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!

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

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 http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/14/tech/innovation/pi-day-math-celebrations/

Love and Ferris Wheels Just Go Together

Love and Ferris Wheels just go together!

“…Look at our small town spinning around
We got our feet dangling high off the ground
Can you believe, baby, how good it feels
Falling in love on a Ferris wheel? Falling in love…”

Ferris Wheel, written by Michael Sarver. (C) 2010 Dream Records

February 14 is not only Valentine’s Day, but also National Ferris Wheel Day! It is the birth date of George W. G. Ferris, Jr. and he is credited for creating the first large, steel amusement ride – the Ferris Wheel.

The 1893 Ferris Wheel

That first Ferris Wheel was unveiled in the summer of 1893 at Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition. It was the first international exposition held in the United States and the committee wanted an engineering marvel that would overshadow France’s Eiffel Tower. Having recently ridden a fifty-foot wooden “observation roundabout,” which had been built and soon would be patented by William Somers, Ferris was inspired to enter the competition with his paper-napkin drawing of an enormous park ride. The constructed 45-foot axle-wheel powered by two 1,000 horsepower steam engines was supported by two 140-foot steel towers and it carried thirty-six wooden cars 264 feet high into the air – taller than any existing buildings!

Since the original Ferris Wheel, the world has continually been trying to out-do it. In 1897, a copy of the original was erected in Prater Park, Vienna , Austria and became the longest running Ferris wheel in history.  In 1904 the Ferris wheel was again the centerpiece of the World’s Fair, this time in St. Louis. The Texas Star was built in Italy and shipped to Dallas, Texas in 1985. It was, at that time, the tallest operating Ferris wheel at 213 feet (that is 52 feet shorter than the original 1893 wheel).

The London Eye, at 443 feet, opened to the public in 2000. The Singapore Flyer, at 541 feet, became the tallest Ferris wheel in in the world in 2008. The 682 foot tall Beijing Great Wheel was supposed to be built in 2009-2010, but the parent company went into receivership and it was never completed.


The original Ferris Wheel had 36 cabins and each one was able to carry 60 people for a total of 2,160 people per ride. There were fancy wire chairs for 38 passengers and five large plate glass windows. The cabins were 24 feet long, 10 feet high and weighed 26,000 pounds. A conductor rode in each cabin to allay fears and answer questions.

Currently, the world’s largest Ferris wheel – or Observation Wheel – is the High Roller in Las Vegas across from Ceasars Palace. It is 550 feet tall, 107 feet taller then the London Eye. In contrast to the original Ferris Wheel each of the 28 cabins is 225 square-feet and weighs approximately 44,000 pounds. Each cabin has a diameter of 22 feet and includes 300 square feet of glass. It also has 8 flat-screen televisions and an iPod dock. The High Roller is lit by 2,000 LED lights which have multiple lighting options.  Looking for that special Valentine’s Day destination wedding? You can book a VIP cabin on the High Roller and have the wedding of your dreams!

Find the nearest Ferris Wheel and maybe, just maybe, fall in love?



Circles in the Sky: The Life and Times of George Ferris. ENGN TA 140 .F455 W45 2009

Circles in the Sky

LINQ Hotel and Casino, High Roller FAQ ; http://www.caesars.com/linq/high-roller/faq/

Wikipedia, High Roller (Ferris Wheel) ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Roller_%28Ferris_wheel%29

Hyde Park Historical Society Newsletter, “The Big Wheel,” Spring 2000 ;



In 1978, the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) formed the F24 committee to create standards for the design, testing, manufacturing, and operation of amusement park rides. http://purl.lib.uiowa.edu/ASEDL

  • Standard Practice for Ownership, Operation, Maintenance, and Inspection of Amusement Rides and Devices, ASTM F770, Sept. 1, 2013 (4 pages)
  • Standard Practice for Measuring the Dynamic Characteristics of Amusement Rides and Devices, ASTM F2137, Aug. 1, 2013 (7 pages)
  • Standard Practice for Design of Amusement Rides and Devices, ASTM F2291, Aug. 1, 2013 (52 pages)

Celebrating Weatherpeople!

John Jeffries
John Jeffries Source: Wikipedia

Because the weather has a significant impact on our daily lives, National Weatherperson’s Day recognizes the scientists who track our major storms and atmospheric climate changes. The day commemorates the birth of John Jeffries who was born in Boston in 1745. He was a Harvard graduate and surgeon who became fascinated with observing the weather. Beginning in 1774, he daily measured and recorded the weather in Boston. Then, in 1784, he made a historical balloon flight across the English Channel to observe atmospheric conditions up close.

Weather balloons, anemometer cups and rain gauges have since been replaced with earth-orbiting satellites and computer-aided atmospheric modeling used for gathering data to predict long- and short-term meteorological events which will significantly impact our global atmosphere in terms of ozone levels and and movement of storms. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the United States governmental body responsible for monitoring and forecasting the weather and conducting meteorological research. NASA, too, is instrumental in researching and mapping atmosopheric changes using telescopes and space stations.

Take a moment and think of your favorite and trusted meteorologist…big hint…she is your very own engineering librarian.





Satellite Weather Radar Source: IIHR
Satellite Weather Radar Source: IIHR Hydroscience & Engineering University of Iowa


infoplease: meteorology

infoplease: weather balloon

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration http://www.noaa.gov/

National Aeronautics and Space Administration http://www.nasa.gov/

Meteorological Technology World Expo 2015 http://www.meteorologicaltechnologyworldexpo.com/



Atmospheric Change book cover
Atmospheric Chemistry and Global Change Engineering Library QC879.6 .A85 1999


Atmospheric chemistry and global change. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Engineering Library QC879.6 .A85 1999

Wallace, John M. Atmoshperic science: an introductory survey, 2d edition. Boston: Elsevier Academic Press, 2oo6. Engineering Library FOLIIO QC861.3 .W3 2006

Understanding Weather and Climate, 6th edition. Engineering Library QC861.3 .A38 2013. Engineering Library QC861.3 .A38 2013