No one can say what the future will bring, but one thing is certain: Engineers will play a major role in shaping the world of tomorrow.
- The carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels is changing Earth's climate. If this looming disaster is to be averted, it will be thanks to engineers developing alternative energy sources and ways of minimizing the effects of the carbon dioxide. (Learn about developing carbon capture methods, one of NAE's 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering.)
- Recent work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows that plants can be genetically modified to produce altered versions of chemicals they normally produce. Biomolecular engineers are working toward creating plants that act as living factories, producing drugs and other chemicals to-order.
- Engineers specializing in robotics are collaborating with specialists in cognitive science to develop the type of intelligent robots that have been a mainstay of science fiction for decades. These visionaries speak of robots that can navigate a battlefield to disarm explosive devices or enter a burning building to find people trapped inside and carry them to safety.
Anyone can dream about the future, but the people who actually turn those dreams into reality will be engineers. Traversing the path from concept to practical creation requires an understanding of the relevant science and familiarity with current technologies but also the vision to see beyond the world as it is and create something new. This is the job of the engineer: to combine the knowledge and tools of today with dreams of tomorrow to create the world of the future.
The power of engineers to shape the future is clear. Consider such powerful handheld devices as the iPod or the Blackberry, or designer drugs that are revolutionizing medicine, or the coming generation of practical electric cars. Not long ago, each of these was no more than a dream, but today each is a reality thanks to the vision of engineers. We cannot say with certainty what our world will look like 10 or 20 or 30 years from now, but we do know that whatever new wonders appear, engineers will have played a major role in bringing them to life.