Cambridge University Press
September 30, 1994
Eric Laithwaite takes the reader on a guide tour through the mysteries of invention, stopping off to examine the laws of nature and engineering. He shows how many of our inventions are based on designs which were evolved by the natural world over millions of years. In fact we learn that the natural world has often found more efficient answers than we have two taxing engineering problems. Shapes and sizes of both natural and Man-made objects are largely dictated by the size and weight of the earth and by the properties of materials. An Inventor in the Garden of Eden crosses many boundaries; as well as natural history and engineering, the author discusses religion, economics and cosmology. More than that, the author deals with such fundamental topics as habit, experience, logic, simplicity, wisdom and civilization.
This book dispels all the myths surrounding the belief that human inventions are superior to anything that evolution has produced in the living world.
Eric Laithwaite was born in 1921 and spent his school days in the agricultural Fylde district of Lancashire. He served in the Royal Air Force from 1941 to 1946, rising to the rank of Flying Officer. He did experimental flying at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.
After the war he went to Manchester University to read electrical engineering, stayed on to do a Masters degree, working on the world’s first commercial, full-scale digital computer. In 1952 he began studying linear induction motors, a subject which occupied him for the next 40 years. Manchester University rewarded him with a PhD and later a DSc.
He made many inventions in linear motors and in 1966 was awarded the Royal Society’s S. G. Brown Medal for invention. Subsequently he received the Nicola Tesla Medal of the American Institution of Electrical and Electronic Engineering for further work on the same subject. He was made a Fellow of Imperial College in 1991, and an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1992. His linear motor work has taken him to Hong Kong, Florida, California and Toronto, as well as to Zagreb and other European countries.
Professor Laithwaite has made many television appearances, but none more memorable than his presentation of the famous Christmas Lecture series from the Royal Institution in 1966, and again in 1973. In the later series he included work on gyroscopes, which became the subject of much criticism and debate. But the biology he learned at school never left him, and he has lectured on engineering and biology for over 20 years.
He is now an Emeritus Professor of Imperial College and a Visiting Professor of the University of Sussex, where he continues his research on gyroscopes, because he has seen unusual phenomena ‘that won’t go away!’ He is married with four children and three grandchildren.