Events at the Edison Tech Center

The Edison Tech Center in Schenectady has been host to many events over the years. This fall we look forward to a variety of events currently in planning. We will continue the film showings and Electric City Bike Rescue meetings as well as a few new things.

Looking back at last year we had a few events related to the International Year of Light. In December electrical engineer John D. Harnden Jr. made a presentation showing the latest and greatest of consumer light technology. Lighting collector and expert Rick DeLair conducted a video tour of his collection of lights including early Edison-era incandescents to huge rare street lights.

Last year was the 150th Steinmetz Day in April. Craig Cantello made a presentation on lighting technology for the event. Pioneer of microwave technology Rudy Dehn hosted an event in June for kids with a Van de Graaf generator and other cool teaching toys. Dr. Ron Fearing kicked off the spring with an event on robots engineered after insects. Dr. Fearing has a specialty in crawling and flying milli-robots.

The Edison Tech Center is often host to private group events such as Dr. Frank Wick’s engineering student’s events and local old age homes. If you’d like to bring a group to the Edison Tech Center please contact us and ask about our facilities. If you are interested in attending events the easiest way is to like us on Facebook where we post events. You can also check our Google Calendar on our page.

Our Facilities

The “Wizards of Schenectady”, Telling the Untold Stories of Great Engineers

It was 9 years ago when the Edison Tech Center launched the Wizards of Schenectady Series. The series was the brainchild of renown local television personality Ernie Tetrault and others at the Edison. The idea was to launch a full-scale biographic documentary on each of the amazing inventors and leaders at General Electric. There were so many incredible untold stories that it made total sense to package this history into a format that everyone is familiar with. The name “Wizards” came from the historic description of Charles Proteus Steinmetz which was described as the “Wizard of Schenectady” by national newspapers.

As the producer of the series one of the things I find most fascinating about the biographies was how each one touched on key events in US history. From the formation of RCA to the Cold War each person we covered played a role. The series is great in that it shows how great technical advances in US history were made thanks to people, people with families, hobbies and real lives that you can connect with. While the national media loves to grasp onto larger-than-life personas like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, the reality was that innovations mostly happened from those where not flamboyant and self-promoting. The Wizards of Schenectady Series is about ordinary people in special circumstances, and thanks to educational institutions and companies with strong infrastructure they were empowered to create, and given all the tools and people they needed to make it happen.

 

Guy Suits at the lab

The first in the series we worked on in 2007 was C. Guy Suits and his Flying Machine. The story is more about his engineering and leadership skills than a ‘flying machine’, but his float plane hobby is certainly covered in the show. Ernie Tetrault and Jack Aernecke lent their skills in television production while local people who worked with Suits told the story. Suits ran the GE Research Lab during the exciting post war period as innovations of the modern world changed our lives. Suits, like many engineers had a knack for not just physics, but physical crafts like wood working, oriental rug repair, boomerang construction and the outdoors. Suits was respected by the legendary engineers working under him as a leader. His leadership and management experience during a transition period helped found the GE Global Research Center as we know it today.
The Wizards of Schenectady: C. Guy Suits and his Flying Machine was shown at the Electric City Film Fest where it won first place in the documentary category.

Carl RosnerThe second piece in our series highlighted another engineer from a very different time in history. Carl H. Rosner’s story is one that includes two parts, the first being his survival of the Holocaust, and the second part being of his work at General Electric and founding Intermagnetics General Corporation. Rosner’s story is one which is inspiring for engineers as it shows how persistence and innovation lead to life-saving technology. Rosner and his various teams over the years specialized in superconducting technology which is a really fascinating area! The Edison Tech Center’s production Wizards of Schenectady: Carl H. Rosner Pioneer in Superconductors has been shown many times to future generations of children thanks to the talks organized by Mr. Rosner himself and the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center.
This documentary has been shown at the Electric City Film Festival and the Ballston Spa Film Festival. Parts of this documentary have been published and viewed by hundreds of thousands.

Harold ChestnutThe story of Harold Chestnut is one that touches on everything from early mechanical computers to broad political policy. We find the subject of systems engineering to be amazing as this area which “Hal” Chestnut contributed to is applicable in everything in our lives. As a control and systems engineer Mr Chestnut advanced many technologies from jet engines to the NASA moon efforts in the 60s. He was not just a great engineer but a natural leader. Chestnut helped with organization of the IEEE, IFAC and other groups. For this video we interviewed the world’s leading control engineers for their commentary on the life and times of Mr. Chestnut. From Seoul to Moscow to Schenectady we investigated the impact Hal Chestnut had on engineering. The Wizards of Schenectady: Harold Chestnut Pioneer in Automation has been shown to engineers around the globe and a rare biography for someone working his field.

