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SX1507: FEARSOME ENGINES (2020-2021)

Last modified: 24 Jun 2020 14:31

Course Overview

The course aims to help the students understand how technological changes of the past have influenced subsequent social development and how social attitudes of the past have provided drivers and inhibitors of technological advances. The students will be able to apply their understanding of these interactions to the analysis of modern society to identify and address threats and opportunities presented by technological changes.

A variety of “fearsome engines” are studied from both the technological and social standpoints and provide students with examples of the process of technological development. The course is continuously assessed and includes student presentations.

Course Details

Study Type Undergraduate Level 1
Session Second Sub Session Credit Points 15 credits (7.5 ECTS credits)
Campus Aberdeen Sustained Study No
  • Professor John Nelson

Qualification Prerequisites

  • Either Programme Level 1 or Programme Level 2

What courses & programmes must have been taken before this course?

  • Any Undergraduate Programme (Studied)

What other courses must be taken with this course?


Are there a limited number of places available?


Course Description

The course consists of selected topics (a list of possible topics is shown below) delivered over 12 weeks.

  • The historical development of materials and their use

  • Internal combustion engines

  • Autonomous vehicles (including AI)

  • Siege engines

  • Steam engines

  • Engineering the Underground

  • Agricultural engines

  • Organ

  • Ships

  • Arms and Armour

  • Traffic signals

  • The inventions of Leonardo da Vinci

A broad definition of “engine” is adopted:  an engine is essentially a mechanical contrivance consisting of several parts working together. Each will be accompanied by an illustration of why social and economic context is important (such as the rise of motorisation following the invention of the internal combustion engine).  Contributing lecturers choose the topic of greatest personal interest and deliver an in depth study. Tuition in presentation skills will also be offered.


The subject matter covers aspects of engineering (how the engine works) and historical (social and political impact of the invention or activity). Topics will be designed to be independent, while avoiding duplication. This will ensure adequate flexibility whilst also allowing contributors to relate to topics of current interest. Each semester the topics to be delivered will be selected taking account of availability and workload of the contributing lecturers.


Students will be given the opportunity to work in groups to produce presentations on either how a 19th / early 20th century invention transformed the world or on what the most significant fearsome engine of the 21st century is likely to be – you choose the topic.

Contact Teaching Time

Information on contact teaching time is available from the course guide.

Teaching Breakdown

More Information about Week Numbers

Details, including assessments, may be subject to change until 31 August 2023 for 1st half-session courses and 22 December 2023 for 2nd half-session courses.

Summative Assessments

Assignment 1: Handbill (25%)

Assignment 2: Brochure (25%)

Assignment 3: Presentation (25%)

Assignment 4: Briefing (25%)



Re-sit of failed assessment component(s)


Formative Assessment

There are no assessments for this course.

Course Learning Outcomes

Knowledge LevelThinking SkillOutcome

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