Pi Day Gives Us an Excuse to Celebrate Mathematics This Month!

Pi Day

Celebrate “Pi Day” March 14th! 

As a company full scientists, engineers and other technological innovators, we value and celebrate mathematics! So you can probably guess that Pi Day, March 14th, is a big deal to us!

Yes, Pi- the mathematical constant.  You know, that “π” symbol thing used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.

Since it’s humble beginnings at the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988, Pi Day has exploded into a cultural phenomenon celebrated by students, mathematicians, engineers and everyone in between around the world! The day is often commentated with pie eating contests, essays, T-Shirts, poetry, internet memes, math challenges and more!

To understand the fascination of Pi, you must first understand it’s infinite nature. Scientists and mathematicians have calculated Pi to more than a trillion digits, but its exact nature remains a mystery that will never be solved. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern.

You may have memorized pi in your High School math class, only to never use it again- but it’s impact on science, technology, engineering and math is astronomical. Steven Strogatz summarizes it’s importance beautifully in this 2015 New York Times article. “The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach,” he writes. “The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi”.

Pi is so much more than a number. Our modern world depends on it. “It lies at the heart of any technology that involves rotation or waves, and that is much of mechanical and electrical engineering,” writes Chris Budd. “In medical imaging using CAT or MRI scanners, the scanning devices move on a ring which has to be manufactured to a tolerance of one part in 1,000,000, requiring an even more precise value of pi”.

We could go on about our excitement over Pi Day, but we’ll leave you with this list of interesting reads on the subject. So, from all of us at WVCO, Happy Pi Day!

photo credit: LEGO happy pi day! via photopin (license)

Civil Engineers- The Unsung Heroes of Modern Society

“So why is it that although world has some famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe, Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid just to name a few, (it) doesn’t have famous traffic engineers?”

Notable Civil Engineers Highway EngineersBrooklyn Bridge In the spirit of innovation, we have started featuring star innovators on our blog each month- people who embody the ideals of innovation in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. This month, our intention was to feature a prominent Civil Engineer who has made an impact in our daily lives and in public places. What we found is there are countless people who have contributed to the field of civil engineering and deserve accolades, but rarely hear of them.

Though the field of civil engineering has been around for centuries, we know very little about the people who have paved the way (literally in some cases) for us to enjoy the many amenities our modern society has to offer- clean water, railroads, roads, sidewalks, buildings, sewage systems, dams, bridges or airports and so much more.

An Australian Transportation blogger writes in this post,

“So why is it that although world has some famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe, Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid just to name a few, doesn’t have famous traffic engineers? Why do we have famous economists like Adam Smith, Karl Marx. John Keynes or Milton Friedman and we don’t know of any transport planners? And if for doctors it is quite reasonable to know so many because of all these diseases named after them why is it that we don’t know who designed the first tram system? Or the inventor of Bus Rapid Transit? Why the bridges aren’t named after their designer?”

It’s hard to imagine our lives without civil engineers.  These unsung heroes are responsible for the design and maintenance of both the small and enormous infrastructure projects all over the world.

Here is our list of notable engineers we’d like to highlight (not listed in any particular order) that are considered by many to be leaders in the field of civil engineering and transportation planning. Who would you add to this list? 

Emily Warren Roebling (1843 –1903)

Known as the “first woman field engineer” and saw out the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.

John Smeaton – (1724 – 1792)

First self proclaimed civil engineer. He is often called the Father of Civil Engineering. His work on waterwheels and windmills contributed to the efficiency of the industrial revolution.

Archie Alphonso Alexander (1888 – 1958)

Prominent transportation engineer recognized for his work on bridges, buildings and utilities. First African American to graduate from the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering.

Benjamin Wright – (1770 – 1842)

The American Society of Civil Engineers declared Benjamin Wright the Father of American Civil Engineering. He was the Chief Engineer during the construction of the Erie Canal and many more notable infrastructure products in the United States.

