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Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

U.S. Presidents Who Were Engineers

Posted February 16, 2014 5:01 PM by SavvyExacta

Monday is Presidents' Day in the USA. In honor of Washington and all other presidents we will take a look at those who contributed something to engineering or science.

George Washington: Land Surveyor

Washington was America's first president from 1789-1797. He was also a surveyor and a map maker. By the age of 16 he studied geometry and completed practice surveys from a textbook. He also studied surveying in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A year later he became the surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia. Washington completed 199 surveys in the surrounding area. He's also credited with establishing the U.S. patent system.

Thomas Jefferson: Inventor

Jefferson was president from 1801-1809. Among his inventions are the swivel chair, a macaroni machine, a personal plow (the moldboard), and the cipher wheel.

James Madison: Inventor

Madison was president from 1809-1817. He added a microscope to his walking stick to view small objects on the ground. It was too short for most men to use effectively.

Abraham Lincoln: Land Surveyor

Lincoln was president from 1861-1865. He studied land surveying from books and learned from mentors for six weeks before starting work in Sangamon County, Illinois. He surveyed several towns, roads, school sections, and farm plots. Lincoln also invented a ship with bellows on the hull. He's the only U.S. president to hold a patent, although his invention was never commercialized.

Herbert Hoover: Engineer

Hoover was president from 1929-1933. Before that he was a mining engineer, traveling the world and living in both Australia and China. In 1908 he opened his own mining consultation business. He eventually wrote a textbook on mining engineering.

According to the University of Virginia's Miller Center, "Hoover also applied the ethos of engineering to the world in general, believing that scientific expertise, when employed thoughtfully and properly, led to human progress." You can view some photos of Hoover in action.

An article on the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association described engineering as a profession in 1954.

Jimmy Carter: Engineer

Jimmy Carter was president from 1977-1981. Prior to his presidency he served as an engineer in the U.S. Navy working on nuclear-powered submarines. He attended graduate school at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., (near the CR4 HQ!) where his majors were reactor technology and nuclear physics. While he was based there he worked on developing training materials for a new sub's nuclear propulsion system.


George Washington: Surveyor and Mapmaker

Survey History

Miller Center

Naval History & Heritage

ShallowFalls: Presidents Who Were Also Inventors

Invention Mysteries: Which U.S. Presidents were the most successful inventors?

18 comments; last comment on 02/21/2014
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Top 10 Greatest Engineers

Posted September 20, 2013 12:00 AM by CR4 Guest Author

Who are the greatest engineers of all time? Here's a list of 10. Click on the links to see their biographies. Then tell us: who's on your top 10 list?

  1. Louis Blériot
  2. Anselm Franz
  3. Ferdinand Porshe
  4. Carolus Linnaeus
  5. Eli Whitney
  6. The Wright Brothers
  7. Elisha Graves Otis
  8. Robert Fulton
  9. Athanasios Papoulis
  10. Philo T. Farnsworth
36 comments; last comment on 09/30/2013
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Leonhard Euler Remembered with a Google Doodle

Posted April 15, 2013 11:50 AM by LakeGrl

Today's Google Doodle honors a Swiss mathematician named Leonhard Euler. "Leonhard Euler was a pioneering Swiss mathematician and physicist. He made important discoveries in fields as diverse as infinitesimal calculus and graph theory." Wikipedia

He was considered one of the greatest mathematicians that ever lived and the most prolific, introducing much of modern mathematical terminology and notation. He was born April 15th 1707 in Basel, Switzerland and died 9/18/1783 in Russia. A large number of functions, equations and formulas are named in his honor. Lists of things named after Leonhard Euler from wikipedia.

Euler worked in many areas of mathematics including calculus, trigonometry, algebra, geometry, number theory, physics, and lunar theory. He is unique in that he has 2 numbers named after him, Euler's number in calculus, e, 2.71828, and Euler's Constant γ,(gamma) 0.57721.

According to Science World, he had a phenomenal memory and once did a calculation in his head to settle an argument between students. He lost the sight in his eyes possibly due to cataracts, but continued to publish by dictation. He published over 800 papers in his lifetime. He truly was a mathematical genius. Francois Argo said of him, "He Calculated just as men breathe, as eagles sustain themselves in the air" (Beckmann 1971, p. 143; Boyer 1968, p. 482).

Photo credits : Google Doodles

3 comments; last comment on 04/15/2013
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Were Newton, Tesla, and Einstein Autistic?

Posted April 10, 2013 12:00 AM by Jonathan Fuller
Pathfinder Tags: autism einstein tesla newton

In addition to its place as National Poetry Month and the first month of the Japanese fiscal year, April is National Autism Awareness Month in the US. The autism spectrum disorders (ASD) - a group of conditions which includes autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegration disorder, and other developmental disorders - affect approximately 6 out of every 1,000 children born each year. Common symptoms include early abnormal functioning of social interaction and communication, as well as the prevalence of restricted, repetitive, sometimes obsessive patterns of behavior.

