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Happy Women in Engineering Day!!

National Women in Engineering Day June 23, 2015

National Women in Engineering Day
June 23, 2015

Last year the National Women in Engineering Society (WES) ) set up Women in Engineering Day to celebrate its 95th anniversary! WES started after World War I in 1919, when the many women who worked in engineering and technical roles during the war campaigned to save their jobs when the war ended and the jobs they held during the war went to returning soldiers.

Women have long played an important part in the areas of science and engineering, but the majority of women are nearly unknown. Sarah Guppy, 1770-1852, invented a method of making safe pilings for bridges; Icie Macy Hoobler, 1892-1984, was a biochemist doing research into nutrition, specifically mothers and children; Emma Perry Carr, 1880-1972), Chair of the Mount Holyoke College chemistry department in 1913, championed collaboration between faculty, graduate and undergraduate students; and Irene Joliot-Curie, 1897-1956, much less well-known than her mother, Marie Curie, she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She also made many contributions in the study of radioactivity.

Girls Coming to Tech. Engn Lib TA157,5 B59 2013

Girls Coming to Tech.
Engn Lib TA157,5 B59 2013

In Girls coming to tech! a history of American engineering education for women, Amy Sue Bix explores the “gendered history” that has prevented women in the United States from finding their places in the predominately male technical world. Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) admitted women from its opening in 1869, believing that men were being prepared to become intelligent, successful farmers and mechanics, therefore it was essential that women be educated in a manner that would “qualify” them to understand and “discharge their duties as wives & farmers of mechanics.”

Women began working with computers as soon as they were developed. In her book Recoding gender: women’s changing participation in computing, Jane Abbate discusses the early contributions of women to the computing world – from Colossus in Bletchley Park (think Alan Turring) to the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) in America – and how both used teams of women to operate them. For a fascinating look at how women with mathematical training moved into being “human computers” see the DVD Top Secret Rosies. It is the history of women recruited to be the “Rosie the Riverters” of mathematics for the U.S. Army. They used differential equations to figure trajectories for bombs and ammunitions, were a vital part of the war effort and were the earliest computer programmers.  Their contributions were mostly overlooked by those in charge, including not being invited to a celebratory dinner. Abbate also explores how computers and programming became more “masculine” during the 1960s and the number of women in computing has declined since the mid-1980s.

Recoding_genderIn Gender and computers: understanding the digital divide it is suggested that some of the features that have been added to current computer programs in order to “make learning fun,” may, in fact, be a reason that girls are more reluctant to go into computer science. Those features seem to be more in line with the way boys learn and process than they are with how girls often learn and process. Studies have found that, in general, when using computers to learn, boys prefer to learn with action games, flashing lights, loud noises and competition. Generally, girls prefer to use computers as a “learning tool” with direct and frequent feedback and with words, not noise and exploding icons. An example of a learning game directed more at males is Demolition Division.

There are, however, a number of women in the world of computer gaming. In 1979 Roberta Williams, the co-creator of Graphical Adventure Games and her husband, Ken, formed the company On-Line Systems (now called Sierra). Dona Bailey is the first woman to design an arcade game while she worked at Atari. Soon after the release of the arcade hit, Centipede, she disappeared from the gaming world, later admitting that it was the pressure and criticism from her male counterparts that drove her from the business. Amy Briggs is the creator of the first adventure games for girls. The first female – and the world’s oldest competitive gamer – is Doris Self. She entered the competitive gaming world in 1983 when she was 58.

We here at the University of Iowa are fortunate to have a Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) student organization on campus. WISE Ambassadors are undergraduate and graduate women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors. They organize K-12 and community outreach activities, plan professional development opportunities, and provide service to local organizations. Each year the WISE Ambassadors have organize a Science and Engineering Extravaganza for third through sixth grade girls, help with local science fairs. In 2014 the UI WISE organization donated a wide variety of resources to the Lichtenberger Engineering Library.  The donation includes books and DVDs. DVDs include NOVA and Frontline programming, the television series design|e2, and many others.

There is also an active Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter in the UI College of Engineering. They attend and network at conferences, and also have outreach events to help kids learn about engineering.



Top Secret Rosi

Top Secret Rosies. Engineering Circ Desk Video Rcord 31971 DVD

Rayner-Canham, Marelene F. 2001. Women in chemistry: their changing roles from alchemical times to the mid-twentieth centuryPhiladelphia, PA : Chemical Heritage Foundation.

WIPO Patentscope. Pocketbook. Publication Number: 2358983. Application Date: 10.08.1942

Bix, Amy Sue. 2013. Girls coming to tech! : a history of American engineering education for women. Cambridge, Massachusetts : London, England : The MIT Press.

Abbate, Janet. 2012. Recoding gender : women’s changing participation in computing. Cambridge, Massachusetts : MIT Press.

Top secret Rosies: the female computers of World War II. DVD. 2010. PBS.

Cooper, Joel. 2003. Gender and computers : understanding the digital divide. Mahwah, N.J Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Demolition Division. 2014. MathPlayground.

The most important women in the history of video games. 2015. about tech.



Halpern, Diane F. Sex differences in cognitive abilities.2012. New York. Psychology Press.

LinkSWE : magazine of the Society of Women EngineersJournal. New York, N.Y. The Society.

Women in history: mothers of invention – first women to file for American patents. 2015.  about money.

Women’s progress in science and engineering since 1973 (Infographic)June 11, 2015. livescience.

Why it’s crucial to get more women into science. November 8, 2014. National Geographic.

NASA girls and NASA boys: change the world through STEMJune 15, 2015. Women@NASA.

How many women inventors are there? 2015. about money.

National Women in Engineering Day. 2015.

This company proves you can hire more women in tech right now. No more excusesJune 18, 2015. Huff Post Tech

Mary Kies – Patenting Pioneer. 2015. Inventors.


New Fireworks Exhibit!


Summertime is almost here and what can be more summer-like than the 4th of July, picnics, parades and, most of all, fireworks! Come see our new fireworks display and get in the mood for summer!

Fireworks have a long and, dare I say, colorful history. Fireworks go back as far as 7th century China.  In 1292 Marco Polo took fireworks back to Italy where the Italians began to develop them as an art form. Settlers brought fireworks to the Americas in the 1600s, and the very first 4th of July celebration with fireworks was in 1777 – a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The earliest patents for fireworks go back as far as 1876.

