Eric Roberts Laithwaite was born in Atherton, Lancashire, the son of a farmer, and was educated at Kirkham Grammar School, the Regent Street Polytechnic and. For this second blog we’re going to look at an inventor, innovator and communicator of science on TV and in the classroom. Eric Laithwaite ( ) came to. Professor Eric Laithwaite, who died on 27 November , was a talented engineering maverick who spent much of his academic life investigating unusual .
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He was born on June 14, At the age of 76, at a time when many emeritus professors have long since hung up their gowns, Eric Laithwaite was happily working, like a schoolboy with a Meccano set, on the biggest project of his life – a huge working model of a futuristic rocket launcher. America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration had commissioned him to develop a concept worthy of Ian Fleming’s Dr No – a five-mile long track to be tunnelled laithwaiye the inside of a 10, ft efic, hurtling a space capsule along the track and out through the summit into Earth orbit.
The power was to come not from conventional rockets but from the love of Laithwaite’s life – linear motors. He returned to Manchester to teach from towhen he took up his chair at Imperial College, where he laihhwaite until he retired in Ever since Laithwaite had been known as “the father of the linear motor”; however, as he constantly pointed out, he did not invent it, he simply rediscovered it. A mile of track was built and a full-scale levitating locomotive tested.
It was one of llaithwaite last great all-British postwar investments in high-tech engineering, but it was abandoned.
For Laithwaite it was a crossroads. Having pinned his future on magnetic levitation, in his early fifties, he had to turn to other things.
He threw himself into writing learned books on the linear motor and popular ones on invention; he renewed his childhood passion for butterflies at his death he had one of the country’s largest private collections of specimens ; he became a familiar figure on radio and television, where his engaging enthusiasm rapidly made him Britain’s best-known engineer of the day.
It was his fame, however, that was to lead indirectly to his downfall, in the eyes of many of his colleagues. Lzithwaite Britain’s first media engineer, he attracted the interest of a small army of amateur inventors. Many popular scientists are profoundly erkc by this sort of attention, often binning what they regard as “crank” letters.
One letter, in particular, caught his eye: The device Jones brought was powered by a simple gyroscope and it moved forward on Laithwaite’s bench with ease.
It was sheer curiosity, like Alice following the White Rabbit,” Laithwaite was to say later. He spent the next few years immersing himself in the specialised world of gyroscopes, gradually convincing himself that they did break known scientific laws, and that they might be a hitherto unrecognised source of preternatural power.
So, when he was invited to give the Faraday Lecture at the Royal Institution, he knew exactly what to show his august audience. He brought with him an array of gyroscopes – from toy ones that balanced on model Eiffel towers, to a huge 50lb one laithwiate he spun up and raised effortlessly above his head with one hand.
For the first time in its history, the Royal Institution failed to publish the Faraday Lecture that year.
Eric Laithwaite – Wikipedia
Laithwaite’s nomination for the Fellowship of the Royal Society was cancelled. He retired from Imperial College in pretty much in disgrace. But he never lost his fascination for gyroscopes. He teamed up with Bill Dawson, a fellow electrical engineer and businessman, and spent the last years of his life experimenting with a variety of complex gyroscopic rigs, finally proving to his satisfaction that they could produce “mass transfer” – a brand new thrustless propulsion system.
In he applied for a patent on a gyroscopic space-drive; typically, he had built the demonstration model out of his childhood Meccano set.
In Septemberhowever, two Nasa scientists arrived at his Sussex University laboratory, and his life went full circle. They were looking for a new way of getting spacecraft into earth orbit, thought of linear motors, and headed straight for the world expert. Although he mixed effortlessly with the high and mighty he was a friend of the Prince of Wales – “I taught him everything he knows about science”, he once remarkedhe never abandoned his Lancastrian roots and erlc.
He delighted in the sound of the spoken word, reciting poetry from memory with evident pleasure. His memory for anecdotes was formidable and he delighted in their telling.