Civil Engineers- The Unsung Heroes of Modern Society

“So why is it that although world has some famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe, Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid just to name a few, (it) doesn’t have famous traffic engineers?”

Notable Civil Engineers Highway EngineersBrooklyn Bridge In the spirit of innovation, we have started featuring star innovators on our blog each month- people who embody the ideals of innovation in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. This month, our intention was to feature a prominent Civil Engineer who has made an impact in our daily lives and in public places. What we found is there are countless people who have contributed to the field of civil engineering and deserve accolades, but rarely hear of them.

Though the field of civil engineering has been around for centuries, we know very little about the people who have paved the way (literally in some cases) for us to enjoy the many amenities our modern society has to offer- clean water, railroads, roads, sidewalks, buildings, sewage systems, dams, bridges or airports and so much more.

An Australian Transportation blogger writes in this post,

“So why is it that although world has some famous architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van de Rohe, Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid just to name a few, doesn’t have famous traffic engineers? Why do we have famous economists like Adam Smith, Karl Marx. John Keynes or Milton Friedman and we don’t know of any transport planners? And if for doctors it is quite reasonable to know so many because of all these diseases named after them why is it that we don’t know who designed the first tram system? Or the inventor of Bus Rapid Transit? Why the bridges aren’t named after their designer?”

It’s hard to imagine our lives without civil engineers.  These unsung heroes are responsible for the design and maintenance of both the small and enormous infrastructure projects all over the world.

Here is our list of notable engineers we’d like to highlight (not listed in any particular order) that are considered by many to be leaders in the field of civil engineering and transportation planning. Who would you add to this list? 

Emily Warren Roebling (1843 –1903)

Known as the “first woman field engineer” and saw out the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.

John Smeaton – (1724 – 1792)

First self proclaimed civil engineer. He is often called the Father of Civil Engineering. His work on waterwheels and windmills contributed to the efficiency of the industrial revolution.

Archie Alphonso Alexander (1888 – 1958)

Prominent transportation engineer recognized for his work on bridges, buildings and utilities. First African American to graduate from the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering.

Benjamin Wright – (1770 – 1842)

The American Society of Civil Engineers declared Benjamin Wright the Father of American Civil Engineering. He was the Chief Engineer during the construction of the Erie Canal and many more notable infrastructure products in the United States.

William Hunter Dammond (1873-1956)

Invented the rail road switching mechanism which enabled trains to change direction. He is also the First African American Graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a Degree in Civil Engineering.

Squire Whipple – (1804 – 1888)

Designed and built a weigh lock scale to weigh canal boats on the Erie Canal. He also designed and built seven short span iron bridges for the New York and Erie Railroad near Newburgh and Binghamton, New York. Whipple also built the first long span trapezoidal railroad bridges for the New York Railroads.

Elsie Eaves- (1898 – 1983)

The first female associate member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and a founding member of the American Association of Cost Engineers (now AACE International; the Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering)

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859)

Designed tunnels, railway lines, ships and bridges. He is most famous for the network of tunnels, bridges and viaducts he designed for the Great Western Railway. His design methods are still used today in high-speed trains.

Walter Taylor (1872–1955)

Australian visionary and builder of many Brisbane landmarks. His most notable works are the Walter Taylor Bridge and the Graceville Methodist church, both of which are heritage-listed buildings.

Dr. John “Job” Crew Bradfield- (1867-1943)

Prominent Australian engineer who designed and oversaw the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. He was also appointed Chief Engineer for the metropolitan railway construction in New South Wales.

Olive Dennis- (1885-1957)

The second woman to obtain a Civil Engineering degree from Cornell. She was hired that year as a draftsman by the B & O Railroad to design bridges, eventually changed the nature of railway travel.

Duff A. Abrams- (1880 – 1965)

A researcher in the area of organization and properties of concrete, he was responsible for coming up with the necessary methods for testing concrete characteristics that we still use. President of the American Concrete Association for a year, he discovered the concept of fineness modulus and the definition of water-cement ratio.

Charles Duke

a structural engineer and architect, made distinguished contributions to the development of churches and railroads. irst African American to earn a Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1913.

Nora Stanton Blatch Barney- (1883 – 1971)

Famous American civil engineer and architect, the first woman to earn a degree in any type of engineering in the United States; her degree was in civil engineering. In the same year, she was accepted as a junior member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

Henry Randall Grooms (1944-n/a)

Served on the DC Highway Department as a highway engineer and on the engineering team at Rockwell International where he was awarded Engineer of the Year Award the company’s space division in 1980.

