Happy Birthday Nikola Tesla!

Electrical engineer and genius, Nikola Tesla was born in Smiljan, Austrian Empire (now Croatia) on July 9th or 10th, 1856, making this weekend his 166th birthday! He showed an interest in engineering from a very young age. Some inspiration probably came from his mother Duka, who was known for fashioning her own tools for use around the house. His father Milutin was a priest of the Eastern Orthodox Church and had a talent for memorizing Serbian epic poetry. Nikola was a very bright child with an eidetic memory, he could also speak eight languages (Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin).  

Tesla attended the Imperial-Royal Technical College at Graz (Now Graz University of Technology) where he became obsessed with proving alternate currents merits. He was so preoccupied with these thoughts that he was unable to concentrate on his schoolwork. He dropped out due to failing grades and lost his tuition money to gambling. His father eventually found him, brought him home, and helped him prepare to continue his education at the University of Prague. Milutin unexpectedly died in April of 1879 before he could arrange everything. For the rest of that year Tesla spent his time teaching at the local school. The next year Tesla’s uncles gathered enough money for him to attend school in Prague. However, he arrived too late in the year to enroll. In addition, he did not have the prerequisite levels of Greek and Czech to be accepted. While he attended lectures at Charles-Ferdinand University, he never received grades.   

In 1981 he moved to Budapest where he worked at the Budapest Telephone Exchange. After making several improvements there, he was recommended the next year for a job at the Continental Edison Company in Paris. In 1883 Tesla built his first induction motor.  

Tesla was recommended again for a job, this time with Thomas Edison’s lab. He arrived in America in 1884 to begin this job. Tesla and Edison’s relationship quickly fell apart because of creative differences. Tesla took a job digging ditches in order to support himself before he found investors in his work.  

Inventors quickly found Tesla, interested in his induction motor and use of alternating current. A deal was brokered and he licensed his invention for a polyphase system of alternating current dynamos, transformers, and motors to be sold to George Westinghouse. This sale included a year of work for Tesla at Westinghouse’s lab in Pittsburgh. In 1891 Westinghouse was facing financial difficulties, and Tesla agreed to release the company from paying him according to their agreement, believing that a major company promoting the wonders of alternating current would further the cause.  

Over the next several years, Tesla continued to be a pioneer in widespread use of electricity. In order to assuage fears of electricity, he invited the public to his lab to see demonstrations where he let electric currents run through his body to show how safe the technology was. He moved to Colorado Springs where he established a lab and discovered terrestrial stationary waves, proving that the earth can resonate at certain electrical frequencies. Eventually he moved back East where he set up a laboratory at Wardenclyffe in New York. Here he experimented with radio waves, but eventually lost the lab due to financial difficulties. The lab at Wardenclyffe would be his last large-scale laboratory. He would spend the rest of his life working on several projects, but never again would he find widespread success.  

Tesla died on January 7th, 1943, at the age of 86. He was found in his room at the Hotel New Yorker where he had lived for several years (his rent was covered by Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company). Many conspiracy theories have claimed that Tesla had developed a working death ray or that his papers held proof of aliens. An investigation by the FBI found no proof, and that his papers were mostly theoretical in nature. The “working death ray” was found to be a multidecade resistance box. Tesla’s remains were cremated and can be found at the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade. 


Biography. (2022, January 7). Nikola Tesla. https://www.biography.com/inventor/nikola-tesla 

King, G. (2013, February 4). The Rise and Fall of Nikola Tesla and His Tower. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-rise-and-fall-of-nikola-tesla-and-his-tower-11074324/ 

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (n.d.). Nikola Tesla | Lemelson. Lemelson-MIT. https://lemelson.mit.edu/resources/nikola-tesla 

Newhall, M. (2013, November 18). Top 11 Things You Didn’t Know About Nikola Tesla. Energy.gov. https://www.energy.gov/articles/top-11-things-you-didnt-know-about-nikola-tesla 

Whitaker Hunt, I. (n.d.). Nikola Tesla | Biography, Facts, & Inventions. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Nikola-Tesla 

Happy International Women in Engineering Day!

Let’s celebrate International Women in Engineering Day!

47% of the American workforce is made up of women, but only 14% of engineers and only 20% off engineering students are women. In fact, while the number of female engineering students has increased, 40% of female graduates leave or never find a job in the field. According to one Harvard Business Review article, women who choose a career in engineering express a desire to be work in socially conscious areas, such as environmental or biomedical engineering. When exposed to real-world engineering in their first jobs or internships, these hopeful engineers learn that “the engineering profession is not as open to being socially responsible or as dedicated to tackling pressing national and global problems as they had hoped.” The twin disappointments of opportunities to make a positive impact paired with sexism encountered in the classroom or workplace alienate these young and hopeful engineers who look for opportunities elsewhere. 

