How many Women in the Royal Academy 2015 Cohort?

The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced 50 new Fellows: its anointed of 2015. How representative is this cohort? Objectivity is always difficult: subjective, personal perceptions are always likely to be powerful. What the hell; let’s try.

Here’s a simple approach without over-analysis.


I have used four categories:

Gender [division into two only, I’m afraid],

domain as in commerce and government etc.,

discipline of original or basic degree, and

 workplace by a coarse, geographic division.

Here’s two disclaimers. I realise that four categories do not give an intensely nuanced description of the new Fellows and you must also realise that it is also a relatively small sample especially in the case of the women.


Of the 50 new Fellows, four [8%] are women. All are University Academics; three are based in London and the other in Wales. Their disciplines are all different as Chemical, Mechanical, Materials and IT. The Fellow of the latter discipline is working in “Human-Centred Technology and Science of Cyber Security Research”.


The four domains are each to represent a distinct and somewhat different milieu for its toilers.

There is the Commercial domain: generally driven by the profit motive. There is the University Academic seeking knowledge. The Government domain is that of laboratories sponsored by Government: largely or completely funded by the public purse. Finally, the Infrastructure includes such bodies as the NHS, independent Registration bodies, and national transport networks.

Commerce University Academic Infrastructure Government
      20       25            4           1

50% of the new Fellows are in the University Academic domain whereas only 40% are in Commerce and 8% wrestling with the UK Infrastructure.

Once upon a time some decades ago, the Government, with such organisations as the National Engineering Laboratory at East Kilbride, employed rather more engineers than this 2%. Today, if the government employed more engineers, their effective engineering decisions would benefit. That is, if it sought out and took their advice.


This statistic is derived from the declared, first degree discipline of the Fellow. Technologically, this does not always map exactly onto their current position. Although their career may well have moved away ‘upwards’ somewhat, they still do not usually stray too far away technically. The degree of one Fellow was unknown from the published biography with no response to a query.

Mechanical  ——————————  9

Civil  ——————————————  10

Electrical or Electronic  ————  7

Chemical  ———————————-  3

Aeronautical  —————————-  1

Manufacture  —————————-  2

The top three at between 20% and 14% are about what I expect given my perceived proportions of the professional engineering workforce. The aeronautical 2% seems low considering its, perhaps self-assessed, technical brilliance. Manufacturing is only slightly higher at 4% and, assuming that all the deserving have been found, UK plc could do with a higher proportion of such engineers.

Robotics  ————————————–  2

Materials  ————————————-  5

Oil and Gas  ———————————-  4

Bioengineering  —————————-  1

Information Technology  ————-  5

Unknown  ————————————  1

The Materials discipline at 10% is not surprising and also encouraging. Vast engineering improvements are being gained. These stem from both our greatly improved understanding of materials at the atomic level and also from developing the complex and accurate process control needed to benefit from that understanding. The 8% for Oil and Gas seems about right if we need to get the most out of the apparently emptying North Sea fields. I say that not in order to burn fossil fuel but using it as feed stock for complex organics. The field of Robotics at 4% as a coming speciality needs more engineering intellectual horsepower [pardon the pun] as well as IT insight.

The 10% under the IT discipline [AI, computer vision algorithms, complex data analysis, medical image computing, and cyber-security research] involves much wrestling with mathematical logic and no bending of physical forces to the human will.


This is a division defined by place of work of the new Fellows according to their biographies.

London  ————————————-  14

Midlands  ———————————–  5

South  —————————————–  7

South West  ——————————–  5

North  —————————————–  6

Wales  —————————————–  1

Scotland  ————————————-  3

Abroad  —————————————  9


Not to my surprise, or I imagine to anyone else’s, London apparently shelters the most new top engineers this year at 28%. Considering how little production occurs in London and how much elsewhere in the UK, the London 28% seems high. Not so much when we realise, firstly, that most engineers these days are not occupied in manufacture but perhaps in servicing the manufacturing process carried out abroad where costs are lower. Secondly, 14% of the ‘Londoners’ are University Academics.  Indeed, the North/South divide is alive and well in that London, South and South West together account for 52% of all the new Fellows this year. This is more than all the rest put together: which is particularly striking because ‘the rest’ includes Abroad at 18%.

