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

March Winds

A field of wind turbines located west of Williams, Iowa Source: Wikimedia Commons
A field of wind turbines located west of Williams, Iowa Source: Wikimedia Commons

It is the proverbially windy month of March, when the weather is widely variable, blowing in warmer temperatures and creating spring storms.

If you want to see how windy Iowa (or the entire country) is, check out the Wind Map.

How can Mother Natures’s ferocious power be harnessed and tamed?

Driving along Interstate 80, acres of wind turbines rise majestically over the corn fields and blink in the midnight sky making the wind industry a vital economic resource. The state of Iowa has more than 80 wind installations with over 2,500 turbines capable of producing 3,670 megawatts of power. The turbines generated nearly 27% of Iowa’s total electricity in 2013,2 and more than 50 companies are responsible for employing 3,626 people3 whose jobs are to manufacture, transport, or assemble the giant blades and towers, rotors and generators. Even farmers are compensated for leasing their land, furthering the benefits to the Iowa economy.

With towers standing over 200 feet tall and spinning two or three 116-feet propeller-like blades, how do these behemoth, industrial-sized wind turbines generate electricity? Simply stated, the energy in the wind turns the blades around a rotor. The rotor is connected to a shaft which spins a generator to create electricity. However, to learn more, see how a wind turbine works.4 Be sure to hover over the different parts for more information.

As you are out in the last few days of the blustery month of March, consider all the power and energy those winds produce.

Xu, Xuegen, Yu, Kai, and He, Guorong. Downwind Variable Pitch Wind Turbine Generator. U.S. Patent 20130011262. Filed May 22, 2011. Assigned January 10, 2013. Source:
Xu, Xuegen, Yu, Kai, and He, Guorong. Downwind Variable Pitch Wind Turbine Generator. U.S. Patent 20130011262. Filed May 22, 2011. Assigned January 10, 2013. Source:

References & Resources

1 Craig, Ashely, et al. The Wind Energy Supply Chain in Iowa. Chicago, IL: The Environmental Law & Policy Center, November 2010

2 U.S. Energy Information Administration. Iowa. Quick Facts

3 “Iowa projected to add 1,330 energy jobs in 2015.” The Des Moines Register, December 15, 2014

4 How Does a Wind Turbine Work? Source: U.S. Department of Energy. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

5 Iowa Wind Energy Association

6 American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) TC 88 Wind turbine systems

Books & Standards

Newton, David E. Wind energy: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2015. Engineering Library On order

Edited by Panos M. Pardalos, et al. Handbook of wind power systems. Berlin: Spring, 2014. Engineering Library TJ820 .H36 2014

Harvest the Wind book cover
Engineering Library TK1541 .W36 2012

Warburg, Philip. Harvest the wind: America’s journey to jobs, energy independence, and climate stability. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012. Engineering Library TK1541 .W36 2012

Edited by Charalambos C. Baniotopoulos et al. Environmental wind engineering and design of wind energy structures. New York: Springer Verlag, 2011. Engineering Library QC931 .E58 2011

Burthchen, Marco, et al. Material Qualification of Main Bearings for Large Wind Energy Turbines. November 21, 2014. STP 1580, 2014.

Index of Wind turbine standards. Source: International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)

Flying into Spring

Welcome Spring! The Lichtenberger Engineering Library exhibit is now highlighting the dream of flight. The idea was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s last film The Wind Rises. The film is a look at the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II, and his love of flight.

The fascinating exhibit items including aircraft models, a prototype helmet, an instrument panel, challenge coins, and patches are borrowed from the Operator Performance Laboratory. The Operator Performance Laboratory, a unit of the University of Iowa Center for Computer–Aided Design, is located at the Iowa City Municipal Airport. The laboratory, housed in a hangar, holds three aircraft and two simulators, and mainly conducts research on human-in-the-loop and intelligent autonomous systems. Believe it or not, when visiting the laboratory, we saw a big stuffed bear as a “pilot” in the cockpit of Beechcraft A-36 Bonanza!

The old-looking instrument panel in the exhibit case is from the rear cockpit of an Aero Vodochody L-29 Delfin. The Aero L-29 Delfin (dolphin), NATO designation Maya, is a military trainer aircraft. It was firstly designed and built by Aero Vodochody for the Czechoslovakian Air Force and Soviet Air Force. The laboratory’s L-29 can climb at the rate of 14 m/s (2,800 ft/min). The maximum speed of the aircraft is 820 km/h (510 mph). The range and service ceiling are 900 km (560 mi) and 11,500 m (37,700 ft).

For those who are passionate about flight, please check out related books and DVDs ( ) from the Engineering Library. The library also holds non-technical books on aviation such as The Wright Brothers and the birth of aviation, and Women and flight: portraits of contemporary women pilots.

Come and see the exhibit to find more!


Operator Performance Laboratory website. Retrieved from

Aero L-29 Delfin. Retrieved from

Research Aircraft Specification Sheet. Retrieved from

PI DAY CELEBRATION! March 13, 2015

Tomorrow is the Pi Day to end all Pi Days!




Thanks to IEEE for the great freebies!!
Thanks to IEEE for the great freebies!!



We celebrated a day early with free apple pie bites, trivia and freebies from IEEE!




In 2 hours, 300 pie bites were consumed and many students bravely took on the 7 trivia games that were played.

Who hit the buzzer first?
Who hit the buzzer first?


Many students were in the Student Commons cramming for their next exam, but managed to take time out to either play a game of trivia or to cheer on those who were playing.




