Remembering Bill Robinson

On October 2, ‘Google Doodle’ celebrated what was the 81st birthday of Dr Bill Robinson, one of New Zealand’s most prominent scientists and inventors.

A Google illustration of a man holding an earthquake proof bearing

Dr Robinson is best-known for the invention of lead rubber bearings, which are used under buildings to mitigate the effects of earthquakes. Locally, these bearings can be seen in action at the display stationed at the entrance to the Te Papa Museum. His bearings are also visible under Wellington Hospital, in the carpark beneath the main building.

Bill’s research and range of interests went well beyond the protection of buildings.  His pioneering research on the physical properties of Antarctic sea ice continues today, following on from a programme he started in the 1970s. One aspect of this research was the study of the propagation of mechanical waves in sea ice and in glaciers. The source of the mechanical waves were sea swells, trucks moving at speeds up to 50 mph, and on one occasion a low-flying Hercules aircraft. During the 1990’s Bill went on to establish Robinson Seismic Limited to commercialise his inventions in building protection. This was a successful enterprise and it is estimated more than $100B worth of structures around the world are protected by this technology.

In 1984, Dr Robinson was appointed the Director of the Physics and Engineering Laboratory of Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR), where he established a team to study the then new high temperature superconductors. This team has evolved into the eponymous Robinson Research Institute at Victoria University of Wellington, and continues to be at the forefront of innovative engineering, creating globally recognised superconductors, robotics and other electromagnetic technologies.

The Google Doodle, honouring Bill on his birthday, is a celebration of his remarkable contribution to science and the quest for knowledge.