Talking of London University Academics, if I was mischief-making I would tell you that Imperial College blew the others away with 8% of new Fellows with only 4% from UCL and 2% from Brunel. Not only that but if I look at all the University Academics within the 50 new Fellows, Imperial has bragging rights over every one of the other Universities, none of whom has more than the 4% of Cambridge as well as UCL.

Institute of Making Birthday

Cabinet of Curiosities

It was Saturday, the Fifteenth day of March in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Fourteen and The Lad hied hence to the Great Wen for the First Anniversary of the Institute of Making, scion of the esteemed University College of the University of London.

As the sun shone and spring peeked shyly, like March hares the inhabitants of the Metropolis were mostly hurrying about their business. They had that characteristic air that seems as though it stems from suppressed hysteria.

Not wishing to appear too eager, he arrived about half an hour after the opening time. The queue was already nearly 100 strong waiting to replace those already within. The majority were families with pre-teen children of both sexes. It took about 45 mins to arrive at the front of the queue, the wait eased by free coffee and both nitrogen-made and conventionally Cadbury’s 99 ice creams. A ‘Generation Y’ passer-by wore a sweatshirt emblazoned with ‘UCL Parkour Club’: disappointingly he was walking and not progressing by somersault or bounding off the buildings.

More intellectual fare was provided to pass the waiting time with one popular project of paper plane folding and flying competition. Another project was a competition to blow the largest bubble-gum bubble.

The creed of the Institute includes strong emphasis on a Maker culture. According to Wikipedia:

‘Maker culture’ emphasises learning-through-doing (constructivism) in a social environment. Maker culture emphasises informal, networked, peer-led, and shared learning motivated by fun and self-fulfilment.[2] Maker culture encourages novel applications of technologies, and the exploration of intersections between traditionally separate domains and ways of working including metal-working, calligraphy, film making, and computer programming.

Advocates of maker culture claim that a greater emphasis on some memes distinguishes the newer “Maker-Culture” from earlier hobbyist learning environments:

It encourages people to make things themselves: frequently using traditional hand or machine tools. A higher consciousness can lead, seems to be the overt belief, to better products than the original artisanal user could achieve. The Lad saw it as a “neo-Arts and Crafts Movement”.

Professor Mark Miodowski and all his student helpers wore a uniform of unpretentious, dark overalls. This may detract a little from efforts to move the making or engineering image, all too common in the media, away from that of the spanner and oily rag or hard hat. Many were female engineers, and obviously and encouragingly, seemed to well out-number the males. A contingent was from the USA, notably speaking using Imperial inches.

Seemingly, with the large lifting platform and the Gantry crane, the whole working space appeared to be an impressively recycled or re-claimed loading bay.

Samples of over a hundred materials were displayed and numbered, nicely lit, along the walls: mostly of simple cubic type forms but also some component parts. There were, deliberately apparently, no naming or data visible for the samples. ‘They’re on the app’ only. It was though OK, possibly even at this stage encouraged, to pick them up and handle them. Certainly it is a Twenty-First Century version of the 17thC Cabinet of Curiosities.

Then there were hands-on experiments. One was BluTack weighting of He filled balloons. Another and very popular, was the chance to make a mould of small keys and the like in thermal resistant and insulating cuttle bone. Into this the helpers poured hot, molten pewter to make for you your own cast metal model.

In the Make Space area hung on the wall was a collection of 50 or more hand tools, without duplicates, hung on the wall. There were saws, files, squares, scribers and mallets. From a distance through the crowd, all seemed to be pristine and unused. But the only vice visible was a woodworking type on a carpenters bench. No sign of a strong metal working vice that would be needed to use most of the tools properly. There were a small number of simple machine tools: a new woodworking lathe, an emery belt machine and some tool-grinding wheels.

