Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/558

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

provided greatly improved facilities for research; but perhaps one of the most important results to engineers has been the direct and indirect influence of the more general application of scientific methods to engineering.

Sir Frederick Bramwell, in his presidential address to this association in 1888, emphasized the interdependence of the scientist and the civil engineer, and described how the work of the latter has been largely based on the discoveries of the former; while the work of the engineer often provides data and adds a stimulus to the researches of the scientist. And I think his remarks might be further appropriately extended by adding that since the scientist, the engineer, the chemist, the metallurgist, the geologist, all seek to unravel and to compass the secrets of nature, they are all to a great extent interdependent on each other.

But though research laboratories are the chief centers of scientific invention, and colleges, institutions and schools train the mind to scientific methods of attack, yet in mechanical, civil and electrical engineering the chief work of practical investigation has been carried on by individual engineers, or by firms, syndicates and companies. These not only have adapted discoveries made by scientists to commercial uses, but also in many instances have themselves made such discoveries or inventions.

To return to the subject, let us for a moment consider in what invention really consists, and let us dismiss from our minds the very common conception which is given in dictionaries and encyclopedias that invention is a happy thought occurring to an inventive mind. Such a conception would give us an entirely erroneous idea of the formation of the great steps in advance in science and engineering that have been made during the last century; and, further, it would lead us to forget the fact that almost all important inventions have been the result of long training and laborious research and long-continued labor. Generally, what is usually called an invention is the work of many individuals, each one adding something to the work of his predecessors, each one suggesting something to overcome some difficulty, trying many things, testing them when possible, rejecting the failures, retaining the best, and by a process of gradual selection arriving at the most perfect method of accomplishing the end in view.

This is the usual process by which inventions are made.

Then after the invention, which we will suppose is the successful attempt to unravel some secret of nature, or some mechanical or other problem, there follows in many cases the perfecting of the invention for general use, the realization of the advance or its introduction commercially; this after-work often involves as great difficulties and requires for its accomplishment as great a measure of skill as the inven-