Stopping by on our way out of town for Spring Break!
Stopping by on our way out of town for Spring Break!


 Some stopped between classes and others stopped before they left town for spring break.







Check our facebook page for more photos (and be sure to like our page while you are there!)

And thanks so much for Tau Beta Pi for co-sponsoring and to members Handbin Tao, Molly Berringer, Austin Hangartner, Allison Kindig, and Erin Leppek!

Now, just how many digits of Pi have you memorized?

I memorized over 20....
I memorized over 20!









See you next year!!! Plan to be there or be square!

Waste to Water

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, and the world’s richest man, is known for changing how the world operates and functions. The mission of his non-profit, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is to give all people the chance to live a healthy and productive life. To this end, during the mid-1990s, Bill Gates gave computers to libraries and schools, which made sense for the world’s largest software owner. But how did Bill Gates becomes interested in poop? Yes…human excrement. His philanthropic organization granted money to Janicki Bioenergy to build the OmniProcessor, a machine which transforms fecal sludge and solid waste into water and electricity. In places without treatment plants or clean water, the technology could be a low-cost solution to quench the world’s thirst.


Bill Gates explains the process in this video.


American Chemical Society. “Converting Sewage Into Drinking Water: Wave Of The Future?” ScienceDaily, 30 January 2008. Source: TechStreet

American Water Works Association. Security Practices for Operation and Management. AWWA G430-14 November 1, 2014

Bill Gates’ latest passion: a machine that turns poop into water by Todd Wasserman. Mashable, January 6, 2015

Bill Gates 2.0 by 60 Minutes. CBS News, May 14, 2013

Career Opportunities at Janicki Bioenergy

U.S. Enviornmental Protection Agency. Current Drinking Water Regulations

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking Water Contaminants

Happy Pi Day (Eve) 3.13, 10:30!

IMG_20150223_142857590We gather and celebrate Pi Day (Eve) on Friday, March 13 at 10:30 AM-12:30 PM in front of the Lichtenberger Engineering Library in the Student Commons. There will be free apple pie bites, lemonade, and coffee as well as trivia competitions!

Pi, Greek letter, is defined as a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – which is approximately 3.141592653. The first Pi Day was “invented” in 1988 by Larry Shaw, who worked in the electronics group at San Francisco Exploratorium. In 2009, the House of Representatives designated March 14 as National Pi Day. This year, we are excited to observe the special Pi Day on 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 AM and PM, with the sequential time representing the first ten digits of pi!

To celebrate this special Pi Day, check out the Pi Day exhibit and join us on March 13!


How American celebrate Pi Day. Retrieved from

Ninety-nine Years of BMWs

Ninety-nine years ago on March 7, 1916, BMW was officially incorporated. Originally launched to make aircraft engines for Kaiser Wilhelm’s war machine during World War I, the company switched to making motorcycles in the 1920s and started producing cars in the 1930s. The first plant outside of Germany, located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, wasn’t built until 1992. BMW stands for Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works. It has often been said, however, that BMW stands for “Beauty. Money. Wealth.” And, BMW advertising executives have said that BMWs are meant to convey “unpretentious exclusivity.” They are also considered to be “the ultimate driving machine.”

If you aren’t quite ready to head out and put a new BMW in your garage, you can dream while paging through The BMW Book.  It is 303 pages of full-color photos of BMW vehicles. It is also packed with information about everything from motorsports, motorcycles, Heritage and Icon BMWs from the past, to the concept vehicles of the future. BMW has two electric cars on the market right now: the BMW i3 and the BMW i8.


One of the Heritage BMWs you’ll see in The BMW Book is the Isetta. The Italian firm, Iso SpA, which was known for building refrigerators, motor scooters and small three-wheeled trucks expanded in 1952 and built the Isetta, a small, egg-shaped car. BMW bought the license and the complete body tooling from Iso SpA, and then made the Isetta its own, re-engineering much of the car. The first BMW Isetta appeared in April 1955. That same year it became the top-selling single-cylinder car in the world. The “bubble car” had a single seat for driver and passenger and a front mounted door. The heater was optional and, in the event of a crash, the driver and passenger were expected to exit through the canvas sun roof.

Check out this youtube video to see an Isetta in action!

National Geographic’s Ultimate Factories DVD Collection


Want to go inside a BMW factory and see how the”ultimate driving machines” are manufactured?
Check out National Geographic’s Ultimate Factories Collection on DVD. You’ll be able to witness first-hand what it takes to build the powerful, high-performance cars and motorcycles. This 4-disc collection, available in the Engineering Library, will take you behind-the-scenes of many different types of factories, including factories for fire trucks, M-1 Tanks, Budweiser and others.


BMW doesn’t just build cars that look great on the highway or in your driveway. They are expanding their line of cars within the BMW Sports Trophy Customer Racing program – this line is said to have “strong motorsport genes.” The BMW M4 DTM race car is a strong contender in the DTM racing circuit (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters) which is considered by some to be some of the highest GT racing in the world.  BMW motorcycles have been winning championships since 1924 and have included, among others, sidecar racing (17 championship titles in a 20-year span), nine consecutive German championships, and the the US Superbike Championship.





The BMW Book
The BMW Book









For More Information:

  • Gebler, E., Suspension and Steering Fundamentals of the BMW 520.  SAE Technical Paper 741113, 1974, doi:10.4271/741113.
  • Isetta World. 2015. Isetta World