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:
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
November is Native American Heritage Month, so let’s celebrate some Native American Engineers!
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) – 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!
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/
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 pharmaceuticals. Today’s cauldron, the glass beaker, must be able to stand high heat. The 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!
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.
Beginning December 21st, the Monday after Finals Week, the Seamans Center and the Library will be closed to the public. During this period, the Library will be transitioning to “Curbside” and “Virtual” availability until January 15th.
Winter Break Dates:
December 21 & 22, 2020 – Curbside and Virtual
December 23, 2020 – January 3, 2021 – Library Closed
January 4 – 15, 2021 (Monday – Friday) – Curbside and Virtual
January 16 – 18, 2021 – Library Closed
January 19 – 22, 2021 – Library Open 8:30am-5:00pm
A library staff member will be available to provide Curbside services at the Seamans Center Annex Doors (across the street from the CVS Mall Entrance)
This service is available for those who wish to pick up books, tools, or Electronic Shop Orders. This is also available to return library materials or Lab Kits.
If you request any items via InfoHawk+ (the library catalog), select “Engineering Library” as the pick-up location. Once the item is in the Engineering Library, you will be requested to schedule a pick up time.
It is already July, when we would normally be thinking of parades, fireworks, and picnics. Things will definitely be different this summer!
Many communities are looking for creative and safe alternatives to the traditional fireworks gatherings. The fear is there will more backyard firework displays – leading to more accidents and injuries. Some places – like Coralville – will be having fireworks this year, but held in an entirely different manner. There will be drive-by fireworks – spectators will be able to park and watch from their car, with strict social distancing guidelines. They will also live-stream the fireworks on Facebook. In other communities there will be vehicle parades – drive-by parades – for which residents will be able to safely view the parade in their own yards. Neighborhood residents are encouraged to decorate and enter their vehicle in the parades. Sadly, candy being thrown during the parades won’t be allowed.
If you are looking for information about the safe handling and treatment of waste fireworks, check out this EPA brochure. You’ll discover what you need to know to safely dispose of spent fireworks.
If you want to know the fireworks control laws for each individual state, the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) has the site for you! Click on your state and find the pertinent laws! Be sure to check out your state’s Fireworks Control Laws before deciding to do your own fireworks displays. Local municipalities also have laws that one must follow.
Here’s more in-depth information on safe fireworks displays.
Chapter 8: transporting fireworks on Public Highways
Curious about the specifics of different types of fireworks? Check out the patents! Our patent guide will help direct you in your search!
How about this one from 2012? Described as an “Electronic toy with synchornized (sic) sound and lighting system that utilizes projectiles and method of use.”
It is described as: “An electronic toy with synchronized sound and lighting system that utilizes projectiles, and method, including a base, a projectile, pre-recorded sounds, a speaker, LED lights, and various circuitry.”
Or, there is this one from 1899: “Fireworks, i.e. pyrotechnic devices for amusement, display, illumination or signal purposes characterised by having holder or support other than casing, e.g. whirler or spike support.” This “invention relates to toy fireworks, and has for its object to produce a device for exhibiting pyrotechnic effects resembling pin or catharine wheels.”
When you are out celebrating and watching the displays and listening to the whistles and the booms (whether virtually or socially distanced), please be mindful of your neighbors and those around you. The United States Marine Corp has a webpage dedicated to raising awareness of how fireworks can affect veterans with PTSD. They aren’t asking that you forego your festivities, but be aware of where you are and what time of the day – or night – you are shooting off your fireworks. Fireworks also effect pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), has information on ways to keep your pets happy and healthy during the festivities. There is info on how to care for your pet during the celebration and also includes tips on preparation and cleanup after the celebration.
Wherever your fascination and interest with fireworks lie, check out our webpage and discover all the resources that we have available!
It’s the holiday break. You’ve opened presents, eaten, napped, and now what? How about some fun DIY projects and crafts?
