Eric Laithwaite

From Academic Kids

Eric Roberts Laithwaite (June 14, 1921November 27, 1997) was an English engineer, principally known for his development of the linear induction motor.

Raised in Fylde, Lancashire, he joined the Royal Air Force in 1941 and, through his service in World War II, rose to the rank of Flying Officer, becoming a test pilot at the Royal Aircraft Establishment.

On demobilisation in 1946 he attended the University of Manchester to study electrical engineering. His work on the Manchester Mark I computer earned him his master's degree. His subsequent doctoral work started his interest in linear induction motors. He became professor of heavy electrical engineering at Imperial College, London in 1964 where he continued his successful development of the linear motor.

In the 1980s, he was involved in creating a device to extract energy from sea waves (see patent GB2062114 (http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=GB2062114&CY=gb&LG=en&DB=EPD)); although the technology was successful in trials, it could not be made storm proof, hence it never became a commercial success.

Laithwaite was an able communicator who made many television appearances. Memorable among there were his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures to young people in 1966 and 1973. The latter of these made much of the surprising phenomena of gyroscopes.

In 1974, Laithwaite presented a private demonstration to the Royal Institution, in which he claimed gyroscopes had no or little angular momentum. Laithewaite suggested that Newton's laws of motion are restricted to mass in straight lines and that these properties could be used as a means of propulsion. Rather than disproving his theories, the scientific establishment ridiculed and turned its back on him. His feelings on this can be seen in the 1974-1975 Royal Institution's Christmas lecture which he presented.

Despite the scientific establishment turning its back on him, Laithwaite continued to explore gyroscopic behaviour. Laithwaite set up Gyron Ltd with William Dawson and in 1993 applied for a patent (which was granted in 1999) entitled "propulsion system". See US5860317 (http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=US5860317&CY=gb&LG=en&DB=EPD), GB2289757 (http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=GB2289757&CY=gb&LG=en&DB=EPD) and WO9530832 (http://l2.espacenet.com/espacenet/viewer?PN=WO9530832&CY=gb&LG=en&DB=EPD) for the US, UK and World patents respectively. He died while working on a project for NASA using linear induction motors to propel a rocket, essentially replacing the first stage of a conventional rocket booster system.

Honours

Bibliography

  • "Eric Laithwaite defies Newton", New Scientist, November 14, 1974, p470
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