From humanity’s first powered flight in 120 years, to harnessing renewable energy through solar panels, to breakthroughs in controlled drug delivery that promise to revolutionize medical care–history shows us that humanity relies on engineers to develop innovative solutions to the world’s problems, time and time again. And over and over.
Engineering is the process by which the fruits of great scientific discovery are brought into the real world, providing practical solutions to actual problems, opening up new industries, and creating growth in the economy.
However, people in the UK often overlook the power of engineering. Forgetting the breadth and importance of the profession, as society is increasingly distracted by impressive technological innovations such as engineering artificial intelligence, however, it is the gateway to civilization—not because it replaces human thinking, but because it includes humans in getting things done. It is the practical expression of everyday life. So when people talk to me about the important role science and technology play, I ask them, “What about engineering?” And they reply, “Oh yeah, that too.” Engineering has become the silent name – and we shouldn’t allow it.
Politicians believe that politics, necessary to create incentives, regulations, etc., is the end of the matter. But in fact, this is only the beginning. It is understanding the engineering approach, which integrates science, politics, commerce and humanity, that makes a real difference.
The purpose of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, which I chair, is to make this cause as strong as possible. We do this in four ways: by celebrating our collective successes, showcasing engineering excellence from around the world, inspiring the next generation of engineers who will have to meet the challenges of the future, and solidifying the mission. Allow me to say more about each of them.
The Queen Elizabeth Prize was launched in 2012 by a multi-party group and is now in its tenth year. This prestigious award has become a global icon, attracting winners from all over the world. It’s often colloquially called the “Nobel Prize for Engineering,” and in fact, that’s what it is now.
We display engineering excellence wherever possible. Previous award winners have been responsible for the Internet and the World Wide Web, controlled release large-molecule drug delivery, digital imaging sensors, GPS, LED lighting, the world’s most powerful permanent magnet, and PERC solar photovoltaic technology. These innovations have changed our lives and will continue to shape the world we live in for decades to come.
We should strive for a diverse engineering workforce that designs products, services, and systems as diverse as the communities they serve so that biases that create or deepen inequalities are not embedded in the design process. According to the numbers of 2022 only 16.5% of professional engineers in the UK are womenAnd, at the current rate of accepted undergraduate applications for engineering degrees being submitted by women (currently only 18%), we won’t see gender parity until 2085. Additionally, there are still very few ethnic minority and LGBT+ people studying Engineering or working in the profession. A less diverse pool makes for a weaker profession and ultimately prevents progression.
To give our message more impact, the Science Museum has recently opened in partnership with the Queen Elizabeth Prize engineers In London, it is the first permanent exhibition of its kind showcasing how engineers are changing the world and turning ideas into reality. With profiles and exhibitions from more than 60 engineers including Queen Elizabeth Laureates, the show is a celebration of scientific excellence that touches every corner of humanity. It is a celebration, a show and an inspiration, and I encourage you to visit and experience the transformative power of engineering for yourself.
For the UK to continue to drive global development, we must respect and acknowledge the essential role the engineering discipline plays in turning scientific and technological ideas into reality. If we are to overcome the challenges that societies face in the future, including climate change, we must continue to educate and inspire future generations to take up careers in engineering.
Lord Browne of Madingley is Chair of the Queen Elizabeth Prize Foundation for Engineering.
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