Investigations in Engineering

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Investigations in Engineering
Science Course
Year Opened1997
Sites OfferedJHU
InstructorDr. Jack Bartholemew
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Investigations in Engineering, coded as IENG and nicknamed Fast-paced Death, is based on the Johns Hopkins freshman engineering course What is Engineering?. IENG is offered only at the Johns Hopkins site, has a precalculus prerequisite (yes, you REALLY need this; calculus is recommended but not required), and has been taught for the last 18 years by Dr. Jack Bartholomew. It is one of, if not THE most intensive course CTY offers.

Course Description

According to the CTY website:

"This class asks students to do more than calculate the solutions to well-posed, simplified problems. Rather, they are asked to translate problems often encountered by engineers and spaghetti snakes (with no obvious solutions) into ones which can be tackled and resolved. These open-ended assignments require hands-on exploration. Some of the exploration uses a virtual environment with a set of laboratory experiments developed in HTML and Java. These exercises require students to develop a broad understanding of how to solve engineering problems. The virtual laboratory includes exercises such as drilling for oil, remote measurement, electronic circuit design, logical circuit design, and building a robotic arm."

In addition, you'll cover Fermi problems, dimensional analysis, engineering design processes, material properties, error propagation, approximation, engineering ethics, and binary systems/digital logic.

Here is the syllabus: [1]

As one can tell, the courseload for this class is extremely intense. It is highly recommended that only older, more mature students attempt this course. The speed at which information is dealt out during lectures and the pile of assignments required for the course is, in the humble opinion of a survivor of the class, only suitable for 15-17 year olds. The one 5/8/10/12/13-year old (constantly changing according to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) who chose to come regularly got under 20 out of 90 points on assignments.


IENG has been taught for the last twenty years by Dr. Jack Bartholemew, although everyone calls him "Jack" and no one thinks of him as Dr. Bartholemew. He is a generally laid-back but extremely sharp guy who will blow your mind during lectures. He is fond of wearing brightly colored sneakers, socks, shorts, and t-shirts.

During each morning session, Jack gives a lecture on various aspects of Engineering. The course is taught like a college course, which means that the information flows ridiculously fast, and not much time is spent dwelling on certain topics. It is helpful, if not essential, to bring a notebook and take notes. There is not really any other way to fully absorb what Jack is teaching. If you find yourself understanding concepts 3 days after they're taught, congratulations--this is normal. Spend every minute you can clandestinely studying, or be prepared to lag far, far behind.

Jack is usually available during afternoon or evening sessions if you need help. If you are clueless about ANYTHING, it is highly recommended that you talk to Jack or your TA AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. Almost guaranteed, the next day's lecture will bring more questions, in a vicious cycle. Jack is very approachable and will do his best to explain the complex concepts to you, so it never hurts to ask.


Two words: Mad Calc/Pre-Calc/Physics. Wait, that's four.

Don't take the warning on the course description lightly... This is a HARD course. A lot of smart people take this course without realizing this and are overwhelmed by the workload. Don't be one of those people. As a talented youth, you're probably used to hearing that classes are hard when they're actually easy. This course is actually hard. That said, if you feel like a challenge and are prepared to learn fast, apply fast, and project hard, this course can be extremely rewarding.

The youngest person to take this course was a 12-year-old named Dean Steinman; this is extremely unusual because the prerequisite is to take Pre-Calc.

First, this course is the only one that requires an essay be written BEFORE the course, to be handed at the beginning of the first class. If you plan to get credit for the course, make sure you remember to do this essay because it's not well-advertised on the main website and a lot of people forget to do it. For more information regarding the pre-course essay: [2] (This course no longer needs an essay before, as the credit has been removed).

You'll be graded on several lab reports, two oral presentations, and two essays (one of which is the aforementioned essay you do before you get to CTY.) In addition, this class includes a midterm exam as well as a final. The culmination of the course is designing, constructing, and testing a bridge constructed entirely of spaghetti and epoxy (both of which you will find in the most unexpected places a week later). For those interested in the 3D design of the bridge which held 17 kg, here is the link to model on Google SketchUp Warehouse: [3].

The labs consist of several virtual labs, as well as the infamously complicated "Materials Science" lab (be prepared to work until 4 in the morning) and the arduous "Remote Measurement" lab. I don't want to spoil surprises, but let's just say it's extremely easy to screw up the former and the latter requires extreme patience with meter sticks.

To even comprehend the material, let alone earn credit for this class, you WILL find yourself doing work outside of class. Paradoxically, this is against CTY policy. However, what Hopkins lacks in CTY tradition, it makes up for with lenient lights out reinforcement depending on your RA, which means you most probably won't get caught completing work.

