The Next Generation Science Standards place a new importance on engineering. There will be initiatives and ideas for how to engage students in designing and building things in class.
If we want to enmesh engineering into the fabric of our curriculum, we might want to consider shining a spotlight on the engineering history a few key inventions. The PBS series, Breakthrough: The Ideas the Changed the World shines that light on six such triumphs of engineering. The series played on PBS this past spring It streams on Amazon Prime. And the DVD set of the series, hosted by Patrick Stewart, is now available. Here’s a rundown of the episodes.
Episode 1 tells the story of the development of the telescope, from a stone-age observatory to the space-based telescopes of the future.
It entails long-abandoned Stone Age dolmens once used as celestial calendars,
how Venetians made glass transparent, the optics of a medieval Persian camera obscura, a Dutch lens maker’s wartime breakthrough and a Venetian math teacher’s advancement of it, a Parisian invention improved by a spilled bottle of mercury, a team of women known as human computers who were armed with fly spankers, an athlete-turned-astronomer working high above Los Angeles, and telescope in space that will allow us to see as far as physics will allow.
Episode 1 “breakthrough celebrities” include Galileo Galilei, Edwin Hubble, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Louis Daguerre, Hans Lippershey, and Ibn al-Haytham.
Episode 2 tells the story of the development of the airplane, from early human-powered attempts to the jet concepts of the future.
It involves a ninth-century moorish daredevil’s first attempt at human flight, how we had tails before we had wings, an artist obsessed with anatomy and flight, a whirling arm in the stairwell of a seaside mansion, the rubber band’s role in flight, the curve of a stork’s wing, a connection to maritime technology and the gyroscope, the use of a deep-sea diving suit to fly high, why modern pilots are pressure tested, and the surprising efficiency of the jet propulsion gas turbine.
Episode 2 “breakthrough celebrities” include Leonardo da Vinci, Wilbur Wright, Orville Wright, George Cayley, James Doolittle, Wiley Post, Frank Whittle, Elmer Sperry, Lawrence Sperry, Otto Lilienthal, Alphonse Penaud, and Ibn Firnas.
In episode 3, Locutus of Borg tells the story of the development of the robot. Well, Patrick Stewart is the series narrator, so… close enough!
It involves the ancient legend of Hephaestus and rudimentary Greek automatons,
a device that could learn a new tune and repeat it exactly, a desire to produce navigation tables by steam, the linguistic contribution of a Slavic cubist painter, the breakthrough of storage for programs, an imitation game, an electronic tortoise, a mission to Mars, a nuclear disaster in Japan, and the challenges of balance and hands.
Episode 3 “breakthrough celebrities” include Alan Turing, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Hero of Alexandria, William Grey Walter, The Banû Mûsâ brothers.