Isambard Kingdom Brunel wins BSRIA favourite engineer vote
Published:  12 January, 2016

Isambard Kingdom Brunel has come out top in BSRIA’s chance to ‘vote for your favourite and most influential engineer’ competition. To coincide with last year’s 60th anniversary, BSRIA launched its INSPIRE commemorative publication which looks at 120 engineers of the past and present to show their achievements and the great impact they’ve had on the industry and the world. BSRIA narrowed down the engineers to a list of 15.

Brunel was the outstanding winner with 35% of the vote. Leonardo Da Vinci came second with just under 17% and joint third were Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates and Alan Turing. Voting closed on new year’s eve.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859) was a British civil and mechanical engineer who is considered by many to be one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution. He undertook many projects, building things such as dockyards, a series of steamships, numerous tunnels and bridges – including the Clifton Suspension Bridge – and, of course, the Great Western Railway.

Julia Evans, chief executive, BSRIA, said: “We are delighted Brunel received the most votes. He is clearly one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history, one of the 19th century engineering giants and one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution who changed the face of the English landscape with his groundbreaking designs and ingenious constructions. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.

Though Brunel's projects were not always successful, they often contained innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. During his career, Brunel achieved many engineering ‘firsts’, including assisting in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river and development of SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven ocean-going iron ship, which was at the time (1843) also the largest ship ever built.

Brunel set the standard for a well-built railway, using careful surveys to minimise grades and curves. This necessitated expensive construction techniques and new bridges and viaducts, and the two-mile-long Box Tunnel between Chippenham and Bath. Brunel is a fantastic advocate for engineering and, indeed, the nature of STEM which is about pushing boundaries and making the impossible possible. STEM has changed the way we work, travel, heal and enjoy life. The advancing of the human race has always depended on the bright minds willing to focus their energy on engineering ideas.

Engineering and scientific experimentation is an invaluable skill, alongside the robust nature of an investigative style which tolerates and builds on both success and failure. Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th. Brunel is a splendid example of this attitude.

In this respect, BSRIA acknowledges and supports the work of the ECITB (Engineering Construction Industry Training Board) who recognise the challenging times ahead: a skills shortage with an ageing workforce, ageing energy infrastructure and the imperative to reduce carbon emissions. The board says that demand for the industry workforce is forecast to rise by at least five per cent a year for the next few years and, in some cases by as much as 15 per cent. To meet demand and replace retirees, the industry needs to recruit, develop and upskill around 45,000 people. In the next five years, ECITB will be investing £100 million in training, with additional Government funding of more than £70 million.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who voted in this important topic.”

Leonardo da Vinci is best known for his world famous artworks, but he was actually an inventor and engineer. While many of his inventions were far-fetched, many of them were capable of performing their desired function. Some of his more practical designs included: hydraulic pumps, reversible crank systems and finned mortar shells.

INSPIRE raised the question of why are STEM subjects important? What does engineering mean for you? Why does technology matter? There is one answer to those three questions which is quite simply ‘everything’. History has shown that those who pursue science arguably make the biggest impact to the world; incredible minds provide us with incredible ideas we once might have thought of as unbelievable but are now ingrained in our society.

The BSRIA INSPIRE project is working with local schools, national and local politicians and the media to promote STEM and change its perceptions.

The choices were:

• Tim Berners-Lee

• Katherine Blodgett

• Isambard Kingdom Brunel

• Willis Carter

• Marie Curie

• Leonardo da Vinci

• Michael Faraday

• Rosalind Franklin

• Bill Gates

• George Stephenson

• Nikola Tesla

• Alan Turing

• James Watt

• Frank Whittle

• Steve Wozniak

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