Making history

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A trawl of engineering’s pre-digital age could become a valuable part of the innovation process.

Most evidence, though, is anecdotal. For instance, Chapman cites the example of a biofuel breakthrough inspired by the 50-year-old PhD paper of an industry reasearcher’s former university colleague. However, he is hopeful that the study – the first empirical study of its kind – will throw up plenty of good examples.

The research councils spend hundreds of millions of pounds a year on new research, so it would be interesting to find out the value of old research,

Adrian Chapman, Oakdene Hollins

If the study is able to determine that this is a process that happens fairly regularly, the next step, according to Chapman, will be to attempt to put some value on this form of historical technology transfer. If his group can achieve this, he hopes it could lead to a fundamental revaluation of historic research and a trawl of engineering’s pre-digital age as a valuable step in the innovation process.

If it looks like there’s a potentially good payback on old research, Chapman sees research councils and businesses with large historical archives finding ways to tap in to the lessons of the past. ’The research councils spend hundreds of millions of pounds a year on new research, so it would be interesting to find out the value of old research,’ he said. ’The academic emphasis is always on discovering new things and going forwards. We might change peoples’ views that there’s a mine of information that’s already been developed… Tapping in to this knowledge could save engineers time and money.’

From the archive

Rollasson’s wind motor

In April 1894, The Engineer reported on an innovation that wouldn’t enter the mainstream until decades later: the wind turbine

We recently had an opportunity of examining a new type of wind motor built by Rollason’s Wind Motor Company of Berners Street, London.
The portion that receives rotary motion from the pressure of the wind consists of five wooden vanes, each vane forming a segment of a tube of very large diameter, and fixed so that it presents its concave surface to the direction of the wind.

The vertical shaft is connected by bevel gearing and a horizontal shaft, which transmits power to a shunt-wound dynamo by means of belting. This dynamo develops 65V and 35A when running at a speed of 510rev/min.

There should be a great scope for a successful and really trustworthy wind motor for electrical purposes, and we understand that a number of orders have already been received by the company, which is about to start works close to Willesden Junction station.

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