Maybe start out with something from The Star Wars Craft Book. Want to start with a holiday-themed craft? How about a Hanukkah Droidel? The appendix comes complete with the Droidel pattern (it also has patterns for many of the other crafts including Yoda finger puppet dolls and, yes, even a Jar Jar Binks Jedi Mind Trick Doll pattern!) There are instructions for a Ewok Fleece hat, an R2-D2 crocheted beanie, an AT-AT Herb Garden, and even a Jabba the Hutt body pillow!
Ever dreamed of being a pioneer? Make: Like the Pioneers will take you through a “typical” day for a pioneer would have been! From the morning, which might include a bow drill to help you master fire, or what could be more fun that making bacon soap? Or learn to make apple cider right at your kitchen table! Learn to turn your junk mail into home made paper – your own personal stationery! In the afternoon you could learn to do some woodworking and make a “fool’s stool.” (The Fool’s Stool instructions use table saws and wood glue – so you’ve got an advantage over the pioneers!) There is also a section of full-color photos to teach the art of lashing! With some practice you could make a lookout tower! Think the evening is for rest? Well, a pioneer would no doubt be pickling grapes and beets or roasting pumpkin seeds. So, night calls for making an oil lamp, to keep the darkness at bay!
Maybe you are more into LEGO® building and would like to try something more elaborate than usual…. The Art of LEGO Design : Creative Ways to Build Amazing Models can help you do just that! It has chapters that include inspiration, how to work with colors, shapes, sizes, and scales! It helps you make the perfect work space and takes you through the essential elements. The chapters include Wildlife & Foliage, Large-scale Figures, Cars, Wagons, & Watercraft, Buildings, and Science Fiction. You’ll certainly find something that will spark your creativity!
Are you spending your holidays at the beach? How about making some Sand Stampers? Make: Fun! : Create Your Own Toys, Games, and Amusements tells you how!! Want to make custom cookie cutters? Make an oven using a light bulb and a can? Thinking ahead to Halloween? How about making a Tiki Mask? Cereal Box Sound Racers? There are even instructions n hot to make a talking booby trap, or a personalized talking doll? You got it – Make: Fun! has all the instructions for these – and more fun ideas!!
Make: Easy 1+2+3 Projects also fun projects – from a mini-foosball game, a clothes folding board, a simple lightup hoodie to tattooing a banana!
These are just a few (very few!) of the fun DIY project books we’ve got! Check below for additional resources and find something to make this holiday break!!
Or how about some easy (as 1+2+3) for the long weekend? Make: Easy 1+2+3 Projects has just what you need! It has chapters for everything – Toys and Games, Arts and Crafts, Science and Electronics, and Home and Outdoors!
Make your own mini foosball table using items you probably have around the house – a microwave popcorn box, straws, paper clips, gumballs, scissors and tape! Challenge your family and friends to a rousing game of foosball! Can’t guarantee you’ll burn off calories from your Thanksgiving meal, but it might help with the tryptophan sleepiness!
Want to tattoo a banana? You have to use a fine-tipped needle so make sure to be careful!
How about making a battery from anything? All it takes is 6″ of stiff copper wire, an AA battery and needlenose pliers! Or a sound sucker device? Boiling water, gelatin dessert mix, coffee stirrers, mug – we have a sound meter in our Tool Library so you can even check and see how much the frequency changes! Don’t have speakers for your phone? You can make some using earbuds, paper cups, pocketknife, a velcro strip, and your audio source! And each of these projects (and so many more) really has only 3 steps! So, gather your materials and spend the long weekend making fun and useful things!
We’d love to see your creations so feel free to share photos of your DIY projects on our Facebook page or Twitter feed – @UIEngLib!
Are you ready for Halloween?? Are you looking for costume ideas? Perhaps a DIY costume that will light up your night? Need some DIY decorations and special effects, perhaps? We have the tools and resources you need to create your own unique, spook-tacular, terror-ific, Halloween celebration!!
Want a classic scary pumpkin for your Halloween get-together? How about one that lights up? Electronic Projects for Dummies will help you create the perfect scary pumpkins! You’ll have 2 pumpkins – one which transmits an infrared beam and the second one lights up and plays a prerecorded message or sound. When someone walks between the two pumpkins and breaks the plane of the infrared beam, the 2nd pumpkin will light up and emit that evil laugh! The chapter, Scary Pumpkins, takes you through the process, step-by-step, complete with schematics, photos (some in color), parts list and detailed instructions!