William Hunter Dammond (1873-1956)

Invented the rail road switching mechanism which enabled trains to change direction. He is also the First African American Graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a Degree in Civil Engineering.

Squire Whipple – (1804 – 1888)

Designed and built a weigh lock scale to weigh canal boats on the Erie Canal. He also designed and built seven short span iron bridges for the New York and Erie Railroad near Newburgh and Binghamton, New York. Whipple also built the first long span trapezoidal railroad bridges for the New York Railroads.

Elsie Eaves- (1898 – 1983)

The first female associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and a founding member of the American Association of Cost Engineers (now AACE International; the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

Designed tunnels, railway lines, ships and bridges. He is most famous for the network of tunnels, bridges and viaducts he designed for the Great Western Railway. His design methods are still used today in high-speed trains.

Walter Taylor (1872–1955)

Australian visionary and builder of many Brisbane landmarks. His most notable works are the Walter Taylor Bridge and the Graceville Methodist church, both of which are heritage-listed buildings.

Dr. John “Job” Crew Bradfield- (1867-1943)

Prominent Australian engineer who designed and oversaw the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He was also appointed Chief Engineer for the metropolitan railway construction in New South Wales.

Olive Dennis- (1885-1957)

The second woman to obtain a Civil Engineering degree from Cornell. She was hired that year as a draftsman by the B & O Railroad to design bridges, eventually changed the nature of railway travel.

Duff A. Abrams- (1880 – 1965)

A researcher in the area of organization and properties of concrete, he was responsible for coming up with the necessary methods for testing concrete characteristics that we still use. President of the American Concrete Association for a year, he discovered the concept of fineness modulus and the definition of water-cement ratio.

Charles Duke

a structural engineer and architect, made distinguished contributions to the development of churches and railroads. irst African American to earn a Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1913.

Nora Stanton Blatch Barney- (1883 – 1971)

Famous American civil engineer and architect, the first woman to earn a degree in any type of engineering in the United States; her degree was in civil engineering. In the same year, she was accepted as a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

Henry Randall Grooms (1944-n/a)

Served on the DC Highway Department as a highway engineer and on the engineering team at Rockwell International where he was awarded Engineer of the Year Award the company’s space division in 1980.

Othmar Hermann Ammann- (1879 – 1965)

A Swiss-born American structural engineer, he designed the Bayonne Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the famous George Washington Bridge. He also designed more than half of the 11 bridges that attach New York City to the rest of the country. As well as his work on bridges, he planned the construction and directed the building of the Lincoln Tunnel.

We urge to continue to learn about these famous civil engineers and what their inventions have brought to the world by visiting the following resources-

photo credit: kumiyama00 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Highway via photopin (license)
photo credit: New York City – Brooklyn Bridge via photopin (license)

WVCO Featured Innovator of the Month: MIT Professor Julie Shah

Julie Shaw

Image Courtesy of MIT Industrial Liaison Program

“Imagine if robots could be truly collaborative partners, able to anticipate and adapt to the needs of their human teammates. Such robots could greatly extend productivity. That possibility is really exciting to me.” -Julie Shah

Willamette Valley Company was built on the principle of innovation. Throughout the years, our team of forward thinking innovators has produced a range of game changing solutions within  our divisions like PRE-TEC, Willamette Valley Company Railroad Division, POLYQuik Performance Products, and WVCO Wood Products.

This month, our featured innovator is Julie Shah, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and head of the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT.

The Interactive Robotics Group is a robotics research lab committed to developing robots that work in tandem with humans to accomplish what neither can do alone. She is best known for her team’s innovative methods of enabling human-robot collaboration, i.e. Creating robots who can function as colleagues for humans in fields such as disaster response, manufacturing, surgery and space exploration.

“Human interaction isn’t part of the traditional curriculum for training roboticists,” she says in this MIT Technology Review profile. “Our field is always pushing to make our systems more autonomous, and have richer capabilities and intelligence, but in that push we tend to look past the fact that these systems are, and always will be, working in human contexts”.

