Monday, May 25, 2015

The importance of problem solving

Today was our first guided day in Denmark, and we had an amazing list of lessons and activities laid out. From seeing Viking ships to Bronze Age burial mounds to ancient chalk cliffs with a touch of fossil hunting, today was full of learning opportunities for the group.
Today was our first guided day in Denmark, and we had a fantastic list of activities planned for us.

We started off the day with a trip to Roskilde, the former capital of Denmark and home to a famous Viking ship museum. In addition to displaying real Viking ships excavated from the nearby fjord, the museum also constructs replicas to better understand Viking shipbuilding techniques and the seaworthiness of their ships.

Professor Imbertson teaching about Viking ship construction
Professor Imbertson (a former carpenter) explaining how Viking ships were made and why they were so advantageous.

While looking at Viking ships in the port outside of the museum, we learned about how their construction made them ideal vessels. They were light, fast, easily maneuverable, and suitable for both stormy seas and shallow rivers. The brilliant engineering of the ships gave the Vikings a huge advantage over their competitors.

The successes brought on by the perfection of the Viking ship makes a strong case for the importance of engineering in the advancement of societies. The ability to assess a problem and find the most efficient solution can, as it did here, forever change history.

Professor Imbertson and Paul in front of a replica Viking ship
Professor Imbertson and Paul in front of a replica Viking ship.

The next feat of engineering we had the opportunity to learn about was a Bronze Age burial mound known as Øm Jættestue, near Roskilde. Built over 5,000 years ago, it is still standing and is considered to be one of the best-preserved passage graves in Denmark.

Øm Jættestue burial mound - 2
The burial mound

We learned about the meticulous process involved in constructing a mound, which included specialized engineers who traveled around to different grave sites, advising the workers and assisting in the construction of the graves.

Despite their age, the impossibly heavy boulders that make up the roof of the burial mounds are still standing today, thanks to the knowledge and skill of Bronze-Age Danes.

Burial Mound Entrance
The entrance to the mound.

Passage to the burial mound
The low passage into the mound.

The tomb
Gus, Tim, and Ben in the tomb.

While burial mounds may have not had as large of an impact on world history as the Viking ship, it was certainly apparent how important proper engineering was to solve these challenges.

Finally, we took a visit to the southeastern shore of Zealand (the same Danish island that Copenhagen is on) to visit the famous Møns Klint, a 6 kilometer stretch of chalk cliffs representative of the chalk that lies under the entirety of Denmark.

Møns Klint

This is one of the only places where a cross section of the underlying material can be seen, which provides a great opportunity to better understand the geological history of Denmark.

Not only is chalk indicative of a former ocean floor (chalk is formed from the skeletons of microscopic crustaceans) but there are also many fossils to be found in these cliffs.

Fossil Hunting at Møns Klint
Fossil hunting

Luckily, our fossil hunting paid off, and a few of us were able to find some nice specimens.

Today provided a strong emphasis on the importance of systematically approaching problems in order to find the proper solution, a process that all scientists and engineers must keep in mind to be successful.

Touring the Danish countryside, we had the opportunity to glimpse examples of important problem solving in action. Not only did the Vikings figure out how to build excellent ships and the Bronze Age Danes figure out how to build burial mounds that can last for millennia, but one can also deduce the geologic history of Denmark by carefully observing Møns Klint.

Tomorrow we will be heading to the University of Copenhagen for lectures from some eminent figures in the field of sustainability and renewable energy, including a representative from the United Nations.

Today's lessons were delightfully enriching, and we can't wait for what we'll learn tomorrow!