Rice LegacyWizards of Schenectady: The Rice Legacy covers three major figures in recent technological history. The documentary starts off with E.W. Rice Jr. who was not only a contributor to early electric power history, but an important leader in General Electric at a critical time. E.W. Rice’s life is interlinked with many important people his age including Elihu Thomson, Thomas Edison and C.P. Steinmetz. What’s great about this episode is that you learn a lot about the early history of electricity. Expert Wise helps tell the story of Rice and the times.  Chester W. Rice was an innovator who worked at the GE Research Lab along side other legends like Langmuir and Steinmetz. C.W. Rice is known for contributions in the areas of acoustics and mechanical engineering. Martin Rice was a figure on the publicity side of the industry, working for GE’s broadcast arm of the business. The Rice documentary took a few years to research and produce and paints a unique picture of the fascinating era of the early 20th century.

Nancy Fitzroy

One engineer and innovator who stuck out above the rest is Nancy D. Fitzroy. We decided to cover her life in the Wizard’s series in 2009 after an interview conducted by Ernie Tetrault. Nancy is a mechanical engineer specializing in heat transfer. Her specialty was fun because it was applied to many diverse types of projects including the heat tiles on the space shuttle and the first nuclear submarines. Nancy was the first woman president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and has been a role model to other women. This documentary features commentary from well-known engineers and physicists.

One great documentary which is not part of the Wizard’s series but predated the series is Langmuir’s World. This show does a great job of condensing the life of legendary engineer and physicist Irving Langmuir. Irving Langmuir was a driving force in the GE Research Lab and an important part of the world’s physics community. This story covers the many contributions of Langmuir including the invention of a much more efficient light bulb, and it covers his personal life and hobbies.

Excerpts from the Wizards of Schenectady Series have been published online and reached over a million viewers. The full episodes are available from the Edison Tech Center on DVD. Contact us and make a tax deductible payment of $30 to our Paypal account and we will send you an episode of your choosing. Proceeds go to support historical preservation of artifacts and production of educational media which reaches many young people each day.

Carl Rosner Documentary now in HD

Eight years ago the Edison Tech Center premiered the award-winning documentary on engineer Carl H. Rosner at the Electric City Film Fest. Recently we have re-released the documentary in widescreen SD format for DVD and HD format online.

Ros-BuchBuild400pxlThis touching documentary features the life of entrepreneur and superconductor expert Carl Rosner as he survives wartime Germany, Buchenwald concentration camp and goes on to found a successful and innovative company which finds its niche in MRIs. This biography is part of the Wizards of Schenectady series and has renowned voice over artist Jack Aernecke take us through the story.

The newly released promo for the documentary below summarizes some of the story covered in this biography:

Carl Rosner documentary
The documentary features interviews with other great engineers like Pier Abetti, Howard Hart, Gary Morrow and more.

Mr. Rosner has been working with the Holocaust Friends and Survivors Education Center in Albany  to share his story again and again to  children and adults. This work is vital to preserving the memory and lessons learned from  the Holocaust and World War II. In addition to the story of  loss and deprivation is the story of hope and building a new life. Mr. Rosner has worked with some of the best engineers in superconducting technology history to create life-saving machines. The story of Intermagnetics General spinning off from General Electric is a great story as it was rare for a spin-off to survive and grow to become a power in industry.

If you live in the Albany-Schenectady region, we invite you to check out the Holocaust Survivors & Friends Education Center for film showings and other events. As the producer of the documentary and  a young person, I was moved by the experience of reviewing original films and testimony from the Holocaust. I believe that every young person from every ethnic background should learn about this history. Mr. Rosner’s documentary along with other films and presentations can help widen our horizon of understanding about  how hatred  can lead to genocide and the bravery of those who resisted and saved others.

Contact the Edison Tech Center to order DVDs of the documentary and full interviews between Ernie Tetrault and Mr. Rosner

Holocaust Survivors & Friends Education Center: 518-694-9984

Electrical Technology and Mining Gear

After our recent article on the lighting blog about lighting technology for caving I thought I’d check out the Argo Mill museum to see what artifacts they have. Despite the hostile environment of mines the “new” technology of electricity quickly lent itself to the industry of mining in the 1890s.

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Oil-wick cap lamp and helmet on display

Oil and kerosene lamps were used by miners prior to the 1890s. These lamps produced heavy fumes and were a problem when tipped. Despite these problems early miners had to deal with this and were always looking for a better light source.

