Today, we meet a great educator. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
The physical laws governing
the flow of heat were known by the beginning of
this century. But there's a great gulf between
knowing raw physical laws and knowing how to make
them serve a world that's hungry for energy. In
1900 it was practically beyond us to calculate heat
flow in most situations. Then German engineers
began to develop the mathematical means for using
these laws. They'd made great strides by the 1920s.
America, by comparison, was far behind. That'd all
changed by WW-II, and the person who did the most
to change it was Llewellen M.K. Boelter.
Boelter was born in 1898 and raised on a Minnesota
farm. He graduated from Berkeley and then stayed on
as a faculty member. And there he gave us all a
lesson in how to teach engineers.
His method was simple. He went directly to the
student's mind. Nothing got in the way, least of
all himself. He taught students to go to the
unanswered question -- to attack their own
ignorance. He focused their work on the study of
heat transfer. He drew people in, and together they
opened up the German literature. Then they
continued where the German work was being ended by
Nazi repression. By the early '30s they'd begun a
new American school of heat-transfer analysis.
For Boelter, knowledge was the great equalizer. He
and the people around him used last names -- no
titles. Even Berkeley's catalogue listed everyone
as simply Mister. The unanswered question was the
only absolute taskmaster, and he made sure his
students faced questions that led them where they
hadn't been before. He saw to it that it was his
students -- more than himself -- that went on to
become international leaders in the field.
He went to UCLA as Dean of Engineering in 1944, and
he made a great learning laboratory of the place.
He abolished departments. Were you an electrical
engineering professor? Fine, this term you'd teach
a civil engineering course. That way knowledge
stayed fresh -- learning stayed alive. In 1963 he
spoke to UCLA freshmen. His words look repetitive
on the written page. But then you catch their
antiphonal rhythm. Coming from this quiet man, they
have an astonishing intensity and unexpected moral
force. He said:
The products of your mind are
the most precious things you own,
And you must protect them, and must not do wrong
You must do the
You must always have in mind that the products of
Can be used by
other people either for good or for evil,
And that you have a responsibility
That they be
used for good, you see.
You can't avoid this responsibility
decide to become an intellectual slave,
And let someone else make all of these value
judgments for you.
And this is not
consonant with our democratic system ...
You must accept the responsibility yourself,
and for others.
Boelter really saw the transcendence of thought --
of the "products of the mind." He saw their power
to change life. He understood that they bind us to
responsibility, but that they also set us free.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds