The tide of history

When it comes to engineering and technology, where does the UK excel? What will be the big engineering and technology ‘blockbusters’ of the next five, 10 or 20 years? And have we got the wherewithal to put the two together?


Big questions indeed, but ones which it is becoming increasingly obvious need answers sooner rather than later if the UK wants to keep its place as a global centre of technological excellence.


Delegates to The Engineer Summit held yesterday at London’s Imperial College at least made a start at tackling them. The theme of the event was Commercialising Innovation, but the bigger picture to emerge was one of decisions taken now that will affect this country’s status as leader or also-ran in the years ahead.


The discussion was especially timely, because earlier this week science minister Lord Sainsbury aired his views on the need for more applied research of the type that will benefit the business community.


Few would argue with that, but the issues explored at The Engineer’s event had direct relevance to that aspiration. And none more so than that earlier question – what’s the big idea?


Several speakers at the summit referred to the galvanising, transforming events that have driven engineering and scientific achievements in the last century.


For much of the 20th Century war, or fear of war, drove industrialisation and created jobs and wealth. In the United States, the ‘space race’ spawned innovation after innovation, with entire new industries emerging from the vast national push to put men on the moon.


What will be the equivalents of the next decade? Challenges so important, and so reliant on technology to overcome them, that whatever nation takes the initiative will find itself on the crest of a huge global wave.


Here’s a few candidates, some from the summit and others that spring to mind. Global warming, alternative energy sources, healthcare for an ageing population.


Others will no doubt occur to you, so please join the debate and let us know.


Andrew Lee


Editor


The Engineer & The Engineer Online