I was never a gearhead, nor was I a toff, so I never watched Top Gear that much.
I am an engineer, though, so when I saw a show called Engineering Connections on SBS I tuned in, even though it was prefaced as being presented by Top Gear‘s Richard Hammond.
It turned out to be just my sort of show. Hammond walks the viewers through the engineering challenges behind some of the biggest construction and design challenges in the world, including the Airbus A380, the Sydney Opera House, the Bilbao Guggenheim, super tankers, the Space Shuttle, and Japanese bullet trains.
The program’s focus is explaining how engineers overcame these challenges, though. Hammond describes the sources of inspiration – either in nature, or in simpler devices – for how these design problems were solved. These are the engineering connections.
He then proceeds – in his gee-whiz way – to construct examples, with the help of experts, that illustrate how these inspiring engineering connections work. For example, the show I caught last night was about the Opera House. They explained that the arched concrete blocks of the structure’s sails were strengthened using the same principles as one of those collapsing pop-up toys, and then showed how they could make a very strong arch out of styrofoam using the same principle of post-tension.
This show explains what engineering is about: the practical application of science, and re-using established ideas in new contexts. They do it in very simple ways that anyone can get. Hammond isn’t too annoying. I think it’s a great science show.
There have been three series. They were originally made for the National Geographic channel in the UK, but have also been shown on BBC2 and – here in Oz – on SBS.