To celebrate the wonderful world of engineers, in this issue of the Squeaky Wheel we've chosen to highlight some of our favourite engineering feats and topics.
The pantheon – this dome was engineered almost 2,000 years ago, and it's still the largest of its kind today. The Pantheon in Rome was designed by Apollo of Damascus in 120AD, with a giant 43m dome and huge oculus. For centuries, engineers tried to replicate Apollo's architectural achievement – which was to create a huge dome with a diameter exactly equal to its height.
The perfectly proportioned dome has influenced architecture for centuries, but it's never been surpassed. The Pantheon's dome was the largest in the world for 1,300 years, and is still the largest unsupported dome today.
Well here the sky (or even space) is the limit. Too numerous to mention them all and too even to pick a single object, where do we start? The pyramids? No, architectural has a mention more significant. Roman hypocausts? Aqueducts? Or steam engines - there's a good one. Or is it pumps? Maybe the essential sewage systems or internal combustion engines, ships, aeroplanes, cars? All of these come from that root of mechanical engineering. But possibly that most efficient of man's machines, providing freedom of movement at speed over distance, is the winner – the modest and unassuming bicycle which awakened a new age of thinking. Now Steam… there's a subject requiring much more thought. In the meanwhile we have a picture of the first recorded bicycle - the Johnson Bicycle of 200 years ago.
Our next contender also has roots in the past - human prosthetics. One of the oldest examples is a wood and leather prosthetic toe found on a 3,000-year old Egyptian mummy – created by one of the first biomedical engineers. Since then, biomedical engineering has evolved hugely and completely transformed modern medicine. Think about surgical devices, MRI scanners, dialysis machines, bionic nerve propelled limbs – all of these life-saving technologies have been developed by biomedical engineers.
Computers and computing started around five thousand years ago with the ABACUS in Asia Minor, falling into disuse with the creation of paper, quill pen and ink. Computers were not really thought about again until the eighteenth century when Charles Babbage, an English scientist/mathematician, frustrated by mistakes made in astronomical calculations, designed a sophisticated calculating machine. Moving on from the original Babbage computer to the integrated artificial intelligence of today computing is improving moment by moment.
...And last but not least: the internet! The internet has changed day-to-day life. It's the world's largest library, shopping centre, video store and communication channel all rolled into one. It was originally created in 1969 by electrical engineers from the UCLA to Stanford University with TCP/IP protocols set up in 1974 by Bob Khan and Vince Cerf (Cerfing the Net?).
The internet has transformed our lives – but even the internet has evolved since the early days. When it was first introduced, the web was used by a few expert coders to transfer data between two terminals. Only 40 years later, the internet is the largest computer network in the world, connected to four million systems, 70 million users, and a dizzying number of opportunities – all thanks to engineers.
In distant 1791, Michael Faraday did not receive a traditional scientific education. He became an apprentice to a bookbinder where he learned about scientific subjects from the books he bound. As he gained an interest in science he started to attend scientific lectures. He was especially interested in electricity, galvanism, and mechanics. Eventually he attended four lectures given by Humphry Davy, which marked the start of his scientific career.
In 1814, Faraday travelled with Davy throughout Europe for 18 months, meeting many scientists and developing his scientific knowledge along the way. Upon his return, he worked with Davy on chemical experiments for several years before he published his research on electromagnetic rotation in 1821, which is the principle behind all electric motors. This moment, perhaps, was the birth of the electrical engineering discipline.
It took ten long years before Faraday did much more significant work with electricity. In 1831, he discovered electromagnetic induction, which is the principle behind the electric transformer and generator. He proved that a magnet could induce an electrical current in a wire, where he converted mechanical energy into electrical energy. This discovery showed that electricity had enormous potential for technological development. It didn't have to be confined to a lab any longer.
Faraday died in 1867, having made many contributions to the world of electricity. His work serves as the basis for electrical engineering, as the fundamental principles he discovered are still in use today.
Although the study of electricity was originally considered to be a part of physics, electrical engineering eventually branched into its own discipline. In 1883, the world's first School of Electrical Engineering was established at the Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany.
Without our extraordinary engineers, the world, particularly our lifestyle in the western societies would be at a standstill - more diseases would be rife and our modern comfortable way of life impossible. So to keep productivity at an all-time high, we must ensure that we provide excellent training and invest in the next generation while at the same time recognising the past to inspire innovation. MOTAT can certainly continue to do this with our displays, both historic and contemporary, all of which must continue inspiring and encouraging our young and not so young in an entertaining as well authoritative way.
by Henry Swan