Welcome to Indigenous Futures in Engineering, Queen's University

Fun Facts

21 kilometers

In the Baffin region, the only road connecting two communities is a 21 km section linking Arctic Bay and Nanisivik.


The Native peoples of the southwestern United States were outstanding construction engineers! Using the local adobe soil they built multi-storey, multi-family "apartment" complexes called Pueblos.

All in a day's work

A day is a measure of how long it takes a planet to make one full rotation around its axis. One day on Earth is 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.091 seconds.

Other planets have different lengths of day:

  • Mercury: 59 days
  • Venus: 243 days
  • Mars: 24 hours, 37 minutes, 23 seconds
  • Jupiter: 9 hours, 55 minutes

We measure a day beginning at midnight. The Ancient Babylonians measured the day from sunrise and the ancient Jews measured it from sunset.

Big bison

There are about 37,000 bison on farms in Canada (and another 8,000 or so in parks and zoos). Bison is farmed for both its meat and hides.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Canadian Space Travellers

You've probably heard of "Buzz" Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and John Glenn. Do you know what they have in common with Robert Thirsk, Dave Williams and Bjarni Tryggvason? The answer is that they've all orbited around the Earth in a spaceship. Thirsk, Williams and Tryggvason are three of the 7 Canadians who have left Terra Firma to travel into space. The others are: Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in Space; Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space; Julie Payette, the youngest Canadian in space and the first to work on the International Space Station; Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to space walk! (No, not like Michael Jackson!)

Canadian transportation

In Canada in 2001, there were:

  • 1,800 aerodromes/airports
  •  28,000 registered aircraft
  • 50,000 kilometres of railway track
  • 3,260 rail locomotives
  • 112,000 freight cars
  • 430 passenger cars
  • 300 marine ports
  • 2,170 commercial marine vessels
  • 900,000 kilometres of road
  • 11,600 urban transit buses
  • 2,500 urban passenger rail vehicles
  • 375,000 heavy-duty trucks
  • 17 million cars and light trucks
  • 16,000 service stations
  • 20 million licensed drivers

Transport Canada

Chalk it up!

The chalk your teacher uses on the blackboard used to be alive. It is made from limestone, a rock composed of tiny vegetable and animal fossils.

Computing power

The average desktop computer contains 5-10 times more computing power than was used to land humans on the moon.

Source: www.funtrivia.com

Corn and beans

The Iroquois were accomplished farmers and agricultural engineers. They cultivated more than 15 species of corn, including 61 varieties of sweet corn and 25 varieties of popping corn. They also grew more than 60 varieties of beans, including over 8 varieties each of bread beans and soup beans.

Do Materials Really make that much of a difference?

You bet! For example, materials make a huge difference in the telecommunications industry. A single 4.5 pound spool of optical fiber can carry the same number of messages as 200 reels of copper wire that weigh over 1600 pounds! A typical fiber-optic cable made up of 100 or more such fibers can carry more than 40,000 voice channels.

These remarkable strands of glass - each thinner than a human hair, yet stronger, length for length, than steel - were designed to carry vast amounts of data.

Earth's chemical makeup

Oxygen, iron and silicon are the most abundant elements on Earth. Aluminum, calcium, magnesium, nickel and sulfur make up most of the remaining 20%. The other 100+ elements account for only about 1% of everything on Earth!

Eggs and eggs and eggs

Each year close to 6 billion eggs are laid by the 22 million chickens on Canadian farms. That's more than 270 eggs per chicken!

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Food power

All over the world agricultural and chemical engineers are working together to convert animal fats and vegetable oils into bio-diesels, a type of biodegradable fuel. THEIR CHALLENGE: to make this environmentally friendly fuel cheap enough so that it can compete with fossil fuels.

Forests are oxygen factories

To grow a kilogram of wood, a tree consumes 1.47 kilograms of carbon dioxide and gives off 1.07 kilograms of oxygen.

Growth spurt

You're taller in the morning than you are at night. During the night your spine stretches to its full length so when you get up in the morning you're at your tallest. During the day gravity acts to compress your spine, so you get shorter as the day progresses. An average adult shrinks by 16 millimeters between getting up and going to bed.

Helicopter movement

Helicopters are the most versatile flying machine in existence!! Cars can move forward, backward, right and left, and planes can only move forward, left, right, up and down. A helicopter can do all of that AND fly backwards, rotate in the air, and hover.

Source: Howstuffworks.com

How do reindeer keep from freezing in the winter?

They use anti-freeze!

Well, actually they eat lots and lots of moss, which contains chemicals that help them keep their body fluids warm. When the weather gets really cold these chemicals prevent the reindeer from freezing solid.


The first snowshoes were made by simply strapping fir boughs onto the feet!

Microchips facts

Some microchips are so small they can fit through the eye of a needle, and a single fibre optic cable thinner than the dots at the beginning of this line can carry 2000 two-way conversations at the same time.