Here she is describing her work in the robotics field in her own words

Ms. Shah has received international recognition for her work in the robotics field, including an NSF CAREER award in 2014 and in the MIT Technology Review 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013. She has also been named by MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35.

Her dedication to creating a more collaborative relationship between humans and robots to achieve greater good makes her our pick for our “Innovator of the Month”.

Sourced By:
This MIT engineering professor is turning robots into ideal colleagues for humans.


Machines Like Us: Robots and Drones at Work

Why We Need More Women in STEM Careers

Women In STEM

Source: “Mentors Help Create A Sustainable Pipeline For Women In STEM” – Forbes.com

“One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.” – President Barack Obama

In last month’s blog spotlight on STEM Education Coalition, we shared some ideas about the effect STEM education will have on the future of our nation’s workforce and economy. WVCO is comprised of numerous science, technology, engineering, and mathematics innovators and we value the growth of STEM education and training in this country and around the world.

It is widely believed an increase of skilled workers are needed in the STEM fields for our economy to remain competitive in the global marketplace. Yet, for some reason, women and other minority groups are underrepresnted in these fields.

An Executive Summary by the Economics and Statistics Administration states that:

• Nearly half of the US workforce are women, yet they’ve held less than 25% of STEM jobs consistently over the last decade.

• Women with STEM jobs earned 33 percent more than comparable women in non-STEM jobs.

• Women hold a disproportionately low share of STEM undergraduate degrees, particularly in

• Women with a STEM degree are less likely than their male counterparts to work in a STEM
occupation; they are more likely to work in education or healthcare.

Source: Women in STEM: A Gender Gap to Innovation

“Supporting women STEM students and researchers is not only an essential part of America’s strategy to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world; it is also important to women themselves,” states the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “And STEM careers offer women the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation”.

Science and Engineering fields are in need strong innovators regardless of gender, background and nationality. However, there is little doubt that attracting more women and girls — as well as other underrepresented groups into STEM programs will help to make our workforce even stronger and more prepared for the future.

STEM Education Coalition is Working Towards a Better Future

STEM Education

“Effective policies and practices that improve student performance in STEM subjects, increase diversity in these fields, and ensure a well-educated STEM workforce are critical to our nation’s future.” -STEM Education Coalition

You have probably noticed the conversation about STEM, the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, is growing in this country. As a company that innovates and is continually producing custom solutions, we understand the value of a strong education in the STEM fields.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says employment in occupations related to STEM is projected to grow to more than 9 million between 2012 and 2022. That’s an increase of about 1 million jobs over 2012 employment levels. – Source: stemedcoalition.org

Many feel that a deeper emphasis on STEM education is necessary for our country to continue to remain an economic and technological leader of the global marketplace. To do that, we must inspire our students to excel the areas of science, mathematics, technology and engineering while maintaining a deep appreciation of the arts and humanities.

Renowned physicist Dr. James Gates echoed the need for a better STEM foundation in a recent speech to a group of high school students in Arkansas. “There are half a million jobs that can’t find Americans to hire because they don’t have the skills level,” he says according to this in this article.”These are the jobs you most want to have in the future.”

Organizations like The STEM Education Coalition, a 501c4 non-profit organization, are working to raise awareness with federal and state policymakers along with members of education community about the critical role that STEM education plays in the future of our global economy.  “The future of the economy is in STEM,” says James Brown, the executive director of the STEM Education Coalition in Washington, D.C. “That’s where the jobs of tomorrow will be.”

Some would argue that focusing only on a STEM education could possibly open the door to neglecting the arts and humanities, however this is not the goal of the STEM Education Coalition. “We always want to make the point that a policy focus on ‘STEM’ isn’t really just about four rigid subjects, it’s about ensuring that students have the skills they need to succeed in the modern world,” it states on their website. “Arts and humanities are certainly a part of that equation.”

To learn more about STEM Education Coalition and how to join, visit stemedcoalition.org.

photo credit: Teen scientist Alexa Dantzler in the lab via photopin (license)