How about a hologram of a ghoul? We have Holography Projects for the Evil Genius. It is a DIY resource which includes step-by-step instructions, helpful illustrations, a list of required, easy-to-find components (and a list of sources!). It not only helps you create – and customize – your own hologram, you’ll also master the latest tools and techniques!
Are you into ghost-hunting? We have resources that help you prove to your friends that “you ain’t ‘fraid of no ghost.” How about our LabQuest Microphone (available in our Tool Library) – check it out and see if you can capture the sound of those floorboards creaking when no one is around… Want to see who (or what) is going bump in the night? 101 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius has instructions for night vision camcorder! Haunted spaces are often colder than the area around them – so check out one of our 2 thermal cameras or our infrared thermometer! In fact, 101 Spy Gadgets for the Evil Genius has information and instructions on almost everything you’ll need to be a ghost hunter! (I was going to say so you could become a real-live ghost hunter, but decided I probably shouldn’t….)
Pepper’s Ghost is a special effects technique used when creating transparent and ghostly images! It was popularized in the 1800s by John Pepper, and has been used in theaters and haunted houses since then! The Pepper’s Ghost shown in the above photo was created in the Engineering Electronics Shop using the Universal laser and scrap materials. Stop by the Engineering Library and check it out! The images in our Pepper’s Ghost move and rotate through several images. While our Pepper’s Ghost uses a laptop, a computer or special equipment isn’t needed! If you are interested in a more elaborate hologram, How It’s Made : Season 1 & 2(disc 1) will explain how a hologram is created from the beginning to end. And makezine has complete instructions on how to make a spooky ghost for your party!
We’d love to see your Halloween costumes and decorations – post to our Twitter (@UIEngLib) account!
Have a spooky and safe Halloween!!
Ceceri, Kathy. 2015. Paper Inventions : Machines That Move, Drawings That Light Up, Wearables and Structures You Can Cut, Fold, and Roll. San Francisco, CA : Maker Media. Engineering Library TT870 .C54 2015
What can be more summer-like than the 4th of July, picnics, parades and, most of all, fireworks!
Fireworks have a long and (yes, I’ll say it) 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 all fall into three distinct 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.
As you are sitting there in the dark, or lying on your back on a blanket and ooohing and aaahing over the amazing color, have you ever wondered what goes into creating those effects? Well, 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. Chemicals also affect the appearance of fireworks. Love those sparkly fireworks? Aluminum creates that effect! Glitter comes from antimony, calcium deepens the color, phosphorous creates glow in the dark effects and the smoke effects come from zinc.
Now cover your ears, here comes the noise! 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. Before safety regulations were enacted there were many accidents which resulted 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. Go here to check the fireworks control laws in your state.
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. I found this information interesting and, dare I say, shocking!
Remember the Treaty of Aix-la Chapelle, back in 1748? George Frederick Handel was commissioned to write an overture for the London celebration of the treaty. 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.
Here’s a video of the Overture – complete with fireworks!
In Iowa, fireworks were banned in 1937, following two incidents. In Spencer 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 caused about $600,000 in damages. Iowa’s ban included all fireworks except sparklers, toy snakes and caps. The laws have changed since 1937 – be sure to check with the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA) for current information.
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 Makewebsite. The website includes a video of the Soda Bottle Rockets being launched at night!
When you are out celebrating and watching the displays and listening to the whistles and the booms, please be mindful of your neighbors and those around you. The United States Marine Corp has a webpage dedicated to raising awareness of how fireworks can affect veterans with PTSD. They aren’t asking that you forego your festivities, but be aware of where you are and what time of the day – or night – you are shooting off your fireworks.
Please be aware of the effects fireworks have on pets. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), has information on ways to keep your pets happy and healthy during the festivities. There is info on how to care for your pet during the celebration and also includes tips on preparation and cleanup after the celebration.
Firework photos by Carol Johnk at the Coralville, IA 4th of July celebrations through the years.
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