast, but can move in any direction and suddenly change directions, too. The average speed a tornado travels is about 30 mph, but they are sometimes stationary and can travel up to 70 mph. The strongest may have rotating winds of 200 mph. Tornadoes can also occur at any time of day and any day of the year. The Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale) measures the intensity of a tornado – ranging from EF-0 to EF-5.

You may have heard of “Tornado Alley.” Tornado Alley is not an official term, it is a phrase that has been popularized by the media. There really are no set borders to Tornado Alley, but it often is considered to be the area of Texas up through North Dakota and then east to Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. It is loosely designated depending on the criteria – frequency, intensity, or events per unit area. Iowa is generally considered to be a part of Tornado Alley.

Iowa City 1

Day 1 following the tornado. (Photo: Iowa City Press Citizen)

Tornadoes can wreak havoc as they travel across the countryside. In 2006 an EF-2 tornado ripped through Iowa City. It  heavily damaged multiple buildings on the UI Campus. It also tore through the downtown area, collapsing walls of historic buildings. It left a 3.5 mile path of destruction and was 1/3 of a mile wide.

How do tornadoes develop? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says, “Before thunderstorms develop, winds change direction and increase in speed with altitude. This creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere. Rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical. An area of rotation, 2-6 miles wide, now extends through much of the storm. Most tornadoes form within this area of strong rotation.”

Straight-line winds are, well, winds not associated with the rotation of a tornado… They are responsible for most of the damage during a thunderstorm. A straight-line wind can exceed 125 mph!

Again, some things we’ve learned as “facts,” are, in reality, not true. “Lakes, rivers, and mountains protect areas from tornadoes.” Unfortunately, no geographic location is safe from tornadoes. “A tornado causes buildings to explode as it passes overhead.” Wrong again. Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause the most damage. “Open windows before a tornado to equalize pressure in the building.” Nope. Virtually all buildings leak. Leave the windows closed and seek shelter.

Awareness of the weather conditions in your area and having a plan in place for emergencies is, obviously, the best way to stay safe. For help in devising the plan which will work the best for you and your loved ones, visit the NOAA storm preparedness website.

Make your emergency preparedness plan and then be safe this spring and summer!


Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning…Nature’s Most Violent Storms. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Date accessed, April 27, 2016

Severe Weather 101: Thunderstorm Basics. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Date accessed April 27, 2016

Friedman, John S. 2008. Out of the blue: a  history of lightning : science, superstition and amazing stories of survival. New York, NY : Delacorte Press. Engineering Library QC966 .F735 2008

Elsom, Derek M. 2015. Lightning (Nature and Culture). London, UK : Reaktion Books, Ltd. Engineering Library QC966 .E47 2015

Bouquegneau, Christian. 2010. How dangerous is lightning/ Mineola, NY : Dover Publications. Engineering Library QC966 .B6813 2010

Horvitz, Leslie Alan. 2007. The essential book of weather lore : time-tested wether widom and why the weatherman isn’t always right. Pleasantville, NY : Reader’s Digest Association. Engineering Library QC995.4 .H665 2007

Hamblyn, Richard. 2008. The cloud book: how to understand the skies. Cincinnati, Ohio : D&C David & Charles : in association with the Met Office. Engineering Library QC921 .H348 2008

Mogil, H. Michael. 2007.  Extreme weather : understanding the science of hurricans, tornadoes, floods, heat waves, snow storms, global warming and other atmospheric disturbances. New York, NY : Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers : Distributed by Workman Pub. Co. Engineering Library QC981 .M65 2007

Severe storms. NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Date accessed April 27, 2016

Tornado makes direct hit on Iowa City. Al Olson, Public Works Administrator. APWA, American Public Works Association. Date accessed: April 27, 2016.

Tornado Alley: Where Twisters Form.  Dec. 19, 2012.




Happy Earth Day!!



You’ve no doubt heard about all the ways to “green” your home – energy audits, the correct light bulbs for the particular purpose, programmable thermostats, etc., but have you thought about what a brand-new green home might look like? Straw bale homes? Earth-sheltered? Concrete?

Are you ready to be Chthonic? The definition of chthonic (thon’ik) is: “of or relating to the deities, spirits, and other beings dwelling under the earth.” You might not be a deity or spirit, (or a Hobbit) but you could be living under the earth!!

earth_HomeSo, why would you want to live underground? Earth-sheltered homes are much more energy efficient than traditional homes. They are less expensive to heat and cool because thermal mass helps the earth store heat and because there is an almost universally constant temperature of the earth below the frost line. They have fewer outside walls, so less dust gets in – really! An earth-sheltered home has built-in protection from fires, storms, and sound.  Since it is safer, insurance rates are often lower. Other savings include maintenance. The traditional home needs to be re-shingled every 10-20 years. An earth-sheltered home only needs be mowed…

What are the disadvantages? Often it is difficult to get a mortgage, and there can be resale problems. The house also must be constructed properly to insure there is no water seepage, and to control pests, mold and mildew problems. Radon gas can also be a problem since radon is a toxic, oderless, tasteless gas that is found underground. Underground homes also have problems with egress, which may make it difficult to meet codes. However, if the house is designed and built properly these disadvantages don’t need to be insurmountable.

Remember the Three Little Pigs and how the 1st little piggie built his house of straw? The wolf huffed and puffed and blew it down?


Straw Bale House. Byron Bay, NSW, Australia. Architect Rachel Bending. Photography: John Downs.

