Saturday, April 28, 2012

So inventive

We used to live near Cambridge so, when we had visitors, we would often take them on the organised walking tours of the city. The guides were full of stories of inventions and scientists: of Isaac Newton with his laws of motion and gravity, of Rutherford, the atom splitting man and, at the Spread Eagle, we were told how Crick and Watson rushed in and bought everyone a drink when they cracked the secret of DNA. I used to see Stephen Hawking relatively frequently though I never did say hello.

And the Spanish what have they invented? - the mop, the gyrocopter, some claim to the submarine and the first anti cholera vaccine according to a little book I own.

Manuel Jalón was an aeronautical engineer working at an US Air Force base in Zaragoza. The mops then in use employed rollers to wring the water from the mop head. Jalón started with that mop in 1956 and only nine years later he had perfected the system we know and love today with the tufted head being wrung out in a holed conical funnel supported atop a bucket. It's easy to imagine the rejoicing in the streets.

It's probable that the first submarine that ever took to water was designed by a Briton called William Bourne. The first wartime use of a submarine being during the American Revolution when the Turtle attacked a British ship. These submarines, though, were of wood and leather with hand operated propellers and no weapons. Here in Spain the Cartagena born naval officer Isaac Peral designed a submarine which he finally launched in September 1888. It wasn't really an invention in that it pulled together or modified lots of the work that was going on around the World to build a submarine at the time but Peral's submarine was the first to have several of the features that have now become standard. Peral's submarine was, for instance, electrically powered, had efficient torpedo and depth maintenance systems and a periscope.

An autogyro is an aircraft that has a rotor instead of a fixed wing. You may well have seen one in the James Bond film "You Only Live Twice." The rotor turns because of the current of air created by the forward motion of the aircraft. It's not like a helicopter where the rotors are powered and forward motion is achieved by tilting them. The first autogyro, designed and built by the Murcian born Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva y Codorníu, flew in 1923.

Luis Pasteur used weakened organisms to infect domestic animals which allowed them to build up natural resistance. In 1885 he used this method to protect animals against rabies. In the same year a 33 year old Spanish doctor and admirer of Pasteur's work, Jaíme Ferran y Clua, used a similar method to vaccinate 50,000 humans against a cholera outbreak raging throughout Spain. Unfortunately he killed a lot of them because he didn't have enough time to test the vaccine and he got the dosage a bit wrong and used impure cultures. Nonetheless, he was the first.

I'm sure there are more, there must be. Ramón y Cajal, the Spanish neuroscience man for instance, who won a Nobel prize and nowadays the Spanish are big in nano robotics, tunnel technology and renewable energy or so I'm told. Maybe the updated edition of my little book will be somewhat thicker.

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