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Mechanical engineers can visualize themselves easily in a buzzing power plant or by an old boiler, but how about flying in a sailboat or powerboat, ripping through gorgeous strands of blue sea? Boat design offers adventurous opportunities for those with a natural affinity for the water, to go along with critical thinking skills.
William Lasher, professor of mechanical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, who has spent the last decade focused on sail dynamics, says this is a field that becomes passion as much as career. "Yacht design, for example, puts you up against the structural issues of racing boats, focusing on incredibly complex loading conditions," Lasher explains. "Show even a couple percent improvement in the speed and it's a major difference.
" Lasher utilizes finite element analysis, looking at areas such as hydrodynamic resistance of the boat in flat water versus performance in waves, or, for powerboats, the design of the propeller to correspond with the engine. "When it comes to finite analysis, especially at the higher end of racing boats for structure, one of the places used a lot is in the design of keels," he says. "They hang on the bottom of the boat and it serves the purpose of keeping it from slipping sideways but is made out of lead.
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