Diversity of Engineering in Cambridge

When I mentioned the project of building a robotic system from Lego NXT in my last article, I thought to myself that it might sound like a very exaggerated phrase for something trivial.

However, I must confess that as a team we used all our pre-university physical, technical and computing knowledge. The result was an electro-mechanical system that automatically performed the calculation of number π (pi) based on movement of a weight on a pendulum using an electromotor and measuring the period. Because this „entrance“ into our studies explicitly gave us space to be creative, there was a range of very different products by the individual groups. All were diverse and original, although they were obvioussly not really close to improving the quality of life on the planet.

In the following weeks we took on a new project, this time a more serious one. Our task was to build a one meter long bridge from L-shaped steel members, with the target to make it as strong as possible while keeping the weight and cost low. The load-carrying capacity was then to be tested to destruction on a testing rig. We worked in pairs and in the first phase, we came up with a theoretically strong design and performed all the necessary calculations. In the second phase, we then built the bridge in a given time limit. In the end, our structure, which weighed 2kg, was found to be capable to carry about 450kg. Although it was not a bad result, we were slightly dissapointed because we didn´t manage to do the construction precisely throughout the building process due to time reasons. The structure proved to be very complicated, which forced us to cut corners. In the final rush to get our bridge finished, we did not completely follow the theoretical plan. If we had time to follow it, the structure was supposed to carry almost 800 kg. Apart from the enjoyment of doing something „hands-on“, this activity also taught us a lesson that simplicity is a very important thing .

A variety of theoretical background is covered in lectures. Engineering in Cambridge is common for the first two years, so we gain experience in many different engineering areas. However, this is not at the expense of expertise, because the pace is very high in all of the subjects. We can also learn to use equipment in laboratories which we would never come to contact with if we already followed a particular focus.

A very important aspect of studies in Cambridge are the supervisions. In each of the main subjects of the particular term (e.g. Mechanics, Structures, Thermodynamics, Materials, Electrical Engineering, Maths) we are given a supervisor who meets us every two weeks to discuss all the materials covered in lectures and examples papers. They are also very open to talk with us about anything that is of our interest. Thanks to supervisions, we are able to really comprehend all the topics of the lectures.

We are also involved in a number of practical activities. Right now, we are nearing the end of the biggest project this term, building a radio receiver with only the use of basic components. It is a combination of using electrical engineering theory together with performing simulations in computer software, because the number of components is too high to perform all the analysis by hand. Our radio is already playing, but we need to work more on getting rid of some noise.

Although I do not plan to spend my future career building bridges or radios, I am very glad that I have the opportunity to do it now. Not only is diversity very important in engineering and we never know when we will apply the experience, but it is also my interest to learn about various engineering topics, not just the one that I plan to focus on later.


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