The STEAM of steam: a technician fixing stuff today creates the science and complex technology of tomorrow — Public Talk
October 17 2020 at 3:00PM - 5:00PM
Central Pier No. 8, Hong Kong
Free Event

This not-to-be-missed public talk analyses, on the one hand, the history of marine steam propulsion, and on the other, the close-knit relationship between disciplines within the popular banner of STEAM education.

We can identify clever ideas for devices driven by steam in the classical Mediterranean world of the 3rd century BCE to 1st century CE. They had no conceivable use. For the next millennium and a half they were forgotten. Then, over a period of a century, 1550-1650 CE, in Ottoman Turkey, Italy, Spain, France and Britain fertile minds began to see steam as a source of power to do needed work. Most important, they had the techniques, tools and materials needed. The results were the first, very inefficient steam engines. Another century of mechanics and engineers making and fixing machines that often broke down, and improving tools and materials to do so, turned early examples into workable and economically feasible steam engines.

Half a century or so later the engine went to sea. Engineers and mechanics devised and made paddle wheels and then propellers. The world was transformed. Thanks to the marine steam engine and the screw propeller, from 1850-1900 the value of sea trade rose 2000%.

In the meantime, initially with no influence on the actual design of steam engines, scientists worked on understanding WHY they work and what their limitations are. Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot (1796-1832) theorized the heat engine from which, fifty years later, Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) and William Thompson, Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), developed the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the concept of entropy. Similarly, the technician and engineer John Ericsson (1803-1889) developed the screw propeller in the 1830s. The scientific principles were worked out by a number of theorists between 1865 and 1920, prominent amongst whom were William Froude (1810-1879) and his son Robert Edmund Froude (1846-1924).

Throughout the story of the marine steam propulsion, technical and engineering knowledge and skills (T and E) and creative imagination (A) were what gave an impetus to theorizing (S) that with maths (M) provided understanding and explanations that could feed back and improve results.

 

Speaker: Dr. Stephen Davies
Language: In English with simultaneous interpretation into Cantonese


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