Most of the things that make our lives safer, more enjoyable, and more productive are products of engineering.
- In the late 1970s, computer data were stored on 8-inch “floppy disks” that held 1.2 megabytes of data. Today’s flash drives are as small as 0.5-inch across and can hold 32 gigabytes or more—25,000 times as much memory as the old floppies. The engineers responsible for this dramatic improvement have made possible such modern essentials as smartphones, digital media players, and digital cameras.
- For most of human history, doctors had little way of directly seeing what was happening inside a body. Over the past century, however, medical engineers have created a host of imaging devices. X-rays, ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized axial tomography (CAT), positron emission tomography (PET), and other techniques allow doctors to diagnose and treat injuries and disease far more effectively than ever before. (Learn about engineering the tools of scientific discovery and engineering better medicines, two of the NAE's 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering)
- The final battle of the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans, took place on January 8, 1815. Due to the slow-moving communications of that era, the battle famously occurred a full fortnight after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which had already formally ended the war. Modern communication allows today’s military personnel to communicate with each other in real time across continents. Commanders implement strategy, and soldiers in the field converse with loved ones back home using internet technologies such as Skype.
A major difference between science and engineering is that scientists deal with the world that is, while engineers envision the world that could be. It is the job of the engineer to determine what people need or want and figure out the best way to provide it. This can involve something as simple as an improved garbage bag that is inexpensive yet tear-resistant, or as complex as the MS Oasis of the Seas, a cruise ship that is as long as four football fields, as high as a 24-story building, and carries 6,000 passengers on 16 passenger decks.
Modern humans interact with two worlds at once. The first is the natural world—the earth, water, air, plants, and animals that exist independently of any human intervention. The second is the human-made world—all the things people have created for themselves in order to improve their lives: their cities and farms and factories, their clothes, their televisions, their medicines, their musical instruments, their eyeglasses, their credit cards. Without engineers, this human-made world could not exist.