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 

Fireworks and Intellectual Property

It’s almost time for 4th of July! Time for hot dogs, sprinklers, and of course, fireworks. 

Where to see 4th of July firework displays in the Iowa City area

The first fireworks were invented in China during the Song dynasty (960-1279) where firework makers were respected for their skill in creating beautiful displays. The fireworks you will see this weekend are much the same s they were during the Song dynasty, consisting of a fuse, an explosive material, and inclusions to create special effects. Fireworks are actually a great way to talk about intellectual property! 

Now wait right there I know you were about to click away but I promise this is interesting.

What is Intellectual Property?

Intellectual property is any creative work, from a new chemical process to the lyrics to a song. If you are the creator of a piece of intellectual property it may be in your best interest to register it with the appropriate government agency (please consult a lawyer for more information on how to do this, the Lichtenberger Engineering Library is not a legal entity nor is anyone on staff a lawyer). 

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is a government agency tasked with maintaining intellectual property rights. They manage three main areas of intellectual property rights: trademarks, patents, and copyrights. 

Trademarks

A trademark is a “word, phrase, design, or combination that identifies your goods or services.” This can include a company’s logo, name, slogan, and even specific colors (check out the Trademarks page of our Patents libguide for more examples). A trademark keeps others from using your name, phrase, or other protected identifier in unapproved ways. Fireworks can even have trademarks! The companies that create them, like Black Cat (seen below), have their names trademarked.

Black Cat Firecrackers Digital Art by Michael Fleischmann | Pixels

You can find other trademarks for fireworks. If you’re going to a regular fireworks show you probably won’t see any trademarks, but if you attend a very special one, like those presented at Disney parks, you may see one with a fancy name like FANTASMIC!, which is a registered trademark. (By the way, I’m going to use Disney as an example in a lot of this because they do so much with fireworks and intellectual property).

MidwestInfoGuide: Fantasmic - Disney's Hollywood Studios

Patents

As engineers you’re probably most familiar with the patent area of intellectual property. Because of this, I won’t bore you with the details, but you can patent a new combination of chemicals to go in a firework to create a unique effect, an improvement on fireworks racks that reduces the number of injuries to pyrotechnicians, or a “precision fireworks display system having a decreased environmental impact” like Disney. Having a patent keeps anyone but the holder from copying, using, or selling the product of the patent without the patent holder’s consent. 

Copyright

A copyright protects an “artistic, literary, or intellectually created work.” I know what you’re thinking, “how does this relate to fireworks?” For that things can be a little bit tricky, and for an example we will go back to Disney fireworks. A copyrightable work must be in some kind of tangible medium. This is much easier to define when it comes to a book manuscript or a painting, but when something is as tangible and fleeting as a fireworks show the U.S. Copyright Office will take it on a case by case basis. Disney presents the same fireworks shows every night, meaning that there must be some master document that keeps track of when each rocket goes off. It could be effectively argued that this document could be filed for copyright, but again, we are not a legal entity and I am not a lawyer, so please contact your own lawyer if you’re planning to attempt to recreate FANTASMIC! on your own.

Please have a safe and happy 4th of July, and remember that we will be closed on Monday, July 4th, as it is a University holiday. Our normal Summer hours will resume on Tuesday. 

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!

Happy World Bicycle Day!

It’s World Bicycle Day!

In 1818 the Laufmaschine (“running machine” or draisine was invented by Karl von Drais de Sauerbrun. He was inspired to create this contraption because of a  shortage of horses. The Laufmaschine was designed with no pedals, propelled solely by the running rider. It also had no turning or braking mechanisms, meaning that it was not very safe or useful, but they were popular. The Laufmaschine was the first widely-available mode of transportation that did not require an animal, meaning that the average person could enjoy it and not just the wealthy. 

Draisine1817.jpg
A man on a Laufmaschine

Building off this popularity, inventors across Europe started to improve von Drais’ design. Steering mechanisms were added, and pedals were attached to the front wheel. These were not very comfortable, and because of the rough ride were commonly called “boneshakers.” Bicycles as we would recognize them today were invented in 1860 by Ernest Michaux and Pierre Lallement, and were known as velocipedes. It would take several innovations before they would be the most popular ride on the road. Perhaps the most famous (and amusing) innovation was the addition of a large front wheel. Bikes in this style became known as penny-farthings, and were extremely popular in the 1870’s and 80’s. Eugene Meyer is generally credited as the inventor of the penny-farthing, although there is some dispute amongst enthusiasts. Meyer patented the wire-spoke tension wheel in 1869. This style of wheel is still used on motorcycles today, and was a huge improvement over the wooden wheels used previously. The large front wheel was added for stability, and bicycle racing clubs popped up all over the world. There was one major danger with penny-farthings and their large front wheels: headers. A header is when the rider of the bicycle would fall over the front of the bicycle, falling head first from a height. 