Straw bale homes are much more stable than the little piggies house!  In More Straw Bale Building, the authors state that walls “… that were tested withstood the maximum static air pressure that was applied, representing a significant wind of over 134 mph.” And, perhaps counter-intuitively, they are more fire-resistant than a standard wood framed home. The compact nature of a bale doesn’t trap enough air to support combustion. The amount of air that is trapped, along with the thickness of the bales makes a straw home very energy efficient, also. It is also easier to erect yourself, saving the cost of hiring professional builders. The walls are highly adaptable and may be finished to suit your own tastes – lumpy and old-world, or straight and modern. A straw home is also a quiet home – the nature of the walls causes sound and light to behave differently than a space that has been dry-walled. Disadvantages include water and humidity – not all areas of the country would be suitable for a straw bale home. Along with climate, building codes and permit ordinances can also be a problem.

Concrete Home. RP Watkins, Inc

Concrete Home. RP Watkins, Inc

Thomas Edison was ahead of his time when, early in the 20th century, he envisioned building concrete homes. Currently, Insulating Concrete From (ICF) homes are becoming more common. They are built with a “sandwich” wall – one layer of construction-grade foam on each face and reinforced concrete in the middle. ICF homes are more energy efficient, stronger, safer in fires, and more resistant to wind and natural disasters than a wood-frame home. The temperature within the home remains at a more consistent temperature and there are generally fewer drafts. They also tend to be more quiet than wood-frame homes. The disadvantages include water seepage if the home is built in an area with a high water table. The cost of building a cement home can be higher and if the builder isn’t experienced with ICF homes there could be problems with poor installation and aesthetics.

If you are thinking of building a new home, be sure to explore our resources to see which is the best green home for you. And, if you aren’t currently in the market to build, check all our resources on what you can do to make your current living space more energy efficient.

Happy Earth Day!!


Earth Day – April 22. 2016. Earth Day Network.

McConkey, Robert. The complete guide to building affordable earth-sheltered homes : everything you need to know explained simply. 2010. Ocala, Fla : Atlantic Engineering Library TH4819 .E27 M388 2010.

More Straw Bale Building: a Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw. Eng Lib TH4818.S77 M33 2005

More Straw Bale Building Eng Lib TH4818.S77 M33 2005

Magwood, Chris. More straw bale building : a complete guide to designing and building with straw. 2005. Gabriola Island, BC : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TH4818 .S77 M33 2005

VanderWerf, Pieter A. 2007. The concrete house : building solid, safe, and efficient with insulating concrete forms. Christchurch, new Zealand : Stonefield Pub. Engineering Library TH4818 .R4 V36 2007.

Building Houses with Concrete Block: Pros and Cons. Date accessed April 18, 2016

Do Concrete Homes Cost More? Date accessed April 18, 2016

Straw Bale Construction: Pros and Cons. June 23, 2015. Survivopedia

Other Resources:

Rehfeld, Barry. 2011. Home sweet zero energy home : what it takes to develop great homes that won’t cost anything to heat, cool, or light up, without going broke or crazy. Gabriola, B.C. : New Society Publishers. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 R44 2011

Shariff, Jamil. 2009. 50 green projects for the evil genius. New York : McGraw-Hill. Engineering Library GE195 .S47 2009

Findley, David S. 2010. Do-it-yourself home energy audits : 140 simple solutions to lower energy costs, increase your home’s efficiency and save the environment. New York : McGraw-Hill. Engineering Library TJ163.5.D86 F523 2010

DeGunther, Rik. Energy efficient homes for dummies. 2008. Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley : Chichester : John Wiley distributor. Engineering Library TJ163.5 .D86 2008

Ecocapsule is the egg-shaped tiny home that can go off-grid and off-pipe. May 21, 2015. treehugger.

Green Magic Homes kit lets you assemble your own house – and then bury it. by Ben Coxworth. November 24, 2015. Gizmag

The Pros and cons of Straw Bale Wall Construction in Green Building. 2015. Building with Awareness.



It’s National Library Week!

April 10th through the 16th is National Library Week.
The theme this year is “Libraries Transform!”



National Library Week is a national observance which is sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA). It occurs in April and all types of libraries from across the country participate.

In the 1950s, research began to show that Americans were spending less time reading and more time with television and radio. ALA and American Book Publishers formed a nonprofit organization called the National Book Committee. In 1957, they developed a plan for National Library Week and the first was observed in 1958 with the theme “Wake Up and Read!” National Library Week was observed again in 1959 and it was then decided to make it a yearly event. ALA took over full sponsorship in 1974 when the National Book Committee disbanded.

So, what do we, your Engineering Library, provide for you?

We have all types of resources that can ‘transform’ your studies. We have books, journals, e-resources, DVDs, Tool Library, subject guides, handbooks, and more – all accessible from our webpage. We are constantly getting new resources, too. We have a New Book Shelf where you can browse a selection of our newest acquisitions. Another way to find out what is new in the library is to check our Pinterest page!

We also have two group study pods (one with MediaScape), two scanners, 35 ITS computers, comfy chairs, study carrels, bean bag and gamer chairs, and our lower level is a designated quiet space. We are always looking at ways to improve our space and help you find the resources you need.

We are also connected to your favorite social media! Besides Pinterest, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

National Library Workers Day is recognized on April 12th this year. Take a moment to thank a library employee!

Happy Library Week – we look forward to seeing you!


Celebrate National Library Week. 2016. American Library Association.

National Library Week Fact Sheet: ALA Online Message Book. 2016. ALA American Library Association.

Other Resources:

I Love Libraries.