ICE - Smeaton Lecture 2024: John Smeaton, mechanical engineer – rotating machinery, history and legacy

16th July 2024 7:00 pm

The 2024 ICE Smeaton Lecture will be delivered by Ric Parker, visiting professor in mechanical engineering at Imperial College London. He will provide a retrospective of John Smeaton’s work – in particular, his achievements in the field of rotating machines.

It’s notable that virtually every piece of writing about the great man starts by calling him “John Smeaton, civil engineer”. Smeaton actually coined this term to describe himself. In the early 18th century, “engineer” was defined as “one who designs and constructs military engines or works”, so he was making a deliberate bid to distinguish his endeavours and those of his like-minded colleagues.

While his major civil works – including bridges, canals and lighthouses – are rightly celebrated, previous retrospectives have already covered these in some detail. This lecture, commemorating the 300th anniversary of Smeaton’s birth, will focus on his contributions to rotating machines such as windmills, water wheels and steam engines.

With his scientific education (it was impossible to obtain a degree in anything like engineering until the late 19th century), Smeaton was a great experimentalist, deriving numerous rules and constants as design aids. His lift coefficient for a windmill sail, for instance, was used by the Wright brothers in 1900 when they were developing the world’s first aeroplane. Even today’s wind turbines, which are producing a growing proportion of the UK’s green energy, can be considered part of Smeaton’s remarkable legacy.

Parker worked for 37 years at the Rolls-Royce Group, where he was immersed in the engineering of rotating machines. The gas turbine, whether used for energy generation or vehicular propulsion, formed a key part of his career, but he has also been involved in many other interesting projects, including work to harness tidal power.

We hope you’ll join us on 16 July to celebrate Smeaton and his enduring endeavours in rotating machines.

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