Well that was disheartening. What can we do?

In the 1980’s only 5.8% of engineers were women, illustrating that we have made great strides in closing the engineering gender gap. Here at the University of Iowa, 27.8% of engineering students (undergraduate and graduate together) are women. 

Educate Yourself

This is something everyone can do! Read articles and books, listen to podcasts, or find other resources to learn about the history of women in engineering and the current issues they are facing. We can get you started! If you are interested in the story of how women blazed their own way into engineering schools, try Girls Coming to Tech! by Amy Sue Bix. If you want to blaze your own way in the engineering world, check out Becoming Leaders: a practical handbook for women in engineering, science, and technology by F. Mary Williams and Carolyn J. Emerson. 

Join a Student Organization focused on Women in Engineering

The College of Engineering has over 30 student groups, several of which are centered around women in engineering. Many professional engineering organizations including ASME and IEEE have their own special sections for women in the field to build relationships.

Find or Become a Mentor

Building one on one relationships is another way to build community. You can create your own mentorships, or find them through groups like the Society of Women Engineers, who have a members only mentor network. A mentor can help you to evaluate your goals, navigate difficult decisions, or find your next career move. 

Find a Role Model

Many people find it beneficial to have role models to aspire to. These can be other female engineers from history whose work you want to build on, or even a celebrity whose vibe you like (no one says you can’t aspire to be the Beyonce of your lab). We even have some great female role models here at the College of Engineering! Our own Dean Harriet Nembhard is an extremely accomplished Industrial Engineer. 

Flip Flop Day!

We’ve had a very hot week, so it’s fitting that it is National Flip Flop Day! Celebrated the third Friday in June, National Flip Flop Day was created by the restaurant Tropical Smoothie Cafe as a fundraiser for Camp Sunshine, a summer camp for children with life-threatening illnesses. 

Flip flops became popular in America after World War II when American soldiers brought Japanese zori back from their deployments. Zori can be traced back to the Heian Period (794-1192 CE) and are often paired with tabi socks, which allow the wearer to don both socks and sandals at the same time. Today Americans often wear their flip flops during summer activities like going to the beach, so we forego the socks. 

Traditional Japanese Zori Men's Sandals in Straw Velvet | Etsy Singapore
Traditional Japanese Zori

Flip flops are not patented, but improvements to them can be patented! How would you improve your flip flops?

Many patents are for decorative elements and the ways in which they are attached to the shoe, like this daisy or this fun fringe

Replaceable Ornament for Flip-Flop Sandal, US 2010/00116223 A1


Flip-Flop Shoe and Method of Making Same US 2006/2013080 A1

Some people seek to improve the functionality of flip flops, like adding straps or creating a convertible flipflop/slipper.

Flip-Flop Back Strap Device US 8381415 B1
Flip Flop and Slipper in One/Convertible Sandal Slipper US 2012 0079739 A1

If you want a more scientific approach to flip flops and shoes in general, come check out The Science of Footwear edited by Ravindra S. Goonetilleke to learn more about everything in the process of designing, manufacturing, and marketing footwear.


Stay cool and wear your flip flops to the beach this weekend!

Gingerbread Engineering

Snow will soon be here and it’s time for wintertime traditions – which includes gingerbread creations! National Gingerbread House Day is December 12th. Early history of the recipe is hazy, and may range to as far back as Ancient Greece in 2400 BCE to France in 992 AD. Early on, gingerbread was used in religious ceremonies or as a digestive aid. Gingerbread cookies as we now usually enjoy them, in fun shapes with decorations is usually credited to Queen Elizabeth I, who asked for cookies to be made in the shapes of visiting dignitaries. Gingerbread was incredibly popular across medieval Europe, and there were even Gingerbread Fairs to attend where you could enjoy gingerbread shaped according to the season – flowers for springtime, and birds in the fall. Because of tall of the spices required in the recipe, gingerbread was considered very high class, and those rich enough to have it in their own homes would sometimes decorate it with gold leaf. 

