Lecture 7: Ben Craven’s Calculations

This week’s lecture was provided by Ben Craven from GSA and had a very simple message: quick calculations are extremely useful.

A rough calculation early on in a project can quickly tell you the feasibility of an idea, and whether you should invest any more time into it. I think calculations are most effective for radical ideas. Thinking back on my projects, I could have applied this technique to my expanding plant pot from the Diamond2 project in third year.

The poster for PermaPot

This product relied on polypropylene panels which could bend in a way that made the whole pot expand in volume. However, I never verified in advance if these panels would be rigid enough to hold their shape and adequately contain the soil. Once I got a panel manufactured it seemed as though it would be strong enough, but perhaps I could have performed a rough calculation at the start instead of taking that risk.

I also enjoyed the format of this lecture. It was much more interactive than previous lectures and the group activity was fun and engaging. Our group had to calculate how many square kilometres of woodlands would need to be burned to power an A380 airplane for a day. The answer was 1.1 square kilometres per day. That’s an area equivalent to over 200 football fields. Going through the motions of calculating this figure helped to drive the point home. This was another point Ben Craven stressed. It is critical that engineers have an intuition of such physical quantities, perhaps via analogy, as they allow us to interpret the real world in a meaningful way.

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