Wednesday, October 04, 2006

0 Creativity in Engineering Design

There are numerous problems on earth for which we engineers have to come up with solutions. Success in this endeavor relates to group/individual creativity. It is a characteristic that is both inherited (intelligence) and learned (thinking). There are numerous designs out there, but what determines whether our solution will have a customer base and a good market will depend upon the way our solution approaches the problem. This again is related to creativity.

According to me, 4 products that were ground breaking inventions were :

1)Bicycle: The bicycle is an amazing and simple machine. The fact that someone was able to come out with a design that endured for many years testifies to the person’s creativity, BBC’s Radio 4 chose it as the Top Invention to change the world since 1800’s. John Starley was credited with the invention of the safety bicycle, or the modern bicycle. Bicycles before his time were high wheeled and probably very dangerous to ride. In 1885, Starley came up with a diamond truss design for the frame, a pair of equally sized wheels, a rear wheeled drive and a chain drive. It was simple and fabulous, and it stuck on for ages. Starley’s ideas led him to open his own bike shop and his bicycles were called Rover Bikes.
Starley’s motivation to be different from other designers led to an invention that is the
basis for all bicycle designs today, be it for racing or commuting.

2) Transistor : Another single most important invention that shaped the modern computer age that we’re living in today is the transistor. Prior to that, computers employed vacuum tubes for computational purposes. They were noisy, cumbersome and occupied large rooms. The transistor was invented in 1947 by three American physicists at the Bell Telephone Laboratories William Shockley, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain. The three men received the 1956 Physics Nobel Prize for their joint invention. The three men worked very hard to produce the first transistor. However, there were many challenges along the way. The device never worked and the materials they used only made slower transistors. Shortly before Christmas, Bardeen had an historic insight. Everyone thought they knew how electrons behaved in crystals, but Bardeen discovered they were wrong. The electrons formed a barrier on the surface. His breakthrough was what they needed. Without telling Shockley about the changes they were making to the
investigation, Bardeen and Brattain worked on. On December 16, 1947, they built the
point contact transistor, made from strips of gold foil on a plastic triangle, pushed down into contact with a slab of germanium. Due to Brattain’s thinking outside the box, today, are able to fit thousands of transistors onto a patch of silicon to make chips and it clearly has revolutionized our own work.

3) Paper : You are reading this mainly because the words have been nicely typed on an easy to use, light and safe medium of communication – Paper. The early Sumerians wrote on heavy tablets of stone and clay that were difficult to move from place to place. The Egyptians created sheets of Papyrus that were used for thousands of years. No major changes in writing materials were to come for about 3,000 years. The person credited with inventing paper is a Chinese man named Ts'ai Lun. He took the inner bark of a mulberry tree and bamboo fibers, mixed them with water, and pounded them with a wooden tool. He then poured this mixture onto a flat piece
of coarsely woven cloth and let the water drain through, leaving only the fibers on the cloth. Once dry, Ts'ai Lun discovered that he had created a quality writing surface that was relatively easy to make and lightweight. This knowledge of papermaking was used in China before word was passed along to Korea, Samarkand, Baghdad, and Damascus. Here we see again, how a man used his experience, creativity and skills to come up with lightweight medium of communication.

This also serves to prove a good point about notable inventions that end up improving our lives : They have come from all over the world and they have been the result of careful planning, experimentation and insights from people of different races, cultural backgrounds and experiences. The fact that we use them is because of those individuals and thus, the concept
of supreme race has no valid reasoning (Like Adolf Hitler's Aryan delusion).

4) Lightbulb : Thomas Alva Edition painstakingly conducted hundreds of experiments with different materials and ultimately, he brought out a design that could burn for over 1500 hours. Due to his invention, New York was among the first cities to receive electric lighted streets. It was a luxury at a time when gas lamps were used.


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