There are a multitude of different fireworks, but they fall into three categories. Aerial fireworks include mortars, bottle rockets and Roman candles.  Proximate fireworks are often used indoors for concerts, theatrical presentations and movies. Ground-based fireworks include the familiar firecrackers, snakes, smoke bombs, and sparklers.


Firework cross section.

The beautiful colors of the fireworks come from various chemical compounds: red is strontium and lithium; blue is copper; silver or white is burning aluminum titanium and magnesium; orange is calcium; yellow is sodium; green is barium; and the neon green and turquoise are chlorine with barium or copper. Different chemicals also affect the appearance of fireworks in different ways. For example, aluminum creates the sparkler effect, glitter comes from antimony, calcium deepens the color, phosphorous creates glow in the dark effects and the smoke effects come from zinc.

Sound is also influenced by the chemicals used and by the shape of the firework tube. Perhaps surprisingly, the whistle effect is second only to flash powders in being the most hazardous firework effect.  Whistle combinations consist of potassium chlorate or potassium perchlorate as the oxidizer, with a salt of benzoic acid or a substituted benzoic acid. You’ll notice you see the fireworks before you hear the booms. That’s because light travels about a million times faster than sound. Those loud booms are actually sonic booms caused by the expansion of gases. You can calculate how far from the fireworks you are by counting the seconds from the time you see the firework until you hear the boom. To figure the distance in miles simply multiply the number of seconds by .o2.  

There are, not surprisingly, many safety regulations surrounding the production and handling of fireworks, but there are also interesting regulations for the storage of fireworks. One of the hazards of storing fireworks is static electricity.  Staff working in explosive buildings should not wear synthetic clothing or non-conducting footwear. Personnel should also discharge themselves before entering the building with an electrostatic discharger. There are also regulations for conduction, anti-static flooring and the humidification of the room.

Before safety regulations were enacted there were many accidents resulting in casualties. When the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle was signed in 1748 celebrations were held all over Europe. The celebration in Paris had a mass explosion which led to the death of 40 people and over 300 injuries.  It was 1875 before the Explosives Act was introduced. The current Federal Explosives Law and Regulations is from 2012. Each state also regulates the use and availability of fireworks.

George Frederick Handel was commissioned to write an overture for the London celebration of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. He wrote Music for the Royal Fireworks, and this began the tradition of association between music and fireworks. For more information about creating fireworks displays and their environmental impact, check out Fireworks displays: explosive entertainment, by Dr. Tom Smith.

Coralville Fireworks 2013

Coralville Fireworks 2013

So, when and why were fireworks banned in Iowa? Fireworks were banned in 1937, following two incidents. In Spencer, Iowa someone lit fireworks in a store where they were being sold. That 1931 fire destroyed most of the downtown. Then, in 1936, a similar fire in Remen, Iowa caused about $600,000 in damages. Iowa’s ban includes all fireworks except sparklers, toy snakes and caps.

Want to try to make your own (safe) fireworks for the 4th of July? Make: has instruction for making your own Soda Bottle Rocket LED Fireworks! Check out Make: v.41 (2014:Oct./Nov.) or the Make website.

So, whatever your plans are for the 4th of July, check out our exhibit and have a safe 4th full of fun and fireworks!



Conkling, John A. Chemistry of pyrotechnics : basic principles and theory. 2nd Edition. 2011. Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press. Engineering Library TP300 .C65 2011.

ENGN TP300 .R87 2009

ENGN TP300 .R87 2009

Soltis, Greg. When was the 4th of July first celebrated. Nov. 28, 2012. LiveScience.

Types of fireworks. FireworksLand. Date Accessed: May 2015

Wolcher, Natalie. How do fireworks make shapesJuly 1, 2011. LiveScience.

Allain, Rhett. The awesome physics in a simple sparkler. July, 4, 2014. Wired.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie. Chemistry of firework colors. Feb. 20, 2015. About Education.

Helmenstine, Anne Marie. Elements in fireworks. Dec. 5, 2014. About Educaton

Pappas, Stephanie. 5 fantastic fireworks facts. July 1, 2012. Live Science

Wolchover, Natalie. How do fireworks make shapes. July 1, 2011. Live Science.

De Antonis, Kathy. Fire. October 2010. ChemMatters.

Agrawal, J. P. (Jai Prakash). 2010. High energy materials : propellants, explosives and pyrotechnics. Weinheim : Wiley-VCH.  Engineering Library TP267.5 .A57 2010 

Smith, Thomas A.K. 2011. Firework displays : explosive entertainment. [Revere, MA] : Chemical Pub. Co. Engineering Library TP300 .F57 2011 

McLeod, Stacey. 10 fun facts you probably didn’t know about fireworks. Cottage Life. Date Accessed: May 2015.

How much does Disney spend annually for fireworks? Date Accessed: May 2015.

Which fireworks are legal and prohibited in Iowa and Illinois July 3, 2014. WQAD8 Quad Cities.

ATF Federal explosives law and regulations2012. U.S. Department of Justice.


More Resources:

Philip, Chris. A bibliography of firework books : works on recreative fireworks from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. 1985. Wincester, Hampshire : Published by C. Philip, in association with St. Paul’s Bibliographies. Main Library Z5885 .P48 1985

Russell, Michael S. The chemistry of fireworks. 2009. Cambridge, UK : RSC Pub. Engineering Library TP300 .R$87 2009.

The sound of fireworks – whistles2015. Learn Chemistry, Royal Society of Chemistry.

Fireworks Glossary. UK Firework Review. Date Accessed: May 2015.

The Unexcelled Fireworks Company. July 2, 2013. Letterology.

History of Fireworks. 2001-2007. Pyro Universe. Date Accessed: May 2015.

“Underwater fireworks” reaction of chlorine and acetylene. December 17, 2012. YouTube.

The future of the theme park fireworksJuly 13, 2004.

Chemical of the week: fireworks! Date Accessed May 2015.

The awesome physics in a simple sparkler. July 4, 2014. WIRED.


