Metatools for Information Engineering Design

  • Chris Bissell
Part of the Automation, Collaboration, & E-Services book series (ACES, volume 1)


An examination of the professional practice of engineers in many disciplines reveals a history of engineers developing highly sophisticated tools to eliminate the need to ‘do mathematics’ in the conventional sense. This chapter will build upon the previous one by Dillon to consider further aspects of the history of a number of what I shall call mathematical ‘meta-tools’ in the fields of electronics, telecommunications and control engineering. In common with Dillon I argue that, for most engineers, ‘doing mathematics’ has become something categorically different from the mathematics of physical scientists or mathematicians. The chapter concentrates on the origins and changing fortunes of a number of classic information engineering meta-tools that appeared in the period just before or after the Second World War: Bode plots (late 1930s); the Smith chart (1939); the Nichols chart (1947); phasor, spectral and signal constellation models (throughout the period); and the root-locus technique (1948). The 1950s and 1960s saw an increasing mathematicisation of engineering education, linked to the rise of the notion of ‘engineering science’ that was driven to a large extent by the legacy of WW2 research and development and the post-war funding environment in the USA and elsewhere. Such changes, and the arrival of digital computers, meant that the utility of the earlier diagrammatic tools was often played down or questioned. In recent years, however, such tools have been incorporated into powerful engineering software, where their function now is not to avoid computation, but to mediate between the user and the machine carrying out the computation.


Digital Computer Message Signal Carrier Wave Signal Constellation Bide Plot 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bennett, S.: History of Control Engineering 1930-1955. Peter Peregrinus, Stevenage (1993)zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bissell, C.C.: Karl Küpfmüller: a German contributor to the early development of linear systems theory. International Journal of Control 44(4), 977–989 (1986)zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bissell, C.C.: Six decades in control: an interview with Winfried Oppelt. IEE Review 38(1), 17–21 (1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bissell, C.C.: Pioneers of Control: an interview with Arnold Tustin. IEE Review 38(6), 223–226 (1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bissell, C.C.: Spreading the word: aspects of the evolution of the language of measurement and control. Measurement and Control 27(5), 149–155 (1994)MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  6. Bissell, C.C.: Mathematical ‘meta tools’ in 20th century information engineering. Hevelius 2, 11–21 (2004a)Google Scholar
  7. Bissell, C.C.: Models and ‘black boxes’: Mathematics as an enabling technology in the history of communications and control engineering. Revue d’Histoire des Sciences 57(2), 305–338 (2004b)MathSciNetzbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bissell, C.C.: Forging a new discipline: Reflections on the wartime infrastructure for research and development in feedback control in the US, UK, Germany and USSR. In: Maas, A., Hooijmaijers, H. (eds.) Scientific Research in World War II. Routledge Studies in Modern History, pp. 202–212. Routledge, UK (2008)Google Scholar
  9. Bissell, C.C.: ‘He was the father of us all.’ Ernie Guillemin and the teaching of modern network theory. In: History of Telecommunications Conference (HISTELCON 2008), Paris, September 11-12 (2008)Google Scholar
  10. Bissell, C.C.: A history of automatic control. In: Nof, S.Y. (ed.) Springer Handbook of Automation. Springer handbook series, vol. LXXVI, pp. 53–69. Springer, Heidelberg (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bissell, C.C., Dillon, C.R.: Telling tales: models, stories and meanings. For the Learning of Mathematics 20(3), 3–11 (2000)Google Scholar
  12. Bray, J.: The Communications Miracle. Plenum Press, London (1995)Google Scholar
  13. Care, C.: Technology for modelling: electrical analogies, engineering practice, and the development of analogue computing. Springer, London (2010)Google Scholar
  14. Fleming, A.: The waveband theory of wireless transmission. Nature 125(3142), 92–93 (1930)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guillemin, E.: Communication Networks, vol. II. Wiley, New York (1935)Google Scholar
  16. Huggins, W.H.: The early days – 1952 to 1957. IEEE Transactions on Circuits and Systems, CAS 24(12), 666–667 (1977)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lee, Y.W., Cheatham Jr., T.P., Wiesner, J.B.: Application of correlation analysis to the detection of periodic signals in noise. Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers 38(10), 1165–1171 (1950)MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  18. Mindell, D.A.: Between Human and Machine. In: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (2002)Google Scholar
  19. Puchta, S.: On the role of mathematics and mathematical knowledge in the invention of Vannevar Bush’s early analog computers. Annals of the History of Computing 18(4), 49–59 (1996)MathSciNetzbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Small, J.S.: General-purpose electronic analogue computing 1945-1965. Annals of the History of Computing 15(2), 8–18 (1993)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Small, J.S.: The Analogue Alternative. Routledge, London (2001)Google Scholar
  22. Steinmetz, C.P.: Die Anwendung complexer Grössen in der Elektrotechnik. Elektrotechnische Zeitschrift 42, 597–599; 44, 631–635; 45, 641–643; 46, 653–654 (1893)Google Scholar
  23. Wass, C.A.A.: Introduction to Electronic Analogue Computers. Pergamon Press, London (1955)zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  24. Zobel, O.J.: Transmission characteristic of electric wave filters. Bell System Technical Journal 3(4), 567–620 (1924)Google Scholar
  25. Zverov, A.I.: The golden anniversary of electric wave filters. IEEE Spectrum 3(3), 129–131 (1966)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Bissell
    • 1
  1. 1.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

Personalised recommendations