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MCTC adjunct professor corrects 30-year textbook error

December 15, 2018

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Bob Fischer, electrical engineer and physicist, was reading through the textbook for a class he was going to teach this semester at Mountwest Community and Technical College when he spotted an error.

“Dielectric breakdown is usually the result of an arc . . . ” to book read.

“It’s the exact opposite,” Fischer wrote in the book as he underlined the error.

He figured he would leave it at that, but then decided to email the publisher, McGraw-Hill, not expecting a response. But to his surprise, just a few days after sending the email, he got a reply saying the author of the textbook agreed with him and future editions of Basic Electronics will reflect Fischer’s correction.

The error has been printed for at least 30 years, which Fischer knows because he had the 6th edition of the same book sitting on his bookshelf at home. He caught the error in the 12th edition of the $150 book.

Fischer said the error confused the important cause-effect relationship between a dielectric failure and an electric arc, likening it to teaching medical students that fevers cause infections or that an electrical outage caused a tree to fall into a power line.

It’s important for students to understand the nature of electrical arcing because uncontrolled arc flashes can unleash massive amounts of energy producing heat several times the surface temperature of the sun, Fischer said. Industrial Safety & Hygiene News reports there are 30,000 arc-flash injuries per year resulting in 2,000 hospitalizations and 400 fatalities.

This is not the first time Fischer has corrected an important error in the electrical engineering world.

In the early 2000s, after studying the source material to receive his national certification to do electrical work on pipelines and other life and environmentally dangerous projects, he was not satisfied with the material.

“I found one mistake in (the McGraw-Hill) book, but I found 25 to 35 percent of all the pages had what I thought were errors that needed to be rewritten,” Fischer said.

He and three of his workers passed the test, but Fischer still reached out with suggestions to make the textbooks better.

He made so many corrections he and his company, Fischer Technical Services, a Huntington-based electrical, instrumentation and reliability consulting firm, are credited still today as a co-author in the textbooks.

In 2012, he rewrote the “Facilities Transformers” section of a Best Practices Guide to Arc Flash Labeling. Plant engineers use those manuals to select signs for compliance with National Electrical Code requirements to identify electrical hazards.

“It’s attention to detail,” Fischer said.

Fischer is a life-long resident of Huntington and a graduate of Marshall University. He was a member of the Huntington East High School electronics technology program, a U.S. government-funded program designed to develop a group of scientists and engineers with state-of-the-art skills required to counter the Soviet Union’s technological supremacy at the time.

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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com

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