Saturday, March 28, 2009

Why I'm an engineer

I don't know if it's due to my being well and truly into my forties, more grey hair or the fact that I (nearly) have three teenagers but the last few months have found me pondering where my career is going and what's it all about. A couple of things caught my attention this week that really affirmed to me the importance of engineering in it's many forms.

1. G.K.Chesterton - a couple of years ago I banged on about one of my favorite books - The Man Who Was Thursday. Here is a fragment from chapter one where the hero Syme makes his first stand against the anarchism of Gregory;
Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!"
"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam."

2. Marc Koska - In 1984 Koska read a newspaper article predicting the transmission of HIV through the reuse of needles and syringes. Koska was fascinated by the problem and vowed to do something about it. He studied how drug addicts used syringes in the UK, went to Geneva to learn about Public Health Policy, visited several syringe factories, studied plastic injection moulding, and read everything available on the transmission of viruses like HIV.
After a year of intense study, he concluded that syringe manufacture was the key to the problem. Koska designed a syringe (K1) that could be made on existing equipment with a small modification. It was made from the same materials and could be used in the same way as a normal syringe so that healthcare professionals would not have to retrain. K1 syringes cannot be used again so the next patient will also have a sterile and safe injection.

There is a very good interview with Koska on Radio 4's Saturday Live - you can catch it one the iPlayer.

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