In 1891 Westinghouse built the Ames Power Plant near Telluride to light and power the Gold King Mine. While there were many problems to solve, the effort was generally a success and set an example of how electricity could revolutionize underground operations. Around the same time Thomas Willson sold his patent of the carbide lamp to Union Carbide and the carbide lamp took the world by storm as they were good for everything from bicycles to lighthouses to mining operations. These acetylene gas lamps were great in how they could be tipped at angles as people negotiated narrow passages and they’d still work great.

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Different types of carbide lamps, these could be mounted on a helmet or there are hand held version with handles.
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Dynamite detonation gear

The Argo Mill has some great artifacts on display of not only lighting technology but early telephone communications gear and dynamite detonation gear. Another way in which electricity revolutionized mining was the development of small powerful electric locomotives to haul carts of ore. These systems replaced the inhumane system of having donkeys drag the tons of rock out. Elihu Thompson and other pioneers of the time worked on cutting edge powerful electric motors to drive these devices. You can see an example of one of these small electric locomotives at the Argo Mill among other interesting artifacts of the 1800s.

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Electric Mule and ore carts. These had a pole that connected to power lines located on the tunnel ceiling.
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An electric mule motor designed by Elihu Thomson. These were DC motors powered by overhead wires (catenaries). The floor of the mines were often wet so the ceiling was the safest place to put the wires.
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Electrical boxes located in the Argo Mill. Powerful electric motors turned belts that rotated machinery used to refine ore to extract the gold, silver, zinc, copper and other metals.
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Control for the speed of the electric mule
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An early electric headlamp for miners with battery pack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Glass and ceramic insulators used for telegraph, telephone and utility power in the mines.
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Large insulators for supplying AC power to the mill
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Steam powered drill used for boring holes into rock, later dynamite would be inserted.
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A telegraph key from the 1800s
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Early telephones which connected the mine workers miles underground to the surface.
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The classic Wheat Lamp used by miners after the 1980s
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A durable double bulb incandescent handheld lamp used by miners

We recommend visiting the Argo Gold Mill as there are all kinds of engineering relics of the steam and electrical age. Their website is found at http://historicargotours.com

Also see our article on caving lamp technology history which is related to mining lamp history on our lighting technology blog.

Big Cottonwood Power Company Historic Station

If you find yourself in Utah for skiing or other business and you love Electric Power history like we do, we recommend you take a short trip up to the Stairs Station Hydroelectric Power Plant. While the Salt Lake City area is most famous for Little Cottonwood Canyon, this power plant from 1895 is located a few miles north in Big Cottonwood Canyon. While you cannot get a tour of the facility it is interesting to check out on your way up to the scenic Guardsman Pass.

I was intrigued by the 1895 date which is the same year many great AC hydropower plants were built across the US. The 1895-1896 period represented a time of growth because of a number of factors. The 1880s was a rough time when we didn’t know which standard would prevail: Thomson or Stanley’s single phase AC? Tesla’s two-phase AC? Bradley’s three-phase AC? or would HVDC come out on top above AC?  By 1891 the War of Currents was over when Dobrovolsky demonstrated a complete three-phase AC system in Frankfurt Germany. Over the next few years Charles Steinmetz, Elihu Thomson, Benjamin Lamme, Oliver Shallenberger and many others solved problems and battled or made bids for leading edge patents. The 1893 Redlands Power Plant was a chance for GE to test and develop its three-phase system. Westinghouse was engaged in not the first, but the largest hydroelectric project in history with Niagara Falls. The Stairs Station was built in the same year as Niagara Falls, Folsom and Oregon City Fall’s landmark plants.

The Stairs Station was built by Utah Power to run electric trolleys in Salt Lake City which was only a few miles away. In this way this small station was different from most being built in the West at the time. Most small power stations were built to serve mining operations or mining towns. When the nearby ski areas opened in the 20th century the Stairs Station was used to power the lifts. Eventually as lifts expanded Solitude and other ski areas needed power from multiple sources.

Alta at Night
Alta Ski Area like all ski areas has a high demand for electricity to power lifts and what better way than to use the falling water located in nearby rivers.

Alta ski area was the first ski area in the Salt Lake Area and opened in 1939. Early ski lifts were often crafted from mining tramway systems. The use of suspended cables to transport people and tools up to mining areas were common and you can see pictures of the remains of the original systems on our Smugglers Union Power Plant page at Telluride. Early ski lifts continue to use a combination of grid power or large diesel engines.

The original installation at Stairs included one 2400 volt Westinghouse Generator (three-phase). When the generator windings burned up in 1980 the plant apparatus was renovated to modern standards.

We recommend you read more about Stairs on this nice little article from HYDRO REVIEW. For now here are some photos I took back in January.

