Inventions by British engineers top list for most important innovations in our lifetime

Written by: Tom Austin-Morgan | Published:
Prince Charles presents awards to Eric Fossum, Michael Thompsett and Nobukazu Teranishi

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering (QEPrize) has released the Create the Future 2017 report, an international survey into attitudes towards engineering across 10 markets including the UK, US, Germany, Japan, India and Brazil.

The research shows that Britons believe computers have had biggest impact on humanity over the last 100 years. The internet came in a close second on the list, demonstrating how our work and personal lives have been transformed by modern computers and digital technology. Both the modern computer and the internet have been credited to British inventors and pioneers, Alan Turing and winner of the inaugural QEPrize, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

When Turing developed the modern computer during WWII, he could not have imagined how computers would make into millions of offices and family homes across the country, revolutionising the way we work, gather information and communicate.

The British public also placed MRI scans, the silicon chip and nuclear power at the top of the list. They were less enamoured by gaming consoles, television and social networks, which all appeared towards the bottom of the list.

The report has been published to mark the 2017 QEPrize ceremony at Buckingham Palace, where the inventors of digital image sensors will be honoured which have revolutionised everything from modern medicine to the way we consume and create media. The winners of the prize are the UK’s Michael Tompsett, America’s Eric Fossum, George Smith, and Japan’s Nobukazu Teranishi.

The report also found:

  • The perceived ‘skills gap’ is widening. Half of the markets surveyed - China, Japan, South Korea, the UK and USA – felt there was a significant rise in the demand for skilled engineers.
  • Diversity is the driver of modern engineering. Three quarters of people feel there should be more female role models among industry leaders. 3 in 5 (58%) said they would be inspired to pursue engineering if there were more people like them in industry to look up to.
  • A united approach is needed. 8 in 10 believe governments, businesses and schools could offer more support to those interested in engineering professions.

As the world is experiencing a global shift, so too is engineering. Across the world, technology and engineering are converging and becoming ever more relevant to people’s daily lives. There is a growing trust in engineering and engineers to lead the way in solving major global challenges and make the world a better place. However, despite a favourable attitude towards the profession, many still feel there are several barriers to a career in engineering. These include the cost of education, the lack of visible, positive role models and few opportunities for young people. Engineers, educators and industry leaders must work together to ensure that those shaping the future are fully representative of the people who will use these new systems.

Lord Browne, chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering Foundation, said: “In addition to recognising engineering’s economic value, communities worldwide realise the continued need for skilled engineers. The QEPrize inspires young engineers by celebrating the very best innovations and highlighting the many talented, diverse individuals across the profession, while driving engineering towards a brighter future for everyone.”

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