Bob McDonald sticks up for engineering

(September 23, 1999, Gazette)

By James O'Brien

Noted journalist and broadcaster Bob McDonald delivered the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science's F. W. Angel Memorial lecture Monday night, to a large and appreciative crowd at the Donald F. Cook Recital Hall. His cryptic title, Measuring the Earth with a Stick, attracted a mixed audience of engineers, scientists and science aficionados.

His presentation represented the revival of the F. W. Angel Memorial lecture, named in honour of the distinguished Newfoundland engineer. Inaugurated in 1967, previous Angel lectures have featured Pierre Berton, John Kenneth Galbraith, and James Ham. All the presentations have supported the broadly interpreted mandate to stimulate interest in engineering among students, the academic community, and the general public.

Mr. McDonald, host of CBC radio's award-winning science program Quirks and Quarks, opened his remarks with a discussion of the stick as one of the first scientific instruments.

From this theme the popular radio host nimbly segued through discussions of centre-of-mass, the history of flight, and space travel and exploration. Mr. McDonald's physical presence on stage, coupled with his explanatory skill and sense of humor, proved irresistible to the audience.

"I thought it was a wonderful, entertaining presentation that effectively reached his audience. His ability to convey scientific principles in a way that was exciting and accessible to everyone was just remarkable," reported Carolyn Emerson, an experienced promoter of science and engineering.

While the presentation, particularly Mr. McDonald's demonstrations of bird flight, rolling soup cans and an immobilized volunteer from the audience were amusing, there were serious undertones to his message.

"Science and engineering have become an integral part of our lives," commented Mr. McDonald. "They're so interwoven we don't even realize how essential they are."

Turning to the work of the university, Mr. McDonald argued for students in all disciplines to take an active interest in knowledge traditionally associated with engineering. "Knowledge of the fundamental principles that drive our technology is essential if you're planning to make a living in our technological world."

For the balance of his five day stay in Newfoundland, Mr. McDonald is collecting interview segments for Quirks and Quarks. He'll visit researchers in Memorial University locations as well as the Institute for Marine Dynamics and other sites engaged in engineering and scientific activity in the province.

These segments will be incorporated into a special Newfoundland show of Quirks and Quarks, scheduled for broadcast on Oct. 2 in the show's regular time slot on CBC Radio One at 12.35 p.m.