Volume 12, No. 2
News of the Field:
A Century of Engineering Achievements
What is an "engineering achievement"? What were the "top" such achievements of the 20th century? Which do you use most frequently? A collaborative effort of professional engineering societies has answered those questions in order to demonstrate "how engineering shaped a century and changed the world" and to "celebrate a remarkable century of technological achievement."
The National Academy of Engineering, the American Association of Engineering Societies, National Engineers Week, and two dozen other engineering organizations have nominated a list of top achievements. Their chief criterion was the "significance that each engineering achievement had in terms of its impact on the quality of life during the 20th century." A selection committee began with 105 nominations, reduced that to 48, then combined related specific innovations to arrive at a list of twenty categories. As you can see below, they conceived "innovation" broadly, rather than trying to fix on any particular devices, or components thereof. While this process raises some conceptual and political questions, such as those Dag Spicer discusses on pages 2-3 of this issue, the clustering makes for a most inclusive list-a good diplomatic strategy in avoiding contentious debates between specialists and partisans.
The website announcing the process and its conclusions is well worth a visit: <http://www.greatachievements.org/>. In addition to brief introductory essays, each category of innovation includes both a time line and a brief history. One could construct an outline for the history of 20th-century technologies with the list. Mercurians will note, without surprise, the importance of several categories of communication technologies. Also worth noting is the frequency and degree to which the categories overlap, demonstrating yet again the importance of interactions and contextualization in explaining innovation: today's airplanes could not operate without radio and imaging technologies, not to mention without computers.