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Change the World

If you clicked here, it must mean you want change the world! It must mean you are creative! It must mean you are a problem solver!

Engineers are creative problem solvers and they tackle some of the biggest ones we will face in the future.  They can critically analyze anything.  Therefore, people with engineering degrees can contribute to society in unlimited and indeterminate ways.  And yes, engineers also create new products, jobs and industries that truly grow the economy in a global fashion. Engineers create jobs through new product development, and the most innovative engineers create those products that are both unanticipated and transformational.

Some of the challenges we face include the deteriorating physical infrastructure of our nation, particularly in urban settings; the need for alternative sources of energy, renewable and clean; the ever-increasing stress on the environment due to population growth and the non-uniform distribution of key resources around the globe; providing a high quality of life for an aging population; and the need to develop technologies that are sustainable, minimizing their environmental footprint.  Understanding the social framework for technological innovation will be a key asset of engineering leaders in the future.  To build a sustainable world, society needs engineers who not only are innovative integrators of technological advances, and who understand the social context of their work, and are willing to embrace a leadership role to shape public opinion in favor of technically sound, socially responsible decisions for the greater good. 

What will be the next hot product?  Who knows?  The one thing of which we can be absolutely certain is that there will be countless such products in our future, with each requiring expert engineering expertise to develop, design, and manufacture. Did we even know we needed cell phones until they were invented? Of course not.

When we contemplate the future of our society, we look to and depend upon a continuing series of technological innovations to resolve society’s most challenging issues such as global warming, the rapidly growing demand for energy in the face of finite petrochemical resources, and the threat of pandemics.  And when we want to escape from these challenges and be entertained, we turn to technological innovations such as our MP3 players, HD TVs, and the extraordinary media productions that are created for our enjoyment and are accessed with these devices.  Below are a few stories about how engineering dramatically changed a few fields. WE could tell many stories here – how communication changed from over time from smoke signals to satellite and cell communications, how medical imaging is taking dramatic leaps right before our eyes right now, the list is truly endless. These stories will need to be rewritten periodically as people like you continue to innovate and build upon what has been done by others.

Olympics

The competitive nature of the Games, and the high importance placed on winning, provide the motivation for talented people of all nations to hone their skills in pursuit of the ultimate performance in their particular event.  In pursuit of that outcome, high technology has played, and will continue to play, a pivotal role.  My first realization of this fact occurred quite a long time ago (in the winter of 1959).  My Dad loved track and field competitions and each year would take me to a few indoor track meets at the old Madison Square Garden.  There I saw Don Bragg set the world record in the pole vault of 15ft 9.5in, a record that still stands today for vaulters using a metal pole.   This feat was considered the ultimate, and for several years leading up to that moment I had a full appreciation for just how difficult it was to achieve such a standard.  Yet, in 1959, it all changed with the widespread introduction of the fiberglass pole.  The dynamics of the fiberglass pole was so different from the metal pole that it required significant adaptation by the athlete to exploit its features and benefits.  But once mastered, the results were spectacular.  From 1942 to 1959 the world record in the pole vault increased by only 1.7 inches.  With the advent of the fiberglass pole, the world record increased by 12 inches within just four years.  Now pole vaulters use carbon composite poles and the record stands at 6.14 meters (that’s 20ft 1.7in), the record set by Sergey Bubka in 1994. 

Entertainment

Consider for the transformation that took place over the last century in home entertainment.  For thousands of years, dating back to before the Roman Empire, personal entertainment was defined by traveling bands of performers with special skills.  Actors, gymnasts, singers, comedians all would travel from town to town, often as bands of minstrels or gypsies, to perform shows to entertain communities scattered across large geographic regions.  The ultimate manifestation of this concept was the traveling circus, and it served as the exclusive entertainment enterprise right up until the end of the 19th century. 

And then, in 1897, Marconi invented the radio. From that point onward, the paradigm for home entertainment shifted dramatically.  From the moment that Marconi demonstrated “proof of concept” and the commercial relevance of this new technology was realized, a process of continuous improvement was applied by scientists and engineers, steadily advancing and perfecting the technology to the point where, by 1920, the people in the U.S. experienced their first commercial radio broadcast.  Consider the remarkable transformation that took place over this relatively short period of 23 years.  Before Marconi in 1897, family entertainment consisted exclusively of traveling shows of performers for as far back as anyone could remember.  But less than 30 years later, family members would sit in the comfort of their home and listen to singers, comedians and news commentators on the radio.

As this technology improved, its penetration into the global marketplace increased.  By 1950, an estimated 94% of American homes had a radio.  Meanwhile, thanks in part to the profits generated by the sale of these radios, research intensified with respect to the use of electromagnetic wave transmission as a means to broadcast information over large distances.  The electronic equipment needed for transmission, reception and presentation of such information continued to be perfected by the natural process of continuous improvement, both in terms of the sophistication of the technology and the quality and efficiency of the manufacturing processes for the products needed to enable the technology.  As a result, radio technology became ever more reliable and cheaper to access.

At the same time, scientists and engineers not only mastered the radio technology but also expanded it to include the broadcast of video along with audio information.  Remarkably, it was only 15 years after the first commercial radio broadcast that the first television broadcasting service was established in Germany (in 1935).  By 1950, 21% of American families owned a black-and-white TV, and by 1953 the first color TV network broadcast took place in the United States.  And how advanced is this technology today?  The paradigm shift in home entertainment today is enabled by the advent of digital signal processing, which brings high definition television broadcasts into our living room and flawless satellite radio for our automobiles when we are “on the go.”

In summary, following the discovery and elucidation of the principles of electromagnetism in the mid 1800s, the concept of audio (and then video) broadcasting over the airwaves was demonstrated and then perfected into a commercially viable technology, quickly creating a paradigm shift in the entertainment world.  Subsequently, through a deliberate process of continuous improvement that continues to this day, engineers incrementally advance this technology, devising products of remarkable quality and capability, while making them ever more affordable to almost everyone in the developing world.

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