Greg Pearson Scholar

An Engineer’s Christmas

PostedThursday, December 22, 2016 at 9:43 AM

Whether you believe in Santa or not, the story of this bewiskered old man delivering packages around the world on Christmas eve is a ripe target for an engineer’s critical eye. Putting aside the challenge of finding a suitable number of flying reindeer, the constraints associated with hauling gifts across the globe for every good little girl and boy in one night are problematic. For one thing, the original design of the jolly fellow’s sleigh, as experts in aerodynamics point out in an article in Popular Science, creates way too much drag, making the vehicle too slow to get the job done. The experts proposed a new, more aerodynamic design. The magazine doesn’t say whether Santa has upgraded. Even with an upgrade, the laws of physics, which all engineering must abide by, suggest a number of other daunting obstacles to meeting the gift needs of the world’s children. For example, by one calculation, the sleigh would need to travel at a rate of 650 miles per second in order to make all the required deliveries. At that speed, well, let’s just say neither Santa nor his reindeer would fare very well! For a fuller analysis of the design challenges facing the man in the red suit, check out the short video, Santa Clause: An Engineer’s Perspective. But true believers should not lose hope! In NAE’s Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series, North Carolina State University engineer Larry Silverberg posits how Santa might leverage “relativity clouds” and nano-toy makers to make every child’s Christmas dreams come true.