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Featured Best Engineering in the Past 100 years

  1. Jan 13, 2019 #1

    anorlunda

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    We commonly see lists of "best science" both here on PF and elsewhere. I think it is time for a little friendly rivalry from the engineering side.

    I arbitrarily chose 100 years as the period. The wheel and Roman aqueducts were great engineering but not much fun for us to talk about because we don't know much about the engineers.

    Part 1, best achievements. My nominees are:
    1. Putting a man on The Moon. The most astounding achievement in all of human history. Lots of science of course, but mostly engineering sweat went into making it happen.
    2. Power grids of the world. By grid, I mean the whole infrastructure to generate, deliver and consume electric power. I'm biased because that was my career. Even without bias, nothing else is even close in delivering benefit for mankind. None of the other advances mentioned in this thread were likely to happen without electric power. [Strictly speaking, grids began 140 years ago, but I'm stretching my own rule.]
    3. Unmanned space probes. Also those things from Voyager to Cassini and others too numerous to mention by name. Marvelous, admirable engineering.
    4. The Texas Instruments Speak & Spell. Of course that is a surprise entry. In 1978 I put one of those things in the hands of my sister who is severely impaired developmentally disabled. She loved it so much that it eventually wore out from so much use. She also learned to spell every one of those words. To me, the Speak & Spell is symbolic of the whole idea of affordable digital electronics + software designed to be owned and used by ordinary people, not just technophiles. I view our smartphones and other modern gadgets as symbolic descendants of the Speak & Spell.
    150px-Speak-Spell.jpg

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    Part 2 is to nominate an individual as the best engineer of the past 100 years.

    My nominee is Enrico Fermi (despite the fact that he was trained as a physicist, not as an engineer.) because of his outstanding work on The Manhattan Project. Read about Fermi in "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes.
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    What engineering achievements or milestones and which individual would you nominate? Give us a small paragraph on each to explain.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2019 #2

    berkeman

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    I'll nominate the Global Positioning System (GPS), because there are lots of great innovations involved, and it is such a game-changer for navigation and other endeavors. In a strange twist, it also has helped to reduce collateral casualties in military bombing attacks. I know I couldn't make it to many of my shifts in strange places without navigation aided by GPS on my phone...

    :smile:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System
     
  4. Jan 13, 2019 #3
  5. Jan 13, 2019 #4

    Klystron

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    1) Best engineering achievement of last 100 years:
    The design and (relatively) inexpensive implementations of a "personal computer";
    • mobile by one human thus portable.
    • seamlessly communicates with other such devices over public networks,
    • provides access to knowledge and data -bases across world wide web (www).
    • usable by nearly all humans with basic training and language skills.
    • identical device used by specialists only requiring additional software packages.
     
  6. Jan 13, 2019 #5

    berkeman

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  7. Jan 13, 2019 #6

    phyzguy

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    How about a smart phone? I think a device that knows where you are, can tap into the world's store of knowledge, can communicate with most of the rest of the people in the world, and fits in your pocket would be viewed as miraculous by people from even 100 years ago.
     
  8. Jan 13, 2019 #7

    Klystron

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    Part 2: paraphrase Nominate the most illustrious engineer or engineering team during this period:
    1. trace back personal computer (PC) mathematical origins to Poisson, Cantor, von Neumann, many others.
    2. dedicated engineering teams such as the mouse invention at SRI International, soft-wired analog computers (1940's on), and integrated circuits (IC) mounted on printed circuit boards (PCB) (1960's);
    3. software and computer architecture inventors such as Wirth, Knuth, et.al. From Wikipedia History computer architecture:
      • The first documented computer architecture was in the correspondence between Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace describing the analytical engine.
      • When building the computer Z1 in 1936, Konrad Zuse described in two patent applications for his future projects that machine instructions could be stored in the same storage used for data, i.e. the stored-program concept.[3][4]
      • Two other early and important examples are:

    note: As a child I asked my father "Who invented television?". After giving credit for particular components such as the cathode ray tube (CRT), the vacuum tube in general and super-heterodyne receiver, my father replied "No single engineer invented television. Many people worked on system components. We saw a need and filled it with available technology.".
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superheterodyne_receiver
     
  9. Jan 13, 2019 #8

    berkeman

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    Not sure I agree with this. The invention of the Personal Computer may have depended on there being giant computers around, but so much more went into the Personal Computer, IMO. It's like saying that the invention of the transistor depended on the invention of glass from melted sand...
     
  10. Jan 13, 2019 #9

    DaveC426913

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    Putting a man on the Moon is darned cool.

