Air Engines: The History, Science, and Reality of the Perfect Engine
12 By Intuition, or by Design?
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Compared with the treatment of other contributors to the scientific heritage, the literary coverage of Robert Stirling, his regenerator, and engine, is unbalanced. Accounts by others of their own intellectual struggle with the regenerator problem is dauntingly large; there is comprehensive coverage of the various programs of twentieth-century engine development, and over the past two decades, Stirling's life and ministry have attracted increasing interest. However, whereas it is the norm for scientific contributions in other areas to be scoured for the slightest hint as to how the imaginative step was taken and implemented, Robert Stirling has not, thus far, attracted his fair measure of attention.
Here was no ordinary man: having studied advanced Latin and Greek, Logic, Metaphysics, Mathematics, Rhetoric, Hebrew, and Physics at university level, becoming ordained and running a parish ministry, he turned his hand to technology and to an important invention. And not just any important invention, but one which
(a) was to have a measurable impact on the industrialization of Europe through massive economies in metal smelting;
(b) was to make cryogenic engineering possible;
(c) has been judged (Jenkin 1885) ‘one of the greatest triumphs of engineering invention’;
(d) was to make possible the regenerative gas turbine;
(e) remains a concept so subtle that it has taken 180 years to give a full scientific analysis of the temperature response.