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Hydrogen Properties for Energy Research (HYPER) Laboratory Cool. Fuel.

How we master engineering through daily practice

“How do you practice to perform as an engineer?” — HYPER lab mentor PK Northcutt II

The question was simple and sincere. But I (Jake Leachman) had no answer. I had been an ‘engineer’ for over a decade and was now teaching others to be ‘engineers’, but I had nothing. With a decade of experience practicing football, shotput and discus, Jazz trombone, you name it; I had practiced for decades but could not identify a singular act or trait in engineering that could be considered deliberate ‘practice’ as I had, well, practiced with these other professional performances. Sure I’d given students homework problems to do … » More …

Learning how to say thank you; from one professional to another


Looking back over my life a consistent thread has emerged with the people I’ve tried to keep around — they know how to say thank you, or express gratitude, in memorable ways. Although this could be a nuance particular to me, my guess is you’ve noticed similar trends in your life. So why is it we so often struggle to say thanks as a community? How am I supposed to teach aspiring professionals to say thank you, professionally and appropriately, to other professionals? I had … » More …

You had an idea! Now what?

It’s awesome when it happens. A new concept or idea for something to solve a problem for yourself or someone else just popped into your head (more on that here). For me the hair stands up on my neck and I want to run to the nearest person and tell them the idea and why it’s important. Evidently I have a crazy look on my face when this happens because it’s scared people before. Here’s the deal — excitement like this is contagious, and unless you’re careful to get your ducks in a row, it could lead to false hope/promises and unmet expectations.

What … » More …

Grit and Overcoming the Fear of Failure

A Forward

By Yulia Gitter

As I sat on my back porch late one night chatting with some colleagues from the HYPER Lab, we somehow managed to come up on the topic of failure. This has always been a subject of interest to me because I have failed a lot in my life so far, but have always been able to bounce back quickly and thrive nonetheless. Knowing only a very small part of my colleague’s background, I just blurted out “have you ever failed at anything?” I meant no harm by the question but was genuinely curious as to what his response would be. … » More …

How to Procure Parts Easily and Efficiently – The HYPER Way

Have you ever had a $45,000 piece of equipment show up in your facility, and thought: “I don’t remember what this is for…”? Well, I had this exact thing happen to me. I was fortunate in that the 900 pounds of equipment sitting in the shipping bay was a simple mix-up with the company delivering our equipment. Crisis averted! However, in many instances mistakes like this can lead to the loss of funds, and sometimes even jobs. The responsibility often falls to project managers to have a crystal-clear picture of the flow of parts and equipment coming in for their systems.

How to identify and handle an abusive adviser, boss, or colleague

Whenever I’m repeatedly asked for advice about a topic it becomes a post on this blog. Around this time of year many undergraduates and graduates working in the HYPER lab are considering offers to advance their careers. The most common, and rightly critical, question is how to find the right mentor and colleagues for that next phase in life while avoiding the abusive adviser/boss/colleague (I’m going to use ‘authority’ from here on) that could stall your career for years. It’s no easy task — you’re typically granted only a 30 minute choreographed interview in your potentially new authority’s carefully orchestrated office before deciding whether to … » More …

Laboratory Space and the Conservation thereof

One of my thermo professor friends has a joke, “The first law of laboratory space is that it must be conserved, at all costs.” It’s only partly a joke — laboratory space is as serious of an issue as it comes to research faculty. We make decisions to come to a university, and stay or go, based on lab space. There is never enough space for everyone. Changes to policy result in changes… and there always seems to be someone who ends up unhappy.

So high up on the list of thankless jobs that people will hate you for is developing a policy for managing … » More …

The puzzle of lab management

The question of how to reliably recruit brilliant students came up in a project management workshop I recently attended. Evidently I budget substantially more money and time for working with undergrads because I’ve got an ‘army’ of ~20 now. It’s working well. But I’m sure many of you are puzzled over how and why I manage this many.

Quickly the question of ‘why’ bother managing ~20 undergrads working in the lab:

There’s no better way of ensuring you have the right person for a job than years of experience working with them.
There’s no better way of preparing someone to work in … » More …

On Onboarding

There comes a time when every community/team/organization must onboard new members to maintain vibrant resiliency while avoiding the pitfalls of isolationism and nepotism. Community is a fickle thing. You’d think we’d be better at this considering America as the cultural melting pot. Somehow though I’ve never received any formal training or discussion on the importance of initial conditions in the team building process. For those of you preparing to enter a new community, understanding what you need … » More …

Applying Ethical Standards in Engineering

I’ve sadly had to resort to ethical standards at several points in my (still brief) career. The odds are that you too will be faced with an ethical dilemma during engineering practice. The purpose of this post is to A) establish the ethical standards governing our field, B) present a procedure for applying those ethical standards, C) applying the procedure through several examples I’ve directly encountered, and D) a last resort.
The ASME Code of Ethics
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) is the society governing the mechanical engineering profession and controls membership and associations. ASME has a site walking you through … » More …