Penny Farthing: Facts and Information - Primary Facts
A man riding a penny-farthing bicycle

The safety bicycle was invented in 1885 by John Kemp Starley. Starley, who called his invention the “Rover,” never patented his invention, although it had several improvements in safety and ease of use. The Rover had equally sized wheels, a wide range for steering, and a rear-wheel chain drive. In 1888 John Dunlop repopularized the pneumatic bicycle tire. These two combined meant that riding a bicycle was smoother and safer than ever. Since then, bikes have stayed much the same, but improved with better materials and designs for frames, brakes and gear systems. 

Rover 'Safety' bicycle, 1885 | Science Museum Group Collection
The Rover Safety Bicycle

Looking for some reading to celebrate World Bicycle Day? Here are my recommendations:

If you would like to learn more about the history of bikes, come in and check out The Mechanical Horse: how the Bicycle Reshaped American Life by Margaret Guroff.

The Mechanical Horse How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life By Margaret Guroff

If your bike could use a little bit of work, come find The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair by Todd Downs.

The Bicycling Guide to Complete Bicycle Maintenance & Repair: For Road & Mountain Bikes: Downs, Todd, Editors of Bicycling Magazine: 9781605294872: Books - Amazon

Do you have a need for speed? Racing Bicycles: 100 Years of Steel by David Rapley may be for you.

Racing Bicycles: 100 Years of Steel: Rapley, David: 9781864704822: Books: Amazon.com

And for those of you who love to tinker, check out Build Your Own Electric Bicycle by Matthew Slinn.

Build Your Own Electric Bicycle eBook by Matthew Slinn - 9780071606226 | Rakuten Kobo United States

You can find all these and more here at the Engineering Library. We’re open until 5:00 today, so ride on in!

How do I…. find a book?

Walking into the Engineering Library, you may not see what you’re expecting. In fact you may ask, where are all of the books? It may surprise you to learn that we have over 45,000 books in the library ready for you to check out. Here’s how you find them:

The view when you enter the library

When you enter the library, you will see one bookshelf in the main area. This is where we keep our periodicals (think magazines, journals, etc). If you’re looking for an article that doesn’t have online access, check here – you might just find it. 

 

Look to your left and you’ll see a set of stairs and an elevator. Take either to get to the basement.

The stairs and elevator take you to the same place – it’s all a matter of preference.

You’ve made it to the basement! Looks like there’s some good study space here, but that’s not what we’re looking for. Let’s take a look to the left. 

I spy some books in the back. Let’s investigate some more.

Ah, here are some books! And some more study space. Let’s find the book we’re looking for. All of our books are shelved using the Library of Congress system. Here’s a quick video on how that works, but you can always ask any employee, we would be happy to help you find a book.

Hoorah! Books!

Now that you’ve found your book, head back upstairs and to the Service Desk (you walked right by it when you entered the library). To check out your book, all you need is your IowaOne card (student ID).

There you go – you have a book! Keep an eye out for some special cases, which include permanent and course reserves. A permanent reserve is a book that would be difficult for us to replace if it got lost, so we just keep an extra eye on it. A course reserve is a book that is being used as a text for a class. Course reserves have a two-hour checkout so that everyone in the class has access. If a book you’re looking for is marked as one of these, just ask at the service desk.

Permanent and course reserves are indicated in a book’s digital record. Boxed in red here.

Patents Everywhere – Levi Strauss and Blue Jeans

When you talk to your engineering librarians, you may think that we talk about Patents and Standards too often, but patents are all around you, including in your jeans! 

Born 1829 in Bavaria, Germany, Levi Strauss immigrated to the United States when he was sixteen when he immigrated to New York to escape religious discrimination by the German government (Strauss and his family were Jewish). When he arrived in America, Levi started working with his brothers at their dry goods store. In 1953 Strauss followed the thousands of hopeful people heading West for the Gold Rush. Strauss was not looking to mine any gold himself but was going to set up an expansion of his brothers’ store in California. Arriving in San Francisco, he established himself as an astute businessman, and over the next 20 years became wealthy and successful, helping to establish the first Jewish temple in San Francisco and supporting several charities. 

Levi Strauss

Despite his name being so famously connected to the brand, Strauss did not actually sew the first pair of blue jeans. This was done by a tailor by the name of Jacob Davis. According to the story, Davis was approached by a farmer’s wife who asked if he could make her husband a pair of pants that wouldn’t wear out as quickly as his other pairs. At this point, the most common material for work clothes was denim. As a fabric, denim is very thick and strong, unlikely to tear and able to put up with the wear and tear from manual labor. Being an experienced Tailor, Davis knew that the weakest point of any garment is the seams. His solution was to add metal rivets to reinforce the seams that got the most wear: the tops of the pockets and the bottom of the zipper. Davis soon had a booming business using his unique design, and recognizing that this innovation could have widespread use, Davis wanted to file a patent. He could not afford the $81 fee to file himself (it would be approximately $2,000 in today’s money), so he reached out to the wealthy businessman from whom he had purchased the denim to make the pants – Levi Strauss. In his letter to Strauss he wrote that “The secret of them Pents is the Rivits [sic] that I put in those Pockets and I found the demand so large that I cannot make them up fast enough.” Strauss agreed to the partnership, and they were awarded their patent, #139,121, “An Improvement in Fastening Pocket Openings” on May 20th, 1873. A fun fact about jeans is at this point in history they were called “waist overalls.” the term “jeans” didn’t become popular until the 1960’s.  