Othmar Hermann Ammann- (1879 – 1965)

A Swiss-born American structural engineer, he designed the Bayonne Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the famous George Washington Bridge. He also designed more than half of the 11 bridges that attach New York City to the rest of the country. As well as his work on bridges, he planned the construction and directed the building of the Lincoln Tunnel.

We urge to continue to learn about these famous civil engineers and what their inventions have brought to the world by visiting the following resources-
www.facebook.com/notes/structural-engineering-forum-of-india
science.howstuffworks.com/engineering
www.wikiengineer.com/Transportation
www.thefamouspeople.com/civil-engineers
www.i-studentglobal.com/civil-engineering
mobilitymanagementaustralia.blogspot.com.au

photo credit: kumiyama00 via photopin (license)
photo credit: Highway via photopin (license)
photo credit: New York City – Brooklyn Bridge via photopin (license)

WVCO Featured Innovator of the Month: MIT Professor Julie Shah

Julie Shaw

Image Courtesy of MIT Industrial Liaison Program

“Imagine if robots could be truly collaborative partners, able to anticipate and adapt to the needs of their human teammates. Such robots could greatly extend productivity. That possibility is really exciting to me.” -Julie Shah

Willamette Valley Company was built on the principle of innovation. Throughout the years, our team of forward thinking innovators has produced a range of game changing solutions within  our divisions like PRE-TEC, Willamette Valley Company Railroad Division, POLYQuik Performance Products, and WVCO Wood Products.

This month, our featured innovator is Julie Shah, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and head of the Interactive Robotics Group at MIT.

The Interactive Robotics Group is a robotics research lab committed to developing robots that work in tandem with humans to accomplish what neither can do alone. She is best known for her team’s innovative methods of enabling human-robot collaboration, i.e. Creating robots who can function as colleagues for humans in fields such as disaster response, manufacturing, surgery and space exploration.

“Human interaction isn’t part of the traditional curriculum for training roboticists,” she says in this MIT Technology Review profile. “Our field is always pushing to make our systems more autonomous, and have richer capabilities and intelligence, but in that push we tend to look past the fact that these systems are, and always will be, working in human contexts”.

Here she is describing her work in the robotics field in her own words

Ms. Shah has received international recognition for her work in the robotics field, including an NSF CAREER award in 2014 and in the MIT Technology Review 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2013. She has also been named by MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s top innovators under the age of 35.

Her dedication to creating a more collaborative relationship between humans and robots to achieve greater good makes her our pick for our “Innovator of the Month”.

Sourced By:
This MIT engineering professor is turning robots into ideal colleagues for humans.

interactive.mit.edu

Machines Like Us: Robots and Drones at Work

Featured Innovators of the Month: Greg & Jill Henderson

Hoverboard

Courtesy of Arx Pax

“Just like anything else, a successful result starts with a working prototype and continues to evolve as more resources are brought to bear on design optimization and technology advancements” – Greg & Jill Henderson

Willamette Valley Company values innovation. We admire the many individuals who are working to put their ideas into action with the goal of raising the bar and making our world a better, more sustainable place. Our innovator spotlight this month is on Greg & Jill Henderson, co-founders of Arx Pax, the company behind the development of the Hendo Hoverboard.

Remember the iconic scene when Marty McFly zips through town on a levitating skateboard in the 80’s film “Back to the Future 2” (which happens to take place in the year 2015)? That could soon be a reality.

Hendo Hover

Photo source: Hendo Hover Facebook Page

The Hendo Hoverboard is described by Arx Pax as a stable, self-propelled, levitation platform with no external power source. The key principle behind this technology is Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA™), Henderson’s term for what others may call magnetic levitation, or maglev. Maglev is already transforming the rail industry in some Asian countries by powering “super trains”. These trains have the ability to travel at extreme high speeds because there is no friction between the train’s wheels and axles and the rails.

Unlike a train, the Hendo Hoverboard doesn’t follow a track. Rather, it hovers freely over a special surface plated in copper which acts as an inductor that allows an electric current to flow through it resulting in a magnetic field. “The magic behind the hoverboard lies in its four disc-shaped hover engines,” the company says. “These create a special magnetic field which literally pushes against itself, generating the lift which levitates our board off the ground.”

Click here for a more detailed explanation of the science behind this device.

Want to see it in action? Watch skateboarding champ Tony Hawk try it out during a recent visit to the Arx Pax labs in Los Gatos, California.