Up in the mezzanine level, there were three 3D printers: those devices that, according to many in the media, are going to transform Manufacture and Commerce by way of a new Industrial Revolution. They were making 2cm-3cm plastic red pigs and green frogs. Anything bigger would have taken too long, it was said. These machines seemed, software driven as they are, to sit paradoxically with the hand-making aesthetic of the rest of the Make Space. A sculptor was asking about the possibility of making multi-coloured maquettes. He seemed to conclude though that he had more feel making them by hand.

Judging by the number of people attending, 50:50 adults and children, the occasion must be seen as a success.

The Lad retired to the womb of the Lamb and Flag to revive with ale his weary legs. Then, after admiring not only Boris Bikes but – even more – paramedics on mountain bikes at St Pancras station, he repaired again to the North.

How many Engineering Ages?

Professor Lisa Jardine of University College London hosted a series of seven programmes on Radio 4 recently. Called “The Seven Ages of Science”, it was a cultural-historical take on the progress of Science through the centuries. There were plenty of thought-provoking angles on what we thought was a fairly well-trodden story.

The Lad is, like many others, concerned and puzzled at the current, image of the profession of engineering in the public prints and public imagination.

Can the Cultural Historian bring some specialised tools or a different standpoint to the story? Has it been done already? Is there a PhD in it for some post-grad or even a radio or TV programme?

Engineering is defined as manipulating forces for our benefit, starting from erecting first shelters through to, take your pick, nuclear power, wind turbines, building CERN machine itself, etc., etc.. Yet many see engineering having only the ’oily rag’ image. Or the image is either vanishing or, at best, subsumed into that of ‘scientists’.

Some vignettes through the Ages could include the contemporary reputation of Roman engineering and engineers (perhaps via Professor Mary Beard); the initial division between scientists and engineers during the Renaissance [or was it later]; engineers in the Lunar Society; commercialisation of the steam engine by Boulton; Edison’s first Applied Science laboratory.

There will be many other vignettes that The Lad has not thought about. After all, he is only an engineer not a cultural historian.

Perhaps a rousing climax could address the claim of some software writers in I.T. to the title of ‘Engineer’. Have they seen it as a derelict title that they quite fancied? From this view, have they then arrogated the title to themselves?

The engineer, when she is working in engineering, uses the physical forces that exist in the natural universe. Thus she is subject to the laws of Newton, Faraday, Carnot, Clausius, Maxwell and others.

The software writer on the other hand is subject to no such Laws. Her work inhabits a different space: a space that is not subject to the same constraints. It is only making marks on paper or specifying switches to be opened or closed.

Her only limitations are those in the ethereal: far boundaries only set by such as Gödel’s theorem on undecidable propositions;é such as Wittgenstein’s statement that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent”; and such as the Kantian ‘phenomenal world’. It is a range so wide that it is almost impossible to imagine other than as ‘anything is possible’.

Look at it another way.

Consider the computer games and the Star Wars films and the Star Trek ships that go to warp speed. They may from their visual complexity make a pretty good fist of looking like a real, complex, space structure. More, at least, than those of Flash Gordon’s V2 like rockets. But have they been designed so that they could work in the real physical world? No they haven’t.

It has been said that if it looks like a duck walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. To some, coding apparently looks like engineering, walks like engineering and sounds to them like engineering, so it is engineering.


Its champions have been mainly brought up in the world of Microsoft and Google; do they know what engineering really is? Whereas coders, logicians, can operate like the pilots of an aerobatic plane, engineers are struggling in the city and its streets. Coding has the glorious flexibility of dreams; engineering needs the stamina of the London Marathon runner.

The Lad is eager to repeat that some Information Technology is engineering. For example the designers of the IC chips that seem endlessly to develop and advance and without which most software projects could not take flight; and much the same is true of the engineers of the marvellous hard disc technology

Professor Lisa, can you offer us a refreshing draught of a new view?

DIY Fusion Design 101?

Can’t touch! Won’t touch!

If you can’t touch it, how are you going to use it?

BBC had a piece in early August 2013 on ITER or the International Thermo-nuclear Experimental Reactor. This is the new, globally international project, similar in size to CERN based in the south of France, to develop fusion power.

