Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Story A Day In May - Story 19

The prompt for this was a what if science were different and there was no combustion. So no fire, no steam engine as we know it, no combustion engines. I though about the things we might not have. Then I thought again, why not. Humans are too creative for a little thing like no fire to have stopped them.

by J. Smith Kirkland

Lo stood at the gates of the university, about to begin his studies in engineering, but dreaming of becoming an artist. As far back as he can remember, he loved to create things, bring his imagination to the real world using pencils, pens, wood, paint. He was constantly drawing ideas of things he could create in his notebooks. He was born an artist. But his father wanted him to be an engineer, because they make more money. Lo didn't care about the money, but he was good at math, and science, and he could do the job. So he was here to learn how to be an engineer.

On the first day of the introductory class, the professor told the students they would learn about magnetic and sonic propulsion that we use in transportation, and they will study hydrogen fuel cells that provide us with heat and light. They would learn of solar and hydraulic power, but first they will learn of the great inventors that led civilization to these advances in science.

We have come a long way from when our prehistoric ancestors created the first batteries for heat. Great inventors, or today we would call the engineers, helped get us to this place. Let's talk about Leonardo Da Vinci.

Lo only knew of Da Vinci as an artist, and was fascinated to learn of the machines Da Vinci had designed. Before the Europeans knew of sonic propulsion, Da Vinci had designed a self propelled cart. It worked much on the same concept as a geared clock. It was powered by two symmetric springs. The force provided by the springs drops significantly when they unwind. So he included a balance wheel, just as in clocks. It could even follow a per-programmed path like a robot. While such old technology is useless compared to the fuel cell robots that move us from place to place, Lo was amazed to learn someone had designed such a contraption using just the power from clock springs.

Lo also learned Da Vinci made a great kite and an aerial screw for flight long before John Stringfellow created his fuel cell plane, or Charlie Taylor added a sonic propulsion machine to the Wright brother's glider. Da Vinci conceived of inventions long before they could be created. And he drew them in his notebooks, just like Lo recorded ideas in his. All in all, Lo's first day of class led him to believe that his father may have been right about engineering. Not because of the money, but because it was art.

So Lo's adventure in education began. He learned about Thomas Savery who built on the work others had been doing with electrochemical reactions to heat water and create steam to run machines. He saw a problem that needed solved, getting water out of metal mines. So he developed the first crude fuel cell steam powered machine to pump out the water. And really they owed it all to Hero of Alexander whose aeolipile was really the first know example of a steam turbine. All of the technology Lo took for granted growing up, was all because of people centuries ago having the vision to create something new, inspired by the ideas of something older. Lo knew this was his path.

Lo never forgot that Da Vinci was also an artist. He no longer saw the division between art and science that had led to the disagreements with his dad about what to do with his life. Every Tuesday and Thursday, he put the science aside, and he went to drawing class. But the other days classes were about tidal power, solar power, and something that fascinated him most, algae. He knows green algae is a perfect source for creating hydrogen for fuel cells. He is learning all he can about that because he wants to be like Thomas Savery and see a problem, and find a way to solve it that has not been done before. What he really wants is to be like Da Vinci and come up with amazing ideas that are centuries ahead of their time, but the Thomas Savory path seems more realistic, and his father would love to hear him say, would pay the bills.

Lo continued his education. He continued learning all the science he could. He also continued with drawing and painting. By the time he graduated, Masters programs were seeking him out for both. By the time he was thirty-nine, he had made more money from his paintings than his job as an engineer, which is not to say he was underpaid in that field. At forty he started his own company manufacturing algae powered engines and subcontracting to the space flight industry.

He died at eight-seven. A couple of years before, he gave a commencement speech at this very university. He said he may not have invented new amazing things, but he had followed Thomas Savery's path to find new ways to solve practical problems using the amazing things others had done before him.

But years after he died, his great great niece found his notebooks. She published the notes as free downloads. The ideas we astonishing, hundreds of years ahead of their time. His concepts of space propulsion and dimensional travel are things we are still learning today. That's why today, on your first day as engineering students, your first assignment is to write an essay on Skylar Lo.

The Prompt

When the square-cube law is rescinded, internal combustion becomes impossible.  How is travel impacted?  How are daily lives changed?
(e. g. What if cars and other engines couldn’t exist? – JD)

Story A Day Framework

A young student wants to be an artist
but his father wants him to be an engineer
because of that, his father sends him to engineering school
because of that the student learns of an artist inventor
and because of that he creates inventions and art
until one day he creates something beautiful and amazing

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