Liberal Arts Blog — World Museum of Science II: Arch, Aqueduct, and the Water Wheel

Liberal Arts Blog — Wednesday is the Joy of Science, Engineering, and Technology Day

Today’s Topic — World Museum of Science II: Arch, Aqueduct, and the Water Wheel

While thematic continuity is key to depth of thought, it is also true that variety is the spice of life. Tough choices must be made. This week rather than jumping to something new and exciting, I will continue with last week’s theme of meeting the challenge of how to allocate the choicest locations in a hypothetical World Museum of Science and Technology. What is the best exhibit you have ever seen in any science or technology museum anywhere in the world? What exhibit should be at one of those locations but is not? Last week I launched the series with three suggestions: the wheel, the sundial, and the well. Leon Golub chimed in with “the Cosmic Pathway at the American Museum of Natural History, a 360 foot long spiraling walkway with the timeline of the history of the Universe along its wall.” He followed up with Foucault’s pendulum. Bill Armitage proposed “a mix of the transistor, the integrated circuit, semiconductors and Moore’s Law. The Model T is to the 20th century as the integrated circuit is to the 21st.” In the hope that Leon, Bill, and others will join in, here goes with Part Two. Next week Part Three — the telescope, the microscope, and the printing press. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE ARCH — simple, powerful

1. Allowed for the enclosure of vast open spaces.

2. The arch directed forces downward and outward from the keystone. Ideal use for Roman cement, a material strong in compression but weak in tension.

3. Requires lateral support at the base. The thrust line of the arch must be contained within the individual components (voussoirs).

NB: Examples of uses of the arch: bridges, aqueducts, the Colosseum.

THE AQUEDUCT — plumbing matters

1. No water, no Rome.

2. No aqueducts, not enough water.

3. Sanitation key to health.

NB: Drinkable water plus efficient waste disposal = big deal. What fraction of the world’s population still lacks access to both of these?

WATER WHEEL — harnessing gravity via flowing water

1.The power to grind grain.

2. The power to saw lumber.

3. The power to lift water.

NB: First mechanical power source — beyond humans and animals.

Next time (current plan): the wind mill, the telescope, the microscope.


Aqueduct (water supply)

Water wheel

W. Bernard Carlson, Understanding the Great Inventions That Changed the World


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to science, engineering, or technology. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to science and engineering.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. Or to cement in your mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.