I Hear the Train a Comin’

Hallidie U.S. Patent 110,971For more than two centuries, trains have traversed the American landscape altering how and where people live and work. This is why, in 2008, Amtrak created National Train Day to be celebrated on the Saturday closet to May 10th, the anniversary of the pounding of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah which marked the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The first locomotive was built in 1804 by a Cornish inventor named Richard Trevithick. It was powered by steam. A steam locomotive burns fuel, usually coal. The heat then passes though tubes inside a large water-filled boiler creating steam. The steam then passes through high-pressure tubes to cylinders which engage piston rods connected to the locomotive’s wheels, thus driving the train.1

The steam engine remained popular until the early 1900s when diesel and electric began replacing it. A German mechanical engineer, Rudolf Diesel, invented the diesel-powered locomotive. A diesel engine operates when a cylinder piston squeezes and heats air trapped inside; at the top of the stroke, the system injects oil; the air and oil mixture burns and drives the piston down which turns a crankshaft connected to a generator making eletricity for storage in large batteries. The wheels are powered by motors that draw from the batteries. 2

On January 17, 1871, Andrew Smith Hallidie, an American engineer and inventor, was granted a patent for an “improvement in endless wire ropeways” which became the basis for the first cable car system.3 Soon, however, electricity changed city transportation. In 1897, Boston opened an electric subway system. New York City soon followed in 1904. The all-electric locomotive requires either an overhead pickup or a third-rail carrying a high-voltage of electricity to power the engine. Electric trains are easier and cheaper to maintain and last longer than diesels.4

Now coming down the track are hybrid trains which use a battery to store energy temporarily for when the train is idling or stationary; “bullet trains” which run on steel rails at accelerated speeds; magnetic levitation trains which hover above rails suspended by powerful magnets; and the futuristic Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s vision for transporting people in high speed capsules through a series of tubes.

The world’s fastest passenger train, the Maglev, owned by the Central Japan Railway Company, made history last month by hitting a top speed of 366 mph surpassing its previous record of 361 mph set in 2003.

The Federal Railroad Administration was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The U.S. agency regulates the manufacturing and safety of the train transportation industry. A few of the more widely known train manufacturers are National Railway Equipment Company (NREX) headquarted in Mt. Vernon, IL. This company is known for its N-ViroMotive engine which is used for light duty road switching in yards and urban areas where noise and exhaust emissions are to be reduced. GE Transportation Systems (GETS), a division of General Electric, is headquartered in Chicago while its main manufacturing plant is located in Erie, Pennsylvania. This company is the largest producer of diesel-electric locomotives. Its Dash9 series has an electronic fuel injector and a 4-stroke diesel engine.

GE Dash 9 Series. Source: Wikipedia

GE Dash 9 Series. Source: Wikipedia

Gomaco Trolley Company, located in Ida Grove, Iowa, manufactures trolley cars which look vintage but have state-of-the-art technology. Streetcars or cable cars are used in cities such as Portland, San Diego, San Francisco. Rapid transit commuter trains, known as the metro or subway, are a primary means of transportation in Atlanta, Washington D.C., and New York. U.S. Manufacture of Rail Vehicles for Intercity Passenger Rail and Urban Transit documents several companies which manufacture parts for high-speed, rapid transportation.







Train: riding the rails that created the modern world by Tom Zoellner.

Train: riding the rails that created the modern world by Tom Zoellner.

Sinclair, Angus. Locomotive Engine Running and Management, 21st edition. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1899, Engineering Library TJ607 .S6 1899

Wolmar, Christian. Blood, Iron & Gold: how the railroads transformed the world. New York: PublicAffairs, 2010. Engineering Library HE1021 .W78 2009

Zoellner, Tom. Train: riding the rails that created the modern world. New York: Viking, 2014. Engineering Library HE1021 .Z64 2014

Federal Railroad Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation

Facebook: National Train Day 2015

Brasor, Philip and Tsubuku, Masako. How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today. The Guardian, September 30, 2014

Vartabedian, Ralph. “Work starting on the bullet train; Construction begins Tuesday in Fresno on the first 29-mile segment of the $68-billion fast train..” Los Angeles Times. (January 5, 2015 Monday ): 1252 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2015/05/07.

Upbin, Bruce. Hyperloop is real: meet the startups selling supersonic travel. Forbes, March 2, 2015

Blood, Iron, & Gold by Chrisitan Wolmar

Blood, Iron, & Gold by Chrisitan Wolmar


1. Langone, John. The New How Things Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2004, p.84. Engineering Library FOLIO T47 .L2923 2004

2. Langone, John. The New How Things Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2004, pp.86-87. Engineering Library FOLIO T47 .L2923 2004

3. Hallidie, A.S. U.S. Patent 110,971. Improvement in Endless Wire Ropeways. Assigned January 17, 1871.

4. Langone, John. The New How Thinks Work. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Soceity, 2004, pp.88-91. Engineering Library FOLIO T47 .L2923 2004


Finals Week – Extended Hours and Free Coffee!!

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, summer officially begins at 12:38 p.m. EDT on June 21, 2015.  But, even though it isn’t officially summer, the UI Summer Sessions begin the week of May 18. Which mean that FINALS for the spring semester are May 11th through 15th.

In order to help you find that extra study time, we have scheduled extended hours during finals week.

Extended Hours:

Sunday, May 10th: 2 p.m. to midnight

Monday, May 11th through Thursday, May 14: 8:30 a.m. to midnight

Friday, May 15th: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday, May 16th and 17th: CLOSED (congratulations – you made it through the semester!)


Must. Have. Coffee.

Must. Have. Coffee.


We have not only scheduled extended hours during finals week, we will also be providing free coffee and lemonade! Cups are provided – but be “green” and bring your own!


Happy 25th Anniversary, Hubble!

Hubble Space Telescope, taken on 2nd servicing mission. Photo credit: NASA

Hubble Space Telescope, taken on 2nd servicing mission. Photo credit: NASA

On April 24, 1990 the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was launched from  the Space Shuttle Discovery. Previously, telescopes had been positioned on remote mountaintops and away from city lights in order to prevent distortion from Earth’s atmosphere. Now Hubble was being propelled into Earth’s orbit to prevent atmospheric distortion literally by rising above it.

That atmosphere is what causes start to look as if they are twinkling (sorry romantics, they don’t really twinkle….)1 But, once outside Earth’s atmosphere, “… [Hubble] can see astronomical objects with an angular size of 0.05 arc seconds, which is like seeing a pair of fireflies in Tokyo from your home in Maryland.” 2

As telescopes go, Hubble is not large, the mirror measures 7’10” across (2.4 meters), the length of a large school bus3 (the largest telescope in the southern hemisphere is 30 feet).4 Hubble weighs 24,500 pounds – as much as 2 full-grown elephants5 –  and  was named after Edwin Hubble, the man who is credited with discovering the cosmos.