Illustration from the original Strauss patent

Due to a fire that destroyed most of the records for the very early days of the company, we don’t have a lot of information on the internal workings. We do know, however, that Strauss worked hard from the beginning to protect his company. When a patent is filed, the filer is the sole person who can use that technology for 17 years. Strauss knew that after those 17 years he would face stiff competition from other companies, so he set to work developing a brand that would ensure that his customers would continue to buy his product even when there were comparable items on the market. He registered trademarks and spent time and energy creating a strong image brand, including their famous “two horses” logo. Understanding that their main consumers, laborers, were often immigrants who did not read English, Strauss developed a strong visual brand. He also went after other companies for patent infringement, winning three different lawsuits between 1874 and 1876 and was awarded over $2,000 in damages (approximately the equivalent of $54,000 in 2022).  

The Levi’s “Two Horses” trademark

The original Straus patent is now expired, and today you can find rivets on a range of clothing. Over the company’s history, Levi’s has created and maintained many patents and trademarks that helped them to protect their intellectual property. Want to learn more about patents? We have resources for that! A great place to start is with our Patents Subject Guide, which you can find through this link or on our homepage.  

Downey, L. (2018, August 22). Levi Strauss. Immigrant Entrepreneurship. https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entries/levi-strauss/ 

Unzipped Staff. (2019, July 4). The History of Denim. Levi Strauss & Co. https://www.levistrauss.com/2019/07/04/the-history-of-denim/ 

Who Made America? | Innovators | Levi Strauss. (n.d.). They Made America – PBS. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/strauss_hi.html 

Graduate Profile: Alex Asare

Alex Asare

In the spotlight this week is our other graduate: Alex Asare.

Alex is graduating with a degree in computer science with a minor in mathematics. His future plans include a position as a software engineer, but will settle for world domination if the opportunity presents itself. 

A fun fact about Alex is that he made money off of Dogecoin. His advice to incoming students is “It’s okay to change your mind and your major. Just keep trying!”

Congratulations and good luck in the future, Alex!

Graduate Profile: Kelsey Lyons

Over the next two weeks we’ll be highlighting some of our graduating senior student workers. This week: Kelsey Lyons.

Kelsey is graduating with a degree in biomedical engineering, with a minor in Spanish. An Iowa native, she started here at the library in summer 2020. In the fall, she will enter the M.D. Program at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Kelsey has played the saxophone in the Hawkeye Marching Band, and as a result has not missed a home football game in the last four years. She was also Homecoming Royalty in 2021. Her advice to incoming students is “Get involved as soon as you can! It’s the easiest way to meet new people and will help make Iowa City feel like home to you!”

Congratulations, Kelsey! Good luck in med school and beyond.

Rube Goldberg – man and machine

Rube Goldberg with a contraption

Rube Goldberg was born Reuben Garret Lucius Goldberg in 1883 in San Francisco. He started drawing through tracing illustrations at four years old. Encouraged by his father, Goldberg attended U.C. Berkeley, graduating in 1904 with a degree in Engineering. His first job was with the City of San Francisco, creating maps of sewers and water lines. He stayed in this position for six months, when he started at the San Francisco Chronicle where he started his career as a cartoonist. In 1907 he moved to New York City where he joined the New York Evening Mail as a sports cartoonist. One year later, Goldberg published his first commercial success: a comic strip called “Foolish Questions.” A few years later, the newspaper was syndicated, giving his comics a larger readership and making him the most popular cartoonist in the United States. He would go on to create several other comic strips, including “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike),” “Telephonies,” and his most famous comic “The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, A.K.,” which ran from 1929-1931. While Goldberg started creating inventions in his cartoons in 1912, it was in the “Professor” comics where they were most prominent. We encourage you to explore the gallery on the official Rube Goldberg website! Goldberg would continue working until his retirement in 1963. Over his lifetime it is estimated that he drew over 50,000 comics.

But what is a Rube Goldberg machine? According to the official Rube Goldberg website, Goldberg is “the only person ever to be listed in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as an adjective.” That definition is “accomplishing by complex means what seemingly could be done simply. . . also: characterized by such complex needs.” Goldberg developed his flair for dramatic and outlandish machines after observing his engineering colleagues and noting that a project or task was often made more difficult than necessary. Wallace of the Wallace and Gromit franchise often creates his own complicated Goldberg-esque machines, although in the United Kingdom they are known as “Heath Robinson” machines.

In 1949, two fraternities at Purdue University held the first Rube Goldberg Machine Contest. In 1989, the competition went national, and in 1996, a high school division was added. In the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, each machine must complete the prescribed task in between 20 and 75 steps. Today’s national contests are held by Rube Goldberg Inc., which is currently run by Goldberg’s granddaughter, Jennifer George. 

We are holding our own Rube Goldberg Competition this weekend here at the College of Engineering. If you want to see the machines in action, stop by to see the judging of the machines on Sunday, April 24th from 1-2 pm.