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The choicest cuts from the E&T inbox this month

Brunel's military designs

My curiousity was aroused by a mention in the review of 'William Armstrong: Magician of the North' in your December 2010 issue that Isambard Kingdom Brunel, along with Armstrong, was 'disturbed by reports of how British weaponry contributed to various disasters in the Crimean War'.

As most authors tend to concentrate on Brunel's civil engineering projects, I decided to carry out a trawl of his involvement with military engineering. The most complete reference is 'The Life of Isambard Brunel, Civil Engineer' by his son Isambard Brunel.

Here one learns of the polygonal rifle: In October 1852 Brunel wrote to a Mr Westley Richards saying: 'I'have long wanted to try an experiment with a rifle'. He also asks Richards in February 1853 if he could produce a rifle barrel 'made octagon inside' and with the octagon having 'twice as much twist at the mouth of the piece as at the breech'. The rifle was made and trials carried out at Birmingham, Manchester and Woolwich where it 'obtained great notoriety'.

During April 1855 he wrote to James Nasmyth expressing his thoughts on the design of large guns. In this letter he suggests that the barrel be 'of hardish material wrapped round with iron wire'.such a barrel ought to be strong ' whether practically successful is another thing'. Brunel and his friend William Armstrong intended to perform practical tests of this design, but they had to abandon the project as the wire was patented in May 1855.

Brunel considered making the bore of the barrel polygonal with a projectile shaped to fit. 'He had a portion of cannon tube and a projectile made by Mr Armstrong,' but had to abandon the project as he was becoming heavily involved with the Great Eastern.

To solve the problems the British navy were experiencing with their gunboats running aground in the shallow waters of the Crimea, Brunel proposed a vessel that was to be low in the water and be propelled by a longitudinal jet. Its lateral direction was to be determined by the use of jets on the port and starboard sides. It could thus operate close to the shore, without becoming snagged on the seabed.

Brunel also made a rapid turnaround of the request in February 1855 for a prefabricated hospital to be used in place of the unsanitary and infection ridden hospital at Scutari, where the British were losing more men than on the battlefield. It was an outstanding success, and it incorporated many of the requirements introduced by Florence Nightingale.

Dan Little MIET, By email


Spot the difference

I have been following with interest the discussions in E&T about the number of women working in engineering and it seems to me that a lot of people are missing a major point. Women are different to men. We think differently.

Neville Ward mentions this in his letter (Vol 5 #17) when he points out that although he encouraged his daughters from an early age to take an interest in engineering, they were always more interested in the humanistic 'where are we going' side of things than in the specifications of the engine on their Lego spaceship.

Even though I am in engineering and am interested in how things work, I still notice that I don't think about it in the same way as the men with which I work. For one thing I describe things as 'pretty' and 'cute' which can upset some men!

When I left school three years ago at the age of 16 I didn't know much about engineering. I got my apprenticeship because I wanted a job with some more advanced training, such as the HNC. I have got that and I am thoroughly enjoying it. However, no one at school would have told me about the opportunities within engineering unless I asked them ' and I just didn't think of asking.

I feel that you are never going'to get equal representation of men and women in engineering, due to the fact that we women are completely different people to men. However'we need more young people in engineering. To get this'though, I feel, from my experience at school and as an apprentice, that institutions like'the IET and colleges and training groups need to go out into schools and tell young people what engineering is all'about.

We never had this at my school; we were given information if we asked for it, and colleges came in and gave general information of the courses we could do, but I was not very interested in these college courses. I didn't really link them with real life jobs.

This experience tells me that what is especially needed is to inform young people of the job/career opportunities within engineering, including the lowest jobs as machinists etc. to'the highest ranks of engineers. All these roles are important and'with this information young'people can make fully informed decisions as to what to'do with their lives and what is'best for them.

Grace Munday, apprentice engineer, Ultra Electronics, High Wycombe


Make us all doctors

One of the perennial subjects I enjoy reading about in the E&T letters pages is that of engineering titles and recognition. I have for some years held the titles of CEng and EurIng, and whereas the former gains some general public recognition, since at least they've'heard of chartered accountants, almost everyone is mystified by the European Engineer title, particularly visitors from continental Europe.