Jeff Hoffman (with red stripes on the legs of his suit) and Story Musgrave work on the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit: NASA

Jeff Hoffman (with red stripes on the legs of his suit) and Story Musgrave work on the Hubble Space Telescope. Photo Credit: NASA

Within a couple of weeks after it was launched, it became obvious that Hubble’s mirror had a flaw.  The curvature was off by off by 1/50 of a human hair – 2.2 microns – enough to cause fuzzy images to be sent back to earth. Hubble was circling Earth at 17, 500 miles per hour and 343 miles above it, and scientists needed to figure out a way to correct Hubble’s flawed mirror. In 1993 the first servicing mission was launched and Hubble’s flaw was successfully corrected. The mission was the first chance to fix the flaw, install new instruments and conduct routine maintenance.6

Hubble was designed to work with the Space Shuttles, the plan being that once it was no longer serviceable, it would be brought back to Earth and displayed in a museum. The retirement of the space shuttles means, however, that Hubble will not be able to be brought back to Earth. Now, a robotic mission is expected to help guide Hubble out of orbit, through Earth’s atmosphere and into the ocean.7


Hubble "Deep Field." Photo released in 1996

Hubble “Deep Field.” Photo released in 1996. Photo Credit


The Hubble Telescope doesn’t travel to distance stars, planets or galaxies, it photographs them and in January of 1996 the “Hubble Deep Field” was released. At that time it was humanity’s most distant view of the Universe. For ten days scientists aimed Hubble at a single spot in Ursa Major (the Big Dipper), taking several hundred photos with exposure times of 15 to 40 minutes.  “The result was a stunning still life of more than two thousand galaxies, a flurry of budding, tumultuous light whipped up in the shadowy primordial vacuum.” (Kanipe. pg 6)8

The brightest galaxies visible in the Deep Field are between 7 and 8 billion light-years away, some from 12 billion years ago. Some of the Milky Way’s oldest stars which congregate in globular clusters, are about 13 billion years old. 9 In fact, “Hubble has peered back into the very distant past, to locations more than 13.4 billion light years from Earth.”10

Mystic Mountain. Photo released for Hubble's 20th Anniversary.

Mystic Mountain. Photo released for Hubble’s 20th Anniversary.


The photo of  “Mystic Mountain Nebula” was released for Hubble’s 20th Anniversary. Mystic Mountain is a pillar of gas and dust, three light-years tall. The brilliant light from nearby stars is eating away at it, while infant stars within the Mystic Mountain fire jets of gas.11



The Sombrero Galaxy.

The Sombrero Galaxy.


The Sombrero Galaxy is just beyond the visibility of the naked eye, but can be seen with small telescopes. There are nearly 2,000 globular clusters which range in age from 10-13 billion years old. This is 10 times as many globular clusters as the Milky Way.12


Pandora's Cluster. Photo published 2013.

Pandora’s Cluster. Photo published 2013.

Pandora’s Cluster appears to have a complex and violent history. It seems to be the “… result of a simultaneous pile-up of at least four separate, smaller galaxy clusters. The crash took place over a span of 350 million years.”13




The Rose of Galaxies

The Rose of Galaxies

To celebrate Hubble’s 21st anniversary, scientists pointed it a group of interacting galaxies called Arp 273.  The larger of the spiral galaxies is distorted into a rose-like shape by the gravitational tidal pull of the companion galaxy. The blue jewels across the top are combined light from intensely bright and hot young blue stars. They glow intensely in the ultraviolet light.  The series of unusual spiral patterns are signs of interaction.14

In the 25 years since Hubble was launched it has made more than 1 million observations. Astronomers using that data have published more than 12,700 articles, making it one of the most productive scientific instruments ever built.  It has circled Earth and traveled more than 3 billion miles and produces about 10 terabytes of new data each year.15 The policies governing Hubble have helped make it so rich in data and productivity. Any astronomer in the world can submit a proposal and request time on the telescope. When a proposal is chosen by a team of experts, that astronomer has a year to pursue their work. Once the year is up  the data is released to the scientific community, which has given rise to numerous findings – many not predicted in the original proposal.16

Happy 25th Anniversary!!



  1. Zimmerman, Robert. 2008. The universe in a mirror: the saga of the Hubble Telescope and the visionaries who built it. Princeton,
    The Universe in a Mirror Engineering Library QB500.268 .Z56 2008

    The Universe in a Mirror
    Engineering Library QB500.268 .Z56 2008

    N.J. : Princeton University Press. Engineering Library QB5.268 .Z56 2008

  2. Hubble Space Telescope. Feb. 20, 2015. NASA.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT). Dec. 29, 2011.
  5. Hubble Space Telescope. Feb. 20, 2015. NASA.
  6. The Hubble Space Telescope. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Space Flight Center. This website is kept for archival purposes only and is no longer updated. Accessed: April 2015.
  7. The Telescope Hubble Essentials. HubbleSite. Date Accessed: April 2015.
  8. Kanipe, Jeff. Chasing Hubble’s shadows: the search for galaxies at the edge of time. 2006. New York : Hill and Wang. Engineering Library QB500.262 .K36 2006.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Hubble Space Telescope. Feb. 20, 2015. NASA.
  11. Newscenter. April 22, 2010. HubbleSite.
  12. Gallery. HubbleSite. Date Accessed, April 2015.
  13. Newscenter. June 22, 2011. HubbleSite.
  14. Newscenter. “Rose” of Galaxies. April 20, 2011. HubbleSite.
  15. Hubble Space Telescope. Feb. 20, 2015. NASA
  16. The Telescope Hubble Essentials. HubbleSite. Date Accessed: April 2015.


  1. Chaline, Eric. 2012. Fifty machines that changed the course of history. Buffalo, N.Y. : Firefly Books. Engineering Library TJ15 .C44 2012
  2. Weintraub, David A. 2011. How old is the universe? Princeton, J.J. : Princeton University Press. Engineering Library QB501 .W45 2011
  3. O’Dell, C. Robert. 2003. The Orion Nebula : where stars are born. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap press of Harvard University Press. Engineering Library QB855.9.O75 O34 2003
  4. Zimmerman, Robert. 2008. The universe in a mirror : the saga of the Hubble Telescope and the visionaries who built it. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press. Engineering Library QB500.268 .Z56 2008.
  5. You and the rest': twenty years since NASA’s dramatic Hubble repair mission (part 1)AmericaSpace. Date Accessed: April 2015
  6. Expect the unexpected in a Hubble 25th anniversary video. April 10, 2015. NASA.
  7. The Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 – here are its best 25 imagesApril 20, 2015. Extreme Tech.
  8. Highlights of HubbleApril 15, 2015. Nature: International weekly journal of science.
  9. Biography of a space telescope: Voices of Hubble. April 15, 2015. Nature: International weekly journal of science.





