In the 100 years from 1900 to 2000, the world saw for the first time a number of inventions that we generally take for granted today. Airplanes, cars, TVs, phones, computers, the Internet...in fact, the National Academy of Engineering has created a list of the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the 20th century (at http://www.greatachievements.org ):
4. Water Supply and Distribution
6. Radio and Television
7. Agricultural Mechanization
10. Air Conditioning and Refrigeration
15. Household Appliances
16. Health Technologies
17. Petroleum and Petrochemical Technologies
18. Laser and Fiber Optics
19. Nuclear Technologies
20. High-Performance Materials
That's a lot for the 21st century to live up to. Nevertheless, engineer William Perry predicts that the current century will bring achievements just as great as those of last. Perry is the committee chair of the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Recently, the NAE revealed its list of the top 14 greatest engineering challenges of the 21st century.
The challenges are divided into four themes - sustainability, health, reducing vulnerability, and the joy of living. The NAE unveiled the list last Friday at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston (also at http://www.engineeringchallenges.org ). In no particular order, they are:
1. Advance health informatics
2. Advance personalized learning
3. Develop carbon sequestration methods
4. Engineer better medicines
5. Engineer the tools of scientific discovery
6. Enhance virtual reality
7. Make solar energy economical
8. Manage the nitrogen cycle
9. Prevent nuclear terror
10. Provide access to clean water
11. Provide energy from fusion
12. Restore and improve urban infrastructure
13. Reverse-engineer the brain
14. Secure cyberspace
The NAE explained that the 14 challenges were chosen because they were all very important to humanity, but also doable. While some are imperative to survival, all improve our quality of life.
More information about each of the 14 challenges is available at the engineering challenges Web site. Although the NAE committee did not rank the challenges, anyone can vote for the most important challenge of the 21st century. As of today (February 18), solar energy and energy from fusion were the top two contenders.
Most likely, when we look back on the 21st century in 92 years, some of the top engineering achievements will likely be inventions that are not on this list, though that's no fault of the NAE. After all, how many researchers were working toward building (or even conceiving of) the Internet in 1908?
Via: New Scientist Tech