Fun software helps wannabe engineers build skills at home

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 July, 2005, 12:00am

I work with science fair organisations quite a bit and last year I awarded US$2,000 to budding student scientists. The young fellow I chose for a special US$1,000 award in the marine technology senior division (Aaron Golden) later went on to win more than US$250,000 in cash and scholarships.

Aaron won't have trouble getting into any university he chooses, or getting the job he wants when he graduates. But he is unique.

Smart students everywhere need to be aware of three impending situations. First, colleges are turning down top students in droves. For every course seat open, there are four students looking to fill it. At the same time, colleges are claiming that they are having trouble staying in business and don't see a lot of future students heading for higher learning. One of their cost-saving techniques is to lay off professors and eliminate courses, making what was a four-year course into a five or six-year programme.

Second, there are substantially fewer students looking to become engineers and scientists. With the existing pool of science and engineering talent scheduled to retire within the next five years, there will be an incredible dearth of innovation, technology and cool gadgets.

The third thing students need to know is that engineers and scientists make tons of money. Engineers with a law degree in intellectual property are getting US$250,000 a year right out of school. Marine chief engineers are getting the same for six months of work.

That said, how do you develop an interest in becoming an engineer or scientist, or get your son or daughter to develop such an interest? The answer is simple. Find something that fascinates the student (cars, boats, stereos, software games or fishing rods) and help them build their idea of an improved version. Actually, help them build anything.

Macs have plenty of tools to help. Crocodile-clips simulators ( is an application that makes science understandable. Each application (physics, technology, chemistry, and mathematics) presents a virtual lab full of tools for experimentation. The interface is fun, not intimidating, and it lets you explore cause and effect.

The Crocodile Physics version lets you explore electronics, optics, force and motion, waves and oscillations. In the lab, you implement changes. The application then shows a video illustrating the result.

If your potential scientist/engineer is only interested in computer games, you are in luck. Sawblade Software Company ( recently released an application that makes cool Mac games. They are side-scrolling games and the characters can utilise bazookas, guns, snowballs or whatever your imagination comes up with. It is drag-n-drop easy to use and the games you make could be sold.

If electronics/audio is the area of interest, nothing is cooler than converting your Mac into an oscilloscope with a built-in signal analyser and signal generator. Check out Mac the Scope ( This gadget generates tones for testing (ever see a glass vibrate until it shatters?) and makes images of both electronic and audio waves for troubleshooting or development.

A favourite application of experimenting audio engineers is FuzzMeasure (www.supermega It records and illustrates audio 'fingerprints' for rooms or speakers so you can eliminate echoes or tweak the room or speaker to acoustic perfection.

If the future engineer would like to build a boat in the garage, one of my favourite apps is Bearboat Pro. In the simplest of interfaces, you modify sliders or values to get the ideal boat shape and then you press a button to have the application test for stability. If the boat design is to your liking, it will print sections of the boat every few inches. These templates can be traced onto plywood to be cut out and used as a form to build your design. Since it is a free application (available at http://home

Sharing11.html) it is not an expensive experiment to design a craft.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Mac science and engineering applications. The ones mentioned here are top quality and well thought of in their respective fields. Others can be found at VersionTracker (www.version



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