Wearable Tech Is All Around Us


Maxwell Smart’s Watch…


Wearable technology is all over the news these days, but we have been dreaming of it for a long time (remember Dick Tracy, Inspector Gadget, and Maxwell Smart?)

Wearable technology spans a multitude of different forms and uses – from frivolous and fun to life-enhancement and survival. From prosthetic limbs, expensive smart watches, fitness bands, to clothing you can make yourself, wearable technology is all around us.

The new Apple Watch© will be in stores tomorrow (April 24, 2015). It is the first of the major smart watches to support mobile payments and with Digital Touch you can scribble emoji or send audio messages like a walkie-talkie (remember Dick Tracy?). It also can replace the fitness band, tracking calories, exercise and even time spent standing.1

To go with that new Apple watch, Fitbit, or Jawbone fitness band, why not try having your music play faster with “Perform-o-shoes.” Developed by Andrew Schneider, Perform-o-Shoes have a photocell embedded in the heel of the shoe. The higher the heal is lifted off the ground, the faster the music track plays.This might help you reach those fitness goals more quickly!

Prosthetic body parts have been around a very, very long time. A 3,000 year old Egyptian mummy was found to have a wooden big toe grafted to her right foot. It was expertly carved and painted to match her skin tone.3 Over the years, artificial limbs have become more and more sophisticated. Prosthetic limbs that can feel are now being developed. Sensors were wired into the fingers of an artificial hand to sensory nerves in Dennis Aabo Sorensen’s upper arm. He is now able to feel “…round things and soft things and hard things….” That sensory feedback also improves a patient’s ability to control the prosthetic.4  

Liam and his Robohand

Liam and his Robohand

Richard van As and Ivan Owen launched the company “Robohand”  in 2012. Robohands are affordable mechanical prosthetics made with 3-D printers. The first one was created for five-year-old Liam, who was born with no fingers on his right hand. “Within minutes of being fitted with his newly printed mechanical hand, Liam beamed excitedly and expressed how he could now ‘pick up stuff,’ describing its movement by saying: “it copies me.”5

Google has just filed a patent for “Nanoparticle Phoresis.” It proposes tiny magnetic particles in the patient’s bloodstream, which, when activated by a smart wristband, would attack cancer cells.6

High-tech clothing is being developed with an eye for various uses. Some of this high-tech clothing is being used with autistic children. The clothing has a GPS tracker slipped inside a soft pocket on each garment. The child doesn’t see or feel it, and parents have the peace of mind that comes with knowing their wandering child can be safely tracked.7  There is another innovation in wearable tech can also put a parent’s mind at ease. A smart shirt may be able to be used with infants to help eliminate Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The smart shirt is customized to monitor vital signs and other data from sensors that are woven into the fabric.8

Are you often cold? Smart shirts and jackets can now measure skin temperature and then heat the clothing to a comfortable range. In Wearable Electronics and Photonics we learn about Reima, a survival suit. It is designed to help prevent accidents and assist in survival in harsh winter environments. With its integrated sensors it monitors the wearer’s location, movement and health. The suit will also contact an emergency office when the user has an accident or an abnormal situation is detected.9

Invisibility Cloak, developed by Susumu Tachi.

Invisibility Cloak, developed by Susumu Tachi.

Want an invisibility cloak?   Susumu Tachi developed the “Optical Camouflage,” or “Retro-reflective Projection Technology.” It uses a projector, camera, reflector and head-mounted display. A little unwieldy for sneaking out of lectures, however!10  Interested in seismology? The “Earthquake Skirt,” designed by Erin Lewis, shakes or shimmies whenever there is an earthquake in the world. It picks up the seismologic data from the internet.11

Do you have an innovative idea for wearable technology? Make: Wearable Electronics can walk you through the design process and creating a prototype. What materials, sensors, power sources, tools – everything you need – is covered. Want to try your hand at creating wearable tech, but don’t have “the” idea? Page through and find your inspiration – from safety shirts that light up to Super Hero Communicator Cuffs – your creation is just an inspiration away!

Jaymes Dec developed “Glowbowz” to help get 4th and 5th grade girls interested in wearable technology.12 If Glowbowz inspires you to want more glow in your life, LED neckties, jewelry, handbags and LED eyelashes are available.13 The eyelashes might pair nicely with the “Galaxy Dress,” designed by CuteCircuit.14

Jaymes Dec's Glowbowz

Jaymes Dec’s Glowbowz

LED Eyelashes

LED Eyelashes

The Galaxy Dress

The Galaxy Dress


      Wearable tech is all round – are you ready to try your hand at creating your own?



Make: Wearable Electronics. QA76.592 .H37 2014

Make: Wearable Electronics. QA76.592 .H37 2014

  1. Apple watch: everything you need to know, so far and hands on impressions. March 9, 2015. c|net, CBS Interactive Inc.
  2. Hartman, Kate. Make: wearable electronics. 2014. Sebastopol, CA : Maker Media. pg. 136.
  3. Once more with feeling. Oct. 11, 2014. The Economist. The Economist newspaper Limited, 2015.
  4. Revolution in artificial limbs brings feeling back to amputees. Feb. 22, 2014. National Geographic.
  5. Carpenter who cut off his fingers makes “Robohand” with 3-D printer. Jan. 15, 2015. CNN.
  6. Conrad, Andrew Jason.Google, Inc. “Nanoparticle Phoresis.” Patent Application No. PCT/US2014054321
  7. These high-tech shirts and pants can help protect kids with Autism. Feb. 18, 2015. Huff Post The Third Metric. Huffington Post.
  8. Cho, Gilsoo, editor. 2010. Smart clothing: technology and applications. pg. 130. Boca Raon, Fla. : CRC ; London : Taylor & Francis.
  9. Tao, Xioming, editor. 2005.  Wearable electronics and photonics. pg 216-219, Cambridge : Woodhead, Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press.
  10. Pederson, Isabel. 2013. Ready to wear: a rhetoric of wearable computer and reality-shifting mediapg. 52, Anderson, SC : Parlor Press.
  11. Hartman, Kate. Make: wearable electronics. 2014. pg. 209. Sebastopol, CA : Maker Media.
  12. Hartman, Kate. Make: wearable electronics. 2014 pg. 137. Sebastopol, CA ; Maker Media.
  13. Hartman, Kate. Make: wearable electronics. 2014 pg. 149. Sebastopol, CA : Maker Media.
  14. Hartman, Kate. Make: wearable electronics. 2014. pg 145 Sebastopol, CA : Maker Media.



