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An oath for engineers

There may be a need for an ethical code for engineers as suggested in your March 2012 issue. However, your suggested code is too negative. It gives no inspiration for engineers entering the profession.

Professional engineers should be encouraged to lead change, to question existing ways and to experiment. To attract the best, they must see their future as challenging and fun. There are so many good things about being an engineer. Working in a team with different disciplines can be very exciting. So can getting the full potential out of people who start with little sense of their own ability.

Only through the love of change do we move forward. I know of too many engineering graduates who have not taken up the profession because they do not find it inspiring.

Peter Tracey FIET
By email

In your feature on a possible code for engineers, as in other such discussions, one finds that the ethical and moral issues related to the defence industry don't rate a mention. Yet this industry has a profound effect on almost all facets of human endeavour. Life, liberty, economy, infrastructure, environment, health and many more come under its spell, and even politics.

Any oath or code suggesting the advancement of human society would be incomplete if engineers working in the war, armament and defence industries are not given the guidance as to how they would be covered so as to be included in the community of engineering professionals who aspire to work for the betterment of mankind.

AR Samnakay FIET
Perth, Western Australia

I would have no problem in signing up to your suggested oath printed. After all, it is a basic definition of being a professional engineer. However, I read the whole article and was surprised to find no reference to an extra bullet point stating: "And, of course, I will do all these things better if I am paid more."

No, I am not referring to banker's bonuses, but to the trend towards performance-related pay to ordinary chartered engineers working in the UK. Certainly, I was subject to this in my last few years in academia before I retired. Is the appropriate IET committee looking into this or, rather, continually monitoring it? At some point, I am certain that the profession is going to have to come to terms with this issue and forewarned is forearmed.

Professor David Lidgate

Your oath has some serious inherent limitations. Swearing an oath to some recognised deity, whether named Apollo or Lenin, remains an invitation to ridicule from unbelievers. The same applies to formal oath-swearing ceremonies.

Such a text is an invitation to a legalistic probing, searching for loopholes: that which is not explicitly forbidden is somehow permissible. Legal practice is as much an exercise in semantics as in concepts of right and wrong.

The points covered in the oath seem to include a range of superficial feel-good topics pandering to various agitators. In American political life, such items are known as pork-barrel policies. Where is a promise to respect the need for lucrative returns to the investors who make engineering feasible?

I feel that we need to remain at a level of 'ethical is as ethical does', rather than searching for formal definitions, which will inevitably yield a response from some of "That doesn't apply to me!". The medical Hippocratic Oath is regarded with considerable disbelief by a large proportion of the lay public.

Tony Fisher MIET
South Africa

Right on wight

I was impressed with your report on attempts to make the Isle of Wight the UK's first truly sustainable region ('The Isle Of Right', March 2012), but I believe that it underplays the ultimate importance of the project. Many countries have turned away from Kyto-type commitments because they imagine that down the road there would be crippling costs. The worst case scenario that these countries fear is that they would become uncompetitive and undergo an economic collapse. What is very badly needed is a convincing demonstration that meaningful carbon emission reductions are feasible, without unmanageable penalties.

I was pleased to read that the Isle of Wight initiative is not just based around one single 'green' technology. For example, the plan is to generate energy not only using wind turbines, but also via waves, solar and geothermal heat. I for one would like to see more space in these columns for an extended discussion of the relative merits of the various different 'green' solutions.

Peter Wood CEng MIET
Ottawa, Canada

Burning question

I am shocked that the April E&T had yet another piece ('Working with waste') pushing burning waste as a perfect solution while ignoring the better options. The perfect solution is to work towards zero waste: prevent waste, maximise repair, reuse and recycle.

The pyrolysis system from Qinetiq seems dependent on waste having a high plastic content and low content of damper waste such as food. This means the waste is not a biofuel and the energy produced would not count as renewable low-carbon energy. Burning plastics, directly or via pyrolysis, to run steam turbines is so inefficient that even landfilling is a better option. We have to recycle and reuse as much plastic as possible. The last resort would be cracking unrecyclable plastic to reform new plastics.

When not properly controlled, such plants are also a significant source of dioxins. The Environment Agency does not publicise when the dioxins emissions of waste plants go over the EU limits but puts the annual reports on a 'public' register. To view the register you need to visit a regional EA office or make a Freedom of Information request. When I visited the EA in Lichfield to look at the reports for the five incinerators in the West Midlands, two of them had broken the limits. I would be extremely concerned if we had thousands of small waste plants with unmeasured dioxin emissions.

Keith Kondakor

Titanic anniversary

'All Aboard the Titanic' repeats a myth about its sinking that was told by every documentary and article about the disaster published during the past few weeks. It was claimed that Titanic sank when "Sea water pours into the bow weighing it down and eventually rending the ship into two and sinking it".

The sea water was innocent, and did not add one gram to the mass of the ship. The sea simply flooded into previously buoyant spaces, at the same level as the surrounding ocean. Buoyancy had been reduced by water being admitted to internal spaces in the ship but it was the weight of the steel that sank Titanic and it was the bending moment of the heavy stern about the semi-submerged bow section that broke the ship's back.

There have been cases of ships foundering because of the weight of water. The SS Normandie (USS Lafayette) capsized in New York harbour in 1942 after water pumped in to fight a fire caused the ship to become unstable. The RMS Queen Elizabeth suffered a similar fate in 1973 in Hong Kong.

Do not blame water for the disaster. In liquid or in ice form it was merely doing what nature and physics intended.

AV Knight FIET
Midhurst, West Sussex

As the Graphic News page in the April 2012 issue of E&T rightly implies, the causes of the structural failure of Titanic are complex. However, it is not quite accurate to say that the steel met the quality standards of the time, nor that high levels of sulphur in the ship's plates made them brittle at low temperatures, nor indeed that the concept of brittle failure was unknown in 1912.

In the 1990s, pieces of metal plate recovered from Titanic were examined by the US Institute of Standards. They concluded that the main reason for the substantial impact damage was the temperature sensitivity of the steel. This resulted in Titanic's steel plates, ductile at room temperatures, turning brittle in icy waters. The sulphur content exceeded the limits of the 1906 Standard, although this had very little influence on the fracture mechanism.

While brittle failure under impact had been recognised since 1905 with the introduction of the Charpy test, the effect of this ductile-to-brittle transition under falling temperatures was not appreciated until the 1940s following the sinking of the ill-fated Liberty ships. Sadly, those lessons were soon forgotten. In 1965 the oil rig Sea Gem, designed for the warm waters of the Middle East and the Gulf of Mexico, was towed to the cold North Sea and suffered a catastrophic brittle fracture that cost 13 lives. It had failed by the same mechanism as Titanic 53 years before.

Leon Pollock CEng MIET
By email

Channel tunnel stamp

The Royal Mail stamp commemorating the Channel Tunnel pictured in your March 2012 issue shows a twin-track bore, whereas the Channel Tunnel has two single-track bores and a pilot tunnel. It would be interesting to know where the photograph used on the stamp originated.

John R Batts


[Eurotunnel confirms that the image used for the stamp is of the service tunnel during the construction phase, when there were twin, narrow-gauge tracks running through to carry the technical teams and equipment to work sites. Winners of the competition in the same issue to win sets of Royal Mail 'Britons of Distinction' stamps can be found at]

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