Engineering 93G--Intermediate Technology

Chris Bull
Barrett Hazeltine
Brown University

Rationale: Different technological solutions can meet the same human need. One way to heat a house is a nuclear power plant supplying a resistive heater. Another way is a solar collector and ample insulation. These technologies can be compared on the basis of cost, self-dependence, encouragement of self-reliance, or environmental effects. Is a solar heated house desirable simply because the owner can understand it and build it herself/himself and because it does not pollute? This course considers whether a so-called "Intermediate Technology " on the one hand, meets relevant human physical needs and, on the other hand, actually brings with it desirable personal and social benefits.

One part of the course consists of a discussion of possible benefits of different technological levels. Another part is a study of various intermediate technologies. The last part is an evaluation of these technologies. Do they work? Do they really promote a fulfilling, healthy life style? Do they really lead to a responsible and responsive government?

Schedule: The schedule below for the course is intentionally general, so its implementation can be adjusted to meet the wishes of participants.

Topic Weeks
Definition of Intermediate Technology and Rationale for Its Use 1.0
Water Power 0.5
Methane Digesters, etc. 0.5
Food Production/Consumption 1.0
Solar Energy 1.0
Human Powered Vehicles 1.0
Other Intermediate Technologies 1.0
Technology in Colonial America and in Contemporary Southern Africa 1.0
Trips to Old Slater Mill, Southside Land Trust, etc. 1.0
Limitations of technological solutions 0.5
Guest Lecturers on Impact of Tech. In Other Cultures 1.0
Implications of Inter. Tech., esp. In Contemporary US Society  1.5
Presentation of Projects 1.0

Course requirements: The course requirements are participation in discussion, completion of problems--several from each chapter, as chosen, and a project in three parts. The first part consists of a proposal for the project--what will be done and why the concept is useful. The second part consists of a paper describing why the project makes sense - what the approach offers, particularly in terms of life style and the basic calculations and so forth. The third part consists of the project itself, usually something you have built and a paper explaining what students have built.

For example, if the project is small scale gardening, the basic calculations would show the amount of land required, amount of food produced, cost and time for preparation and cultivation, cost of seeds and fertilizer, and so forth. The "life-style" section of the paper would discuss drawbacks of existing agriculture and advantages of what you are proposing. The project would be the plants you have grown and the plan for the garden.

Grades: The final grade weighs class participation and problems equally with the project. Projects are presented to the class during reading period. Some people feel shy about participating in discussion. If students prefer to write out their position on the topic being considered, those position statements can substitute for discussion.