CitationDownload as .RIS
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Structural Survey, Volume 30, Issue 1.
I have recently read biographies of Sir Isaac Newton (White, 1998) and Robert Hooke (Jardine, 2004). These two great scientists and innovators developed most of the ideas that I still use to teach second-year undergraduate building surveyors an introduction to structural mechanics, over 300 years after they died. My more recent fascination with Newton stems from moving to his home town of Grantham a few years ago. The incredible variety of his interests and discoveries (principally his theories of light, the first articulation of the ideas behind calculus and of course his laws of motion) are amazing. Each of these discoveries would have ensured his legendary status but to think that he was responsible for all three is quite incredible. What White (1998) also reveals however is the energy he wasted trying to turn base metals into gold and his considerable theological efforts to assign responsibility for the discoveries he had made to a higher power. Hooke was also extremely industrious and as well as being curator of experiments in the early days of the Royal Society, was a Surveyor for the City of London, following the great fire of 1666. Hooke was a close friend and a business partner of Sir Christopher Wren and while few of Hooke's buildings remain today, much of the current day layout of the city is his responsibility. The monument to the great fire, designed by Wren and Hooke was largely built under Hooke's supervision and as well as serving as a monument it is also a giant telescope. Jardine (2004, p. 171) recounts how the diarist John Evelyn considered Hooke a minor talent as an architect but “Like the rest of London, he was full of admiration for Hooke's capabilities as a structural surveyor, engineer and adept manager of building projects”. It seems to me that Hooke was the archetypical building surveyor of his age!
What makes both of these biographies such fascinating reading is the personal hardships both men had to endure in their early years as a result of their individual circumstances and the chaotic political times in which they lived following the execution of Charles I and the abolition, and then later, restoration of the monarchy. In addition there was the personal animosity between the two men. Hooke went to his grave still insisting that he had inspired Newton's inverse square law of gravitational attraction. Newton always denied any assistance from Hooke and while it seems that Hooke did indeed suggest the theory in a letter he wrote to Newton he simply lacked the mathematical prowess to prove the idea. As Jardine so insightfully remarks, in terms of their individual places in history Newton was the winner who “took it all”. This was partly because of the fact that Newton had younger followers whose own reputations depended upon hiding some of the more unsavoury aspects of Newton's life from public gaze. These included his unorthodox (for the times) religious beliefs and his experiments in alchemy.
Royal Society report on 16-19 years education
While Hooke was an augural member of the Royal Society, after Hooke's death, Newton became a leading member, eventually becoming President of the Society. Mention of their respective mathematical ability leads us naturally to a recent report by the Society on post-GSCE education in the UK. The Royal Society is calling for fundamental reform of the A-level system leading to the introduction of an A-level based Baccalaureate or similar qualification. The new qualification should give students the opportunity to study a greater breadth of subjects, including science and maths. The Royal Society's report found that the current educational system for 16-19-year-old students results in only a small proportion of pupils studying science and mathematics subjects at A Level or equivalent in the UK. As a consequence, too few individuals are able to progress to university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees. This leads to a deficit of STEM graduates available to enter employment in commerce and industry and teaching as specialist science and maths teachers. The Royal Society recommends that the A-level system in England must be reformed in order to encourage more students to continue with science and mathematics as part of a wider range and increased number of subjects at post-16 level. Professor Dame Athene Donald FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Education Committee, said: “At a time of economic uncertainty, when science and scientists can play a key role in revitalising the UK's financial outlook, it is deeply worrying to find that numbers of A-level science students are at such low levels. It should be a top priority for the Government to reform our education system, reinvigorate science education and inspire the next generation of students to commit to scientific study from school to university”. I have written before in these columns about the steady decline in the mathematical ability of school leavers and there are real signs that universities are dumbing down degree courses because students cannot cope with the necessary mathematical content. Now is the time to reverse this trend and the Royal Society report provides a sensible contribution to this debate.
Papers in this issue
In their paper “Communications management for upgrading public housing projects in Singapore” Low Sui Pheng and his colleagues assess the management of communications during the different stages of a typical upgrading public housing upgrading project and also the various communications channels employed by the relevant authorities to disseminate information to the residents. Tom Payne, Managing Director of TP Knotweed Solutions, and I have written a paper on the identification of the invasive plant Japanese knotweed during property inspections and how it may be eradicated. Dr Peter Defoe and Ian Frame in their paper “Rights of light: Waldram's conundrum” challenge current day practice in the assessment and settlement of rights to light disputes. Philip Antino's paper on using “The Party Wall etc. Act 1996” to enforce payment of any sum so awarded as a civil debt is based on a recent case study. Finally (and once again stepping back in time!) Alan Forster and colleagues consider the evaluation of the cultural significance of historic graffiti.
Jardine, L. (2004), The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London, Harper Perennial
Royal Society (2012), “Royal Society calls for fundamental reform of A-level system”, available at: http://royalsociety.org/news/Calls-for-A-level-reform-/ (accessed 17 February 2012)
White, M. (1998), Isaac Newton: The Last Sorcerer, Harper Collins