Using the Elements to Create Extraordinary Technologies
This book reveals some of the stories behind how engineers use specific elements to create the material world around us. In eight chapters,
the EngineerGuy team exposes the magnificence of the innovation and engineering of digital camera imagers, tiny accelerometers, atomic clocks,
enriching fissile material, batteries, anodizing metals, microwave ovens, and lasers. To help readers of all backgrounds, the book also includes
introductions to the scientific principles necessary for a deeper understanding of the material presented in the chapters. The reader will be
delighted by primers on waves, nuclear structure, and electronic transitions. It also features “In depth” sections on entropy, semiconductors, and
the mathematics of capacitors. You can find out were to buy the book,
learn what's inside, or watch the video series
— you can also review the
Digital Cameras: How a CCD Works This chapter discusses how silicon-based pixels use the photoelectric
effect to measure light intensity. It covers these topics:
How the first x-y imagers from the 1960s failed because of capacitive
coupling, and how the CCD (charge coupled device) solves the problem
by eliminating wires.
How semiconductors are used to create a trap for the electrons
generated as light falls on the CCD.
The timing of the “clock cycle” that moves these trapped electrons to
the camera’s electronics.
The Color Filter Array used so a single CCD can create a color image.
A brief section on active pixel sensors (APS) used in modern mobile
A section on “The CCD and the Nobel Prize," noting that the engineer
who perfected the CCD as an imager did not win.
How a Smartphone Knows Up from Down Accelerometers inside many electronic devices - tablets and phones -
re-orient the screen as a user moves the device. This chapter opens by
using a simple ball and spring device to explain the general principle
of an accelerometer. It then describes:
The typical accelerometer used in digital devices, focusing on how
they use a differential capacitor to measure changes in gravitational
Two simple examples of etching in silicon - creating a pyramidal hole
and then a cantilever beam - show the principles underlying how
silicon-based accelerometers are made.
An “In Depth” section on the mathematics of capacitors, which explains
why a differential capacitor is linear, while a simple two-plate
capacitor is non-linear.
How an Atomic Clock Works This chapter lays out the essential principles and operation of an
atomic clock. Specifically, it includes:
A discussion of the basics of timekeeping using resonance, focusing on
the pendulum of a grandfather clock at first and then the vibrations
of a quartz crystal oscillator, explaining briefly the piezoelectric
effect in quartz.
A clear description of how the “atomic” part of an atomic clock
functions as a feedback loop for a quartz oscillator. It goes in
detail on the workings of the first cesium-based atomic clock.
A short discussion of the uses of accurate time.
The basic details and elementary mathematics underlying the GPS
(Global Positioning System).
Primer: Nuclear Structure This chapter gives a brief overview of nuclear structure. It
How protons and neutrons make up an atom and the definition of an isotope.
Introduces, briefly, the nuclear strong force.
Describes fission, focusing on uranium.
Briefly describes nuclear explosions and chain reactions.
The Hardest Step in Making a Nuclear Bomb The hardest step is obtaining isotope uranium-235, which must be
separated from uranium-238. The chapter includes:
The reaction of Werner Heisenberg and other German scientists who
worked for the Nazi’s on their attempts to separate uranium to the
U.S. built bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
A description of how the close chemical and physical identity of these
isotopes makes separation extremely difficult.
How the uranium used in the first nuclear bomb was prepared, including
a description of the immense diffusion plants used.
Modern methods of separating uranium isotopes using centrifuges,
including pinpointing why these devices must be engineered carefully
so they don’t destroy themselves as they spin.
A description of the “flexural critical speeds” that occur when a
centrifuge operates and the magnetic bearings used to reduce the
importance of these critical speeds.
An outline of cutting edge methods for separating uranium isotopes:
Atomic vapor laser isotope separation and molecular laser isotope
The Lead-Acid Battery: A Nineteenth Century Invention for the
Twenty-first Century The lead-acid battery lies at the center of our technological world:
The single largest use of batteries is for starting engines of cars
and trucks. This chapter includes:
A description of the basis of all batteries: The transfer of electrons.
The essential engineering of a battery: Electrodes, electrolytes, and
It reveals why an automotive lead-acid battery is a shallow charge
battery and why solar energy installations need a deep discharge
A description of a device built in Persia 2,000 years ago that might
be the first battery ever built.
What makes the lead-acid battery unique so that it still thrives even
though it is heavy and filled with environmentally unfriendly lead.
A description of the internal mechanism of a lithium-ion battery.
Why lithium ion batteries explode.
An “In Depth” section on entropy. It helps readers to understand and
visualize the thermodynamic concept of entropy.
Anodizing, or the Beauty of Corrosion Apple’s ipod and laptops use gorgeous anodized aluminum. although it
looks like a painted coating it is actually an integral layer grown
into the aluminum. This chapter reveals how this process works. It
A description of a 5th century pillar in India that has survived intact
because of natural anodizing.
An explanation of why metals corrode.
A description of oxidation-reduction reactions, which are essential in
How engineers control corrosion with coatings, cathodic protection and
Why stainless steel doesn’t rust.
How aluminium is anodized.
Why aluminum can be colored permanently with dye.
How anodizing titanium creates colors.
Primer: Waves Many of the objects and processes described in the book depend on the
movement of waves. This chapter covers a few basic definitions and
principles of waves, including:
Pictorial definitions of wavelength, frequency, and their relationship
to a wave's velocity.
The interactions of waves: How they can superimpose (combine) and how
standing waves arise.
