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Are these the seven wonders of the 21st century world?

27 March 2019

The This is Engineering campaign worked with young engineers to identify seven wonders of the 21st century world that are rarely recognised as feats of engineering.

The list includes breakthroughs in fashion, sport, technology, entertainment, film, healthcare and the environment, and highlights the increasingly broad role of engineering in everyday life.

The list was drawn up with input from a range of experts and a panel drawn from the Royal Academy of Engineering’s programmes for young engineers. It is part of the This is Engineering campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the breadth of careers in engineering and to help address the significant engineering skills and diversity shortfall that is holding back growth and productivity across the UK economy.

The list of engineering wonders is as follows:

Gore-Tex Fabric – the waterproof, breathable fabric designed by engineers for all-weather use that has revolutionised the outerwear industry, from coats to trainers.

Hawk-Eye – the real-time visual tracking computer system developed by engineers to help both referees and viewers of ball sports.

iPhone – Apple's device that launched a communications revolution in 2007, introducing the world to apps and putting the internet in our pockets.

YouTube – the game-changing platform that changed the way we watch television and share video content.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system that creates powerful, moving audio by introducing new concepts to cinema and film sound engineering.

3D printed bone implants – the medical engineering innovation of a custom-made ceramic structure that allows new bone to grow around it.

Clean water – the life-saving miracle of our age, enabled by continuing engineering innovation.

The list was also informed by a survey of 2,000 11-18 year olds’ attitudes to and awareness of engineering careers and industries. Just 14% of teenagers were aware of engineering roles in the music industry, such as audio, recording and live sound engineering, and only 8% were aware that the sports and food and drink industries rely heavily on engineers.

Despite owning or using many engineered products or services, most teenagers were unaware that engineering was involved in designing and creating them. More than two thirds of teenagers own a pair of trainers or sports shoes, but only 20% were aware that they are designed by engineers. More than half of teens use Facebook and YouTube, yet less than 16% were aware that these have been created by engineers.

The research showed that young people tend to have a stereotypical view of engineering. More than half of those surveyed correctly listed famous construction projects such as the Eiffel Tower, London Underground and the Shard as examples of engineering, but less than 20% were aware that social media apps such as SnapChat and Spotify have been developed by engineers.

Professor Mark Miodownik MBE FREng, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and engineering broadcaster and writer, says: “Engineering plays an essential part in everyday life, from the water we drink to the gadgets we use, and it’s also vital to addressing the challenges of the future. However, our survey shows that many young people don’t associate engineering with the technology they use day to day, and the things they’re interested in, which could mean they miss out on the opportunities to change the world as an engineer. We hope our list of surprising, 21st Century engineering wonders will inspire today’s teenagers and give them new opportunities.”

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