“Engineering is one of the few ways in which human talent can be given the chance to improve, and frequently to transform, the comfort and prosperity of the human community”
IF YOU look around you, everything you see that isn’t part of the natural world was the vision of an engineer or an architect. Every power station, every road, every railway, every bridge, every mobile phone, every airliner, every piece of equipment and every sewage works owes its existence to an engineer.
Great engineers have a passion to improve life; a burning conviction that they can make life better for everyone. Engineers need to have a talent for invention and innovation, but what drives them is the conviction that they can find a better way to do things; a cheaper and more efficient solution to the problems of human existence on this planet of limited resources that we call Earth.
Many of us spend a lot of time complaining about the difficulties and problems of life. It is easy to find fault with things that make daily life arduous. For an engineer, these difficulties can be opportunities. How can this be made to work better? How can that process be made more efficient? How can components be made more cheaply, more accurately and more fit-for-purpose? Great engineers are convinced that everything can be improved. Instead of complaining, they think of ways to make things better.
In addition to ambition, those who aspire to change the world for the better also need to acquire the skills and knowledge that previous generations have bequeathed to the art and science of engineering.
Many people take to engineering because they discover that they already have technical skills; they can make things with great precision. Others discover that they can put ideas on paper or computer screens. This is frequently all it takes to start them thinking about how they can use these talents to do something original, or to devise a way of doing something better. They may have to go through years of struggle and disappointment, but this seldom diverts them from their vision and ambition to innovate.
Engineering is not just a profession to be learned and practised as a way of making a living. It is one of the few ways in which human talent can be given the chance to improve, and frequently to transform, the comfort and prosperity of the human community. In fact, engineering has made a greater positive difference to human life than almost any other human endeavour.
The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering is intended to recognise those particular feats of engineering that have made a significant impact on human existence. The winners are an example of what can be achieved, but it must not be forgotten that they were supported and enabled by countless other specialist engineers, from this time and throughout the past.
It is obviously not possible to name every one of them, but they will all appreciate that they have played their parts, and that, I hope, will give them the satisfaction of knowing that they have created a very significant contribution to the human lot.