A brief description of electromagnetic waves, including a chart that
shows the complete spectrum and how specific frequencies of waves are
How a Microwave Oven Works Microwave ovens exist in nearly every American home, yet few realize
that this modern device depends on an older technology: The vacuum
tube. This chapter describes the operation of an oven, focusing on how
its inner workings create microwave radiation. The chapter includes:
A definition and description of a vacuum tube.
How a microwave oven heats food, including whether it heats from the
A clear description of a magnetron, which is the vacuum tube that
creates microwave radiation. The description starts with the basics
from Faraday and Ampere and works its way step-by-step to the
operation of the cavity magnetron.
A description of how tungsten produces the electrons needed for the
magnetron to generate radiation.
Why we heat food with 2,450 megahertz frequency radiation.
Primer: Electrons, Energy Levels, and Light Emission The final chapter discusses the operation of a laser. This chapter
gives the essential details needed to understand its operation. It
A description of an electron cloud in a molecule or solid, including the
definition of an excited state.
Energy levels and quantization of electron energy states in solids.
Why electrons give off light or heat when they fall (decay) from an
How a Laser Works This chapter reveals the essential engineering details in making a
laser. It includes:
A description of an amazing experiment where scientists bounced
laser light off the moon.
A description of the key characteristics of a laser beam
A discussion of why anything gives of light - from tungsten light
bulbs to glow in the dark toys to lasers.
A discussion of stimulated emission, the process that lies at the
heart of creating laser light.
An answer to why stimulated emission occurs.
A description of the first laser: Ted Maiman’s ruby laser.
A description of a helium-neon laser, including an explanation of why
it uses two gases.
A discussion of who really invented the laser: An outline of the legal
cases of Gordon Gould.
How the resonator cavity of a laser makes collimated light, and light
of nearly a single wavelength.
How a semiconductor laser works.
How the erbium amplifier used in fiber optic cables works.
An “In Depth” section on semiconductors, electrons and holes. This is
a brief introduction to the principles of semiconductor diodes.
Companion Videos to the Book
CCD: The heart of a digital camera (how a charge-coupled device works)
Bill takes apart a digital camera and explains how its captures images using a CCD (charge coupled device). He also shares how a single CCD is used with a color filter array to create colored images.
How an atomic clock works, and its use in the global positioning system (GPS)
Bill shows the world's smallest atomic clock and then describes how the first one made in the 1950s worked. He describes in detail the use of cesium vapor to create a feedback or control loop to control a quartz oscillator. He highlights the importance of atomic team by describing briefly how a GPS receiver uses four satellites to find its position.
How a Smartphone Knows Up from Down (accelerometer)
Bill takes apart a smartphone and explains how its accelerometer works. He also shares the essential idea underlying the MEMS production of these devices.
What Keeps Nuclear Weapons from Proliferating: The hardest step in making a nuclear bomb
Bill explains that the hardest step is making the proper type of uranium. Weapons and power plants require uranium that contains a greater amount of the isotope uranium-235 than found in natural uranium, which is mostly uranium-238. He outlines the key difficulty in separating the two isotope: They have nearly identical properties. He explains the two key methods for separation: Gas diffusion and centrifuges.
How a lead-acid battery works
Bill explains the essential principles of a lead-acid battery. He shows the inside of motorcycle lead-acid battery, removes the lead and lead-oxide plates and shows how they generate a 2 volt potential difference when placed in sulfuric acid. He explains how the build up of lead sulfate between the plates will make the battery unusable if it discharged completely, which leads him to a description of how to make a deep cycle battery used for collecting solar energy.
Anodizing (Or the beauty of corrosion)
Bill describes how metals like aluminum and titanium are made resistant to corrosion by growing an oxide layer into the metals. These is the same process used on many Apple products.
How a Microwave Oven Works
Bill details how a microwave oven heats food. He describes how the microwave vacuum tube, called a magnetron, generates radio frequencies that cause the water in food to rotate back and forth. He shows the standing wave inside the oven, and notes how you can measure the wavelength with melted cheese. He concludes by describing how a magnetron generates radio waves.
How a Laser Works
Bill shows how the three key characteristics of laser light - single wavelength, narrow beam, and high intensity - are made. He explains the operation of a ruby laser - the first laser ever made - showing how electronic transitions create stimulated emission to give coherent light, and then how the ends of the ruby cavity create a narrow wavelength highly collimated beam.
Eight Amazing Engineering Stories: Using the Elements to Create Extraordinary Technologies Bill Hammack, Patrick Ryan, & Nick Ziech
218 pages | 6 x 9 | 73 illustrations
Publisher Articulate Noise Books | firstname.lastname@example.org
Hardcover | ISBN 978-0-9839661-5-9 | currently out of print eBook | ISBN 978-0-9839661-4-2
Paper | ISBN 978-0-9839661-3-5
Audience 01 — General Trade
TEC000000 TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING
TEC009000 TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Engineering (General)
TEC05600 TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / History
SCI000000 SCIENCE / General
Description Eight Amazing Engineering Stories reveals the stories behind how engineers use specific
elements to create the material world around us. In eight chapters, the EngineerGuy team exposes the magnificence of
the innovation and engineering of digital camera imagers, tiny accelerometers, atomic clocks, enriched uranium, batteries,
microwave ovens, lasers, and anodized metals. In addition, short primers cover the scientific principles underlying the
engineering, including waves, nuclear structure, and electronic transitions. "In Depth" sections cover entropy, semiconductors,
and the mathematics of capacitors. Eight Amazing Engineering Stories forms the basis of the fourth series of EngineerGuy
videos found on-line.