    But the invention of the personal computer has transformed the world. It's the parent of all phones, Speak & Spells, GPS systems and the internet.
     
  11. Jan 13, 2019 #10

    Klystron

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    No, I mean: yes. I rushed my answer to the second part of the original question. Particularly after the distinction "smart phone" from "small computer". Where to draw lines in the technological sands and say "This led to small hand-held computers" considering small computers are themselves components of so much modern tech?
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
  12. Jan 13, 2019 #11

    Tom.G

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    I lean in the direction @anorlunda took:

    For the greatest good to the greatest portion of the world population, A 3-way tie between: Vaccinations, Power grids of the world, and Antibiotics

    For the most astounding engineering feat: Putting a man on The Moon. With a close second being the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. (as a teenager I tuned in to the Sputnik beacon on the shortwave radio in my bedroom)
     
  13. Jan 14, 2019 #12

    atyy

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    Vaccinations could be considered more than 100 years old: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox_vaccine (I thought it was around the time of Jenner, 1800, but to my surprise it could be argued to be even older).
     
  14. Jan 14, 2019 #13

    Klystron

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    Not unusual with deep engineering ideas, this original post contains complexity and subtlety beyond the principle statements. Having two sections {concept, engineer} makes it even more interesting. I'm tempted to arbitrarily divide Engineering into two 'camps', named 'large systems' and 'small devices'.

    Large Systems: greatest feats: include OP -Texas Instruments +highway system
    1. lunar exploration
    2. power grid
    3. space exploration -- unmanned probes, HST (see below)
    4. modern health care with vaccination programs
    5. global transportation networks.
    6. automated factories.
    Small Devices: great feats:
    1. Texas Instruments "speak and spell"
    2. TI early mini-computers
    3. personal computers (+networks)
    4. smart phones (networks)
    5. television (networks)
    6. artificial satellites -- sputnik,..., Global Positioning System (GPS), Hubble Space Telescope (HST)
    7. robots: humanoid (human form and emulation) & machine-like.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2019
  15. Jan 14, 2019 #14

    phinds

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    Although Klystron mentioned it in passing, I think one of the very most significant feats in the last 100 years in terms of the impact it has had on the demographics and economy of the United States is the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System. It is the biggest single infrastructure underpinning all the rest of the achievements.

    You might say that it is silly to think that the highway system had much to do with, for example, putting a man on the moon, but I would strongly disagree. People generally don't realize the extent to which the growth of the American economy since WWII is based on the highway system.
     
  16. Jan 14, 2019 #15
    It isn't clear what "best" means: hardest to achieve? Biggest impact? Coolest? I guess that's part of the fun, each poster can decide what "best" means to them.

    As far as "biggest impact" the already mentioned power grid, computer/phone, medical advances are hard to argue with. Also in this category I would place transportation advances (automobile and aviation). I think a major transformation of the past 100 years has been the shrinking of the globe; we have gone from being villagers to citizens of the world. True, this is mostly an effect on the first-world population but I think it led to many of the other changes including the internet: if you are a 5th generation subsistence farmer in say, upstate New York, you probably don't care too much what your counterparts in China, Burma, or Australia are thinking about. Broadened horizons due to travel (first, by car from the farm to the big city, and then later by airplane to "overseas") led to more interest in other people and other cultures. Fuzzy, incorrect, biased, and frightful notions of other people in other places are being replaced by first hand knowledge gained by people leaving their homes.

    EDIT -- Looks like phinds beat me to it :)
     
  17. Jan 14, 2019 #16

    jim hardy

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    I'd day er, say the Boeing 707 earns a spot in the 'engineering accomplishments,
    they fixed the troubles with Britain's "Comet" by hanging the engines out below and ahead of the wing , where turbine-self-disassembly left the wing spar intact.

    The venerable DC3 shrunk the continent but the 707 ushered in globe-trotting..
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2019
  18. Jan 14, 2019 #17

    DaveC426913

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    How many times was this actually an issue?
    Did 707s have spontaneous turbine self-disassembly that did not result in involuntary landscape intersection?
     
  19. Jan 15, 2019 #18

    OCR

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    You probably meant to type... ? . " I'd say the Boeing 707... "



    But, speaking of 707s...

    On 14 January 2019 ... :frown:

    .
     
  20. Jan 15, 2019 #19

    jim hardy

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    Apparently Comet's troubles were not engines but stress cracking in the fuselage, mea culpa.

    from a search on "uncontained engine failures"

    from https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/a...ed-serious-airbus-a380-engine-failure-n806301

    upload_2019-1-15_0-46-38.png
     
  21. Jan 15, 2019 #20
    Ford Model T. keep it simple guys.
     
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