NOTE: There is a method that allows you to retain legality and stay caught up in work. It is to avoid social contact altogether and spend every minute of your free time working on IENG stuff. This option however, is fraught with danger and was not chosen by any of the students of 11.1.

Personal interjection: In 11.1, the boys were caught once in the third week for staying up past lights out waiting for the use of a laptop. (Apparently, the boys had their door propped open and inside the residential dean found a boy playing guitar; four boys playing poker with pretend chips, and one boy studying madly SAT; two of the aforementioned were shirtless.) The girls were never caught. It is recommended one brings a contraband flashlight or lamp and keep the room lights off. Administration can see them from outside.

A requirement for the course is a 1 GB flash drive, which you WILL need. (Actually, I (15.2) only needed an email account--YMMV, but this may change.) In addition, it won't hurt to IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY to bring a laptop armed with Word processing, Excel, and PowerPoint (preferably not 1997, or you will find yourself naming files as a combination of an expletive and the owner of the computer; also, it is generally a good idea to have your Gmail in the same language as your partners' if you are using Google Drive); however, keep in mind that laptops are also considered contraband at CTY. Fortunately, most RAs at JHU are fairly understanding of the difficulty of the course and will turn a blind eye toward it.

A vast majority of the course consists of group projects, so not only will this course teach you extreme algebra and physics, but you will also learn how to work in a group. The class usually becomes quite tight-knit because you work with each other so much. You need each other's help, and you need everyone to have your back, whether it be writing labs together at 2 AM, sitting next to your partner who's writing labs at 2 AM for moral support, or trying to explain midterm topics the midnight before the midterm to your equally clueless roommate.

Official Class Song

The Official Class Song, written by Andrew during 15.2 is (to the tune of I'll Make A Man Out Of You):

"Let’s get down to business
To defeat the Youngs
Why'd they send me Evans
When I asked for Suns
You're the saddest bunch I've ever met
But you can bet, if you can do truss
Evan, I'll do some Young's Modulus
We must stretch as the best linguini
Because Young was so very smart
This stress-strain thing is so amazing
Let's go buy more linguini from the mart!
[Verse 2:]
Let's dimensionally
Calculate the E
And by pi dividing
Now found can be we
You're a spineless, pale, pathetic lot
And you haven't got a clue
Evan, I'll make a Bohr out of you
Time is racing toward us
Till the paper's due
And if we do not finish
I am blaming you
You're unsuited for the rage of war
So pack up, go home you're through
How could I
E with you?
[repeat chorus]
[repeat chorus]"


IENG has been taught since 1997.

CTY's photographers and videographers will often drop by during the bridge building and breaking to take videos and record testimonies of why CTY is so cool. :D


In 2011, 16 brave souls (14 boys, 2 girls) subjected themselves to this grueling course for knowledge, college credit, and the greater good.

The boys, from Chris Little's hall, formed the closest, most bro-like hall ever. The hall ate together during almost all meals, played ultimate Frisbee as a team, and in general did the same activities. From the first day it was decided that the whole hall be entered into the ultimate Frisbee tournament. Kavin Sanghavi signed everyone in the hall up for the ultimate Frisbee weekly activity to train. They lost, but they still had the most spirit. And uniforms. New inside jokes were made almost every day, and they had deep conversations over Chinese food in the hallway. Chipotle was also good. They had one of the chillest RA ever, and basically all the ravers. (Chen was the only one with live glowsticks that session). The hall was made up of Goku-l "52.5! OH YEA" Asokan, Gareth "Frisbee maniac" Chen, David "FAKE Lax/Poker Bro" Cho, Chris "REAL Poker Bro" Yu, Kavin "raving guitarist" Sanghavi, Kiran Jagtiani of the depressing music, Harry "Hacker" Brennan, William "D'arcy" Kenworthy The Fourth, Joon "8-year old" Kim, Sahil Gupta the Retired Engineer in Disguise, Dani Casas Bofarull the Smooth-voiced, Suave, Spanish Lad, Tyler "The one who sings really high" Postle, Andrew "way tall" Schade, and Xinyuan "MC/Raver/Random guy with flute" Chen.

The girls were really cool too, but since there were only 2 of them, they felt a little bit left out sometimes... But they were really awesome! See? they even drew this sign in front of our bench!