Mining and Caribou

Native Elders and scientists have been working together to protect caribou from dangers at mine sites? In the Northwest Territories many new mines are opening on and around the Bathhurst caribou herd's calving and feeding grounds. The caribou seem to be attracted to mine sites, possibly because they are very open and leave no hiding places for predators. Unfortunately, the sites can be dangerous to the animals. Scientists working with Elders determined that by building fences based on traditional Dogrib design - wood and rope fences with plastic flutters - they can keep the caribou away from any dangerous sites.

Nature's engineers

Some animals are natural construction engineers and build amazing things. Their construction methods are often so good that humans copy them!

A web is a spider's home. It's also its version of a trapline. Using a part of its body called spinnerets (most spiders have 6), a spider spins out liquid silk which quickly hardens into strong, sticky webbing. Building a web takes a lot of work. Some of them are damaged quickly by the thrashing of trapped bugs, so spiders are constantly repairing and reconstructing their webs. Take a look at the similarities between a spider's web and a hockey net!

Bees construct hexagonal (6-sided) cells from beeswax to make their hives. The shape of the cell is very efficient, it makes the hive strong, but lightweight - an important consideration when 40,000 to 60,000 bees might be living there. The hexagon honeycomb is a shape which appears in other places in nature like in plant stems and the cornea in the human eye. Because of its high strength-to-weight ratio, the hexagon is used by human designers in things like cardboard boxes.

The structures that ants build to live are called nests, but they're actually a lot more like cities! There are lots of different rooms called chambers in an ant's nest. Each chamber has a specific function. Some are used for storing food, others as garbage dumps, there are even special chambers like nurseries which are used for raising ant larvae. All of these chambers are connected by tunnels, which look a lot like highway interchanges.

Another city-builder is the prairie dog. Prairie dogs live in dry grasslands and they are very small which makes them easy targets for predators, so they spend a lot of their time underground where it's both cooler and safer. Prairie dog towns, as they are called, can be huge - up to the size of a city block! Within each town there may be many families, each with its own burrow which is connected to others by tunnels. The towns have lots of entrances; when predators appear the prairie dogs can escape to safety quickly.

Perhaps the most famous construction engineer in the animal world is the beaver. Beavers build dams, lodges, food stashes and even canals and logging trails. Their homes provide them with everything they need while keeping them incredibly safe from predators. Beavers build dams only in places where the water in shallow, in this way they make sure the water will be deep enough during the winter so that the entrance to the dam is not covered in ice. Where water is deeper, beavers build lodges which they cover in mud (except around the air intake near the top). When the cold weather begins the mud cements the outer twigs and wood of the lodge together so that no predators can get in. In order to get trees to their lodges or dams more easily, beavers often clear logging trails (routes which they clear of trees) or excavate canals. Canals can be 1.5m wide and 1m deep; sometimes beavers divert nearby streams through them to maintain the water level near their lodge or dam.

What other animals are construction engineers?

Not (originally) available elsewhere

The Aboriginal people of the Americas cultivated and processed many crops which were unknown to Europeans before contact. These crops included:

  • Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peanuts
  • Tomatoes
  • Yams
  • Chilies
  • Sunflowers
  • Avocado
  • Cocoa

One, two, three, four, five...

Counting is one of the first things we learn as children. But did you know there are different ways of counting? The number system we use everyday is called the decimal, or base-10, system. In it there are ten symbols - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0 - that can be use to represent any number no matter how big or how small.

Another way of counting was used by the Mayan people of central America. They developed a base-20, or vigesimal system. In it there are twenty symbols, each representing a number from zero to nineteen. A dot represents ones, a line represents fives, and a special symbol represents zero. A dot or dots over a zero indicate that a cycle is starting again, so 20 is one dot over a zero and 40 is two dots over a zero.

Computers use yet another way of counting. It is a binary, or base-2, system. It uses two symbols, 0 and 1. Each 0 or 1 is called a bit. While we see normal looking numbers and letters on our computer monitors, they are each actually stored in the computer as a series of 8 bits, also called a byte. Although computers are really modern machines, the binary system was developed by European mathematicians in the 1700s.

Get binary equivalents of decimal numbers

Get more information on Mayan numbers

What ROM and RAM mean

Recycling sawdust

Every day products such as paper grocery bags, and corrugated boxes are often made from the recycled sawdust and wood shavings left over from manufacturing wood products like tables and chairs.

Silly Putty Practice

  • Silly Putty has been to space. The astronauts of Apollo 8 were given a special silver egg of Silly Putty to play with during their flight. They used it to keep tools from floating around the rocket cabin while in zero gravity.
  • The Columbus Zoo in Ohio has used Silly Putty to make hand and foot prints of gorillas.
  • Some non-smoker groups tell their members to play with Silly Putty when they're trying to quit smoking. It gives them something to do with their hands.
  • Silly Putty can be used to clean computer keyboards, plug leaks, remove lint and animal hair from clothing and steady wobbly tables.