The diagnosis and treatment of ASD has been controversial since the mid-20th century. Potential causes and risk factors - from refrigerator mothers to excessive television - have been proposed and slowly discredited. Equally if not more controversial is the practice of posthumously diagnosing well-known historical figures based on biographical accounts of their eccentric or unusual behavior. A group of researchers believe that the behaviors of three figures well-known to the scientific community - Newton, Tesla, and Einstein - can be explained by autism or Asperger's syndrome, while others decry this speculation as mere unfounded pseudoscience.

According to biographical info on Sir Isaac Newton, he was prone to offbeat behavior. He rarely spoke, suffered from anxiety and paranoia, and often taught to an empty classroom when students failed to show for his lectures. Newton never married, is believed to have died a virgin, and had only one known close acquaintance - Nicolas Fatio de Duillier - whom he corresponded with for about three years until 1693, when it is believed that their brief friendship ended. Opponents of Newton's theoretical autism point out that his behavior could have been caused by mercury poisoning from his alchemical pursuits, basing their belief on the fact that the chemical was found in large quantities in his postmortem body.

Nikola Tesla (who? Aren't you referring to Edison?) showed savant-like characteristics and was often described as well-dressed and suave as he roamed the streets of New York. Tesla also possessed a number of unusual personal traits: he claimed to have an eidetic memory, remained celibate for most of his life, and rarely slept. His well-documented obsessive-compulsive traits include a morbid fear of jewelry, round objects, hair, and germs, as well as an obsession with the number three. Researchers such as Michael Fitzgerald and Ioan James believe that these traits, combined with Tesla's supposed superhuman powers of visualization and design, suggest that he was mildly autistic.

Despite the fact that Einstein was married several times, had close relationships, and was publicly outspoken on political and scientific issues, Fitzgerald, James, and Simon Baron-Cohen believe he may have had Asperger's. Fitzgerald and James base their assertions on Einstein's control issues, lack of social tact, and self-confessed difficulty "thinking in words." Other authors describe him as a loner suffering from agoraphobia who was prone to childlike tantrums. Of all three of the great minds described here, Einstein's diagnosis seems the least plausible.

The supposedly autistic tendencies of Newton, Tesla, and Einstein do little to dampen their greatness, although it is interesting to consider the historiographical effects of their purported personality flaws. Tesla, especially, was widely misunderstood because of the lack of knowledge pertaining to OCD in the early 20th century. Whether they suffered from autism or were simply eccentric is and may always be a matter of conjecture. Perhaps one of Einstein's greatest quotes might apply not only to invention and brilliant theories but also to personal behavior : "Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds…"

(Image credit:

28 comments; last comment on 04/13/2013
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Bill Nye the Science Guy

Posted March 18, 2013 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

On Wednesday March 13th, I saw one of my childhood heroes- Bill Nye, as in, Bill Nye the Science Guy. He gave a free, open to the public speech to a full house at Union

College in Schenectady, NY. I remember watching Bill Nye the Science Guy when I was a kid and feeling like the coolest person in the world when my science teacher showed us an experiment we learned with Bill. The show, which ran on Disney/PBS from 1993 - 98, showed kids that science was all around us and it was cool to be a little nerdy.

Bill Nye. (Sorry for the graininess- It's an iPhone with zoom). Personal image

In his speech, Nye talked about his childhood, his father's unhealthy obsession with sun dials, his slightly less unhealthy obsession with sun dials, and how his obsession got a sundial on the Mar's rover. Nye spoke about the history of Mars exploration and how space exploration is critical to the future. He tied this together by talking about the recent Chelyabinsk meteor and the flyby Asteroid 2012 DA14. Both of these anomalies were small by space standards, but if a meteor the size of 2012 DA14 hit Earth, it could destroy a large city. Nye went on to say that "We are the first generations of humans who can do something about an asteroid or comet impact. We have learned enough about the cosmos and our place in space that we can understand the danger and make a plan."

Image Credit: Amazon

On top of all of his quips, rants, and "that's not Mars, it's a picture of Mars" jokes was a theme of changing the world. Nye stressed that the young generation of today will be presented with all kinds of crazy ideas to solve the serious problems of the world. And while I didn't agree with everything he said (Pluto will always be a planet in my solar system), he had me convinced that we all need to take care of amazing planet that we call home. That hamburger meat shouldn't be cheaper than lettuce and that taking care of the thin layer of atmosphere which keeps Earth from turning into Venus should be a top priority.

Image Credit:

Seeing Bill Nye the Science Guy live, hearing his familiar voice, and seeing his signature bow tie brought me back to my childhood. A time when I didn't have to worry about the pollution that my car contributed, or where my meat came from, or that it doesn't really snow during the summer anymore. His speech was a call to action, not for us to go home and solve the Earth's problems (although I don't think he would stop us); it was a call for us to keep an open mind when presented with other peoples' solutions, and to support leaders who favor renewable energy.

More about Bill Nye:

Bill Nye is a graduate of Cornell University with a Bachelors of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. He holds three Honorary Doctorate degrees: from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins. He has delivered commencement addresses at the University of California Santa Barbara, RPI, Goucher, Hopkins, Harvey Mudd College, and Caltech.

5 comments; last comment on 03/22/2013
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