Still More Engineering Trivia - An Engineer's Aspect


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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Still More Engineering Trivia

Engineers seem to like trivia...I do. Below is still more of a collection of interesting facts.

  • In 1953, the engineering prototype of the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was built and tested in the Idaho desert on the Snake River Plain near Arco.
  • The world's first nuclear power plant is located at the Idaho National Environmental and Engineering Laboratory (INEEL), near Arco, Idaho. The Atomic Energy Commission offered the town of Arco electricity generated by atomic energy in 1953.
  • Rigby, Idaho is known as the birthplace of television since it is Philo T. Farnsworth's hometown. Farnsworth pioneered television technology.
The first illustration depicting a “Rube Goldberg Machine” was an Automatic Weight Reducing Machine in 1914 using components such as a donut, bomb, wax, balloon and hot stove to trap an obese person in a sound and food proof prison, who had to lose weight before wriggling free. He used many simple subjects and made them humorous yet awfully complicated and tedious. This included scratching insect bites, scrubbing your back in a bath, opening a window, collecting mail and finding a ball.

What popular toy was originally used as a caulking and molding medium? During World War II, Mr. James Wright, an employee at the General Electric laboratories, created a synthetic, bendable rubber that was inexpensive to produce and useful as a caulking and molding medium. Following the war, a large supply existed, but nobody seemed to know what to do with it. Connecticut store owner Peter Hodgson offered a creative solution that proved to be invention trivia in the making. He purchased a large amount of the rubber, packaged it into plastic eggs, and sold it to children under the name "Silly Putty." Today, Silly Putty brand products are offered in over 15 different colors in the classic egg-shaped packaging.

  • The engineering department of the Public Broadcasting System started to work on the project of closed captioning in 1973 under contract to the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped. The engineers invented the closed captioning technology we use today and the first encoders/decoders used to create and view closed captions.
  • The French scientist, Blaise Pascal, introduced a very primitive version of the roulette machine in the 17th century. The roulette was a by-product of Pascal's attempts to invent a perpetual motion machine.
  • Thomas Jefferson invented a coat hanger, a hideaway bed, a calendar clock and a dumbwaiter.
  • John Milne was the English seismologist and geologist who invented the first modern seismograph and promoted the building of seismological stations. Milne invented the horizontal pendulum seismograph in 1880.
  • GPS or the Global Positioning System was invented by the U.S. Department of Defense. It cost $12 billion (USD).
  • The artificial horizon or attitude indicator is a type of three-frame gyroscopic instrument that was invented by Elmer Sperry - patented in Britain in 1911 (Patent Number 15669/11) - and used in 1916 for the design of the first artificial horizon for aircraft.
  • In 1886, Josephine Cochrane proclaimed "If nobody else is going to invent a dishwashing machine, I'll do it myself." Yes, she did invent the first dishwasher.
  • The fax was invented in 1842 by the Scottish inventor Alexander Bain, who received a patent for the "automatic electrochemical recording telegraph" in 1843.
  • In 1887, a German physicist named Heinrich Hertz began experimenting with radio waves in his laboratory in Germany. He found that radio waves could be transmitted through different materials and some materials reflected the radio waves. His experiments were the foundation for the development of radio communication and RADAR.
  • Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), an English civil engineer, designed the Great Western, the first transatlantic steamship in 1838.
  • In 1724, Gabriel Fahrenheit invented the first mercury thermometer, the modern thermometer.
  • The inventor popularly credited with the invention of the pneumatic tube subway is Alfred Beach. Beach received a 1865 patent for a pneumatic transit system (pneumatic tube) for mail and passengers. He also built America's first subway.
  • Alexander Graham Bell invented the first crude metal detector, which he used unsuccessfully in an attempt to save U.S. President James Garfield's life. Garfield had been shot by an assassin and Bell used his metal detector to try and locate the bullet for the surgeons. He detected a bed spring instead.
  • In 1954, inventors Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller, and Daryl Chapin created an array of several strips of silicon (each about the size of a razor blade), placed them in sunlight, captured the free electrons and turned them into electrical current. This was the first solar battery.
  • Beginner's All Purpose Instruction Code or BASIC was written in 1963 at Dartmouth College by mathematicians John Kemeny and Tom Kurtz.
  • The barometer was invented by Evangelista Torricelli in 1643.
  • The first patent for bar code was issued to inventors Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver on October 7, 1952.
  • Volvo had the first vehicle safety belts in 1849.
From Purdue University:
  • What are tin cans made of? Steel, an alloy based on iron and carbon. Although they were once tin-plated to protect against corrosion, modern "tin" cans contain little or no tin.
  • What material is used at the highest temperature, relative to its melting point? Ice. Ice is used for structures such as igloos or bridges, and was even proposed as a means of making aircraft carriers in the Second World War. It can be used right up to its melting point. Most other materials soften considerably below their melting point, and lose structural rigidity.
  • What unusual materials property caused the sinking of the Titanic? Expansion on freezing. Most materials contract when they freeze into a solid form, but water expands when it freezes, so ice is less dense than liquid water, and it floats. Without this unusual property, the iceberg would not have been on the sea surface, to sink the Titanic. Silicon shares this property.
  • Why is the Eiffel Tower made of wrought iron instead of steel? When the Paris landmark was constructed in 1887, steel was a new "wonder material" but wrought iron was cheaper, and architect Gustave Eiffel was more familiar with its properties. He went with what he knew, and although the tower was intended to be a temporary exhibit for the 1889 International Exhibition, it has certainly stood the test of time.
  • Which 20th Century US President was a metallurgist? Herbert Hoover. He also translated a classic metallurgical textbook from its original Latin into English.
  • What is a nickel made of? American 5-cent coins are made of an alloy of copper and nickel. Pure nickel would be too hard to be struck into coin using a forging die.
  • What is a US penny made of? Mostly zinc. Copper has become so expensive that there is a risk that it might cost more than a penny to make a penny! Modern one-cent coins are a sandwich of zinc between two thin layers of copper.
  • Where can you see the world's first iron bridge? At a town called Iron Bridge, near Coalbrookdale, in England. The use of coal to make wrought iron in this district, in about 1713, is widely regarded as marking the start of the Industrial Revolution.
  • Which of the three phases (solid, liquid, or gas) is glass? When molten glass cools, it does not solidify like other materials; it just gets progressively more and more viscous. Glass has no crystalline structure, and can be considered to be a supercooled liquid. Contributed by Stephanie Rothrauf
  • What is the largest, commonly encountered molecule? A bowling ball. It is made of one long polymer chain. Contributed by John Hammond
  • What material was used by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, but nearly lost to civilization in the Dark Ages? Concrete. From about 800 to 1300AD essentially no concrete was used for construction, though many ancient concrete structures are still standing today. Modern concrete, based on Portland cement, dates back only to 1756.