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Popular Use of Electricity Due to Engineering Growth

Development of Electrical Science Has Helped Solve Lighting, Heating, And Power Problems--Kennelly, Adams, Clifford of Engineering School Played Famous Part


This is the second article in the series on the activities of the Graduate School of Engineering, by Howard Alken, Instructor in Physics and Communication Engineering.

The widespread application of electrical energy to the solution of lighting, heating, and industrial power problems, has been brought about by the remarkable growth and development of the science of electrical engineering. Within the span of a single lifetime this branch of engineering science has developed from infancy to its present vast proportions, and almost from the beginning the department of Electrical Engineering of the Graduate School of Engineering has been associated with this development.

Professor Arthur E. Kennelly, Emeritus, while actively engaged in this department, gained world-wide recognition for his work on electrical units and electrical wave propagation; Professor Comfort A. Adams, Emeritus, contributed greatly to our knowledge of electrical machines; and Dean Harry E. Clifford, Emeritus, formerly Dean of the Graduate School of Engineering, was recognized for his work as an educator and editor in addition to his engineering achievements.

Electrical Engineering

At the present time the Department of Electrical Engineering is under the direction of Professor Chester S. Dawes who is one of the leading investigators in the field of dielectric research. In addition to his technical field Professor Dawes is greatly interested in the problem of engineering education in general and stresses the importance of fundamental training in the arts and sciences as a pre-requisite to advanced engineering study.

He encourages his students to acquire a broad cultural background by making use of all the opportunities afforded to them as members of Harvard University. This he believes to be important since there has been a tendency in engineering education to stress engineering subject matter almost to the exclusion of other influences.

Professor Dawes and his associates attempt to maintain close contact with their students; this is accomplished to a degree which is impossible in large engineering schools where a more standardized training is offered. That these policies are effective is evidenced by the fact that even during the lean years of the depression the graduates of the department of Electrical Engineering had no difficulty in finding satisfactory positions after graduation.


The laboratories of the Department of Electrical Engineering are unusually well equipped for their purposes. For example, the department possesses three high voltage laboratories equipped for a wide variety of high voltage research of an advanced nature.

The laboratories include power transformers capable of supplying electrical energy at 200,000 volts for use in the study of corona, dielectric loss, and kindred high voltage engineering problems.

About eighty percent of the failures in high voltage power systems are due to lightning strokes. A lightning stroke results from a gradual storage of electricity in the clouds and its subsequent sudden release. In order to simulate lightning strokes in the laboratory the department has constructed a surge generator capable of delivering electrical impulses of 180,000 volts for only a few millionths of a second.

In order to realize the value of this high voltage apparatus to its fullest extent Dr. J. D. Cobine developed a special, high-voltage cathode-ray oscilloscope for observing the instantaneous values of the electrical potential produced.

Instruments of this type are among the fastest recording devices know to the engineering sciences. Among the researches under way at the present time are studies of the effect of humidity on high-voltage discharges under steady and transient conditions, high pressure arcs, and the development of new applications for power rectifiers and inverters. These researches have already led to the publication of a number of important technical contributions.

The rectifier and inverter laboratory is under the direction of Mr. W. M. Goodhue and is specially designed for research investigation of highly complicated power systems. Valuable research has been conducted in this laboratory and has already found application in industrial practice. A telephone and transmission laboratory under the direction of Professor R. P. Siskind provides facilities for advanced studies in these fields.

In addition to these highly specialized laboratories, the department has modern dynamo and standards laboratories operated under the direction of Mr. R. T. Gibbs.

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