Friday, July 29, 2011

20 Ingenious Engineers Every Student Should Study

Even if you’re an engineering student, you might not always give much thought to the minds behind developing the things you use every day. From electricity to computers to telephones, every device originated in the mind of an engineer or inventor, sometimes decades before they reached the technological point they’re at today. Why not pay homage to innovators of the past (and perhaps get inspired to pioneer your own inventions) by learning a bit more about some of the most amazing figures in engineering history? Here are twenty big names to get you started, but there are many more out there well worth learning about if you have the time.

  1. Eli Whitney

    Best known for inventing the cotton gin, Eli Whitney was a pivotal figure in shaping the Industrial Revolution here in the United States. While his invention would strengthen the economic foundation of slavery in the South (making cotton a profitable crop), that was likely never Whitney’s intention, and he spent most of his life embroiled in legal battles over patent infringement. Of course, the cotton gin wasn’t this enterprising inventor’s only contribution, as he revolutionized the use of interchangeable parts on weapons, though it is what helped put him on the map.

  2. Nikola Tesla

    A mechanical and electrical engineer and inventor, Tesla’s innovations are a big part of the things we use each and every day in our lives. Tesla was a key figure in developing commercial electricity, pushing forward alternating current systems (much to the chagrin of Thomas Edison, who favored direct current) and driving the Second Industrial Revolution. While regarded by many as a mad scientist for his unbridled enthusiasm and often bizarre claims, Tesla is nonetheless one of the most brilliant engineering minds in history — and a man whose ideas were often ahead of his time.

  3. The Wright Brothers

    Most students are quite familiar with the names of these two pioneers in manned flight. While the Wright Brothers were not the only ones working on airplanes, nor perhaps even the first to be successful, they are certainly the most well-known in the development of aeronautic technology. The brothers built and tested numerous prototypes before finding success with a three-axis controlled craft that could be easily steered and handled. While many may doubt their status as the first in flight, there is no doubt that the wind-tunnel research they conducted led to the engineering of more efficient propellers and wings.

  4. Leonardo da Vinci

    The term "Renaissance man" was coined for men like Leonardo, who dabbled in everything from math to music to art to engineering. While he was not solely an engineer, he left behind a record of numerous inventions, with plans for the construction of a wide range of devices — including musical instruments, mortar shells, steam cannons and a hydraulic pump. Some doubt his prowess as an inventor and engineer because not all of his devices worked when constructed (they were tested in 2003 on a BBC program), but his imagination and ability to think beyond the reach of his time were unrivaled by his peers.

  5. Thomas Edison

    Thomas Edison is often referred to as the "Wizard of Menlo Park," a title earned for the amazing amount of inventions and patents he produced during his lifetime — over 1,093 in the U.S. and Europe. Some of these would change the world, including the phonograph, motion picture camera, and a long-lasting light bulb, though there were many others with smaller (but still significant) impact. Engineers can also give thanks to Edison for pioneering the first industrial research laboratory, which helped accelerate the pace of invention.

  6. I.K. Brunel

    Brunel’s name might not be familiar to most Americans, but perhaps it should be. A British civil engineer, Brunel was responsible for revolutionizing modern transport and engineering not only in the UK, but around the world. Some of his biggest projects included the Great Western Railway (the first major railway in Britain), the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship and new designs for bridges, tunnels (including one under a river — the first of its kind) and roadways throughout the country. These are all still held up today as models of great civil engineering.

  7. Werner von Braun

    von Braun is a bit of a controversial figure, but one whom engineers should still study, as he helped revolutionize the field of rocket science and aerospace engineering. A leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Nazi Germany and a Nazi war hero, von Braun emigrated to the United States (as part of a secret government project called Operation Paperclip) after the war and begun working with NASA. It was there that he would become regarded as one of the preeminent engineers of the 20th century, developing the Saturn V booster rocket that helped to land the first men on the Moon.

  8. Gustave Eiffel

    The Eiffel Tower may be regarded as a cheesy tourist destination today, but when it was built it was an engineering marvel. Structural engineer Gustave Eiffel built the icon for the Great Exposition of 1900, and at the time it was the tallest man-made structure in the world (and would be for over 40 years). Eiffel would go on to design and build many more buildings and bridges around the world, using his tower to complete research on aerodynamics, meteorology and radio broadcasting.

