Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Year in Review

As I usually do at the end of a year, this post summarizes some of the exciting science and engineering stories of 2013 and provides a quick status of this blog, The Engineer's Pulse.

As far as pure science goes, the top story of the year is probably the confirmation of the Higgs boson by the ATLAS detector at CERN in Geneva.  In its five years of operation, this was the first very significant achievement of the particle collider that employs thousands of scientists and engineers.  The long theorized fundamental particle was finally observed this year (not in the traditional way that we 'see' things, but its presence was confirmed by its interactions).

I have a hard time getting excited about this discovery, perhaps because the implications and applications of the Higgs are unknown at this point.  I suppose it is similar to when Faraday invented the first generator of electricity in the mid-nineteenth century.  There were no electrical appliances at the time, so one politician boldly asked, "What purpose does it serve?"  To which Faraday replied, "I don't know, but I'm sure you'll find some way to tax it in the future."  I may be paraphrasing, but you get the point.

It seems that many of the big science/technology stories this year were in space; or perhaps those are the ones I pick up on because they interest me most.  Early in the year, Russia received a big surprise when a large rock entered its atmosphere at high speed - the sonic boom it emitted shattered all windows in the vicinity.  More recently, the Curiosity rover revealed that water once flowed on Mars (some three billion years ago) - a discovery that reshapes our knowledge of that planet's history.  Today, Mars is a hostile living environment, a true wasteland.  The fact that it could have at one time supported life, even intelligent life, is not only fascinating, but it also gives alien aficionados something to dream about.

But the most important engineering story of 2013, from my point of view, is a very human one: Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield made space sexy and exciting again.  Let me be clear: space has always been both sexy and exciting to me.  But when Hadfield beamed down (literally) his performance of David Bowie's Space Oddity, he glamorized space for a generation that was not around the last time that space was exciting, ie, the lunar landings of the sixties.  The video of the guitar-playing, impressively moustached astronaut has garnered about twenty million views on YouTube thus far.

I really feel so connected to Hadfield.  I am also a musically inclined mechanical engineer.  I've got everything except the ability to grow a nice 'stache.  Well, that and clearance for rocket flight.  My favourite Christmas gift was his new book, which I will be checking out in the new year.

As for my blog, this was my least prolific year.  With two kids, free time is hard to come by, so 1-2 articles per week has shrunk to about 1-2 articles per month.  Also, I have my hands full with new research on the space elevator on the horizon, as well as responsibilities as the technical editor of Climb.

Despite lower productivity, readership of the blog has not really been affected.  Next week, my blog, which is 3 years old, will receive its 100,000th hit.  Now, I am well aware that a video of a cat licking its butt can attract as many hits in a weekend, but I have to believe that my hits count for more.

I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, and well-informed 2014.

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