Chalk Sign!.jpg

A guy named Rob was the TA this year and was famous for bringing his iPad to class everyday and playing Plants vs. Zombies and Words with Friends (in which he refused to play his students) on it. A lot. All the time. He also wore a tie and slacks every day, way more formal than Jack, and WROTE IN ALL CAPS ALL THE TIME. As such, we made many kind-hearted jokes about him and gave him a duct tape bow tie we all signed as a parting gift. We also wrote/sang him a song, based on the tune of American Pie:

So bye, bye, guy with iPad and tie
Played his games all day in class until his battery died
And the grades he gave made all his students cry, singing
This'll be the day that I die... this'll be the day that I die.


A running gag amongst the four girls who attended was "torque" (to be shouted out in the event some rotating object had been spotted or when one of said girls decided to spontaneously begin spinning in circles) and "truss" fall. On the last day, Rob, in all his tie-and-slacks glory, showed off his inner gymnast with a one-handed cartwheel, much to the delight of the girls who had begged him to torque (as in spin around like a helicopter propeller) on video.

Mafia was introduced and played. Lacey Walker was God and quickly gained a reputation for having people die off in the most ridiculous ways (Lacey if you're reading this feel free to correct me if I'm wrong).

It is notable that many, many attempts were made by the girls to mingle with the boys. These efforts were mostly in vain but not for lack of trying. At the last dance, the IENG kids along with Jack and Rob (both of whom actually came!) gathered together in a circle for Forever Young. It was a very memorable bonding moment. The comment was made that this was a very LATE bonding moment. Ahhh. Oh well. Fun times.


This session, 11 boys and 4 girls subjected themselves to this course. Writing from one of the girls' perspectives, I can attest to how ridiculously close we became to one another over the 3 weeks we went through Fast-Paced Death. The boys seemed to have a sense of camaraderie, too, which was substantiated when Skyler from Hawaii introduced them to mikkuru beam-u!, a line from some anime you can look up on YouTube. When walking back to the Gentle Slope, one could often hear RA Adrian calling, "MIKKURU BEAM-UUU!", which the boys repeated until they grouped up. It was cute.

Our TA was named Matt, and he was great, although the grades he gave us were usually worse than Jack's. He enjoyed telling us there was no smiling in engineering, and in return we called him a pelican. Together, we enjoyed hours of spaghetti science, lab write-ups (and frijoles) in the HAC lab, NAND gates, and bridge building, with Chris N. sneaking naps in between. ("Now is not the time to be sleeping!") By the end of the session, we could even tell apart the three Alexes and two Chrises, who also happened to share rooms with their name-doubles.

We (the girls) also took creeper pictures of Matt (thank you 14.2 for carrying on for us), and enjoyed shipping him with our RA Emily and chanting his name whenever he came near. Our lives became complete when he accompanied us to get ice cream. Maybe the sleepless nights spent editing projects on Diana's iPad were finally getting to us. Yes, the amount of work is soul-crushing if you wish to get credit. Yes, our bridges were pretty lame. Yes, I still haven't caught up on my sleep. But frankly, I wouldn't have had it any other way.


This session at CTY was a great, very diverse class. This class included everyone from the whisker-obsessed to The Cabinet of North Korea with Kim Jong Un n' friends. The class included everyone and everyone felt welcome whether a human, a snow leopard, a kangaroo or even a T-Rex. Some call IENG Fast-Paced Death, but we call it Fast-Paced Friendship (with a little bit of death on the side). Together we survived the epoxalypse, created Jeff, the legendary 27 kg-carrying (before penalties) spaghetti bridge, and developed a clever system of distinguishing between Branboy and Branman, all while taking enough creeper pictures of our TA, Matt, to make a truss bridge.


This session was amazing. 12 guys and 3 girls shared this fast-paced experience of lab write-ups, presentations, and dear god, spaghetti and epoxy everywhere. Countless nights were spent staying up after lights' out, particularly during the entire third week, in which we struggled to finish presentations or studied unsuccessfully for the impossibly hard final.

The TA this year was Jose, whom the girls mercilessly shipped with their RA Emily (despite Jose being married and Emily having a boyfriend), especially when he chaperoned them to Barnes & Noble and Chipotle. Unfortunately, the guys and girls failed to bond for the most part, but the class pictures at the end of the session were pretty fabulous. Together, we constructed some cool-looking bridges (notably the girls) but managed to hold rather disappointing amounts of mass. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun.

Error propagation poem

A poem written by EV Gnu-Gnu and Silver about error propagation.

When one is flipping lengths of rope
To measure distance, we can hope
That there will be no error. Wait,
But that’s not true. There is one. Great.
If we have flipped the rope N times
The bell on top of Shriver chimes
And tells us that the error’ll be
Proportional to root N. Whee.
The av’rage error’s multiplied
By this result. With this implied,
The rms we can derive
Root seven times point zero five.