OK. Let’s assume that we can get fusion to work for a useful period. How are we going to get the [expletive deleted] energy out?

Are you listening to me, ITER? Course they aren’t. Engineers and scientists have been working on the myriad problems for more that 50yrs. They don’t need the help of The Lad. But some students, general public and certainly the meejah might.

Here’s an engineer, The Lad, putting his head on the block. He is venturing into an engineering place in which he has no specific expertise: no change there then.  He just thinks in general terms of engineering forces. At least this is more than do most bloggers and general media. Remember, it is the working with physical forces that defines an engineer.

Fusion will only occur at temperatures that transform anything into stellar plasma. That includes ANY solid structure trying to contain it. Such energy by transmission of heat, in quantities difficult to imagine, will sublime any structure that it contacts.

Here is what happens now for most of today’s prime movers. There are several heat sources in current use; such as oil, gas, coal, wood and nuclear fission. This heat source drives the heat energy by conduction; moving energy by interaction between atomic particles. The energy passes through a pipe wall so as to heat water or gas or some other intermediary. This expands and drives a turbine or piston engine or hurtles out of the back of a jet engine generating a useful reaction.

OK. It’s currently impossibly difficult to get fusion to stay ‘alight’ for more than split seconds [or am I already out-of-date?]. Anyway that is the reason for the €billions being spent on ITER. If we assume that we will be able to improve on this; what then?

Now we need to get the energy out.

If we try to drive the energy though a pipe wall by conduction from a fusion plasma cloud, the pipe will melt it in a millisecond or less. So – not conduction then.

In boilers, both domestic kettles and Drax power station plant, they use conduction. Here bulk gas or liquid move themselves as well as their energy. Both bubbles and hot water rise because they are less dense than the surrounding water. This leads to mixing and heat transfer; producing steam for turbines driving the generators. Thanks, Archimedes. It so happens that this is also the way that radiators [a misnomer: they would be better called ‘convectors’] warm a room in a house.

Sorry, we cannot use convection. Why? Precisely because plasma is carefully arranged to be closely contained in a doughnut-shaped, Magnetic Bottle [part of a Tokamak machine]. This is a magnetic field that is designed precisely to stop the searing plasma from churning about where it is not wanted, i.e. touching anything solid.

Fusion reactor Magnetic Bottle
Fusion reactor Magnetic Bottle

What can be done? The Lad thought that he was asking a very difficult question. But then, it transpires, not so much. He remembered that engineers recognise three standard ways to transfer heat energy: conduction, convection and radiation.

heat transfer in the kitchen
Heat Transfer in the kitchen (c) Hilary Morgan


So if it can’t be conduction or convection what have we left? It must be radiation where heat energy is transmitted like light or radio. This is how warmth from the Great Fusion Reactor in the Sky [as Alan Partridge might refer to, of course, the Sun] gets transferred to us on Earth. There will be a ridiculously intense, thermal heat flux. Not only that though, there will be an equally ridiculous flux of nuclear radiation that will, itself, hammer at the structural integrity of the whole machine.

For ITER there is quite and impressive technical illustration here. Not a drawing,note: it’s an illustration so a lot can change.

While everybody that The Lad has seen talking about ‘limitless fusion power’ speaks of the fusion reactor generating the power, nobody seems to talk about getting out for our use. It seems to The Lad, radiation it has to be. But in detail how is quite another question. It is an equally giant problem. After all solar panels or black radiation absorbers on the roof of your house won’t hack it.

But don’t worry. Let the scientists get the physics of fusion and plasma nailed down and you can rely on the engineers to turn it into Power Stations for the benefit of us all.



Only three ways …

Oh yes – from the last post, who is this Sir John Rose?

He stood down from RR at the top of his game in a blaze of glory in March 2011 after having been with the firm from 1984 and Chief Executive from 1996.

He is one of a small group at the top of Rolls-Royce plc who, over the last couple of decades have transformed the engineering company. It has changed by expanding its product ranges, entering new markets whilst retaining a global reputation and financial strength.