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Original insulated ports in the side of the building

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East Side
The eastern side of the powerplant
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The sign visible from the road
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Water coming down by pipe from the Granite Flume to power the Stairs Station

ETC Educational Activities:
The Stairs Station is on our list of activities to help learn about the world of engineering. We recommend you visit the plant and study the layout, then check out Solitude Ski Area up the valley. See how the lifts run and inquire with the staff about how a given lift runs. You will see how our recreational industry depends on the work of electrical engineers to make it all possible.

Trolley History:
Salt Lake City has a long history of electric trolleys. In the video below you will see our interview with Malcolm Horton on the Brill Bullet trolleys which first were used in Schenectady and then shipped out to Salt Lake for use there.

 

Below: the modern massive power needs of Salt Lake are quite distant from the first days of the Stairs Station.

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Tesla Model 3 Reservations

Next week reservations open for the anticipated Tesla Motors Model 3. The Model 3 will be smaller than the Model S but much cheaper at $35,000. This car will be the first car targeted at the middle class and will likely bring the same peppy performance as earlier models.

We have no photos of the car yet which indicates they are likely still working on design and safety testing. We can only hope it has the same low center of gravity and balanced weight as the Model S. You can learn more about the motor of the Model S in our video below shot for the “Iron in our Electrical World” video.

And here’s some more about the batteries and suspension:

This is an awesome car, if you’d like to learn about the rich and long history of electric cars (~120 years) visit our site on Electric Cars here.

Hippolyte Pixii Comes Out of Obscurity

When we started our AC Power History pages a few years ago there was one figure who seems to be the “inventor” of AC power but little information was available about him.

Hippolyte Pixii was the first of the founding fathers of the electrical age (this includes Faraday, Henry, Volta, Davenport and Ampere) to focus on alternating current. Sure, others also “discovered it” but they viewed it as an annoyance because their focus was on direct current. Pixii built a commutator and was able to produce DC current.

For the next 40 years this pioneer’s work was largely out of focus. It was in the 1870s that interest in AC power came alive again in Europe.  The Ganz Company in Budapest began to use AC power and develop crude systems of delivery.  This work caught the attention of Elihu Thomson in the US and Walter Baily in London.

By 1882 there were scattered groups of talented engineers working on AC power including Ferranti, Lord Kelvin and others. Contrary to popular myth, Nikola Tesla had nothing to do with AC power development this early, his main contributions came in later in the 1880s while there was already many others racing forward to develop systems.

In the last couple years we’ve seen more pages, videos and information come out of the dusty archives on Pixii which is great. Below we’ve posted some of our pictures of Pixii’s machine. We urge you to check out the electrical history section of the Smithsonian Museum of American History which has lots of cool old replicas and artifacts from 1800s. You can see a replica of Pixii’s machine there. I have also seen some replicas of Pixii’s work at the Deutches Museum in Munich.

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More on Pixii:

Video on Pixiis Machine

More on the machine from MaLab

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ETC Page on AC Power History

 

The “Bridge of Spies” Film and Harold Chestnut Project

Having recently seen the film “Bridge of Spies” by Steven Spielberg was a reminder of one of our recent documentaries on the great story of Harold (Hal) Chestnut and the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC).

FrontCover1HalChestnutETC700It was only 4 years before Gary Powers plane was shot down that IFAC formed out of an effort to connect engineers on both sides of the iron curtain. It was amazing enough to imagine that political forces would allow any form of communication between people working on war technology, and yet even more amazing when they allowed the first IFAC congress to continue to meet just shortly after the Powers incident.

From from an insulated modern-day perspective, the first congress in Moscow doesn’t seem too unlikely, however when you watch the first half of “Bridge of Spies” you will get a better idea of the level of suspicion and espionage going on in both countries during the same period. In the Chestnut documentary when Bernard Widrow describes the extraordinary and “film-like” moment of accidentally seeing what is perhaps rows of bugging equipment in the tallest hotel in Europe (Hotel Ukraina) it seems unlikely. This description suddenly seems very likely and even almost certain once you begin to examine the life and times.

The Spielberg film is centered on the human story of Powers and Rudolf Abel (Вильям Генрихович Фишер) as well as political stresses of the time. The film does a wonderful job of illustrating the period technology and cityscapes of New York and Berlin. Tom Hanks is cast in a position he is well suited for as an insurance agent. His simple yet smart character makes the film approachable to that average US viewer in a way that “Spy Game” (2001) failed to do. I was impressed at Mark Rylance’s performance which may not have a lot of dialogue, but his command of nonverbal communication patterns of Eastern Europeans was accurate.

