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Engineering is the use of physics to design something – such as machines, electrical devices, buildings, vehicles, and infrastructure. In this unit we will examine:

  • historical engineering achievements

  • modern day engineering in action

  • proposed extreme engineering

Build projects

Hovercraft build project

Mousetrap racers

Catapult and trebuchet build projects


Forces on a structure

When engineers design a building or vehicle they have to consider all of the forces, on every element, in the structure. It doesn’t matter if they are designing a building, airplane, overpass or tunnel – it all comes down to using Newton’s laws.

What kind of engineering – applied physics – is used in building things Let’s use an app to study the effect of changing forces, loads, materials and shapes, on a structure.

  1. Forces: Forces act on big structures in many ways. Click on one of the actions to explore the forces at work and to see real-life examples. Squeezing, stretching. bending, sliding, twisting

  2. Loads: All structures must withstand loads or they’ll fall apart. In order to build a structure, you need to know what kinds of external forces will affect it. Weight of structure, weight of objects (live load), soft soil, temperature, earthquakes, wind, vibration

  3. Materials: What you build a structure out of is just as important as how you build it:  Put these to the test – wood, plastic, aluminum, brick, concrete, reinforced concrete, cast iron, steel

  4. Shapes: The shape of a support affects its ability to resist loads.

App: “Building Big: Forces Lab” PBS

Building Big PBS app

Engineering An Empire

Engineering an Empire is a program on The History Channel that explores the engineering and architectural feats of some of the greatest societies on this planet. It is hosted by Peter Weller, famous as an actor, but also a lecturer at Syracuse University, where he completed his Master’s in Roman and Renaissance Art. Episodes cover: Rome Egypt, Greece, The Aztecs, Carthage, the Maya,
Engineering an Empire

Engineering in the 1400’s

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was an Italian painter, architect, inventor, and student of all things scientific. His natural genius crossed so many disciplines that he epitomized the term “Renaissance man.” Today he remains best known for his art, including two paintings that remain among the world’s most famous and admired, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. Largely self-educated, he filled dozens of secret notebooks with inventions, observations and theories about pursuits from aeronautics to anatomy. But the rest of the world was just beginning to share knowledge in books made with moveable type, and the concepts expressed in his notebooks were often difficult to interpret.
As a result, though he was lauded in his time as a great artist, his contemporaries often did not fully appreciate his genius—the combination of intellect and imagination that allowed him to create, at least on paper, such inventions as the bicycle, the helicopter and an airplane based on the physiology and flying capability of a bat.

From History.com



Modern Marvels, S11 E56 Da Vinci Tech

Engineering An Empire, Da Vinci’s World, The History Channel


The Industrial revolution, 1800’s

Intro TBA

Francis Cabot Lowell and the industrial revolution

Human industrialization affects the Earth

Engineering subways, 1800’s

In the late 19th century, as America’s teeming cities grew increasingly congested, the time had come to replace the nostalgic horse-drawn trolleys with a faster, cleaner, safer, and more efficient form of transportation.

Ultimately, it was Boston — a city of so many firsts — that overcame a litany of engineering challenges, interests of businessmen, and the fears of its citizenry to construct America’s first subway. Based in part on Doug Most’s acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name, The Race Underground tells the dramatic story of an invention that changed the lives of millions.

Introduction: The Race Underground

Main page: The Race Underground

Slide Show: The Race underground Boston in the early 1900’s

Video: The Race Underground, Chapter 1: Building Boston’s Subways


Boston’s Big Dig (1991-2006)

The Big Dig


Protecting Boston from rising tides, 21st century

How can we protect Boston from rising sea levels? Let’s look at the engineering proposals!

Proposed projects: Boston and rising sea levels


Extreme Engineering, 21st century

Now that we know what engineering is and how it has been used, let’s look at some proposed mega-engineering projects, such as Tokyo’s Sky City, a trans-Atlantic tunnel, and space elevators.

Extreme Engineering.


External resources

Walkinator app, by Bryce Summer. Biomechanical evolution.

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework
HS-PS2-1. Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion is a mathematical model describing change in motion (the acceleration) of objects when acted on by a net force.

HS-PS2-10(MA). Use free-body force diagrams, algebraic expressions, and Newton’s laws of motion to predict changes to velocity and acceleration for an object moving in one dimension in various situations

2016 High School Technology/Engineering

HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify a design problem that can be improved. Determine necessary qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions, including any requirements set by society.

HS-ETS1-2. Break a complex real-world problem into smaller, more manageable problems that each can be solved using scientific and engineering principles.

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, aesthetics, and maintenance, as well as social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

HS-ETS1-4. Use a computer simulation to model the impact of a proposed solution to a complex real-world problem that has numerous criteria and constraints on the interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.

HS-ETS1-5(MA). Plan a prototype or design solution using orthographic projections and isometric drawings, using proper scales and proportions.

HS-ETS1-6(MA). Document and present solutions that include specifications, performance results, successes and remaining issues, and limitations.

Appendix VIII Value of Crosscutting Concepts and Nature of Science in Curricula
Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation. Events have causes, sometimes simple, sometimes multifaceted. A major activity of science and engineering is investigating and explaining causal relationships and the mechanisms by which they are mediated. Such mechanisms can then be tested across given contexts and used to predict and explain events in new contexts or design solutions.

College Board Standards for College Success: Science
Standard PS.1 Interactions, Forces and Motion
Changes in the natural and designed world are caused by interactions. Interactions of an object with other objects can be described by forces that can cause a change in motion of one or both interacting objects. Students understand that the term “interaction” is used to describe causality in science: Two objects interact when they act on or influence each other to cause some effect. Students understand that observable objects, changes and events occur in consistent patterns that are comprehensible through careful, systematic investigations.

  • Ask questions to clarify and refine an engineering problem.

Science and engineering practices: NSTA National Science Teacher Association

Next Generation Science Standards Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices

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