Sir John Rose - Captain of Industry
Sir John Rose – Captain of Industry

The striking thing, at least to The Lad, is that he was apparently not trained as a professional engineer. The Daily Telegraph newspaper related that, born in Africa, he came to Scotland gaining an MA in psychology; it is not clear whether that was the subject of his first degree. Then he went into banking of all things. Eventually he fetched up in 1984 at RR.

On his watch, the achievements have been spectacular. Clock this! At the end of 2010 The Daily Telegraph told us that

“In 1995 – the last full year before Sir John Rose became chief executive – the company’s order book was worth £7.6bn. Today it is worth £58.3bn”

“Rolls-Royce’s figures speak for themselves. In 1995 – the last full year before Sir John became chief executive – the company’s order book was worth £7.6bn. Today it is worth £58.3bn. Revenue in 1995 was £3.6bn, today it is £10.1bn and is expected to double in the next decade. In 1995 profit was £175m compared to £915m today. Since 1996 the company’s share price has increased from 188p to 603.5p.”

Note that in mid 2013, that share price has doubled again. This is in global engineering.

His speech to the RSA offered a striking insight. He said:

“ … there are only three ways to create wealth – you can dig it up, grow it or convert something in order to add value. Anything else is just moving it about.”

That thought floodlights the churning in the modern, economic world: much of which is as useful to UK prosperity as the driven fluff. There was much more: it was a fabulous fighting speech. Read it and run with it.

The Lad found it striking but significant that in all the video footage of the speech he found on the net, the beginning has been cropped and only starts at the paragraph that has the first mention of “… politicians, economists and commentators …”. Good Grief, so many of the media only twitch or open their eyes when these people are mentioned.

There are other points about John Rose’s term as CEO of Rolls-Royce plc. On his watch the preferred principle of commerce with airlines changed and the RR business model changed with it – for the better.

Engine makers, during most of the Twentieth Century, sold their machines to the aircraft makers and, in the aircraft, on to the airlines. The airlines had their own engineers to maintain the engines, repair them as necessary and to buy new engines when they reached the end of the engine life. All this is a continuous, organisational, burden for the airlines. This approach was replaced by a new model: “Power by the Hour”. In effect the engine maker promised that he would take the full responsibility to provide the necessary power in the aircraft.

It is not clear whose idea “Power by the Hour” was originally but certainly it came to full, Roll-Royce flower under his leadership. It lead to increased engineering design emphasis on reliability and easier maintenance now that it affected the RR financial performance directly instead of being sloughed off onto the airline. The Lad is reminded of a saying that probably dates back to Henry Ford “An engineer does for 50c what any fool does for a dollar”.

It was a win-win result. The airlines were more comfortable with a cash outflow that did not vary [accountants do not like uncertainty] and, as a result, RR got more engine orders and its financial turnover grew massively.

He likes less what an accountant once told him. An engineering business [or any business for that matter] is merely a process linking buying money cheap and selling it dear. In the heat of recent financial meltdowns, that seems to be too abstract, ungrounded and risky.

All this is engineering too.

Engineering is one of the three drivers advancing the human race. This blog describes professional engineering in the real world as it is not well served by the current media. An engineer is posting: not a ‘scientist’. Its target is the career seeker and also the general public.


The Name of the Engineer

At the back of many of these posts lurks the definition as well as the name of the engineer. From the earliest  posts to the more recent , The Lad implies a definition of what makes an engineer and what does not .

The core is that the engineer works with the various forces that exist in nature  to turn them to the advantage of all humanity. At first, the ‘forces’ aspect seemed to be sufficient. Then recently he saw a newspaper [what else?] carry a picture of roustabouts on an oil platform and called them engineers. It is clear that they are vital workers, but, although central to the oil industry and estimable for their herculean work in terrible conditions, to all except the media they are not engineers.

From the newspaper
Such proud men probably do not call themselves ‘engineers’.

