Happy Birthday, Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel (October 21, 1833 - December 10, 1896)
Alfred Nobel (October 21, 1833 – December 10, 1896)


October 21st is the birthday of the late Alfred Bernhard Nobel who lived from 1833 to 1896. He was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator and manufacturer.

U.S. Patent 78317, November 26, 1868
U.S. Patent 78317, November 26, 1868

In 1862, he started experimenting with nitroglycerin as an explosive material for oil mining. By the next year, at age 30, he obtained his first patent. A year later, he also developed and patented a detonator, or blasting cap, for triggering the explosive device. By age 40, Nobel had armament and explosives manufacturing companies around the world.


Diagram of dynamite. A. Sawdust (or any other type of absorbent material) soaked in nitroglycerin. B. Protective coating surrounding the explosive material. C. Blasting cap. D. Metal strips to hold the dynamite in place.
Diagram of dynamite. A. Sawdust (or any other type of absorbent material) soaked in nitroglycerin. B. Protective coating surrounding the explosive material. C. Blasting cap. D. Metal strips to hold the dynamite in place.

Ironically, in 1866, one of Nobel’s German manufacturing factories exploded. Resolved to improve the products’ safety, Nobel discovered that adding diatomaceous earth, a form of hardened algae as fine as powder, stabilizes the explosive material.

Although Nobel held over 350 different patents, his dynamite patent was his most notable invention. “Dynamite revolutionized the transportation industry by greatly facilitating the construction of roads and railways, tunnels and canals. It also played a crucial role in the modern mining industry.”¹

Alfred Nobel's third and last Will & Testament, November 25, 1895
Alfred Nobel’s third and last Will & Testament, November 25, 1895





Nobel’s wealth was derived from his manufacturing companies and from his investment in his two brothers’ oilfields along the Caspian Sea. Upon his death, Nobel left the majority of his wealth, $186 million, in a trust from which his fortune is posthumously awarded “to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”²

Nobel Medal
Nobel Medal

In 1900, The Nobel Foundation was established as a private organization to administer the trust, and, in accordance with Nobel’s wishes, “The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.”² Up to three people may receive the award in any given field. For example, Eric Betzig, Stefan W. Hell and William E. Moerner jointly received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy.”³


A Most Damnable Invention by Stephen R. Bown
A Most Damnable Invention by Stephen R. Bown

1. The Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize, http://www.nobelprize.org/alfred_nobel/biographical/articles/krummel/

2. The Official Web Site of Nobel Prize, http://www.nobelprize.org/alfred_nobel/will/

3. The Official Web Site of Nobel Prize, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2014/

4. Bown, Stephen R. A most damnable invention : dynamite, nitrates, and the making of the modern world. New York : T. Dunne Books, 2005. Engineering Library Q175.35 .B69 2005

1st Two Way Phone Conversation

In this day in 1876, Alexander Bell demonstrated the first two way telephone conversation over outdoor wires. (October 9, 1876)

Timeline of the Telephone:

