What’s New in Nanotechnology?

There is some impression out there that “nanotechnology” (and our Nanotechnology Engineering program) is all very research-oriented, with no practical applications or career prospects yet.  Graduates can only look forward to doing lab research or a PhD degree.  Those are certainly potential paths, but not the only ones by any means.

Nanotechnology has been around for about 30 years (see it’s history).  In many ways, it’s just a specialized way of approaching Materials Science/Engineering, and there are already over 1,500 products on the market that incorporate nanotechnology.  Making products requires more than just lab research, and one of the reasons we launched our Nanotechnology Engineering program was in response to industry needs for people with this expertise.

It also seems that the nanotechnology area is one where there is a lot of room for innovation and entrepreneurship by our undergraduate students.  Here are a few recent examples (mainly based on senior design projects) that have led to start-up companies:

It’s interesting to see what creative new ways that nanotechnology can be used to make new products or improve existing ones.  In my own research lab we are working with companies to develop novel test methods, based on nanotechnology, for detection of water contamination, and this is on the verge of commercialization.  Some day soon I’ll finish a post on that topic.

So for a high school student thinking about different career paths, don’t exclude Nanotechnology Engineering if you’re interested in materials and commercial product development.  It’s not all theory, lab work, and graduate research.

Capstone Design Projects

March is the season for “Capstone Design Project” presentations at Waterloo Engineering.  These are events where groups of graduating students present and explain the design projects they have been working on for the past 8 to 12 months.  Working on a significant, open-ended design project is a feature in all engineering programs in Waterloo and across Canada, to my knowledge.  These “Design Symposia” are open to the public.

Where do the topics for these design projects come from?  There are 3 typical sources:  1) some professors provide an idea, likely related to their ongoing research projects; 2) companies approach us with ideas that they would like someone to work on; 3) the student groups come up with their own ideas.

For companies, this is an opportunity to have some ideas explored in more detail and for free (other than some time spent).  Many companies have some new ideas or side-projects that would be nice to do, but they don’t have the time or resources to follow-up on them right away.  Having a student group work on it can help them scope-out the idea and see if it is worthwhile to pursue more aggressively in the future.  For the students, they get more experience working on a real-world problem, possibly in an industry sector they want to learn more about.  This can be a nice addition to the experience they already gained during their co-op work terms.

Student groups that come up with their own idea are often the source of new innovations and start-up companies that they build after graduation.  At Waterloo, any novel idea that a student creates is owned by them.  The university supports innovation and entrepreneurship, but doesn’t attempt to take it over in any way.

For high school students who are thinking about pursuing engineering, these projects are a good way to get a feeling for what you can do in the different disciplines.  So check out these links for project titles or descriptions:

Management Engineering
Nanotechnology Engineering
Software Engineering
Civil, Environmental, Geological Engineering
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Mechatronics Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Chemical Engineering
Systems Design Engineering

A couple of programs are missing their project lists, but will probably be updated in the coming days.  See this link.

Waterloo grad first Canadian to lead Mars simulation mission | Waterloo Stories

Waterloo grad first Canadian to lead Mars simulation mission | Waterloo Stories.

Here’s an interesting story about a Mechanical Engineering graduate, and her unconventional career path in the aerospace sector as well as a start-up company in the renewable energy sector.  I always find it very interesting; the wide variety of things engineering graduates end up doing.

The Most In-Demand (And Aging) Engineering Jobs

The Most In-Demand (And Aging) Engineering Jobs.

Our Dean of Engineering, Prof. Pearl Sullivan, pointed out this interesting article from Forbes magazine.  Much of the information I’ve seen before in various places, but it’s a nice compilation and summary.  Also, it’s based on U.S. statistics, so it’s hard to tell how the Canadian situation may compare but the general ideas are likely similar.  There are a few things to point out:

“Industrial Engineering” seems to be in big demand.  At Waterloo, this would roughly correspond to our “Management Engineering” program.

I’m disappointed that my discipline, Chemical Engineering, was lumped into the “All Other Engineers” category!  I guess this also includes Biomedical, Software, etc.

