A Top Ten of Fluid Inventions

It's challenging to pin down a top ten list of inventions relying heavily on fluid mechanics or dynamics, especially when looking back over the entirety of history.  We gave it a shot anyway, basing our top ten list below on a combination of the overall impact of the invention and the depth of fluids science required.  The most important question we asked was, "How would society be different if this development had never occurred." So, for what it's worth, here is our "top ten". 

10. Coronary Bypass Surgery

The first bypass was performed May 2, 1960. The technology required was certainly in-depth and has evolved over many years.  The impact on society is limited, as only a small percentage of the public benefits directly, but for those who do benefit, it is a powerful quality-of-life issue, and therefore deserves to be on our list.  Closely related and equally dependent on fluid flow research is coronary artery stint technology that is still developing today with the aid of Computational Fluid Dynamics

9. Municipal Water and Sewer Systems

This includes not only city systems, but also any systems serving the public.  The technology required is certainly not rocket science; water flows downhill of course.  Systems have been around a long time; e.g. the Roman aqueducts.  But life without them would be more difficult and costly.

8. Rocket Propulsion

The first rocket use was in 1232 by the Chinese in war with the Mongols.  It has had a major impact on the military and on astronautics, but limited elsewhere.  Life without rockets would go on, but perhaps without NASA and July 4th displays.  The fluid technology required is as simple or complex as the application requires.  Today this highly active field is heavily dependent upon multi-physics simulations to enable such innovations as reusable rockets.  

7. Piston Steam Engine

The first piston steam engine was built by Thomas Newcomen in 1712.  The first steam powered locomotive engine was built in 1814.  It is basically a thermodynamic device with fluid mechanics playing a smaller role, so it's place on this list could be argued.  However, it played a major role in the industrial revolution.  Today it has been largely replaced by other devices, but its importance in history is undeniable. 

6. Steam Turbine

The steam turbine was invented in 1884 by Sir Charles Parsons.  It basically takes thermal energy and converts it to mechanical energy via a turning shaft, which in turn does work.  It found its niche quickly in turning the shaft of electric generators in power plants.  Furthermore, it spawned the development of turbines powered by air and water as well as gas turbines common in aircraft and modern power plants.  Today's electricity producing wind turbines can even be considered another offshoot. 

5. Centrifugal Pumps

Easily overlooked, the centrifugal pump has had an enormous impact on our lives and on the development of society.  Straight vain pumps were invented in the 17th Century by Denis Papin and the curved vain design in 1851 by John Appold.  Having replaced the positive displacement pump in many applications, it has simplified design, improved efficiency, and lowered costs.  With the help of fluid dynamics technology, it has evolved into an essential part of industry and transportation.  It can be adapted to almost most any application by tweaking rpm, impeller size and shape, as well as other variables and optimized for performance and cost by leveraging CFD trade-off studies.  

4. Indoor Toilet

Just think about life without it.  It was first made for Queen Elizabeth in 1596.  A patent was issued in 1775 to Alexander Cumming.  Today's toilet is efficient and water saving because of fluid dynamics research.  It is probably the most fluid mechanics dependent item on our list. 

3. Aeroplane

Orville and Wilbur flew the first heavier than air device on December 17, 1903.  Due to their experimentation and research, we learned a lot about the design of airfoil and aerodynamics lift fundamental to most aircraft design.  Research by the Wright brothers was in-depth and self-funded. Today, research continues in the aerodynamics of air craft using wind tunnels and high performance computers.

2. Boat Sails

This technology goes back to ancient times and was critical to the development of nations and the discovery of continents. It has this lofty place on our list due to the enormous value to early society.  The science continues today with highly complex designs for racing craft and experimental commercial vessels.

1. Meteorology

The top honor on our list goes to weather science, a very fluid mechanics intense science with a large impact on society over many centuries.  The subject has evolved over the years, especially in recent times.  It is so complex that powerful computers and programs are needed for today's forecasting, which is, despite occasional errors, more accurate than ever.  As far as value to society, that is incalculable as it impacts everyone in some manner. 

What did we miss?

A top ten list is subjective. We understand if you think we missed something, and we would love to hear your thoughts and reasoning as to why. Please leave a comment, or contact us by clicking here.

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