The issue of the words used in different countries has been pointed out before. In principle there isn't anything wrong with the qualifications or experience of professional engineers, what we're really looking for here is an English title that will be recognised by the public at large and the media. Hence, giving this some lateral thinking, the thought has struck me that the character who calls himself a Time Lord in the famous BBC science fiction drama is very much a 'professional technical problem solver', but he is referred to as a 'Doctor'.

Right from childhood therefore, the general public is informed of more than one type of doctor. Given this head start in public awareness, I propose our profession adopts the title of Dr(Eng) to denote a chartered engineer. Professionals referred to as 'engineering doctors' are much more likely to be though of as qualified and experienced by the public.

The only downside is mistakenly being asked to consult for a range of medical conditions from time to time, though that would be a sign of progress towards the question being asked: 'Is there an engineer in the house?'

EurIng Bernard Smart CEng FIET, by email


Get the message

Whilst I deplore the use of the title 'engineer' by a local council to describe someone who can advise on how to organise a street party (Letters, April), I often struggle to think of a suitable alternative for a number of the skilled and semi-skilled roles that exist these days. An example would be the person who fixes photocopiers.

They will have skills covering mechanical, electrical and software, so we can't use mechanic, electrician etc. Mechanician, perhaps? It's not really a word, it's clumsy and doesn't fully describe the role. Technician is really no more appropriate than engineer ' especially with EngTech recognised by the Engineering Council.

The first step in addressing this cause of great angst in the profession is the identification of an appropriate title for those who, in want of a better alternative, call themselves 'engineer'.

There is perhaps an alternative approach. Maybe we should start calling dog groomers veterinary surgeons, checkout operators accountants, bus drivers pilots, people who sell (medicated) shampoo pharmacists etc. I'm sure you get the point, and maybe the message would get out.

EurIng Robert J Hayes CEng FIET, by email


Keep calm and carry on

The debate about the 'status' of engineers drones on. I recently had a new heating system installed and was greatly impressed by the complexity of the controls and the competence of the installer.

I may not be very good at setting up computer-operated control systems, and he may be just a little short in his comprehension of Maxwell's equations. Make no mistake we are both engineers and we should be proud to be.

The way to achieve respect is to keep quiet and get on with doing a competent job.

EurIng ME Jolly MIET, Devon


No confusion in North America

In response to the observations made in the March issue of E&T'by Engineering Council CEO Jon Prichard regarding my earlier letter on engineering titles, I would like to point out that in the USA, licensed engineers are not given the title PEng, but PE. PEng is the Canadian Professional Engineers designation. I am one.

In both countries, engineering is treated with respect, and although they do indeed joke about confusion with railway engineers, the general public knows that you have to go to school to be one, and certainly does not confuse them with washing machine technicians. Importantly, neither yourself nor your employer may call you an engineer, or your work engineering, if you are not so authorised.

In Europe and other countries that I mentioned, whether or not'they need an exclusive licence to practise, the public respects engineers because they know that they have studied long and hard in reputable institutions.

The designation EurIng is equivalent to a button found in a'packet of cornflakes, and merely identifies those people whose ego and lack of self confidence requires the use of a pre-nominal.

Tony Routledge, by email


The ethical engineer

Engineers must bear the consequence of their creations. The principle that 'The freedom'of the individual challenges the good of the community' means that everything that one does in some way affects everybody else. One cannot live in isolation.

Engineers should consider not only the social and environmental consequences of their actions, but also the political in terms of economic and technological growth. Continued economic growth and resource consumption is contrary to ecological sustainability and green policies.

The early 1970s saw the publication of a number of highly inflential books: 'Blueprint for Survival' by Edward Goldsmith, 'Small is Beautiful' by Fritz Schumacher, and 'Limits to Growth' by the Club of Rome. Each examined the sustainability of economic and technological growth. 'Limits to Growth' has been updated and reprinted after 30 years. The observations made then in 1972 of changes to industrial production, food production and pollution are in line with predicted econmic and societal collapse in the 21st century.

Publications like these, and their updates, must be included in engineering students' set book lists if they are not already. Engineers must accept responsibility and examine the sustainability of their creations for the good of the community and society as a whole.

David Coles, associate, Twickenham

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