  • 1667: Robert Hooke created an acoustic string telephone that convey sound over a taut extended wire by mechanical vibrations.
  • 1849: Antonio Meucci demonstrated a communicating device, it is disputed whether or not this is an electromagnetic telephone, but it is said to involve direct transmission of electricity into the users body.
  • 1861: Johann Philipp Reis of Germany managed to transfer voice electrically over a distance of 340 feet with his Reis telephone. Reis used his telephone to transmit the phrase “The horse does not eat cucumber salad.” This phrase is hard to understand acoustically in German so he used it to prove that speech can be recognized successfully at the receiving end.
  • 1871: Antonio Meucci files a patent caveat – a statement of intention to file a patent application for a Sound Telegraph. It does not describe and electromagnetic telephone.
  • 1872: Elisha Gray founds the Western Electric Manufacturing Company.
  • July 1873: Thomas Edison notes variable resistance in carbon grains due to pressure, builds a rheostat based on the principle, but abandons it because of its sensitivity to vibration.
  • July 1874: Alexander Graham Bell first conceives the theoretical concept for the telephone while vacationing at his parents’ farm near Brantford, Canada. Alexander Melville Bell records notes of his son’s conversation in his personal journal.
  • 29 December 1874: Gray demonstrates his musical tones device and transmitted “familiar melodies through telegraph wire” at the Presbyterian Church in Highland Park, Illinois.
  • 11 February 1876: Elisha Gray invents a liquid transmitter for use with a telephone, but does not build one.
  • 14 February 1876, about 9:30 am: Gray or his lawyer brings Gray’s patent caveat for the telephone to the Washington, D.C. Patent Office.
  • 14 February 1876, about 11:30 am: Bell’s lawyer brings to the same patent office Bell’s patent application for the telephone. Bell’s lawyer requests that it be registered immediately in the cash receipts blotter.
  • 14 February 1876, about 1:30 pm: Approximately two hours later Elisha Gray’s patent caveat is registered in the cash blotter. Although his caveat was not a full application, Gray could have converted it into a patent application and contest Bell’s priority, but did not do so because of advice from his lawyer and his involvement with acoustic telegraphy. The result was that the patent was awarded to Bell.
  • 7 March 1876: Bell’s U.S. Patent, No. 174,465 for the telephone is granted.
  • 10 March 1876: Bell first successfully transmits speech, saying “Mr. Watson, come here! I want to see you!” using a liquid transmitter as described in Gray’s caveat, and Bell’s own electromagnetic receiver.
  • 16 May 1876: Thomas Edison files first patent application for acoustic telegraphy for which U.S. patent 182,996 was granted October 10, 1876.
  • 10 August 1876: Alexander Graham Bell makes the world’s first long distance telephone call, about 6 miles between Brantfordand Paris, Ontario, Canada.
  • 9 October, 1876: Bell and Watson demonstrated the first two-way conversation over outdoor wires. Their call was made between Boston and Cambridge.

  • 9 July 1877: The Bell Telephone Company, a common law joint-stock company, is organized by Alexander Graham Bell’s future father-in-law Gardiner Greene Hubbard, a lawyer who becomes its first president.
  • 6 October 1877: the Scientific American publishes the invention from Bell – at that time still without a ringer.
  • Early months of 1879: The Bell Telephone Company is near bankruptcy and desperate to get a transmitter to equal Edison’s carbon transmitter.
  • 19 February 1880: The photophone, also called a radiophone, is invented jointly by Alexander Graham Bell and Charles Sumner Tainter at Bell’s Volta Laboratory.[15][16] The device allowed for the transmission of sound on a beam of light
  • 4 September 1884: Opening of telephone service between New York and Boston (235 miles)
  • 26 February 1914: Boston-Washington underground cable commenced commercial service
  • 25 January 1915: The first transcontinental (coast-to-coast) telephone call (3600 miles), with Thomas Augustus Watson at 333 Grant Avenue in San Francisco receiving a call from Alexander Graham Bell at 15 Dey Street in New York City, facilitated by a newly invented vacuum tube amplifier
  • 21 October 1915: First transmission of speech across the Atlantic Ocean by radiotelephone from Arlington, VA to Paris, France
  • 1919: The first rotary dial telephones in the Bell System installed in Norfolk, Virginia. Telephones that lacked dials and touch-tone pads were no longer made by the Bell System after 1978.
  •  1919: AT&T conducts more than 4,000 measurements of people’s heads to gauge the best dimensions of standard headsets so that callers’ lips would be near the microphone when holding handsets up to their ears
  • 25 April 1935: First telephone call around the world by wire and radio
  • 1947: December, W. Rae Young and Douglas H. Ring, Bell Labs engineers, proposed hexagonal cells for provisioning of mobile telephone service.
  • 1948: Phil Porter, a Bell Labs engineer, proposed that cell towers be at the corners of the hexagons rather than the centers and have directional antennas pointing in 3 directions.
  • 1955: the laying of trans-Atlantic cable TAT-1 began – 36 circuits, later increased to 48 by reducing the bandwidth from 4 kHz to 3 kHz
  • 1960’s: Bell Labs developed the electronics for cellular phones
  • 1961: Initiation of Touch-Tone service trials
  • 1970: ESS-2 electronic switch
  • 1970: Amos E. Joel, Jr. of Bell Labs invented the “call handoff” system for “cellular mobile communication system” (patent granted 1972)
  • 3 April 1973: Motorola employee Martin Cooper placed the first hand-held cell phone call to Joel Engel, head of research at AT&T’s Bell Labs, while talking on the first Motorola DynaTAC prototype.
  • 1978: Bell Labs launched a trial of the first commercial cellular network in Chicago using Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS).
  • 1982: FCC approved AT&T proposal for AMPS and allocated frequencies in the 824-894 MHz band
  • 1982: Caller ID patented by Carolyn Doughty, Bell Labs
  • 1987: ADSL introduced
  • 1988: First transatlantic fiber optic cable TAT-8, carrying 40,000 circuits
  • 1990: analog AMPS was superseded by Digital AMPS.
  • 1993: Telecom Relay Service available for the disabled
  • 11 June 2002: Antonio Meucci is recognized for “…his work in the invention of the telephone” (but not “…for inventing the telephone”) by the United States House of Representatives, in United States HRes. 269.
  • 21 June 2002: The Parliament of Canada responds by passing a motion unanimously 10 days later recognizing Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone.
  • 2005: Mink, Louisiana finally receives traditional landline telephone service (one of the last in the United States).