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Chestnut and A.M. Letov meet in Moscow at the height of the cold war. These two were giants of control engineering for their own nations.

If you haven’t already seen the Harold Chestnut film I recommend it as it tells the incredible true story of high level engineers working on various projects during a special time in history. If you like systems or control engineering I’d say the doc is a must as it talks about the origins and influence of systems theory on society. Today systems theory is practiced heavily in software engineering and is used by the architects of management systems that almost every engineer works within. Even artists and Hollywood processes for creating large films depend on principles of systems theory laid out by Harold Chestnut. Because the Chestnut documentary must move quickly to cover many decades of his life in just one hour, is a good idea to see “Bridge of Spies” beforehand in order to get a better understanding of context.

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Chestnut was one of the founders of modern control and systems theory. This work has influenced everything from marketing consumer goods to development of the International Space Station

The International Federation of Automatic Control helps foster international cooperation, exchange of good ideas and friendships. It provides a nucleus that unifies a specialized but extremely important sub-community of the engineering world. They hold classes and conferences in cities around the globe and if you work in control and would like to know more you can visit their website here.

The Edison Tech Center has outtakes from the Chestnut documentary on its YouTube channel including American Bernard Widrow talking about the invention of RAM and modern Russian pioneers Polyak and Rutkovsky talking about Soyuz, Tspkin and other topics.

IFAC has published both full length episodes of the Harold Chestnut documentary on YouTube:

Pi Day Quiz 2016

Its time for the annual Edison Tech Center Pi Day Quiz!

2016 Edison Tech Center Pi Day Quiz

1) The Marchant electromechanical calculator consists of several interlocking gears which are driven by an electric motor. If all the gears have a diameter of one unit, and each gear has ten teeth, what’s the total distance the gears travel for the following calculation:
999+1001

2) The Marchant electromechanical calculator consists of several interlocking gears which are driven by an electric motor. If all the gears have a diameter of one unit, and each gear has ten teeth, what’s the total distance the gears travel for the following calculation:
999 multiplied by 1001

3) In a Synchronous AC motor, the R.P.M.s are ideally equal to (120 X Freq) divided by the number of magnetic poles.
How fast is the outer material of a 1.5” diameter rotor traveling, when energized at 60 Hz on a synchronous, 4 pole motor?
– Question by Shane Pickett, Nidec Drive Systems Engineer

4) The Marchant electromechanical calculator consists of several interlocking gears which are driven by an electric motor. If all the gears have a diameter of one unit, and each gear has ten teeth, what’s the total distance the gears travel for the following calculation:
1001 minus 999

5) A tire company has twenty stacks of tires up to eight tires high, of seven different diameters. What is the most efficient arrangement of the tires to be able to access any tire?
– Question by Gene Bills

6) A machine to weave canvas sacks uses 6 spools of thread evenly placed around a rotating circular spindle. How much more thread is used for a canvas sack with twice the diameter?

7) How much more volume does a canvas sack with twice the diameter of a smaller canvas sack have?

 

Charles P. Steinmetz Publicity

According to some of us Charles Proteus Steinmetz is arguably the greatest unsung hero of the electrical age. Steinmetz represents the major step from trial-and-error methods of electrical invention to the modern age of engineers where math and science are necessary for innovation.

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During the 1890s and 1910s Steinmetz was respected as one of the greatest inventors of the age. He attended important scientific conferences and his inventions and opinions guided the largest of companies. Embarrassingly for Westinghouse, Steinmetz was the only one who could solve problems Ben Lamme and Tesla couldn’t figure out at Niagara Falls. Steinmetz’s mathematics drive the very heart of AC power systems design even today. So why have most people never heard of this distinct and spunky cigar-smoking dwarf?

We were pleased to hear of the new documentary by WMHT (PBS) on Steinmetz. The path to proper publicity starts with a solid documentary and hopefully we’ll see more about him soon.

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Steinmetz in his Lightning Lab

Here at the Edison Tech Center we have published several basic videos on Steinmetz and included him as part of other biographic documentaries such as Harold Chestnut, Pioneer of Automation. Our webpage on Steinmetz is one of the top when you search for him, and figures indicate thousands of people have used it to learn about his odd fellow.

The fact is we have a lot more to tell about Steinmetz that we have not published yet, so you can expect more to come from our side in the future. For now you can enjoy these free online videos from the “Divine Discontent” documentary:

Mountain Lake PBS 28 minute extension:

And here is the full 1 hour documentary on WMHT’s site:

DIVINE DISCONTENT – on the WMHT Vimeo Channel

Discover engineering past present and future!