Memoirs of an Engineering Student | Stirling Engines

The Stirling Engine was first conceived in the early 1800’s

I met our new engineering intern for the first time last week. I had over the previous weeks met him online, but due to my busy work schedule of getting a design through the door I could not engage him in the manner I ought to. Never-the-less I was quite elated while I was in the Kingston Office to meet LIMCO’s new intern who will be with us for the next ten weeks as he completes his internship. For those who might not be familiar engineer students are required to complete a certain amount of internship hours in order to graduate from the School of Engineering.

At our first meeting I enquired what was his major project about, since being a past student at the College of Arts, Science & Technology (CAST) the forerunner to UTech, I knew this was a requirement for graduation. He explained it was on the design and fabrication of a Stirling Engine. I asked him to the whiteboard in order to explain this “Stirling Engine.” I must admit here I knew nothing about this. The Stirling Engine was conceived nearly two centuries ago, so I did not feel in any way inadequate that this had slipped my “Google” mind. Lets continue, this led me to wonder one question, why is it that in the twenty-first century are UTech mechanical engineering students doing a major project on an idea conceived two centuries ago?

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I juxtaposed this against my own daughter, who graduated from Duke University with a Masters in Engineering Management, having completed her first degree in architectural engineering with her major project dealing covering solar and sustainability of design. The simple truth is that core engineering training is the same no matter where one attends engineering school. The difference in engineering schools curriculum is what is their areas of focus. To be fair to UTech, the research budget of some engineering schools in the developed world is ten times greater than that of the operating budget of the entire Univeristy of Technology Jamaica. However, this does not negate the fact that despite this gap the focus should be two centuries apart. Maybe this gap best explain why Singapore after fifty years of independence is way ahead of us here in Jamaica.

Jamaican engineers have made their mark in Jamaica, sadly not in engineering, but in the financial sector. Despite the less than spectacular growth in the overall economy over the last thirty years, the financial sector has fared much better. Could this be attributed in part to the impact engineers have had on this sector? Peter Bunting, Donovan Perkins, and Donna Duncan Scott just to name a few are just some of the engineers who have switched career from engineering to the financial sector and became very successful. It now begs the question, what if these financial sector leaders and many others like them had not switched from engineering to the financing; where would the country be now in terms of its perceived progress? Would my mechanical engineering intern major project be on a concept that is nearly two centuries old? Would Singapore be leaps and bounds ahead of Jamaica?

I have argued in earlier blog postings that engineers are vital to the development of any modern society. I now make the argument that our engineering training institutions both local and regional have to, if they have not started already, make their programmes and by extension their graduates in synch with the current challenges the society faces. I would have been much happier and in a better place if my engineering intern had told me that his major project was on the cutting edge and not two centuries behind our time. I would have been much happier if his major project addressed or attempted to address a particular problem the society now faces. My disappointment was instead profound because his major project was a concept that is one year short of being two centuries old.

The Stirling Engine was first conceived in the early 1816.

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