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Exhibit celebrates Lehigh’s engineering legacy

“How to Become an Engineer: Toys, Tools, and Technology,” an exhibit about the history of engineering education, is on display at Linderman Library through Jan. 15. It is sponsored by the Friends of the Lehigh Libraries.

The exhibit focuses on civil engineering, and its title was inspired by one of the featured pieces, an 1891 manual that describes the “theoretical and practical training necessary in fitting for the duties of the civil engineer.”

To mark the opening of the exhibit, a public lecture will be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 25, in Linderman 200. The main speaker will be Bruce Sinclair, a historian of engineering education and professionalism.

“It was always assumed that the education of engineering students would be based on the latest technical advances,” says Sinclair, “but how much the humanities and social sciences ought to be part of their curriculum was and continues to be a matter of debate.”

John W. Fisher, professor emeritus of civil engineering, will also speak and provide insight into the contributions of Lehigh engineers and academic programs.

Representatives from local engineering chapters have been invited to the event.

The educational exhibit aims to show how Lehigh’s civil engineering curriculum has evolved over the years.

Civil engineering developed from the study of military science. The term was introduced by John Smeaton, the 18th-century English civil engineer and physicist and author of A Narrative of the Building and a Description of the Construction of the Edystone Lighthouse with Stone. Smeaton’s classic is the oldest item on display in the exhibit.

The exhibit, which follows a thematic rather than chronological pattern, is contained on several floors of the library.

The Bayer Galleria features student notebooks that date from 1880 to 1898 and also showcases the John Fritz Medal, considered the highest American award for achievement in any field of science or applied science. Fisher, who received the medal in 2000, is one of four Lehigh engineers to be so honored, the others being the late Lynn Beedle, professor of civil engineering; Arthur Humphrey, former university provost and professor of chemical engineering; and George Tamaro ’61G.

The Fritz Medal is given annually by five engineering professional societies and is named for John Fritz, 19th-century steelmaker and former general superintendent of the Bethlehem Steel Co. Fritz Lab, part of Lehigh’s civil and environmental engineering department, is also named for John Fritz.

The first floor of Linderman Library features more items of engineering academia, including a Lehigh course catalog from 1896 detailing the school’s early civil engineering classes. A standout piece in this section is a table-sized model bridge building kit from 1895. It contains both metal and wooden pieces, and was deemed “the best educational toy” by Tom Peters, recently retired professor of architecture.

The ground-level gallery is dedicated to Lehigh’s accomplishments, innovations and advancements in civil engineering. With the 100th anniversary of Fritz Laboratory approaching, much of the material relates to research conducted there. The gallery also includes a 1932 master’s thesis by Donald B. Stabler ’30, ‘32G, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering at Lehigh.

One piece that enhances the exhibit is a metal connecting pin from the Brooklyn Bridge that was donated by Peters. Lehigh engineers have been involved in the construction and restoration of the bridge for more than 100 years.

--Ilana Bornstein


Posted on Tuesday, September 23, 2008

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