One of the problems with these surveys is that various groups use different classification schemes for the various disciplines, and they don’t always correspond to the name of the university or college program.  For example, “Aerospace Engineers” in this article probably refers to the job title, which could be filled by people with mechanical, mechatronics, or other degrees.  Likewise a “Petroleum Engineer” may be a chemical or mechanical engineering graduate.  Just something to keep in mind.

Choosing Your Engineering Program 2

With application deadlines approaching, some people will be struggling with the decision of which engineering program to apply to.  I had a post on this topic last year, and here are some additional thoughts.  As a reminder, Waterloo engineering has direct entry to a specific engineering discipline, so you have to pick one of our 13 programs for your application choice.  For those who don’t know where to start, last year I recommended our Quiz for some initial choices, and I still recommend it.  However, it doesn’t currently include our new Biomedical Engineering program, so you have to keep that in mind.

With our quiz results or other ideas in mind, you should do some serious research to see which program catches your interest the best.  There are plenty of online things to look at, and Google or Bing will help you find it.  One that I recently remembered is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site.  It has some interesting information on the nature of various engineering jobs.  Be careful on putting too much faith in their projections and forecasts however.

Some other ideas:

  • Students at Waterloo will be more engaged with their program and classmates if they are relatively sure and committed to their program.  If after doing some serious research and thought about different programs you still can’t decide at all, then certainly consider a university with a general engineering entrance program.  Then you can postpone deciding for a little while.  There are lots around Ontario, including Queen’s, McMaster, and Western, for example.  Other universities offer direct entry as well as an undecided/undeclared option, including Ryerson, Guelph, Windsor and York, for example.  Toronto has the “TrackOne” program which is a general first year.  Toronto’s Engineering Science is sort of a general first year too, since it looks like about 33% of the students move into other disciplines in 2nd year.
  • In spite of what I say in the above point, you don’t have to be 100% sure about your choice.  It’s normal to be somewhat uncertain.  But you should have some level of comfort and knowledge about the program you’ve picked, and why you are picking it.
  • There are potentially bad reasons to pick a program, including:  1) it’s the most competitive for admission; 2) family/friends say it’s the “best”; 3) some website says it’s the best paid, or has the best career prospects.  These are bad reasons, especially if your interests and aptitude don’t align with the choice.  Imagine sitting in classes where everyone else is keen on the material and projects,  and you’re not.  It’s probably not going to go well.  Every year we get a few of these cases.  Sometimes we can help them switch programs, but sometimes it goes so badly that they have to leave the university.  We would prefer to avoid this problem as much as possible.
  • Always remember that career paths can be very flexible, and choosing a specific discipline does not lock you into a specific career for the rest of your life.  Many engineering graduates eventually go into management careers, where the discipline-specific technical knowledge is less important anyways.
  • There is a lot of overlap between various disciplines, so it is not critical that you pick the “right” one.  If you pick one that you feel some affinity for, you’ll probably be fine no matter how your interests may shift over the coming years.  You should expect (and want) to continue learning new things throughout your career.
  • There is no such thing as the “best” program.

 

Comparing Biomedical Engineering Programs

Choosing a Biomedical Engineering (BME) program is a bit more complicated than many other programs, like chemical or mechanical, because there is actually quite a variety among them.  The following is my impression of the various types of BME programs.

First, what should a Biomedical Engineering (BME) program look like academically?  Here is a reasonable definition given by ABET, the U.S. “Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology“:

The program must prepare graduates to have: an understanding of biology and physiology, and the capability to apply advanced mathematics (including differential equations and statistics), science, and engineering to solve the problems at the interface of engineering and biology; the curriculum must prepare graduates with the ability to make measurements on and interpret data from living systems, addressing the problems associated with the interaction between living and non-living materials and systems.

(The Canadian equivalent of ABET, CEAB, doesn’t publish any definitions but our expectations would be similar anyways.)

Within that framework, there are actually several different “flavours” of BME, and for potential applicants it is very important that you recognize and understand this.  Otherwise, you might end up in a program that is completely different from what you might have had in mind.  Here, I will attempt to summarize my understanding of the different “flavours”, with some example programs in Canadian universities. Continue reading

Biomedical Engineering Starts Here

Exciting news for those who have been asking about Biomedical Engineering at Waterloo!  All the necessary internal and external approvals have been received and we are launching an undergraduate (B.A.Sc.) program in September 2014.  So the OUAC application centre should now be able to take applications to this program.

