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Greatest Engineer?

  1. Oct 2, 2008 #1
    Hey guys, i need to do a short biography of an engineer that made a great contribution to the world. Who do you think is most suitable?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 2, 2008 #2

    mgb_phys

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    The BBC did a Greatest Briton contest a couple of years ago and I. K. Brunel nearly won.
    Not necessarily the greatest contribution, but an interesting character with a lot of biographical information.
     
  4. Oct 3, 2008 #3
    Phil Irving
     
  5. Oct 3, 2008 #4

    George Jones

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    Simon van der Meer,

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1984/meer-autobio.html,

    won a Nobel prize in physics for helping to design the particle accelerator that discovered the W and Z particles predicted by electroweak theory.

    I'm not sure that this qualifies as "a great contribution to the world," but it does seem that van der Meer's work currently is relevant because of the search for the Higgs particle (also predicted by electroweak theory) now underway at the Large Hadron Collider.
     
  6. Oct 3, 2008 #5

    vanesch

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    Mmmm, although that was brilliant instrumentation, I don't know if it matters much in the world of engineering :smile:

    I'd rather say, a guy like Steve Jobs or Oppenheimer or Werner von Braun or Edison or Tesla, or Nyquist or Bode
     
  7. Oct 3, 2008 #6

    FredGarvin

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    My practical thought went to say Bessemer because he made the mass production of steel possible.

    From a personal standpoint, the first name that entered my mind was Kelly Johnson.
     
  8. Oct 3, 2008 #7

    minger

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    It's hard to blur the distinction between engineers, mathematicians and physicists back in the day, but the first name that comes to my mind is Archimedes.
     
  9. Oct 3, 2008 #8
    I was thinking to do Archimedes. Did he make any big contributions beside the water screw? Or I was thinking to do the guy who designed the Pyramids, i forget his name.
     
  10. Oct 3, 2008 #9

    mgb_phys

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    Imhotep
    But I'm not sure there is much to designing a pyramids - put less blocks on each layer pretty much does it!
     
  11. Oct 9, 2008 #10

    mheslep

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    Roebling (father http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Roebling" [Broken]) of Brooklyn Bridge frame. They more or less solved the problems of suspension bridge design and coordinated the construction of the Brooklyn bridge, by themselves.

    Nikola Tesla. AC Motor; probably should receive majority credit for radio.

    Jack Kilby. Integrated Circuit. With all respect to Van der meer, AFICT Kilby is the only engineer to receive a nobel.

    Lord Kelvin. Thermo (though he was wearing more of a physics hat for that work); Transatlantic cable, which was a complete disaster until he worked out the problems.

    James Watt - Steam engine and the consequent industrial revolution.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  12. Oct 10, 2008 #11
    da Vinci
     
  13. Oct 14, 2008 #12
    challenge was not in putting lesser blocks on each layer, challenge was to lift the blocks to that height.
     
  14. Oct 14, 2008 #13

    mgb_phys

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    That's just an implementation detail - I'm more a big picture person ;-)

    http://www.despair.com/achievement.html
     
  15. Oct 14, 2008 #14
  16. Oct 14, 2008 #15

    Danger

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    I'm with Ray on this one. Just for the sheer expanse of his expertise in multiple fields, da Vinci was really the only name that popped into my head. Sure, a lot of his inventions wouldn't work, usually due to the necessary materials not existing at that time, but he sure had no shortage of great ideas... and his documentation was unparalleled.
     
  17. Oct 15, 2008 #16

    mheslep

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    For the 'ancients' category, Id go with the Romans on engineering: concrete, aqueducts, roads, buildings. Some Roman buildings were not matched in height/scale unto close to 1000 years after the fall of the western empire.
     
  18. Oct 15, 2008 #17
    +1 for Tesla, although he was a lot more things than an engineer. I'm probably using 100+ of his inventions right now.
     
  19. Oct 15, 2008 #18

    mheslep

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  20. Oct 15, 2008 #19
    Da Vinci or Tesla. Both saw the world not as it is but instead how it could be. Also both made lots of diverse inventions that have had dramatic effects on the world.
     
  21. Oct 15, 2008 #20
    Actually a number of engineers have won Nobels including the inventor of the cat-scan and the discovers of the back ground radiation.
     
  22. Oct 16, 2008 #21

    Danger

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    My support for da Vinci on this is that he was working with wooden dowels for gears, untreated fabric for wings, etc.; Tesla had access to electricity and metal work. This is not in any way meant to demean his contributions, but he did have a head start, as have all great people who came after him.
     
  23. Oct 16, 2008 #22
    That is equivalent to saying that their head start is costing them the title of greatness. but that's just being manipulative about it.
    Engineering is not a community which has a king engineer. It is a collective effort which began long ago to serve our needs in a better, more efficient ways. So each era has great engineers who served their time. So if the OP specifies the time frame in which he is looking for a great engineer, things ll be greatly simplified.
     
  24. Oct 16, 2008 #23

    Danger

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    That's pretty much exactly what I meant. I don't see it as manipulative, though; it's just the way of the world. da Vinci didn't use anything that wasn't available to the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, etc., but he used them in ways that nobody had ever thought of before. Tesla also used things in ways that nobody had thought of, but he had more to work with. The same argument can be applied to von Braun, Christopher Wren, or whoever you favour. They were all great in their own ways.
    There are great engineers right here in PF, as well, and all over the world, but they work in established fields. The one thing that we all seem to agree upon is that, for the purposes of this thread, innovation is the key requirement. Not just simple innovation such as a new type of compressor or toilet, but something that truly improves society.
     
  25. Oct 16, 2008 #24
    Look at the original post:

    I don't know what Oblivion77 was going to do with the short biography, and not to take anything away from Archimedes or Tesla or daVinci, but if I was going to the trouble of writing up a biography, I would look for a subject who might be unfamiliar to the audience. Or, someone they may have heard of, but not know really why. I thought the suggestion of Claude Shannon above was a really good one.

    Then again, the subject line is "Greatest" engineer, so maybe the OP was looking for the king after all.
     
  26. Oct 16, 2008 #25
    I nominate 2 Britons whose work had a huge impact on the Battle of Britain and therefore on World War II:

    Watson-Watt for the development of Radar and Mitchell for the design of the Spitfire (even if the latter might not meet Danger's innovation criterion because it was "just" an improvement of existing aircraft designs).
     
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