0813ctt krasnow applied science

Bay area mechanical engineer Ben Krasnow makes silica aerogel in this demonstration in his home laboratory, one of many he has published on YouTube. (Credit: Krasnow; YouTube.)

I learned a new word today—“polymath: a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning.”

Students of history describe to Benjamin Franklin as a polymath, referring to his skills as a politician, author, scientist, inventor, and more. In addition to discovering the connection between lightening and electricity, he invented bifocals (thank you, Ben), the lightning rod, odometer, Franklin stove, and more.

A modern-day polymath with the same first moniker came to my attention today. Ben Krasnow, a mechanical engineer in the San Francisco Bay area, is an inventor and tinkerer, too. He likes to tinker with materials science, too.

Krasnow says on his LinkedIn profile, “I enjoy building mechanical and electronic systems. When I am not producing something that is valuable to other people, I spend my time building things just for the fun of it. There is little distinction between work and play as long as there is good engineering involved.”

Krasnow takes us along with him into his home laboratory via YouTube videos. (Had YouTube been available to Franklin, I am confident he would have used it to maximum effect, too. But, alas, electricity had to be understood first.) He has posted many videos on a range of tech-rich topics, such as how to make aerogel, evaporating ITO coatings on mirrors, how to build a scanning electron microscope, as well as some just rich topics like how to make fondant cakes. Other topics include X-ray imaging, woodworking, optics, and mechanics.

Obviously, Krasnow’s mind, like Franklin’s, is a busy one.

He calls the collection “Having Fun with Applied Science,” and watching the videos is like riding sidecar while Krasnow drives and narrates. But I think he does more than just share the delight of his mind with us. Through his narration, he demonstrates what engineering is by talking us through the engineering thought process. He shows us how to break a big problem into smaller problems, how to set up a an experiment or prototype, how to test and troubleshoot, and finally, how to tweak by going back and trying again.

These are informative and fun. The production quality of the videos is good—steady video with good sound and some editing. Nobody should be surprised!

I’ve linked to a small selection of them here.

Making patterned mirrors and ITO glass with a thermal evaporator


DIY X-ray CT scanner controlled by an Arduino


Glue chipped glass – first attempt


How to make fondant cakes – complete tutorial – Part 1

(I know you were wondering.)