Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Engineer's Pulse 2012 Year in Review

With the year coming to a close, I'd like to thank my growing number of readers for joining me here during this, the second full year of operation of this blog. 

Longtime readers may have noticed the gradual increase in what can be described as educational content.  Indeed, my favourite aspect of the blog is how the "For Physics Students" page is beginning to get filled up with content.  This site, which began as a place for me to put some science and technology ideas into words, has become an educational resource that I can refer my physics students to.

Truth be told, I assign certain articles to my students as pre-reading material before lectures.  It is valuable for them to show up to class with some background in what will be discussed.  As the site continues to mature, I hope that other educators and students will take advantage of this resource for their own teaching/learning.

While there were a number of highlights throughout the year, two in particular garnered much attention on the blog.  The first article that generated a lot of buzz discussed active learning.  The high traffic on this particular article may be attributed in part to a retweet by Eric Mazur himself, the Harvard Physics teacher who is perhaps the world's leading figure for modern classroom instruction.

The second major wave of interest surrounded the much-hyped Felix Baumgartner jump, which certainly lived up to it.  The two-part 'series' describing the science behind this record-shattering jump may be found here (Part I and Part II).

Interestingly, two of the three 2012 highlights in the science world may be described as 'CERN non-events'.  First there was the 'faster-than-light' neutrino, which was later found to be an 'almost-as-fast-as-light' neutrino.  The possibility of matter traveling faster than light intrigued the physics community, but few were quick to jump on the bandwagon without duplication of the experiment by a separate set of scientists and equipment.  Their skepticism was warranted.  The slight experimental error was attributed to improper wiring.  I recall wondering whether it was all just one big publicity stunt to get the public interested in the goings on at CERN.  I hope this is not the case.

The second big non-event surrounded the ever elusive Higgs Boson, the fundamental particle associated with mass that was predicted decades ago.  To date, it remains a theoretical prediction yet to be verified experimentally.  2012 was a year in which scientists seemed to be narrowing in on its discovery... But don't uncork the champagne just yet.  Better luck in 2013 team!

One team that did merit a great celebration in 2012 was that of NASA, which successfully landed Curiosity on Mars.  This would have to be the science and technology feel-good story of the year.  It is the kind of project that captures the minds of people young and old, as it encompasses part of what it is to be human: the desire to know and understand our world.

My writing on this blog has been a bit more sparse in 2012 (41 articles) than it was in 2011 (62 articles).  I attribute this in part to the birth of my second child this past summer, who, like her sister before her, thinks that sleep is pretty much a waste of time.  While the quantity of writing has diminished, I have tried to maintain the same quality, albeit through some bleary eyes.

With regard to The Engineer's Pulse, my 2013 hope is that science-minded individuals continue to find their way onto this site and its comment boards.  Science allows us to see the world with new eyes, so let us explore together.

All the best in the new year!


Stephen Cohen
The Engineer's Pulse      

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