Navigating a changing environment
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Three-point flexure test of a composite concrete beam (Wikipedia)

Henri Édouard Tresca applied the tools of science to test materials and evaluate the performance of mechanical devices. Arthur Morin recruited Tresca, in 1853, to join the Conservatoire des arts et métiers in the new role of engineer on staff. Tresca’s first assignment was to convert the abandoned church of the priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs into a machine hall where visitors could see full-sized machines — steam engines, pumps, and machine tools — in operation.

The Conservatoire had its origins during the French Revolution as a repository for valuable instruments, tools, drawings, and machines acquired by the national government. The intent…


Ecohydrology is the area of scientific study shared by ecology and hydrology.

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Photos by the author

Ecohydrology research investigates the effects of hydrological processes on the distribution, structure, and function of ecosystems, and on the effects of biotic processes on elements of the water cycle. Prior to the beginning of the 21st century, the term ecohydrology had been applied to a few distinct areas of interdisciplinary study. This note traces these origins of what has since developed into a growing field of study.

In 1997, the IHP identified ecohydrology as a new paradigm for sustainable management of water resources [Zalewski et al., 1997]. …


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Detail from the original headquarters for the Association of German Engineers (VDI), built in Berlin in 1897.

The industrial revolution of the 19th century brought unprecedented material progress to humanity. Advances in technology resulted in a general improvement in health and comfort. Industrial activity generated new sources of wealth and power and opened opportunity for social mobility.

Engineers could rightfully claim credit for facilitating an all-encompassing transformation of human existence. The profession was imbued with a confidence reflected here in an architectural detail from the headquarters of the Association of German Engineers, built in 1897.

But, industrialization exacted social costs. People traded familiar patterns of rural existence and long-establish social structures for a new, unsettled life in…


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Victor Hugo’s archvillain Thenardier from the 2012 film Les Misérables

In return for his advocacy for industry, Louis-Jacques Thénard earned immortality as an archvillain of French literature. Thénard was an accomplished chemist and a leader of the scientific community in Paris during the first half of the 19th century. Working often in collaboration with Joseph-Louis Gay-Lussac, Thénard collaborated with Gay-Lussac to identify the elements boron, sodium, and potassium; he discovered hydrogen peroxide, and he studied fermentation, catalysis, and oxidation.

Thénard also contributed to the advance of industry in France. Thénard was a founding member of the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, and he served as its president from 1832 to…


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Charles Sturm launched a distinguished career in mathematics by measuring the speed of sound in water. If you were an aspiring young scientist in the first half of the 19th century, Paris was the place to be. Sturm aspired to a career in mathematics. Although he was well-educated at the Geneva Academy, the young Sturm was barred from entering the scientific community in Paris through the customary route — two years of study at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique.

Instead, Sturm found his way into inner circle of the Paris scientific community through social connections. He was employed as the family…


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The Rocket — winner of the Rainhill Trials

Marc Seguin, a French inventor and industrialist, made the breakthrough leading to the development of the first practical steam locomotive. Credit for the invention of railways goes to English engineers who worked during the first decades of the 19th century. The Rainhill Trials was a defining event in the history of railways. The father and son team of George and Robert Stephenson won the competition with their steam locomotive, named “The Rocket,” but they relied on an innovative new boiler design patented by Marc Seguin in the previous year.

The Rainhill Trials was held to demonstrate the feasibility of the…


Report card goals relate to benefits provided by coexisting natural ecosystems and human-built infrastructure.

The Ohio River is a working river. That thought occurred to me as I watched the barges glide past the window during the Ohio River report card workshop. A team of IAN science communicators spent two days across the Ohio River from Cincinnati in December 2013. We were there to gather information from experts on the Ohio and Tennessee River basins as one step toward developing a report card for the entire Mississippi River watershed. This report card will be different from others we have worked…


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George Stephenson, from Samuel Smiles biography of him

In 1857, the English author Samuel Smiles introduced the literary world to a new breed of man — the eminent engineer. The occasion was the publication of Smiles’ biography of George Stephenson, the self-taught engineer who played a singular role in creating the railroad industry in England. Smiles’ biography of Stephenson proved to be so successful that he went on to write biographies of several other eminent English engineers. These were later compiled and republished under the title “Lives of the Engineers.”

In writing Stephenson’s biography, Smiles took the approach of telling the story of the man through his works…


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No one knew better than Pierre Louis Frédéric Sauvage that innovation cannot be rushed, even when its eventual course is clear. Sauvage has perhaps the greatest claim, among several competitors, to the invention of the ships’ propeller. In the earliest days of steam power, in the mid-18th century, steam-powered vessel where driven by cumbersome paddle wheels designed to crawl across the surface of the water. By contrast, the propeller draws itself through the water just as a screw draws itself into a piece of wood.

In 1752 the mathematician Bernouli suggested in 1752 that a propellor-like device would provide greater…


The greatest challenge of climate change for water managers is how do we maintain cooperation and trust in the face of broken promises.

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South Florida Water Management District’s S-12 structure delivers water promised to Everglades National Park.

Water management is one of the activities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Changes in precipitation and
drought, the loss of glaciers, and accelerating sea level rise affect the water supplies, threats from flooding, and the hydrologic processes that sustain natural ecosystems. But, even more vulnerable are our water management institutions and the laws and agreements they administer, such as basin compacts and trans-boundary treaties.

To put it simply, because of climate change, we can…

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