Though there are limitations, the Hendersons are hopeful the Hendo Hoverboard will serve as a starting point for future innovators to develop the technology and ultimately serve the larger goals of sustainability and safety. “We’re trying to inspire co-creation across the globe, and we’re getting some fantastic responses. The ideas that people have already come up with for the company’s hovering Whitebox (a scaled-back form of the hovering engine) are “amazing” and “exciting,” Greg says in a recent post.

To learn more about the Hendersons, Arx Pax and their inventions, visit these helpful resources.

www.wired.com
archinect.com
www.americanantigravity.com
www.arxpax.com
hendohover.com

Spotlight on Robotics Engineer Rodney Brooks

Rodney Brooks

Photo source csail.mit.edu

As a company that strives to explore new ideas, devices and processes, we admire individuals who exemplify the spirit of innovation. This month our featured innovator is Australian Robotics Engineer, author, entrepreneur and MIT Professor, Rodney Brooks.

His TED Speaker bio describes him as one who “studies and engineers robot intelligence, looking for the holy grail of robotics: the AGI, or artificial general intelligence”.

In this famous TED Talk from 2013, Professor Brooks presents the idea that robots can play an essential role in our future as the number of working-age adults drops and the number of retirees increases. Rather than viewing robots as a replacement for people on the job, perhaps we should see them as helpful collaborators, freeing us up to spend time on less mundane and mechanical challenges. Watch below.

Perhaps he is best known for popularizing the actionist approach to robotics, the belief that actions or behaviors are a more appropriate standard in robotics. This approach focuses on robots that possess an ability to to exhibit complex behaviors by gradually correcting its actions via sensory-motor links- in other words- a robot who can figure things out.

He is changing the field of robotics and argues that in order for robots to accomplish everyday tasks in an environment shared by humans, their higher cognitive abilities need to be based on the action and experience with the environment. He was one of the first scientists to give robots the ability to process data on their own. “Over time there’s been a realization that vision, sound-processing, and early language are maybe the keys to how our brain is organized,” he says in this 2002 article.

Rodney Brooks is a founder of iRobot, makers of the popular Roomba vacuum. He now heads Rethink Robotics, whose mission is to apply advanced robotic intelligence to manufacturing and physical labor. “When I look out in the future, I can’t imagine a world, 500 years from now, where we don’t have robots everywhere,” he says.

In 2014, The Robotics Industries Association presented Professor Brooks was honored the Joseph F. Engelberger Award honoring “persons who have contributed outstandingly to the furtherance of the science and practice of robotics”.

Featured Innovator: Dean Kamen


“Lots of people talk and dream about changing the world. But inventor Dean Kamen is actually doing it.” — CBS News

At WVCO, we like to think of ourselves as a team of innovators with divisions like PRE-TEC, Willamette Valley Company Railroad Division, POLYQuik Performance Products, WVCO Wood Products, and much more.

We believe that innovation not only fuels our company, it is what fuels our society and makes this nation great in good times and in bad. WVCO’s focus has always been on creating breakthroughs in products and service to transform the way industries work, so we want to celebrate the spirit of innovation by featuring some of our country’s top ground-breakers and inventors who use their talents for good.

This month, our featured innovator is inventor and entrepreneur, Dean Kamen. For decades, Mr. Kamen has been a tireless advocate for science and technology and currently holds more than 440 U.S. and foreign patents, many of them for innovative medical devices that have expanded the frontiers of health care worldwide.

In 1982, Dean Kamen co-founded DEKA Research and Development and has developed inventions such as a portable dialysis machine, a vascular stent, and the iBOT — a motorized wheelchair that climbs stairs. Recent projects include portable energy and water purification to help improve living standards in developing countries, and a prosthetic arm for maimed soldiers. He is perhaps best known for inventing the Segway PT, an electric transporter with a computer-controlled stabilization and control system.

Though his inventions have positively impacted countless lives, his greatest achievement just may be the work that he is doing with For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), an international youth organization co-founded by Kamen to inspire a future generation of brilliant innovators. Kamen says the mission of his organization is “To transform our culture by creating a world where science and technology are celebrated and where young people dream of becoming science and technology leaders.”

The organization operates the FIRST Robotics Competition, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST LEGO League, and FIRST Tech Challenge competitions. CBS Sunday Morning recently profiled Dean Kamen in this piece.

To learn more about Dean Kamen and his contributions, please visit www.dekaresearch.com/founder.shtml and www.usfirst.org.

Dean Kamen photo credit: danielernst via photopin cc