The Germans began building gingerbread houses in the 16th century, and the practice became more widespread after the Grimm Brothers popularized Hansel and Gretel in 1812. Since then, gingerbread projects have turned into feats of engineering. The current world record holder for the largest gingerbread house was created by the Traditions Golf Club in Bryan Texas. This house covered 2,500 square feet, required 1,800 pounds of butter, and 1,080 ounces of ginger. It was so large that it required a building permit! If you don’t have the space to try your hand at breaking this record, maybe you can try breaking Jon Lovitch’s record for the largest gingerbread village. Lovitch’s latest record-holding village (he has held the world record 4 times) contained 1,251 structures. If you try to break a record, be careful! The rules are very specific. One recent attempt was disqualified because it contained non-edible components. 

Want to make your own gingerbread house to celebrate National Gingerbread House Day? Here are some tips:

  • Use a European recipe for your cookies. American gingerbread recipes tend to be softer, which is great for cookies, but not very helpful structurally. You can learn more about the chemistry of baking in Cooking For Geeks, which can be found in our collection. Check it out here!
  • Use a thick royal icing as your mortar. Finding the right consistency can be difficult, as it needs to be runny enough to easily spread, but thick enough to stay put. 
  • Don’t be afraid to use support! While using an internal support will disqualify you from earning any world records, but you can use a can of beans to help prop up your walls while the icing dries can ensure that the icing is able to dry in the correct position and free up your hands to move onto the next part of your project.
  • Plan ahead! Use your engineering skills to set yourself up for success. 
  • Get Creative. You don’t have to make a candy-covered cottage. Search online for fun ideas. Add lights, or try a different shape. See below for some examples:
Elevate things with a gingerbread treehouse


Recreate your favorite famous buildings in cookie form


A geodesic home would be a fun and challenging build


No need for your house to stay in one place. A gingerbread camper is a great idea!

Personally, I want to see Kinnick Stadium made out of Gingerbread. Are you up to the challenge? If you build a gingerbread creation, show us!  You can send it to us on any of our social media channels @uienglib on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. 



10+ Gingerbread House Tips for This Holiday Season 2021. (2021, September 19). Best Gingerbread Houses. https://bestgingerbreadhouses.com/gingerbread-house-tips/

Avey, T. (2014, May 28). History of Gingerbread | The History Kitchen. PBS Food. https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/

Guinness World Records. (2017, January 6). Largest gingerbread village. https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/largest-gingerbread-village

McCandless, M. (2016, December 14). Gingerbread Houses – A Delicious History | Facts From the Stacks. Bellevue University Facts From the Stacks. https://blogs.bellevue.edu/library/index.php/2016/12/gingerbread-houses-a-delicious-history/

Wilson, A. (2018, December 22). A brief history of the gingerbread house. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/dec/22/a-brief-history-of-the-gingerbread-house

Happy Native American Heritage Month!

November is Native American Heritage Month, so let’s celebrate some Native American Engineers!

Ely S. Parker (1828-1895)

Ely S. Parker (1828-1895) – Seneca, Civil and Military Engineer

Born in 1828 on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation, Ely S. Parker lived up to his Seneca name of Do-ne-ho-ga-wa, which means “Open Door.” When doors were closed to him because of his background, he found ways to open them. After unsuccessfully lobbying for the rights of his people to stay on their reservation, Parker began to study law in the hopes of advocating for the Seneca. However, when he applied for admission to the bar, he was denied because he was Seneca, and was therefore not considered a citizen in the eyes of New York State law (a law that would stand until the Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1924). 

Never one to wait for an opportunity, Parker began to study civil engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. This gave him the skills to work on maintenance work for the Erie Canal, and eventually move to Galena, IL to work for the Treasury Department building a custom house and marine hospital. It was there that he became friends with Ulysses S. Grant. When the Civil War began, Parker gathered a group of Iroquois volunteers for the Union, but they were turned away by the Governor of New York, Edwin Morgan. Parker then attempted to enlist by himself as an engineer, but was again denied because of his race. Finally, Parker reached out to his friend Grant, who brought Parker onto his staff in 1963. He would go on to make major contributions at several battles, including Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Petersburg, and would help in drafting the surrender documents at the Appomattox Court House in 1965. 

After his military service, Parker became the first Native American to hold the office of Commissioner of Indian Affairs from 1869 to 1871. He would eventually return to engineering with a position in the New York City Police Department, where he served until 1895.

Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008)

Mary Golda Ross (1908-2008) – Cherokee, Aerospace Engineer

Mary Golda Ross was born in 1908 and grew up in Park Hill, OK. A member of the Cherokee Nation, Ross grew up in a tradition that prized equal education for both boys and girls. Because of this, she was not intimidated by her surroundings when she entered male-dominated fields. She started college at the age of 16 at Northeastern State Teacher’s College in Tahlequah, OK where she studied mathematics. Following graduation, she would spend several years teaching math and science in rural Oklahoma, using her summers to attend classes at Colorado State College of Teaching where she was earned a master’s degree in mathematics in 1938.

