In the Pipeline
Bethany B. Merriman Pikeville, Tenn.
To the Editor: This letter is in response to Robert Davis’s letter to the editor (March) concerning the articles “Widening the Pipeline” and “Putting the Cool in School“ (January). I do agree with some of Mr. Davis’s statements, but I am very offended by others. I have always been against preferential treatment for anyone, whether based upon gender, race, or anything else. I don’t know the reason for the low percentage of females in engineering, and I’ve honestly never been too concerned about it.
Obviously, men and women are different, but I cannot agree that males as a gender have a greater “aptitude” for problem solving. I don’t even wish to argue that point, but instead prefer to take each individual at face value regardless of gender.
I take great offense at insinuations that my career will culminate with a “technical secretary” position.
“Widening the Pipeline” does not suggest “active recruitment and promotion of females into the engineering field,” as Mr. Davis conveys. The article describes a plan of promoting engineering to all young people who may not be familiar with the profession, targeting low-income individuals in particular.
After reading “Putting the Cool in School,” once again I feel that I have been reading a different article than Mr. Davis. It was clear to me that the woman featured didn’t become a technology teacher in spite of her interest in technology; she did it because of and as an extension of that interest.
Catherine Burch Tulsa, Okla.
To the Editor: I take exception to men who assume that I desire preferen- tial treatment because I am a (gasp!) woman working in a man’s world. My grandfather, a mechanical engineer and a long-time member of ASME, fostered in all of his grand-daughters a love of learning and a curiosity about the world around us. For two of us, that developed into a love of engineering. Neither he nor my father ever said, “You can be an engineer in spite of the fact that you are a woman.” Instead, they said, “You can do anything you set your mind to.”
I don’t think that women are actually asking for preferential treatment. It would just be nice to see a learning environment where guidance counselors don’t tell girls, “You’re good at music and math—you should be a music teacher. You know, girls don’t really go into engineering.”
In this imaginary world, when an engineer goes to her boss to inform him of an impending pregnancy, he will say, “Great! Let’s make a plan that allows us to keep you after the baby is born,” instead of, “It’s not too late to fix that problem.” (True story.) Imagine someone saying that to one of your daughters.
It was actually a bit of fun to turn in my two weeks’ notice to that same boss. He stated he had expected me to become a stay-at-home mom and had been expecting my resignation. I enjoyed telling him I had actually accepted a better job.
So, gentlemen, I would not say that women engineers actually desire preferential treatment. I think we would be happy just to be treated as one of the guys.
Editor's note: The author is president of the Tulsa-Northeastern Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
Music to Their Ears
Jim Somerville, P.E. Pittsburgh
To the Editor: Regarding “Raising Baby Engineer” (Mechanical Engineering Online, January).
Night, night, Hayley (or Andy),
Daddy’s little baby,
You’re the brightest star in the universe.
You’re a baby engineer.
It doesn’t hurt to sing the right nursery songs to them either.
Daughter, Hayley—Ch.E, Penn State University, now with L’Oreal (cosmetics), Montreal.
Son, Andy—Software engineer, Penn State University, now with Applied Perception (robotics), Pittsburgh.
Kenneth Fisher Cincinnati
To the Editor: An item I would like to have someone put human factors engineering to, as with the iPod described in “The New Point of View” (February) is the marking on electronic equipment. More particularly, TVs and stereos. For some reason, today’s designers think small gray or dull gold lettering on black is stylish enough that we don’t really need to be able to see it. Bold white on black, please.
Here’s another million-dollar idea for anyone to take advantage of. Why make the interior dividers, liners, and pockets of bags, fanny packs, backpacks, and other portable storage items black? If they were a light color, it would be much easier to find items deep inside that one is desperately searching for. Make some of them, and I, for one, would buy new gear to replace some of the light-sucking items I have. Thanks.
Terry Chivers Berkeley, Gloucestershire, U.K.
To the Editor: The February issue contained an excellent and informative article on the development of a helium-cooled pebble bed nuclear reactor (“Pebbles Making Waves”).
In the 1970s, the U.K. was interested in the development of a high-temperature, helium-cooled reactor as an extension of its CO2 cooled reactors programme. The work in support of that leads me to question the statement that “helium is second only to hydrogen in its ability to leak.”
This statement is true for diffusion processes, but these are of little practical relevance when it comes to sealing commercial reactor systems. We are told that the helium facility test rig has many bolted flanges. If these were sealed by elastomers, then leakage would be by permeation, which is the product of diffusion and solubility. Solubility for some gases in some elastomers is high and CO2 leakage can be many times greater than that of helium.
At the pressures and temperatures of interest it is most likely that the flanges will be sealed using metallic-type gaskets or seals. Flow past the seal will be in small passageways in unfilled surface roughness and for high-integrity seals flow will be laminar, but scratches could give some turbulent flow.
Making some simplifying assumptions, it can be shown that volumetric flow is proportional to the reciprocal of viscosity for laminar flow and the reciprocal of the square root of density for turbulent flow. For the same upstream conditions of pressure and temperature, this means that the volumetric helium loss from a system will be between 0.7 and 3.3 times that of CO2.
Of more relevance is mass flow rate (that’s how you pay for the stuff). On this basis, the mass flow of helium lost from a system will be between 0.2 and 0.3 times that of CO2.
These findings have been confirmed in laboratory studies using a range of gasket types and on a large-scale reactor plant whilst being commissioned.
I wish Kevin Chetty well with his project. But I suspect helium sealing will be low down his list of worries.
Charles Robinson Clayton, Calif.
To the Editor: Because of the high-temperatures produced in the pebble bed reactor design, the high temperature helium can be used to crack steam into hydrogen. Having this inexpensive source of hydrogen could propel the hydrogen economy, allowing us to gain oil independence and, at the same time, take the automotive internal combustion engine out of the carbon discussion altogether.
Is the South African pebble bed modular reactor group working on hydrogen production technologies as well?
James M. Policelli, P.E. Nazareth, Pa.
To the Editor: In the Global Gas Turbine Supplement (May), Dr. Reza S. Abhari’s article, “The Link Between Climate Change and Turbomachines,” does great disservice to turbine professionals. Over time, we have labored to improve turbine utilization, performance, and efficiency because it made economic sense. With today’s energy costs it makes even more sense. We don’t need to be hitched to global warming to justify our work.
As technical professionals, we should not be giving credibility to politically driven agendas. Instead, let’s convince the world that our work is worthwhile because it makes economic sense— not because it may support one or another global warming theory.