Books in the Engineering Library:


It’s Not Easy Being Green

WHAT IS BUILDING GREEN? The terms building green and green building practice typically refer to a method of designing and constructing buildings that increase the efficiency with which buildings normally use resources while reducing the negative impact the building has on its natural environment.¹(p.2) For any building to be considered “green architecture,” it must, to some degree, be sustainable, ecological, and performative.²

Taxonomy of Green Architecture
Taxonomy of Green Architecture

HISTORY OF GREEN Green building is not a new construction practice. Historically, people built structures using locally available, or indigenous, materials such as clay and logs. Walls made of adobe, rammed earth, stone or brick acted as insulation to cool or to heat the interior. Sod roofs also insulated the home as well as providing vegetative habitat for small animals. Roof overhangs prevented water intrusion while also providing shade from the summer sun. However, the idea of green became popular in the 1970’s when oil and gas shortages raised prices. During this period, research to find alternative energy sources such as geothermal, solar and wind expanded dramatically in order to reduce the demand upon fossil fuels. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the United States Energy Policy & Conservation Act, which became the basis for many new energy codes and incentive programs. BUILDING CODES The International Code Council, which is responsible for the The International Building Code (IBC), the model for all building regulations, developed the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) in conjunction with the American Institute of Architects (AIA), ASTM International and the USGBC. The IgCC governs the impact of buildings and structures on the environment and promotes safe and sustainable construction practices. The newest edition of the IgCC was released in the Spring of 2012. It is to be revised every three years to ensure that the IgCC reflects the latest advances in technology and construction materials.¹(p.11) PROGRAMS In addition to building codes, programs are created in order to incentivize green construction. For example, in 1992, the EPA and the DOE initiated ENERGY STAR®, a government labeling program to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.¹(p.5) Later, in 2005, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. Under this system, buildings are classified as Certified Silver, Gold, or Platinum depending on compliance levels within categories such as integrative process, sustainable sites, water efficiency, matierals & resources, energy & atmosphere, location & transportation, innovation and design as well as indoor environmental quality.³ LEED CONSTRUCTION LEED LogoThe University of Iowa is committed to LEED principles and maintains a minimum standard of Certified LEED Silver for new construction and major renovations. To date, the campus has eight certified LEED buildings of which two have received the highest award of Platinum. By 2016, the UI campus is projected to have four additional LEED certifications. For example, the University’s goal is to achieve Certified LEED Gold for the new Art Building. Watch a Live View of Art Building Replacement Construction. LEARN MORE To learn more about green building, visit the Lichtenberger Engineering Library. View the Exhibit Case displaying examples of a green roof and sustainable building materials such as bamboo flooring and solar panels. Also, borrow one of the many books on the topic. REFERENCES 1. Kulczyk, Peter. Building Code Basics: Green Based on the 2012 International Green Construction Code. Clifton Park, NY: Delmar, 2013. (Engineering Library TH880 .B85 2013) 2. Attmann, Osman. Green Architecture: Advanced Technologies and Materials. McGraw-Hill: NY, 2010, p. 41, Figure 2.2. (Engineering Library TH880 .A88 2010) 3. U.S. Green Building Council http://www.usgbc.org/leed 4. University of Iowa http://www.facilities.uiowa.edu/sustainable-initiatives/LEED.html 5. Environmental Protection Agency. Green Roofs for Stormwater Runoff Control. EPA/600/R-09/026, February, 2009. http://www.nps.gov/tps/sustainability/greendocs/epa%20stormwater-sm.pdf 6. Environmental Protection Agency. Green Building. http://epa.gov/greenbuilding