  1. King, Paul H. Design of biomedical devices and systems. 2015. Boca Raton, Fl : CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group.  Engn R856 .K53
  2. Cranny-Francis, Anne. Technology and touch: the biopolitics of emerging technologies. 2013. Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY : Palgrave macmillan. Engn T173.8 .C736 2013 
  3. How it’s made. Seasons 1 and 2 (DVD). 2010. [Silver Springs, MD] : Discovery Communications. Engn Circ Desk 37144 DVD
  4. Perkowitz, Sidney. 2004. Digital people: from bionic humans to androids. Washington, D.C. : Joseph Henry Press. Engn TJ211.15 .P4768 2004
  5. Smart artificial skin could give prosthetic limbs feeling. Dec. 10, 2014. IFL Science.
  6. The best fitness trackers you can buy right now. Feb. 6, 2015. c|net. CBS Interactive Inc
  7. Fab Lab Maker Space. Posted Dec. 4, 2013. youtube.



Happy 45th Anniversary, Earth Day!!

Happy Earth Day!

Happy Earth Day!

April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day. Founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson, WI, it brought the environment to the forefront of awareness – on both personal and political levels. It also led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In 1990, Earth Day went global, with 5,000 environmental groups in 84 countries participating.1


Dew-Harvesting Greenhouse, designed by Roots Up.

There are more and more creative ways to reuse, recycle, and repurpose our waste products. Many of these solutions are being developed globally. “My Shelter Foundation,” based in the Philippines, uses recycled plastic bottles as solar light bulbs in the project, “Liter of Light.”2 In parts of Ethiopia it doesn’t rain for as much as 6 months in a row, which makes growing food a struggle. “Roots Up,” an organization based in Gondar, north of Ethiopia, has designed a new greenhouse that will use dew to not only water the plants in the greenhouse, but also provide clean drinking water.

A smog-eating building has been designed to help battle air pollution. Torre de Especialidades, a hospital in Mexico City, is shielded by a façade  made with special air-scrubbing tiles. Milan, Italy, is preparing for a world’s fair and the main pavilion is being constructed with photocatalytic concrete with titanium dioxide, which, when hit by sunlight, will break down air pollution. The pavilion also includes a rooftop solar array which will heat the building during the day.4

Wondering what is going on locally this month?

Over the years, Earth Day has evolved into Earth Month, and the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability, along with the UI Environmental Coalition, has scheduled a variety of fun and educational events throughout April. Activities include a Bike Tune Up, Student Garden Open House and a Sustainability Celebration. Visit their website to access the calendar and learn more about the activities. Be sure to like our facebook page and  and check our Twitter feed (@UIEngLib) to find out about all the resources we have here for you!

Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, a LEED building

Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building, a LEED building

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.The LEED program encourages sustainable building practices, believing better buildings are “…places that complement our environment and enhance our communities…”5 The University of Iowa maintains a minimum LEED Silver Certification standard for all new construction and any major renovations. There are currently eight LEED buildings on campus and four more projects pending.

All of the Iowa Universities are working to expand energy efficiency. The UI is implementing “Energy Smart Scheduling” over the summer months. The program “…compacts classroom scheduling and consolidates the use of occupied spaces on campus…” Instead of cooling seldom-used buildings for summer classes, classes are relocated to buildings which need to be cooled. This is the second summer for the program at UI. The first year saw savings of $10,000.7

So, what can you do?

Before you till up the weeds to add a garden – look at which weeds are growing and where. Different weeds require different types of soil and studying them can help you know what your soil is like. Some need an acidic or alkaline soil and others thrive in damp, deep and fertile soil. And, when you do pull those weeds, think before tossing them in your compost pile – the temperature of the compost needs to be warm enough to kill the seeds or when you spread that lovely, rich, compost, you’ll be planting new weeds. 8
Is disposing of food waste in a garbage disposal more green than putting it in the trash? Generally, a garbage disposal is greener than having food waste end up in a landfill, because a garbage disposal more efficiently turns that waste into energy.9 A disposal still uses resources like energy and water, so, an even greener way is to compost food (not all food waste is compostable).10  The greenest way to deal with food waste, however, is to reduce the waste that is produced!11

Have cockroaches? Use thin slices of cucumbers on a paper towel in the back of cupboards. They are also repelled by bay leaves, pyrethrum and vanilla beans.  Spiders? Leave the daddy-long-legs alone. Their pincers can’t pierce human skin, but they are venomous and when they fight with other spiders – they win. Silverfish like cereal, so put some cereal in a glass jar and put tape around the outside of the jar. The tape will help the silverfish climb in after the cereal, but once they are in the jar, they can’t get out!12

Munich Zoo Presents Twin Polar Bear Cubs

Munich Zoo Presents Twin Polar Bear Cubs



Need more incentive to live green? Here are 12 ridiculously adorable reasons to protect Earth!




Changes are happening globally and locally. Are you making changes?

Remember one person can make a difference!



  1. Earth Day. Earth Day Network. Date Accessed April, 2015.
  2. My Shelter Foundation – Global Lighting Project. 2015. Sculpt the Future Foundation.
  3. This dew-harvesting greenhouse waters itself. 2015. Fast Company & Inc.Kitchen_Chemistry
  4. Smog-eating buildings battle air pollution. March 18, 2015., Inc.
  5. LEED. 2012-2015. U.S. Green Building Council.
  6. Energy & environment. The University of Iowa Facilities Management. Date Accessed, April 2015.
  7. Iowa universities expand energy efficiency. April 8, 2015. The Gazette.
  8. Hanson, James Ralph. 2011. Chemistry in the kitchen garden. Cambridge UI ; RSC Pub. Engineering Library QK861 .H332 2011
  9. Myth: Putting food waste down the disposal is greener than in the trash. 2009-2015. EcoMyths.
  10. What you can and cannot compostComposting instructions: how to compost at home Date accessed April 2015.
  11. Crampton, Norman. 2008. Green house : eco-friendly disposal and recycling at home. Lanham, Md. : M. Evans ; Distributed by National Book Network. Engineering Library TD171.7 .C73 2008.
  12. Ha, Tanya. 2011. Greeniology 2020 : greener living today, and in the future. Carlton, Vic. : Melbourne University Press. Engineering Library TD171.7 .H3 2011.