In 1942 she was hired at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation as a computer where she completed complicated mathematical equations using only a pencil, paper, and slide rule, and was assigned to the team that designed the P-38 Lightning. After the war, many of the female computers were laid off and returned to their traditional roles. Ross had drawn special attention for her ambition and abilities, and as a result was kept on and began to take courses at the UCLA to earn her professional certification in engineering. This course included classes in math, engineering, and aeronautics. During peacetime, the Advanced Development Projects team with whom Ross worked, turned to loftier goals. Also known as Skunk Works, many of this team’s projects are classified even today. Ross was a founding engineer of this team, as well as the only woman besides the team’s secretary, and the only Native American. It is known that during this time Ross worked on the Space Race, developing preliminary requirements for spacecraft, which laid the groundwork for the Apollo program. While Ross always had a fascination with space and was an advocate for female astronauts she had little interest in being one herself. She said “I’d rather stay down here and analyze the data.” 

Ross retired from Lockheed at the age of 65, but would work for many years to encourage women and Native Americans to enter STEM fields. In 2004 she was honored at the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, which she attended wearing a traditional Cherokee dress that was made for her by her niece. She died in 2008, just three months shy of her 100th birthday.

Do you know some Native American engineers you think need some recognition? Drop them in the comments below!


Works Cited


Historical Society of the New York Courts. (2019, January 24). Ely S. Parker. https://history.nycourts.gov/figure/ely-parker/

Smith, Y. (2019, November 12). Mary Ross: A Hidden Figure. NASA. https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/mary-ross-a-hidden-figure/

Vergun, D. (2021, November 19). Engineer became highest ranking Native American in Union Army. Www.Army.Mil. https://www.army.mil/article/252126/engineer_became_highest_ranking_native_american_in_union_army

Viola, H. (2018). Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars. NMAI Magazine. https://www.americanindianmagazine.org/story/mary-golda-ross-she-reached-stars

Wallace, R. (2021, November 19). Mary Golda Ross and the Skunk Works. The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/mary-golda-ross-and-skunk-works

Watson, D. (n.d.). Biography of Ely S. Parker – Galena History Museum. Galena & U.S. Grant Museum. https://www.galenahistory.org/research/bio-sketches-of-famous-galenians/biography-of-ely-s-parker/

Engineering Halloween

Happy Spooky Season! The weather is changing here on campus and it’s almost time for Halloween. You may wonder why the Engineering Library would care about a holiday that we celebrate by dressing up and eating candy. Remember – engineering is the science of applied EVERYTHING and that includes Halloween! Come on in and check out our exhibit: Engineering Halloween. It will be up through the end of the month.


Witches around a bubbling cauldron may seem far from scientific, but humans have long relied on home remedies to handle most illnesses, the making of some may resemble brewing a potion. You won’t find any eye of newt or blood of a dragon in modern pharmaceuticalsToday’s cauldron, the glass beaker, must be able to stand high heatThe ASTM creates standards for lab equipment to help ensure that chemists won’t end up with their potion on the bench. For more information on standards and their importance in engineering, visit our standards guide! 

Ghost Hunting

Some people believe that on Halloween the veil between the physical and spiritual worlds is pulled aside, which makes it the perfect time to go hunting for ghosts! If you’ve ever watched a ghost hunting show you might have seen ghost hunters use specialized tools like a spirit box or an EMF reader. Other tools are more commonplace. For example, some ghost hunters use thermal cameras and infrared thermometers, like the ones in our Tool Library, to capture cold spots – a supposed paranormal phenomenon. Sometimes ghosts can get more physical – like pushing and hitting people. Sometimes those sensations have a more earthly explanation that can be easily fixed. If people feel like they’re getting pushed down your stairs, check out a level to make sure those stairs are as flat and safe as they should be before you go calling the Ghostbusters. 


Want to take first place at this year’s costume contest? Consider integrating some wearable technology into your look. Use CAD and a 3D printer to create your whole costume, or just a piece or two and you’ll have a costume no one else does. You can also make sure you’re seen by adding LED’s! Check out this LilyPad Constellation Project to see the system in action. With a little knowledge of sewing and circuits, you can outshine the competition. With careful engineering and planning, you can also add elements like moving wings. It may be a little late to make glowing articulated wings like this project, but it’s not too early to plan for next year! 


Stop in and see our exhibit “Engineering Halloween” which will be up for the rest of the month.