Throughout history, engineering achievements were accomplished in response to specific human needs. Illustration by Jeff Harper.
Five years ago, the National Academy of Engineering came up with a list of the greatest engineering accomplishments of the 20th century. Looking at the list today, it’s hard to imagine life without things like electricity, automobiles, satellites or even Internet- equipped cell phones. Still, there will always be plenty of challenges for engineers to tackle. The collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minnesota last summer brought the nation’s aging infrastructure under public scrutiny. By autumn, an unprecedented drought in Atlanta had experts speculating that citizens would run out of drinking water in a matter of weeks. Just before the new year, the Energy Information Administration released its forecast for 2008, projecting that gasoline and diesel prices would peak at more than $3.40 per gallon this spring.