  1. Nunan, Jon. 2010. The complete guide to alternative home building materials & methodsOcala, Fla. :  Atlantic Pub. Group. Engineering Library TH4860 .N86 2010
  2. Goldsmith, Elizabeth B. 2009. Green cleaning for dummiesHoboken, N.J. : Wiley. Engineering Library TX324 .G65 2009.
  3. Allaby, Michael. 2010. Plants: food, medicine, and the green earthNew York : Facts on File. Engineering Library QK45.2 .A45 2010.
  4. Roots Up for a personal impact. 2015. Roots Up.
  5. Global Green U.S.A: helping the people, the places and the planet in need. Global Green, USA. Date Accessed April 2015.
  6. Backyard Abundance. 2015.
  7. Rodale’s OrganicLife. Date Accessed, April 2015.
  8. Earth right now. April 8, 2015. NASA Global Climate Change.




It Is National Library Week!

It is National Library Week!!



Do you know how much your Engineering Library has to offer?



The Lichtenberger Engineering Library – YOUR library – has a collection of more than 150,000 books! We also provide access to over 5,000 current electronic journal titles, and over 100 engineering-related DVDs!

On or off-campus, you have access to multiple databases, including Web of Science, Compendex and PubMed.  Compendex is the most comprehensive bibliographic database of scientific and technical engineering research available, covering all engineering disciplines. It includes millions of bibliographic citations and abstracts from thousands of engineering journals and conference proceedings. When combined with the Engineering Index Backfile (1884-1969), Compendex covers well over 120 years of core engineering literature. And that is just one of the available databases!

That’s a lot of information to sift through.  Where do you even start? We have resource/subject guides related to specific departments or resources. Looking for information on patents or biomedical engineering? We’ve got the subject guides to help you get started.  Still at a bit of a loss? Come to us for personal assistance! From locating resources within the library to demonstrations on resources and services for individuals, classes or groups, we can help.  Please interrupt us!

What is a research project or paper without Standards or Patents? We have electronic access to standards from various agencies, including International Standard Organization (ISO), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), ASTM International and many others. You also have access to the patents from many different countries – all available electronically!

Even with all these resources, we might not have exactly what you are looking for right here in the Engineering Library. Never fear, there are several ways to get resources to you. If what you are looking for is in another of our on-campus libraries, you may request to have that book delivered to the Engineering Library, ready for you to check out. Is that article or book chapter fewer than 50 pages? You can have it copied and a pdf will be emailed directly to you – for free! That resource in an off-campus library? InterLibrary Loan can help with that.

Pyle PLMT68 Light Meter

Pyle PLMT68 Light Meter


Sometimes you need more than books and articles for an assignment or project. Do you need a light meter, sound meter, eyeball webcam or wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers for that project? We have them, and more! Check out all the tools are available in our Tool Library!




We have two new group study rooms available for you to reserve for those group projects. They both have whiteboard walls and one includes a large-screen TV with laptop connections.  Besides the group study rooms there are several other areas in which to study.  Tables, individual carrels – both upstairs and down, beanbag chairs downstairs, and comfy chairs throughout the library all provide both spaces for collaboration and for quiet study.

When you are ready to pull that research paper or project together we have several software programs available that will create bibliographies and citations in a wide variety of formatting styles. One of the software packages is Endnote and it, along with the others, will help you wind up that paper in style!


Kari Kozak, Head, Lichtenberger Engineering Library

Qianjin (Marina) Zhang, studio portrait

Qianjin (Marina) Zhang, Engineering & Informatics Librarian


Want more information?

Visit our website


call 319.335.6047

or stop in and meet the staff!



Kari Kozak, Head, Lichtenberger Engineering Library:  Collections, Instruction, Reference

Qianjin (Marina) Zhang, Engineering and Informatics Librarian: Data Management, Informatics

Carol Dewey: Library Assistant IV, Circulation, Course Reserves, InterLibrary Loan

Carol Johnk: Library Assistant III, Social Media, PR

Celebrate National Library Week by stopping in and discovering your Engineering Library!


National Submarine Day

We all live in a yellow submarine....

We all live in a yellow submarine….


When you think of submarines, you might think of sub sandwiches, or start singing “…We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine….”1

But, as we recognize April 11th as National Submarine Day, it is good to remember that living on a US Naval Submarine is a hazardous place to be. On April 11, 1900 the first commissioned submarine, the USS Holland, was acquired by the United States Navy. The Holland was not the first Navy sub, however. That honor goes to the Alligator which was the first submarine ordered and built by the Navy, although it was never commissioned.

In 1863, the Alligator was being towed by the Sumpter, with the plan for the two ships to join the Union attack on Charleston, South Carolina. They were caught in a Nor’easter and the captain of the Sumpter made the decision to cut the ties to the Alligator. The submarine was lost in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and was forgotten for nearly 140 years. 2

No lives were lost when the Alligator sank, but there have been many submarine disasters since then. As submarines become larger and more sophisticated, more and more crew are needed, and the loss of life becomes more dramatic.

"Potent, lethal, secret. The ultimate war machine."

“Potent, lethal, secret. The ultimate war machine.”


“Potent, lethal, secret. The ultimate war machine. Nothing else on earth is so densely packed with men and firepower. Submarines truly fought the Cold War. Yet for all their might they are no match for the power of the sea. The submariner’s deadliest enemy is not the other side, it is the ocean itself.” 3


The Civil War submarine HL Hunley was the first submarine to sink a ship in combat. It is known as the “murdering ship,” not because of the lives she took, but because her own crew died when she sank. So many lives were lost that World War I submarines became known as the “coffin service.“ 3

There are many causes of submarine disasters and loss of life, including water rushing in through cracks in the submarine’s hull, torpedoes exploding, valves not sealing, electrical problems, and a loss of power. The intense pressure of the deep seas can crush a submarine, causing a “humane,” instantaneous death. Most of the submarine deaths are much less humane and include suffocation and drowning.  After nuclear powered subs were introduced, radiation poisoning also became a threat. 3

Safety was a concern about submarines from the very beginning. The earliest patents were often for safety equipment on submarines. In 1907 a patent was granted for “Means of Escape from Sunken Submarines.”4 But ways to more reliably rescue crews from downed subs weren’t developed until 1927 when the “Momsen Lung” was developed. The Momsen Lung recycled exhaled air and was hung around the sailors’ neck. It provided oxygen for the ascent and allowed the submariner to slowly rise to the surface, thus avoiding the bends.5

The Steinke Hood.