Source: http://funstuffusa.com


Aerospace engineers use sling shots. It's not the same kind of slingshot used for hunting but it works in a similar way. Spacecraft travel close to a planet or a moon and use the gravity to slingshot themselves off in a new direction with great speed. This was the method that NASA used to bring the Apollo 13 crew safely back to Earth, it is also what happens to comets when they travel around the sun.

Some Sluggish Stuff

  • Coastal BC supports the largest number of slugs in Canada - as many as 3 per square foot of garden soil!
  • Only the Prairie Provinces with their hot, dry summers and bitterly cold winters are wholly unpopular with slugs. Slugs avoid light. They seek out cool, moist dark conditions.
  • If a slug looses one eye and is stuck in the light, it will crawl around in circles in the direction of the missing eye. It thinks it's moving towards the dark.
  • Slugs cause the loss of about 36,000 tons of potatoes every year - the average annual consumption of about 400,000 people.
  • Banana slugs deposit a valuable nitrogen-rich fertilizer in their droppings, giving young redwood trees a boost in growth.
  • Members of the family Vitrinidae range into the Arctic and can sometimes be seen gliding along the surface of the snow.

Spacecraft, aircraft?

The space shuttle is an aircraft when it is in the Earth's atmosphere and a spacecraft only when it is in orbit.

That's a lot of horse...

When cars started driving on the streets of New York City in 1900 they were hailed as pollution relieving devices. At the time there were 120,000 horses in the city; they produced more than a million kilograms of manure each day!

The Eagle has landed

The bald eagle is an inspiring symbol of power and grace. In Native spiritual teachings, the eagle is revered because it is considered the highest flying creature of the skies and carries prayers to the Creator.

Did you know that when man first journeyed to the Moon in July 1969, the Lunar Module that landed was named the "Eagle"? When it touched the Moon's surface, the famous words uttered were, "the Eagle has landed"

Native prophecies foresaw the time when the eagle would circle the moon and land upon it. They say that this would be the start of a new time and power for Native people.

The Great Lakes

Water stays in Lake Superior for an average of 191 years, in Lake Michigan for an average of 99 years, in Lake Huron for an average of 22 years, in Lake Ontario for an average of 6 years and in Lake Erie for an average of only 2.6 years.

The human heart

The human heart is one of the most efficient pumps ever designed. It beats on average 100,000 times a day. That means by the time most people are 20 it has beat about 730,500,000 times! How old would the average person be by the time it has beat 1 billion times?

The most amazing construction project - ever!

Construction has begun on the International Space Station, the most challenging and ambitious construction project ever thought up!

  • The Space Station will allow people to live in orbit for an extended period of time.
  • The project will take at least 45 space flights over 5 years to complete.
  • 16 countries are involved in the co-operative project including Canada.
  • 3 Canadian astronauts will help in construction in space - Julie Payette, Marc Garneau and Chris Hadfield.
  • Dr. Hadfield was the first Canadian to make a space walk during a space shuttle mission on April 22nd , 2001.
  • A robot arm designed and made in Canada, similar to the one on the Space Shuttle, is a permanent part of the space station. It will help in construction and during experiments once the station is complete.
  • When complete the Space Station will be as large as two football fields and will be visible to the naked eye from Earth.

Wanted Bugs!

The Canadian Forest Service has a most wanted list. It's a list of foreign insects that have either arrived in Canada accidentally by airplane or cargo ship or on purpose through importation. Because these bugs are not native to North America, they have few or no natural predators and can cause huge amounts of damage to forests crops and grasslands.

Most-wanted insects include the Asian Long-horned Beetle which kills hardwoods, especially sugar maples and the European Gypsy Moth which kills oaks and other broad-leaf trees.

The best way to avoid trouble is to make sure the insects never have a chance to establish significant populations. When they do, the populations must be contained quickly in order to avoid their spread. In the summer of 2000, the city of Halifax considered cutting down 10,000 trees in city parks to halt an infestation of the Brown Spruce Longhorn Beetle.

Web Words

Bit The smallest unit of computer data; either 0 or 1.

HTML The language used to create Web pages; it stands for Hyper Text Markup Language.

Internet The huge collection of inter-connected networks and computers all over the world. The World Wide Web is only a part of the Internet.

Modem A device which connects your computer to a phone line and allows access to other computers.

What's in a name?

If your teacher shows you two rocks and says one is quartz and the other is quartzite, what's the difference? Well, quartz is a pure substance whereas quartzite is not. The three little letters "ite" added to the end of mineral name, means it is made mostly, but not entirely of that mineral.

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