Episode 54 — Brain on a Stick

brainstickBiochemical engineer Kai Zhuang walks us through the evolving relationships between technology and humanity, especially as it relates to engineering education, in this episode of The Engineering Commons podcast.

  • Jeff and Adam discuss the high salaries being offered to software engineers in Silicon Valley.
  • Adam notes that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) placed a value of $2.6 million on the economic loss suffered by society due to a traffic fatality in 1994. The current estimates (2013) are considerably higher, in the range of $9.1 million.
  • Our guest for this episode is Kai Zhuang, a biochemical and operations engineer who has an interest in engineering education.
  • Kai’s application to the University of Toronto’s National Scholarship Program was a little more avant garde than most, consisting of creative art pieces.
  • Biomedical engineering is a fairly new engineering discipline that is only now beginning to work out its own sub-fields and areas of emphasis.
  • Kai was frustrated with the rigid curriculum structure he encountered as an undergraduate engineering student.
  • In response to his frustrations, Kai produced a video about transforming engineering education.
  • Prior guest Dave Goldberg has described engineering education as being a math-science death march.
  • Kai mentions a presentation by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur, titled Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning.
  • The Force Concept Inventory (FCI) has been used by Eric Mazur to evaluate the effectiveness of physics instruction.
  • Our guest describes a Big Bang Theory episode in which physicists joke about a spherical chicken in a vacuum.
  • Our modern word engineer derives from the Latin ingenium, meaning a clever invention.
  • Jeff relates Montessori education methods to Kai’s suggestions for a more exploratory engineering curriculum.
  • The post-WWII Grinter report (1955) caused engineering to be treated more as a “science” in the United States.
  • Jeff compares producing interchangeable engineers to using the Play-Doh extruder toy.
  • Kai describes the difficulty of solving problems that involve complex systems.
  • A MOOC is a “massive open online course.”
  • The ongoing shift of engineering instructors from expert to coach has been examined by Dave Goldberg, founder of Big Beacon.
  • When looking for innovative approaches to engineering education, Kai was advised by filmmaker Ryan Varga to investigate York University in Toronto, and Olin College in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • This podcast is now a media affiliate with Big Beacon.
  • Kudos to PhD Comics creator Jorge Cham for the notion of brain on a stick.
  • A recent quote from software developer Dave Winer concerns the inevitability of serious problems resulting from our increasing dependence on a “fragile and insecure” internet system.
  • Kai is disappointed that systems thinking is almost completely missing from the engineering curriculum.
  • Our guest notes that most fears are “past pain extrapolated incorrectly into the future.”
  • BrenĂ© Brown has spoken eloquently about wholeheartedness and the power of vulnerability.
  • You can reach Kai via email at kai [dot] hua {dot} zhuang ++AT++ gmail [dot] com.

Thanks to Andrew Mason for his photograph titled “Inside.” Podcast theme music by Paul Stevenson.