Archive for January, 2014

Eric Laithwaite RI Christmas Lectures 1974

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Eric Laithwaite at the 1966 lectures

The 1966 lecture series

Eric Laithwaite was the first person to present the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on television in 1966 on BBC2 (in black and white). The New Scientist photo below is the front cover from December 1966 previewing the forthcoming lecture series. That lecture series was called The Engineer in Wonderland. In my previous blog on Eric Laithwaite you will find references to both that lecture series and also the second series he was asked to give in 1974. I was present at some of the lectures in both of those years. Now, the Royal Institution has made available, via their web site, all of the 1974 Christmas Lecture series The Engineer Through the Looking Glass. For those interested, it’s a treat to see him at his best, in front of a live audience! You will see below a list of the six lectures in that series.

new-scientist-1966You may recall that there was some controversy over the content of lecture six where Eric Laithwaite demonstrated his theories of gyroscopes and how he thought he may have found that gyroscopes violated the law of conservation of energy. It appears that Laithwaite was waiting for the sixth and final lecture with something new and controversial, possibly breaking these laws of science. I have recently found the BBC archive pages of past editions of Radio Times. In them, I found the references and listing for the 1966 RI Christmas Lectures (The Engineer in Wonderland), the first to be televised and also given by Eric Laithwaite. The listing for the sixth and final lecture is interesting. Although I was actually present at that lecture I don’t remember the content, but the listing reference is very, very interesting it reads “Professor Laithwaite tries a completely new experiment which he hopes will break one of the laws of science. All the text books say it cannot be done. Will the experiment succeed?“.  So, here we are again in 1974 with the sixth and final lecture (It’s my own invention) and once again Eric Laithwaite is trying something new, controversial and possibly breaking the laws of science in the process, is this a repeat of his idea from 1966? I must admit I hadn’t realised this until now! Maybe only he remembered the wording from that 1966 lecture? We’ll never know….

 

Lecture 1
LOOKING GLASS HOUSE

Lecture 2
TWEEDLEDUM AND TWEEDLEDEE

Lecture 3
JAM YESTERDAY, JAM TOMORROW

Lecture 4
THE JABBERWOCK

Lecture 5
THE TIME HAS COME THE WALRUS SAID

Lecture 6
ITS MY OWN INVENTION

Colin Grimshaw January 2014 (revised November 2016)

Centre for Robotics and Automation 1984

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

In 1981 the Centre for Robotics and Automation was formed by Professor Tom Husband and was located in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. 30 years ago, in 1984 we made a promotional video for the centre to showcase the activities and work being carried out.  I can find little or nothing about the centre (or any photos) from college sources and assume it was closed some while after Tom Husband left Imperial College in 1990. Indeed, in Hannah Gay’s ‘History of Imperial College’ she comments that the move towards robotics didn’t work out as expected since the research attracted computer scientists rather than engineers. The only article I found on the centre is from an edition of the student newspaper Felix dated May 1985 (see pages 8&9). That centre is not to be confused with the current Centre for Robotic Surgery, which is something completely different.

The centre was located in the area of Mechanical Engineering that was on the corner that fronted onto both Exhibition Road and the entrance for cars (Imperial College Road). You can see people walking along the pavement and very close to the windows in the section that shows the Lansing robot working. The running of the robots was in fact a bit of a crowd-stopper at times, especially school kids on their way to and from the museums. It was one of the few showcases that Imperial ever had, maybe we need to bring one back again!

Colin Grimshaw January 2014