  9. Charles Babbage

    Babbage dabbled in a wide range of pursuits from math to philosophy to mechanical engineering, for which he is perhaps best known. It was Babbage who first came up with the idea for the programmable computer, designing and building the first mechanical example as early as the 19th century. While Babbage lost funding and could not complete his research, modern constructions based on his plans worked like a charm. He truly was the father of the computer, with a working difference engine (a sort of primitive computer) and accompanying printer to his name.

  10. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

    This Russian scientist was a pioneer in rocketry and astronautics, and his research may have contributed to the success of the Russian space exploration program during the Cold War. A recluse and hermit, Tsiolkovsky spent a great deal of time working on astronautical theories, many of which are quite bizarre (he believed colonizing space would lead to the perfection of the human race, for example). Yet the science he create to help support his more philosophical ideas was groundbreaking, designing rockets, boosters, space stations, airlocks and even colonies — many of which were used in actual space exploration.

  11. Johannes Gutenberg

    Gutenberg was not an engineer by trade, but a printer and blacksmith. Nonetheless, the device he designed and built would go on to change the world in a way that few others have. His invention of moveable type and the printing press started a revolution that allowed books and other printed material to be widely distributed to the masses, with far-reaching effects.

  12. Alexander Graham Bell

    An engineer, scientist, inventor and innovator, Bell is still a household name almost a century after his death. He was responsible for some truly groundbreaking inventions throughout his lifetime, most notably the telephone, which revolutionized modern communication. His other research in optical telecommunications, hydrofoils and aeronautics were also impressive, and help make him a figure every engineering student should work to learn more about.

  13. Grace Murray Hopper

    While the field of computer science has been and continues to be dominated by men, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few key female figures in its development as well. Hopper is one of those women. While working in the Navy, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, going on to develop the first compiler for a programming language. Students who don’t know her name will know a term she is famous for, however. Hopper coined "debugging" when a moth got caught in the working parts of the computer she was working with.

  14. Archimedes

    Ancient engineers deserve some love on this list, too, and few are a better choice than Archimedes. A mathematician, physicist and astronomer in addition to being an engineer, he was one of the leading scientists recorded in Classical antiquity. Among his inventions were a screw pump (which bears his name), ship lifting machines and a variety of tactical weapons.

  15. Nicolaus Otto

    Otto didn’t necessarily invent the internal combustion engine; he just came up with a way to improve it that would revolutionize how it was used — specifically, becoming the engine of choice in automobiles. Otto’s engine was different from that of his predecessors in that implemented a four stroke process to efficiently burn fuel in a piston chamber. Today, while this model has been modified, the internal combustion engine can be found in everything from cars to boats to aircraft.

  16. George Westinghouse

    A rival of Edison and a proponent of Tesla, Westinghouse was an integral part of the first years of the electrical industry. While he would go on to make a sizeable fortune in this market, he was also a committed engineer and developed several of his own highly successful devices, including the railway air brake. Westinghouse also helped to revolutionize hydroelectric power and implemented the first large-scale transformers to efficiently move electrical power.

  17. Michael Faraday

    Like others on this list, Faraday wasn’t strictly an engineer, but his discoveries and inventions were to lead to some world-changing innovations later on down the line. A pioneer in physics and chemistry, he established the basis for the electromagnetic field, discovering electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and the laws of electrolysis in the process. This research helped him to develop the first electromagnetic rotary devices, which formed the foundation for electric motor technology.

  18. George Washington Carver

    While controversial, biological engineering and research has changed how we eat, farm and look at and use food. George Washington Carver made some amazing discoveries in this field at the turn of the 20th century, developing a number of products that could be made from peanuts — an alternative crop that saved the economy of a South struggling under poor cotton harvests. Carver also came up with dozens of new uses for other Southern crops like sweet potatoes, soybeans and pecans.

  19. Filippo Brunelleschi

    Many said that the dome on the Florence Cathedral simply couldn’t be built, but Brunelleschi proved them wrong. Perhaps his most notable engineering achievement, the dome was a marvel at the time and still provides an awe-inspiring look at the power of invention for visitors today. Brunelleschi didn’t limit himself to architectural engineering, however, and was responsible for designing and building everything from hydraulics to clockwork mechanisms. Not too shabby for an engineer and all around Renaissance man living in the 15th century.

  20. James Watt

    You don’t get a unit of measure named after you without being pretty darn cool (or at least pretty darn smart). Watt, an inventor and mechanical engineer, found new ways to modify the traditional stream engine, making it more efficient, powerful and cost-effective and helping spur on much of the Industrial Revolution. He developed the concept of horsepower, and as a result has the SI unit named after him.

Taken From Best Colleges Online

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