If you choose to study engineering you are embarking on a fascinating path, because it is a discipline upon which the modern world depends. Not only that, engineering has a distinguished place in history and many of the technological marvels we take for granted today – such as air and rail travel – are the fruit of the labours of engineers in times past.
Engineering affects so many aspects of life. One of the most important is energy. It is engineers who are helping to get the most out of fossil fuel reserves, such as oil and gas in the North Sea. Around the world, they are also trying to locate new reserves of oil. Britain’s nuclear power fleet depends on engineers to keep running and it is engineers who will create and construct the next series of reactors, providing the country with a proven source of low-carbon electricity. It is also engineers who are designing and manufacturing wind turbines, solar photovoltaic installations and wave and tidal energy devices, as the potential of renewable energy is gradually exploited.
Transport is another area in which engineers play a key role. British engineer Sir Frank Whittle’s development of the jet engine in the 1930s laid the foundations for modern air travel. Today, engineers are working to make modern gas turbine jet engines more fuel-efficient or to run on sustainable fuel sources, such as biofuels. They are introducing new materials to the fuselages and components of aircraft, making them lighter and more fuel-efficient. On our roads, engineers are developing more environmentally friendly petrol, diesel and hybrid vehicles, while also helping to spur a revolution in electric car use. Ultimately, the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles will depend on the efforts of engineers.
The biggest challenge the world faces is, arguably, the changing climate. In response to this change, it is engineers who will provide the technological solutions that will help us mitigate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, adapt our infrastructure to withstand extreme weather and, perhaps, even “geo-engineer” the atmosphere.
Another massive challenge is reviving the world economy following the financial crisis at the end of the past decade. Here, engineering and manufacturing are expected to play a leading role in generating wealth through the creation of products and services, as the government attempts to “rebalance” the economy so it is less oriented towards the financial sector. As the British economy emerged sluggishly from recession, engineering forged ahead in 2010. It is expected to continue to grow.