The field of engineering has been at humanity’s side since the dawn of time. It’s a discipline that has harnessed our scientific know-how, ambition and creativity to help lay the building blocks of our civilization. The art of engineering has been fueling progress from the dark ages to the information age and, as long as the human spirit endures, it will continue to do so. Wondering about the future is just as diverting as studying the field’s rich history and it makes one wonder - what was the one thing that changed it all?
To this end, we asked some recognized pioneers and practitioners immersed in their respective engineering fields, “What do you feel is the most influential concept or innovation in engineering history and why?”
Little Things, Big Differences
Swags Majumdar has been doing extensive electronic and telecommunications research and development work for 15 years on both a recreational and professional level. He has built many small and major circuits and circuit concepts from his own designs which can be found at his Homemade Circuits and Schematics, and is a regular contributor to Bright Hub Engineering.
Majumdar, when considering the most influential innovation to ever hit the field of engineering, harkens back to a particular leap that he feels changed our world completely:
The invention of the semiconductor device transistor revolutionized the world and presented us with the amazing technology of electronics. The invention of transistor (BJT) devices led to the creation of integrated circuits (ICs, chips, LEDs, LCDs) which are fundamentally made up of millions of intricately configured transistor circuits specified for carrying out complex electronic operations. The advent of ICs inspired the invention of many modern electronic marvels such as computers, cell phones, satellite technology, and countless other devices which is a part of our present daily life.
Ideas That Change the Course of History
Mechanical engineer Tom Gibson P.E., specializes in machine design and green building. He writes at length on the topics of technology, engineering and sustainability on his website Progressive Engineer.
Gibson says the stroke of genius that forever changed the world of engineering is the idea pioneered by a humble industrialist from Michigan by the name of Henry Ford:
To me, as a mechanical engineer, the most influential concept in engineering would be the work Henry Ford did in developing a factory for manufacturing automobiles. He took the automobile, which existed at the time but was only available in small quantities to the wealthy, and found ways to produce models in mass quantities so common people could afford them. His concepts for assembly line manufacturing have since influenced countless manufacturing industries, and the automobile went on to become a predominant mode of transportation around the world.
Taking a Cue From Nature
Vinay Chataraju is a civil engineer who graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur and he currently works as the head of Civil Simplified, which offers hands-on workshops and practical training programs for engineering students in India.
Chataraju points out an eons old engineering concept that sometimes occurs on its own in nature as the most influential of all time.
As a civil engineer I would say the bridge is the most influential concept in engineering history. It was an inspiration from a floating log in water. This invention has led to the faster evolution of the human race. People living on islands would not have got to know about the other civilizations if the connection between them was not established.
Carrying Our Voices Through the Abyss
Electronics engineers freelancer Susan Lama runs her own blog called Applied Electronics Engineering. Lama feels that a comparatively young innovation is the one that has made the biggest splash in the field.
Wireless communication is a fascinating invention and discovery. My voice is embedded into electromagnetic waves, it travels through free space and is recovered at another place. It shows the beauty of mathematics and physics when they are realized in reality. Is it influential? Just look around.
The Innovation That Runs It All
Kenneth Kabaki, of The Engineering Daily, thinks that the most influential innovation in the realm of engineering flows through all of our modern day conveniences and is mother to countless other breakthroughs by extension.
To me, there is little question that electricity is a major influence in the world today. Basic activities we engage in daily like working late into the night, warming food in the microwave, using the computer, charging your phone or taking a hot shower are all powered by electricity. Mega industries such as media, entertainment and information technology have boomed in the digital era, a period whose success is driven largely by the insatiable consumption of electricity. A world with no electricity is a world devoid of innovation, technology and quality life. A lot of the advances made over the years to improve the livelihoods of mankind would be nothing but an empty dream without it.
Perhaps a tad ambitiously (but not incorrectly), Archimedes once said, “Give me a fulcrum and I will move the world.” It’s that sort of brazen technological drive inherent in us humans that lead us to innovations like the bridge, electricity, wireless communication and everything in between.
We live in a civilization that cries for more, so what’s next? What will be that next innovation or concept that our children’s children will look back on and say, “wow, that changed everything”? With the feverish pace at which we are absorbing information and exercising the applied sciences, you never know, that game changer may be just over the horizon.