Geometry paid the bill

After graduating in 1966 I went to work the summer following for the Hydrology Lab in the Foothills Campus at Colorado State University. The project I worked on had to do with large pipes if water shooting out into open concrete canal for transport for the irrigation of regional crops.

The specific task was to cut a plate of steel to fit an irregular space where the water came out of the pipe and act as a splash guard to redirect the water into the open canal.

But it was my high school geometry class that would save the day. (Who says math isn’t useful?) We needed a set of measurements that would prevent making a lot of scrap out of an eight by four foot plate of steel which we could cut only once.

Although I was now a holder of a college degree, my job was that of a gopher, a grunt to help with the manual labor required to solve the problem.

I suggested that we triangulate the space with measurements going diagonally across the opening. And then come back to the shop from the worksite to apply these measurements which would describe the shape we were to cut.

All agreed and I felt validated and useful. We went back to the worksite, made our measurements from corner to corner across the space and returned to the shop to cut. Measure twice and cut once was the saying.

Even so, this was an expensive sheet of steel and we didn’t want to make a mess of it. We measured from one corner, then from another diagonally marking the irregular corners. We drew the lines for the cuts and sat back. Amazingly the finished product appeared. To be the same shape as the space we wished to fill.

So the acetylene torches were lit and the cutting began. The plate we cut out was heavy and required a big truck to carry it to the site where the irrigation pipe and the irrigation canal met at ninety degrees. The truck had a hydraulic crane on it that allowed us to get the newly cut plate aboard the truck. We packed up the acetylene welding equipment and we were set to go.

At the site we reversed the process and slowly swung the plate into place. It fit perfectly. My education was worthwhile. The geometry had worked and saved us a ton of trouble.

Hoo ha!

Later when the atmospheric Science department asked if we had anyone who could act as a research assistant and help make devices to attach measurement instruments to supports, my name was put foreword. I had my first scientific research job.


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