Why not? For aren’t they are wrestling with those natural forces in the massive rig and drill steelwork and the weather? Not half! Something similar can also be used to promote car mechanics to the ranks of engineers. A spanner and a hydraulic car lift certainly consist of natural forces, don’t they? They surely do.

car mechanic

The definition of the engineer, as The Lad knows her, needs to reflect how the roustabout and the mechanic are not engineers.


The mechanic and the roustabout do not design the equipment on which they work. This is the crucial difference.


The posts also implied that the benefit ought to be to all humankind. There are two difficulties here. One is to ask who knows whether an engineering artefact is really a benefit to all or only to some and also whether, in the long or medium term, it could damage. The other is that the engineering may be of benefit to some that are not of humankind. Think of a salmon ladder in civil hydraulic works or modern enclosures in a zoo.


Let us leave out Humankind. Let it stand as ‘benefit’ with the implication of ‘as best we know and can’.


So! Here we have it.

Update, June 22, 2013 – Realised that essential Production Engineering is not subsumed in the definition. To clear this most succinctly, the word ‘forming’ is added

Engineering directs for benefit any or all of the processes of imaginative conception, design definition, forming or analysis of devices or structures that use any of the  forces acting in the universe.


3D Printing – Gift or the End of the World?

3D printing is appearing more and more often in the media. Admittedly, it is mostly in the more excitable screeds, but nonetheless a lot of people see it as a game changer. But then they would: writing about it makes media content to sell. A more technical name is stereo-lithography. This gives a clue as to how the idea works. It is like printing slightly different images on successive sheets of paper from your printer. Cut out each image and stack them up and glue them together and, lo, you eventually get a solid shape.

This is how the 3D process works. Image thanks to Materialgeeza.
This is how the 3D process works. Image thanks to Materialgeeza.

Some internet enthusiasts claim that it will let anyone make anything and everything in their office or even their bedroom. “Buy nothing ever again: just copy it from the internet.” They are apparently almost wetting themselves in their excitement.

Others on the other side of the divide forecast the end of the world as we know it. Anyone will be able to make guns from freely available data files from the internet. Horrors! Even that device has to have at least one metal part – the firing pin. Made from a nail, since you ask. The Lad would be wary of going near to such a weapon being used, let alone lifting it near to his head and firing it at someone  Wouldn’t you be wary of it exploding into a myriad pieces like an old blunderbuss? Or even one part splitting under the propellant forces, taking your face with it.

The fact that 3D printers currently cost a fortune and are large is the central problem at present. This may not always be the case though; they may follow the same path as computers whose prices dropped like a stone over the years. The picture is of a simple machine.

This is a simple version of a 3D printer. Image thanks to Bart Dring
This is a simple version of a 3D printer. Image thanks to Bart Dring

Actually the idea has its uses now. No doubt more will appear in time. Because it is expensive and fairly slow and available only in a small range of not very capable or strong materials, its main use is to produce models of hardware straight from CAD designs on the computer. Prototyping it’s called: making model parts without complex machining set-ups.

OK. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty-the essentials. Yes, it’s engineering again. It’s all about the material of the parts. How much of your world is made of plastic. Yes, quite a lot but nowhere near everything. Even in your computer, the heart of the nerd’s world, much is made of metal especially the strong, structural parts and the electrically-conducting parts. Most load-bearing things everywhere are metal. Of those that are not, the majority are composite materials; not yet possible stereographically. Also, see the gun firing pin mentioned above. Many of those metal parts have to be heat treated too to give them enough strength.

The Lad’s view is that it is likely that the process will be a nine-day wonder like fluidics. What is fluidics? A previous erstwhile Great New Technology that came to very little. Ask any engineer active in the Sixties.

OK, wait for The Lad to be proved wrong.

The First QE Prize

Start of a new Era?

The Lad said that he would be watching. There were doubts.
The first Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering has now been awarded. This is the First Prize of a million pounds: it is to be the first sight of the resulting ‘broad, sunlit uplands’ where the engineering profession will be recognised and courted and besieged by the ranks of youth who will set it alight in the decades to come.
Certainly they, the winners with the other IT workers, introduced a gigantic category that is not recognised by any of the Nobel Prizes: Berners Lee conceiving the ‘www’ idea; and working on communication protocols were Cerf, Kahn and Pouzin, while Andreessen developed the net browser.

