The Eye likes a bit of monkey business, so it was pleased to see that scientists from the University of Manchester have published a study on, wait for it, the “engineering skills” of orang-utans. The researchers filmed orang-utans as they built nests. The apes had some rudimentary knowledge of “mechanical design and architecture”. The boffins said in the journal PNAS that orang-utans use the fact that branches only break halfway across in “greenstick” fracture to weave the main nest structure. They choose thicker branches with greater rigidity and strength to build the main structure in this way. They then detach thinner branches by following greenstick fracture with a twisting action to make the lining. Researcher Roland Ennos told BBC Nature that the behaviour revealed the animals’ “sophisticated tool use and construction skills”. Perhaps we’re looking in the wrong areas for solutions to the engineering skills crisis, the Eye pondered…
… as it noted that no lesser an authority than the IMechE has upbraided the Prime Minister on the downgrading of the engineering diploma to being worth one instead of five GCSEs. Philippa Oldham, head of manufacturing at the institution, applauded David Cameron for underlining the importance of vocational education to the “revival of British industry” in a speech. But she added: “This makes it all the more surprising that his government is considering downgrading the diploma. The UK is facing a skills shortage that could put the brakes on growth. Devaluing a diploma which can be the first step towards an engineering career would be a serious backwards step.” Wise words, Philippa, believes the Eye.
To the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, where a reader informs the Eye that a 20th-century engineering triumph can be found. Hurrah for the stratosphere chambers designed by Barnes Wallis in the 1930s. The chambers were used for testing aeroplanes to be flown at more than 30,000ft. Wallis also worked out the temperature and pressure at this height and designed the plane. It paved the way for space exploration and transatlantic flights. And the first rotary actuator disc drives, the type now used in all computers, were developed by British engineers at IBM. Thank you, Chris Pollard. Surely there must be other examples? Send them in.
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