A lot of time we seem to be obsessed with introspection, bemoaning the public’s view of engineers and engineering. With that and the seemingly ever contracting business of industry it is easy to be downbeat. Lord knows how many articles and comments in The Engineer over the past year alone have touched on this subject (quite a few - Ed).
However, something happens occasionally where we cannot help but feel lifted by what engineering adds to the world. After the brouhaha of the Olympics came the Paralympics and this year more than ever before it stood side by side with the games for the “able bodied”, no longer the lesser sibling. Of course almost any improvement to our lot can be analysed and shown to be enabled at the very least by our profession. Where is the artificial heart valve without sophisticated materials development or the replacement knee joint without the ability to precisely manufacture complex shapes? More abstract but equally valid; how many people would have died on mountainsides without mobiles phones, satellite networks or the vehicles to get them to safety? Just a few examples among many but, let’s face it, a good number of books would be needed to cover this whereas I just have a small article at my disposal.
I would venture that this is different though, this is a conspicuous celebration of the human spirit and what it can achieve. If our Olympians embody the finer aspects of our nature then surely the Paralympians embody the very finest? I can only imagine the mindset that these people require to even do what most of us take for granted regarding running, swimming, playing rugby and the like. To then commit to competing on the world stage and to beat all others? That is very special indeed.
Engineering has helped these athletes to chase their dreams. Whether its building a wheelchair that will survive a full contact sport (and I do mean full contact) or developing a bespoke composite running blade that has for the first time allowed an amputee sprinter to compete in the Olympics, our profession has answered their needs. I feel certain that the athletes would find a way of competing, of excelling, without any help but the breadth of the disciplines covered surely enriches our lives and theirs.
Equally I fully understand that the design and manufacture of the equipment and prosthetics is a business but does that really matter? We as a group, perhaps some of you out there reading this personally, have the honour of helping them. For once, whether we are acknowledged or recognised by the public really doesn’t matter. It is simply a matter of immense pride to be a part of this profession. If we take that with us as we go about our everyday lives and stand a little bit taller because of it, who knows? Perhaps the slight change in the way we see ourselves may be reflected by a similar change in perception by others around us?