Engineering Summer Fun

Summer pushes the mercury higher, makes the days longer and because we’re NEF, gives us plenty of reminders about why engineering is awesome. This summer, we’ll tune in to watch the best athletes in the world compete in the Olympic Games. Opening ceremonies are set for August 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and from fluid dynamics to biomechanics, engineering principles are everywhere as the athletes compete for gold. Check out this amazing video series exploring engineering’s impact on competitive sports. It was put together for the 2012 games, but it’s still relevant – and fascinating. Chances are you’ll be watching those games from the comfort of your couch, with the AC keeping you cool. Engineer Willis Haviland Carrier designed the first modern air-conditioning system in 1902.

Head out to your own backyard to help kids to engineer a whole summer’s worth of fun with ideas from this site including how-tos for baking soda powered boats, a Nerf battle zone, and so much more. If you’re looking for something with a little more adrenaline, there are an abundance of scream-worthy roller coasters making their debuts at amusement parks across the country. Of course there’s also LEGOLAND which celebrates the construction toy that’s inspired generations of engineers. When you need to cool off in the nearest pool, take a moment to honor the man who invented the modern diving board in 1949. Ray Rude, an engineer who spent part of his career at Lockheed Aircraft Company, used an airplane wing for his first diving board. And of course you can’t have all that fun without a little sustenance. Summer is the perfect time to engineer the perfect burger, traditional or veggie, followed by some homemade ice cream, perhaps using the recipe from one of our nation’s Founding Fathers and engineer Thomas Jefferson.

June 2017


When you cross a bridge, or several bridges, to get to work, or school, or the doctor’s office, you probably don’t give it much thought. But for people in many parts of the world, just one bridge can make all the difference. If you’ve seen the IMAX film “Dream Big,” you may already recognize Avery Bang. She’s the Chief Executive Officer of Bridges to Prosperity and she’s an engineer on a mission.

In Bang’s 11 years with B2P, she has seen first-hand how infrastructure means more than just convenience. We talked to her about creativity, failure, and the life-changing power of engineering.

Building Bridges, Making a Difference

Avery Bang, Chief Executive Officer of Bridges to Prosperity, talks about the human element of engineering and building a bridge to the future where all people have access to opportunity.

Q. What or who inspired you to become an engineer?

My dad is a civil engineer and worked on civil works projects throughout his career, including bridges. Our typical family vacations were not what you would call “typical.” We all piled into our car and visited public works projects. It was great because as a young kid I got to see the underbelly of engineering and grew up having a strong appreciation for it. I saw how important engineering is for everything.

Q. How can engineering structures, like the bridges built by Bridges to Prosperity, change people’s lives?

The built environment is the single most important part of our daily lives – the way we get to and from places, where we sleep, how we learn – and its engineers who create this environment. In the developed world, the everyday contributions of engineers go unnoticed because a working infrastructure is already in place, but in developing countries, that’s not the case.

Working in a place like Haiti, everything so bare – you don’t live in a house with insulation and bedrooms or have roads that resemble anything we would be familiar with in the U.S. When you work in an environment where there is not a lot already in place, to have something new is really obvious. Something so simple as a bridge in these developing landscapes can be the single most important part of the infrastructure and gives you an appreciation for the difference engineering can make in peoples’ lives. You can provide isolated communities with access essential healthcare, education and economic opportunities.

When you see engineering in a place where it is noticed and appreciated and people show up to volunteer because they know it is going to make a difference, it makes engineering very human.

Q. You have a double-major in art and engineering. What role does creativity play in engineering?

Creativity is vital. In engineering, you are doing two things – identifying problems and solving them. Creativity is at the crux of problem solving. Finding solutions is impossible to do without employing creativity because you are trying to come up with answers no one has thought of before.

It is important for society to see engineers as creative and the work of engineers as purposeful. As soon as we shift that perception, we will draw greater numbers of talented, young people. For me, engineering is creative, it’s human. It has hardly anything to do with a calculator.

Finding solutions is impossible to do without employing creativity because you are trying to come up with answers no one has thought of before.

Q. What have you learned from your mistakes in working in various communities around the globe?

I think failure is an important part of any career. As an entrepreneur, I believe in fail often and fail fast. At Bridges to Prosperity, we’re also good about naming our failures publicly and trying to learn from them. Along the way, we’ve learned different aspects of keeping people safe and now we have solid standards in place. We also know there is no one-size-fits-all solution and our bridge designs need to be locally relevant. We’ve had the humility to say we don’t know everything and it’s actually helped us grow and learn faster. We would not be where we are today without recognizing our failure along the way. That’s how engineering works – you fail, you learn and then you improve!

Q. What advice do you have for other young engineers on finding their passion and purpose?

Have a long attention span because finding something purposeful takes time and commitment. It’s a marathon so don’t be afraid to spend a decade working your way up in one place and be persistent when you find a purpose. Any truly meaningful work is going to be hard. We need engineers who are willing to put in the time and who will think and dream big.

All photos credit Bridges to Prosperity.

MAY 2017

ChemE + JD = Engineer++

Engineers and attorneys could learn a lot from each other, and Vanessa Adriana Nadal should know. She’s both.

Nadal is an MIT-trained chemical engineer and an attorney who earned her J.D. at Fordham University School of Law. She says engineers and lawyers have more in common than you might think, “Both require superior critical thinking skills, and both benefit from compassionate story-telling.”

NEF spoke with Nadal from her family’s current home in London (where her husband, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is filming “Mary Poppins Returns”) about what engineers and attorneys can learn from each other, and the cyclical beauty of art, inspiration, and STEM.

Keeping the Conversations Going

Sharing some top tweets from the incredible response to Vanessa Miranda Nadal’s NEF Conversation last week. We’re glad you enjoyed it as much as we did. Hungry for more? Scroll down to check out Q&As with other incredible American engineers and engineering enthusiasts.



Most of us remember the careful consideration we applied to the consequential decision of declaring a major and pursuing a degree. Medicine or teaching? Computer science or history? Engineering or law?

Few of us arrived at “Both.”

One fine exception is Vanessa Adriana Nadal, a 2004 graduate of MIT’s department of chemical engineering and 2010 J.D. graduate of Fordham University School of Law. The daughter of a trained civil engineer father and photographer and interior designer mother, Nadal muses, “perhaps that’s why I’m so split between STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) and HASS (Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences)!”.