The Steinke Hood.


In 1962, the U.S. Navy introduced the Steinke Hood, an inflatable life jacket with a hood that trapped a bubble of breathing air and completely enclosed the submariner’s head. The Steinke Hood was standard equipment on all Navy submarines throughout the Cold War. The Navy then began replacing the Steinke Hood with the Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment (SEIE). This was a combination whole-body suit and one-man life raft. It provided protection against hypothermia in the freezing water – which is something that neither the Momsen Lung nor Steinke Hood was equipped to do. 6

Currently the Navy is working not only to improve survival rates on submarines but  also means of escape and rescue. One improvement are the  Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicles (DSRV) which are capable of rescues down to 2000 feet. Another one of the future rescue systems will include the ability to transfer personnel under pressure. This would allow crew members to be rescued at deep depths under immense pressure and then be transferred to a decompression chamber. 

Cross section of a submarine

Cross section of a submarine

For more information on this fascinating subject, check out the resources listed below, and the others we have here in the library.

Engineering Library video record 39620 DVD

Engineering Library video record 39620 DVD



  1. George Martin, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison. Copyright: Sony/ATV Tunes LLC, Sony/ATV Music Publishing (UK) Limited, Northern Songs
  2. Undersea Warfare. Spring 2006. The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force. vol. 8, no. 3.
  3. Lost Subs: disaster at sea. 2002. National Geographic Television & Film : Burbank CA. Engineering Library video record 39620 DVD
  4. Means of escape from sunken submarines. 1907 patent.
  5. Swede Momsen: Diving & Rescue – Momsen Lung. Science & Technology Focus, Office of Naval Research. Date accessed: March 2015.
  6. Steinke Hood. 2000-2015. Global Date accessed: March 2015.
  7. Submarine rescue: ready for the unthinkable. Fall 2000. Undersea Warfare: the Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force, vol. 3, no. 1



  1. The nuclear pioneers: atomic subs and nuclear missiles. 2007. Periscop Film. Engineering Circulation Desk Video Record 39515 DVD
  2. Coen, Ross Allen. 2012. Breaking ice for Arctic oil : the epic voyage of the SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage. Fairbanks : University of Alaska Press. Engineering Library HE595 .P4 C64 2012.
  3. Fossen, Thor I. 2011. Handbook of marine craft hydrodynamics and motion control. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K. ; Hoboken N.J. : Wiley. Engineering Library VM156 .F67 2011
  4. The story of the AlligatorThe Hunt for the Alligator, The Navy & Marine Living History Association (NMLHA), in cooperation with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and the Office of Naval Research (ONR). Date accessed: March 2015.
  5. Delgado, James P. 2011. Silent killers: submarines and underwater warfare. Oxford : New York : Osprey. Engineering Library V210 .D45 2011.
  6. Submarine Frequently Asked Questions. Chief of Naval Operations, Submarine Warfare Division. Date accessed, March 2015. (some of the answers are dated – #10, women are, as of 2010, now allowed to be Naval submariners. See Navy Policy Will Allow Women to Serve Aboard Submarines. America’s Navy. 4/29/2010



Get the Lead Out

Ticonderoga pencilEeyore was saying to himself, “This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.” — Winnie the Pooh.

A long time ago, in a far away place, before apps and texts and even typewriters, pencils were used to convey the written word. As you purchase a new box of Ticonderogas to mark your bubble answer sheet, consider the invention of the pencil.


Pencils are made with graphite. Therefore, graphite mining had to exist before the pencil was created. The first graphite was mined at Seathwaite Fell in Cumbria, England in 1564. Since graphite has similar properties to lead, it was first called, “plumbago,” derived from the Latin word for lead ore. The first pencils were produced by sawing the graphite into sheets, shaping the graphite sheets into square rods, and inserting the graphite rods into a wood casement. However, the first pencils were fragile because the graphite broke easily.


H.L. Linman Pencil & Eraser PatentTo prevent the graphite from breaking, French chemist, Nicolas-Jacques Conté, discovered the process of mixing the graphite with clay. The soft material was pressed into sticks and kiln-fired. At which point, the dry graphite & clay rod was inserted into a wooden case. By varying the ratio of graphite to clay, Conté discovered that he could manufacture a pencil for a specific hardness to differentiate the marks on paper. For example, No.2 pencils are popular because of its midrange hardness which leaves dark marks without smudging. No.1 is the softest graphite and leaves a darker, smudgier mark , and No.3 pencils leave a fainter mark. Conté’s 1795 patent is the basic process for manufacturing pencils today.

To learn more about the manufacturing of pencils, watch this video from the Science Channel, How It’s Made : Pencils.


Try answering these questions:

A. What chemical is graphite composed of?

B. What television personality regularly played with specially made pencils with erasers at both ends?

C. Which inventor had his pencils specially designed to be three inches long with abnormally soft graphite?

D. Who received the first patent for attaching an eraser to the end of a pencil?

E. The majority of pencils manufactured in the United States are what color?

F. How long is the Guinness Book of Work Records largest pencil?

References & Resources

New Carbons book

Inagaki, Michio. New Carbons: Control of Structure and Functions. New York : Elsevier Science, 2000. Engineering Library TA455.C3 I53 2000

Graphite Graphene and Their Polymer Nanocomposites book cover

Mukhopadhyay, Prithu and Gupta, Rakesh K., editors. Graphite, graphene, and their polymer nanocomposites. Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press, 2013. Engineering Library TA455 .G7 G73 2013

National Day Calendar: National Pencil Day, March 30. 2015.

Wikipedia: Pencil. March 26, 2015.

Cumberland Pencil Museum.2011. Southey Works. Date accessed March 2015

Trivia Answers:

A. It is made almost entirely of carbon atoms.
B. Johnny Carson
C. Thomas Edison
D. Hymen Lipman, U.S. Patent 19,783, March 30, 1858
E. Yellow
F. 65 feet tall