They said:

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is a global prize recognising and celebrating outstanding advances in engineering that have changed the world.      

…Will reward and celebrate an individual (or up to three individuals)…..

[Prize awarded this time to five individuals.]

 ‘raise the international public profile of engineering and inspire new generations of engineers’.

Yes…. Yes but…

Do the organisers know what real engineering actually is? Is IT actually Engineering; see here and here?

Engineers of every stripe have one thing in common. That is they manage forces in the world for the benefit of mankind. Computer scientists and coders plan structures of ideas and write logical statements to dance in the infinite and malleable cyberspace: they do not engineer anything.

Somehow it seems to be unsurprising to the cynical among those in the engineering profession that the first Prize has been awarded to the IT industry.

OMG. How much profile raising of Information Technology (IT) is needed in this day and age?

All IT is currently very fashionable in the prints and already uber-cool with the young. As the young easily do, they clearly see it as being the be all and end all of the modern world. Real engineering it is that would benefit from it.

Let us look at the judges on the Awards Committee. There were 15 judges. We could use some Venn diagrams to make this clear, but of them;

There is only one Engineer active in the field. One! All praise then, Paul Westbury, the brilliant [and young] designer of several magnificent, real world structures.

Among the 14 others, there are 10 academics.

In the remaining 4 there are 3 individuals working commercially, outside the groves of academe, and they are all in the IT field, i.e. Google, Indian software and Seattle patent brokers.

The other one is a biologist working on evolution applications to, inter alia, energy.

How many of the academics have ever designed or developed or procured an engineered object, e.g. the parts of a machine or structure, to specification, time and price – let alone all of these processes at one time?

What was the contribution of each Judge; did all take equal part?

On the day of the announcement, on18 March 2013, BBC News reported the award of the QE Prize for Engineering. The piece was introduced by the Science Correspondent; there was a stock clip of molten metal being tapped [wearisome]. This was followed by a talking Brian Cox [Rock aura and nice looking]. The Lad has a lot of time for the guy but he is a physicist, not an engineer. Oh! And then a Social Studies Think Tank person intoned that “We need more engineers”.

With such a first award of the Prize, how can The Lad get the organisers to understand and arrange that the media need more proper engineers talking on the telly about real engineering? Details are difficult but principles and artefacts can be photogenic and attractive to the young.

Will the Prize sponsors who dipped into their pockets for the funds recognise this as engineering? Who were engineers on the Prize short list?

Consider all the stakeholders here.

Sponsors vs. Prize Management Panel vs. Prize Judges vs. Nobel Prize vs. youngsters encouraged vs. engineering profession vs. Academia.

Are they anywhere near in the right balance?

There is no evidence from this First Prize that it will even begin to bring any benefit to Engineering.

A change of state for Dyson – back!

Sir James Dyson is famous for his engineered products and support for UK engineers and engineering. It is striking that this has come about from his work entirely devoted to domestic appliances. A few years back, The Lad would then have expected that such an engineering reputation would have had to have stemmed from Defence or Aerospace or Power Generation: industries that are awash with finance, opportunities and Research and Development (R&D) departments. Perhaps, alternatively, anywhere in Germany or the US – but we won’t go into that.

The air moving device, called the Air Multiplier by Dyson is one of his latest devices and, typically, it is a remarkable example of thinking laterally. That, together with painstaking development, brings a device to replace and improve the standard domestic fan.

The vacuum cleaner newly bought by The Lad is the DC41 Animal . As part of normal usage and maintenance of the cleaner; the internals brought into view reveal an engineering, tour de force of die cast plastic design.


That vital component of the engineering design process, the material, used by Dyson is presumably that marvel of an engineering plastic – ABS or a more modern derivative.



However the new design cleaner is not without minor glitches. Such glitches though, The Lad emphasises are part of a normal engineering development of even the highest level product. There is also a much more interesting effect that we will come to after a mention of the glitches.

The On/Off power switch has nowhere near the snap action [as in a light switch on the wall] that this user expects. A stab action of the finger frequently leaves the motor still running. That’s one. The other concerns the power flex, or cord. It is longer, which is good, but is not so easy to handle as was the flex of The Lad’s previous Dyson. It does not coil in the hand comfortably. Possibly the insulation elastomer is slightly too stiff in shear or there are inbuilt stresses. Either could lead to torsional coiling problems.

Now we come to the interesting thing.

Think about this. The Animal cleaner is definitely a more elegant engineering design than the products of other companies and also its Dyson predecessors.  Also, the design morphology is different in that the filters are in different locations in the air flow path. Despite this, the design is now back to the starting point. This starting point was a vacuum cleaner with a bag [which is a filter of course] that had to be changed; the dust collection efficiency declining if it was not.

From the user’s point of view; which has to be the engineer’s Gold Standard, things are now much the same as they were. Dyson recommends washing the 2 filters in the Animal every 3 months. Their extraction is as inconvenient as was changing a bag and the washing of the filters and their 24 hr drying time [perhaps longer in winter in the UK] is more inconvenient.

So here we are. This is a vacuum cleaner design that demands that its large filters have a 24 hr maintenance process to avoid loss of efficiency. The clever and elaborate cyclone technology is being overshadowed by the old [paper in one case] filter technology. One of the filters is in the shape of a bag. Sir James had better not let his engineers go any further down this design branch!

Engineering is one of the three drivers advancing the human race. This blog describes real professional engineering as it is in the real world. It is not well served by the current media. An engineer is posting: not a ‘scientist’. Its target is the career seeker and also the general public.


Entropic disorder at the BBC

The second programme in the Genius of Invention series was mainly up to the usual high BBC documentary standard. The Lad returned to it following his review of the first of the series.

Most of his original thoughts this time were, in truth, nit-picking: why the presenters were gurning so much with their continual, strained grins, indeed why were there three presenters at all . On the latter, the producers presumably wanted to avoid the unthinkably, unfashionable, single lecturer. Mostly though here the jump cut effect is mere hyper-activity. As well, there seems no logic in having an “industrial archaeologist” who shows little archaeology but does instruct another presenter on certain simplistic features of a modern jet engine.

Then the Lad realised that something had almost passed him by with only a momentary feeling of something wrong. There was a programme segment on Nicolas Sadi Carnot that sought to discuss the efficiency of steam engines. He went back to review it and was amazed.

Neither of the two presenters involved even mentioned the central point that, in any and all engines, heat must be rejected for them to produce power. That is not difficult to tell. It led to the Second Law of Thermodynamics: probably one of the most important things that humanity has learnt about the operation of the universe. This is what we have to thank Carnot for.

Instead it offered a model engine that was, frankly, laughable. Not because it was solely two lengths of plastic guttering rather than piston and cylinder. That is of no concern. One problem was that it was not even any sort of analogue. Then there were a ridiculous trio of jars each with a different amount of coloured water and given wrong descriptions. It was more like the sleight of hand that is the huckster’s Shell Game.

There was mention of an ‘ideal engine’. There were leaks said to represent energy losses due ‘waste heat’, ‘bearings’, ‘friction’ and ‘noise’. Most of these losses, in the real world, illustrated the First Law of Thermodynamics rather than the phenomenon that was Sadi Carnot’s insight.

The whole segment cast no light on Carnot’s insights; indeed it instructed the viewer wrongly. What was Professor Mark Miodownik thinking about associating himself with this train crash of a presentation?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is central to the practice of real engineering, but this segment added nothing to the story linking Stephenson and Otto and Benz and Whittle. It should have been left out. Putting it in damaged the credibility of the whole programme.

Engineering is one of the three drivers advancing the human race. This blog describes real professional engineering as it is in the real world. It is not well served by the current media. An engineer is posting: not a ‘scientist’. The Lad is entirely independent of any organisation mentioned. The target of the blog is the career seeker and the general public.