Does Having a License Make You an Engineer?

In Oregon, a consultant was fined for claiming he has expertise

2 min read
Mats Järlström at the intersection at the root of his case.
Photo: Institute for Justice

Video: Institute for Justice

THE INSTITUTEMats Järlström has been researching traffic-signal timing intervals ever since his wife was caught running a red light by a traffic camera in 2013. His calculations suggest that at certain intersections the timing of yellow lights isn’t long enough.

Järlström, who says he has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Sweden but not a state-issued engineering license, is a self-employed consultant who tests audio products and repairs, upgrades, and calibrates test instruments.

Video: Institute for Justice

According to an article in U.S. News and World Report, Järlström discussed his theory with “60 Minutes,” a local TV station, a sheriff, and a leading authority on traffic-light technology. He was invited to address the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

The Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying said Järlström practiced engineering without a license each time he critiqued the traffic-light system and identified himself as an engineer in correspondence. The board, a semi-independent panel whose members are appointed by the governor, funds itself through licensing and registration fees. The licensing board said that without an engineering license from the state, Järlström broke the law if he even referred to himself using the word engineer.

After a two-year investigation, the state in January fined him US $500 for “applying special knowledge of the mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences to such creative work as investigation, evaluation, and design in connection with public equipment, processes, and works. Järlström thereby engaged in the practice of engineering” under state law.

After paying the fine, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the licensing board, accusing it of violating his First Amendment rights. He says the Constitution allows him to criticize the camera formula and to call himself—accurately, in his view—an engineer.

The Institute for Justice, a U.S. nonprofit libertarian public-interest law firm, is representing Järlström, challenging the vague definition of what constitutes a professional engineer in Oregon. A federal judge recently ruled that Järlström could temporarily call himself an engineer while the litigation is pending.

Do you side with Järlström or the licensing board?

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Can This DIY Rocket Program Send an Astronaut to Space?

Copenhagen Suborbitals is crowdfunding its crewed rocket

15 min read
Five people stand in front of two tall rockets. Some of the people are wearing space suits and holding helmets, others are holding welding equipment.

Copenhagen Suborbitals volunteers are building a crewed rocket on nights and weekends. The team includes [from left] Mads Stenfatt, Martin Hedegaard Petersen, Jørgen Skyt, Carsten Olsen, and Anna Olsen.

Mads Stenfatt

It was one of the prettiest sights I have ever seen: our homemade rocket floating down from the sky, slowed by a white-and-orange parachute that I had worked on during many nights at the dining room table. The 6.7-meter-tall Nexø II rocket was powered by a bipropellant engine designed and constructed by the Copenhagen Suborbitals team. The engine mixed ethanol and liquid oxygen together to produce a thrust of 5 kilonewtons, and the rocket soared to a height of 6,500 meters. Even more important, it came back down in one piece.

That successful mission in August 2018 was a huge step toward our goal of sending an amateur astronaut to the edge of space aboard one of our DIY rockets. We're now building the Spica rocket to fulfill that mission, and we hope to launch a crewed rocket about 10 years from now.

Copenhagen Suborbitals is the world's only crowdsourced crewed spaceflight program, funded to the tune of almost US $100,000 per year by hundreds of generous donors around the world. Our project is staffed by a motley crew of volunteers who have a wide variety of day jobs. We have plenty of engineers, as well as people like me, a pricing manager with a skydiving hobby. I'm also one of three candidates for the astronaut position.

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