A prosthetic eye, an example of a biomedical e...
A prosthetic eye, an example of a biomedical engineering application of mechanical engineering and biocompatible materials to ophthalmology. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll provide some brief details about the program below, and then some more detailed thoughts and comparisons in future posts.

  • Like all of our engineering programs, this one will have program-specific courses right from the first day, and will be a mandatory co-op program (alternating 4 month periods of academic and industry work experience).
  • This will be a modified Stream 8 program (i.e. the first co-op job starts at the end of 1st year, after 8 months of academic study).  One unique feature is an 8 month workterm between 3rd and 4th year, followed by eight months of academic work.  This gives more time to focus on one work term job, and more time to focus on a major design project in 4th year.
  • The Biomedical Engineering program is a joint undertaking with input and teaching by several departments including Systems Design Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Biology, and the School of Anatomy.  It pulls together a lot of biomedical engineering expertise that already exists across those departments.
  • The curriculum was designed with significant input from industry and graduate schools, so it should be very relevant for either path.
  • Admission requirements:  same course requirements as all of our other engineering programs. (in Ontario, ENG4U, SPH4U, SCH4U, MHF4U, MCV4U, + one other U/M course).  High school biology is not required.
  • Grade requirements?  Hard to say, because that depends on the level of competition (i.e. number of applicants and their grades).  There are only 45 spaces available in 2014, so we are guessing that mid to high 80’s might be necessary but it could go higher or lower.  If you are interested, just apply and see what happens.
  • Another unique feature:  the program provides the opportunity to focus in a couple of interesting areas, namely Neuroscience and Sports Engineering.
  • It is expected that there will be significant interactions with Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology, as well as the Schools of Computer Science, Pharmacy, Optometry & Vision Science, and the Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience.  A lot of biomedical research already takes place at Waterloo, as brought together in our Centre for Bioengineering and Biotechnology, so there should be opportunities for students to work on research projects (as there are with all of our programs).

There are other details I will cover later, but let me know in the comments if there are specific topics or questions I should try to address.

A Sample Co-op Experience in Chemical Engineering

Here is a story about one of our Chemical Engineering students, and some of his work term experiences in the petrochemical industry.  It’s typical of the variety of things that our students do during their 6 workterms over the course of our program.A Shell and Tube heat exchanger

by Shannon Tigert. A version of this piece originally appeared in the Spring 2013, ed. 2 issue of the Inside sCo-op newsletter.

Brodie Germain (4A Chemical Engineering) spent two rewarding co-op work terms at Suncor Energy. With his first two co-op jobs completed elsewhere, he was hired for his third work term as an Environmental Health and Safety Intern at Suncor’s wastewater treatment plant at the Mississauga Lubricant Facility. In this position, Brodie sampled the water the plant was using to ensure it was within government regulations.

Brodie’s position in his subsequent term at Suncor was Technical Services Intern, a support role for different engineers in the department. Each engineer is responsible for a different section of the plant, and by assisting all of them Brodie gained a variety of experiences.

A major project of Brodie’s during this term was a management of change analysis involving a heat exchanger problem; fluids passed through tubes to be heated and cooled. One of the fluids was picking up too much heat, reaching dangerously high temperatures. Various concerns and issues needed to be addressed, but Brodie appreciated the challenge. That’s because he connected what he was learning with things he had already done in school, like hydraulic calculations, collecting drawings and data sheets, and using logical thinking. Doing this kind of work was “as relevant as it gets” to his engineering degree, says Brodie: “I was able to find my strengths and weaknesses while developing my communication skills and technical foundations. A solid technical skills foundation is the most important practical thing to have as an engineer.” Continue reading

Why Do We Care About High School English?

Although Grade 12 English (or something equivalent) is one of our admission requirements, we sometimes get applicants who question what it’s good for, and why should it hurt their chances of admission if they got low marks in that subject.  After all, engineering is just about physics, calculus, problem-solving, writing code, designing bridges and other hardware, …, isn’t it? Continue reading