Group report

This is an article published in the Summer 2018 newsletter ….

Science and Technology plays a huge part in our lives without us even realising it, and this terms talks, given by our own members provided an insight into just three areas where technology abounds. The first was about Control Systems given by Mike Lynch who illustrated some of the mathematics (for those in the know such as the Fourier Series) as well as the various factors that have to be allowed for in any system. Control systems can vary from simple devices such as a thermostat which keeps your house at an even temperature to the most complex systems to ensure that rockets and satellites go where they are meant to go and do what they are meant to do! This was followed by a talk on lifts and elevators given by Pat Hulls in which he traced the history and development of machines that carry goods and people from one height to another. He also described the stringent tests that are made to ensure safety including cutting the cable and making sure that the fail-safe device, patented in the Nineteenth century, works and doesn’t result in the lift plunging to the ground when the cable breaks. Modern lifts owe much to control systems. At one time, one would feel a jerk as the lift started and an empty stomach feeling as it stopped. Nowadays, control systems allow lifts to rise hundreds of feet at a very fast speed without sensing either the acceleration or the de-acceleration on arrival. Another control system decides where the lift goes next when buttons are being pressed on multiple floors with people wanting to go both up and down.

By contrast, the third talk was about Modern Cryptography given by Bob Hornby. Every time we make a financial transaction or undertake activities on computers, cryptology is involved. It is all part of the technology that is required to keep transactions safe and secure from interference by third parties. The use of Private and Public Keys was illustrated and the use of complex mathematics to develop these keys such that they must, or should be indecipherable. The challenge for cryptologists is to stay two steps ahead of the criminal.

Our talks are designed to be interesting to a wide spectrum of listeners from those deeply involved in science and technology to those who would claim not to have any scientific knowledge. I am sure that our members in the future when they enter a lift, make a credit card payment or switch on the cruise control in their car will have a greater appreciation of the technology involved as a result of listening to the talks.

The Science & Technology Group meets on the 4th Weds of each month at St Patricks Church Hall at 2.30 pm. Any member of the U3A is welcome to attend for a contribution of £2 or alternatively, one can join the group for a fee of £5 which lasts for around 8 months.

Paul Chapman