There is a misconception held by some that all engineers put on hard hats or overalls and build bridges or fix car engines. Some will probably think that the life of an engineer is boring. But that couldn’t be further from the truth – engineers are responsible for many of the inventions that have altered the way we communicate, the way we create the world around us, the way we get from one place to another, and have even helped get Tim Peake into space! The profession is well-paid too, with engineering and technology graduates earning, on average, over £27,000 a year, almost £5,000 more than the mean salary of other students. Sixty-five per cent of these graduates find full-time employment within six months.
With an engineering degree, you can change the world. Even the Royal Family are big fans of engineering. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh said, “Everything that wasn’t invented by God was invented by an engineer.” In short, you can do some amazingly cool things when you have an engineering degree under your belt, from developing the next generation of mobile phones, Apps or video games, to supporting communities in the developing world with fresh water, sanitation and shelter, saving lives with new medical technologies, to designing the most advanced track bikes in the world to help Team GB cyclists at the next Olympics! The opportunities are endless. The Royal Academy of Engineering recognises and supports the UK’s most exciting innovations, and over the years we’ve worked with engineers in every field. To give just a few examples, we’ll look at the crème de la crème of UK engineering: including some previous finalists and winners of the Academy’s MacRobert Award, the UK’s top innovation prize.
Google DeepMind is a British artificial intelligence (AI) company aiming to “solve intelligence" by combining the best techniques from machine learning – the growing field of computer science in which software identifies patterns and makes predictions - and neuroscience to build algorithms that learn. It has created a neural network that learns how to play video games in a similar way to that of humans, essentially, a computer that mimics the short-term memory of the human brain.
In 2015, their programme AlphaGo beat the European Go champion Fan Hui 5-0. This was the first time AI defeated a professional player. Earlier this year, it beat Lee Sedol - one of the highest ranked players in the world - by 4-1 in a five-game match. Founder Demis Hassabis is a 2016 winner of the Academy’s Silver Medal.
The world’s most intelligent prosthetic limb
Engineering can make a huge difference to the quality of medical care. Global leader in prosthetics Blatchford developed the first ever prosthetic limb with integrated robotic control of the knee and foot; a system in which the parts ‘talk’ to each other so that the limb can adapt automatically to different conditions. Where previously lower leg prosthetics wearers have had to plan their days meticulously according to the limitations of terrain they can tackle, the smart robotics in the Linx limb system constantly monitor and adapt to the wearer's movements and the environment, giving users much greater confidence and freedom.
The London 2012 Olympics Velodrome (Now the Lee Valley VeloPark)
The Velodrome provided a cutting-edge venue for the indoor track cycling events at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Cycling inspired the concept for the Velodrome: the bicycle is an ingenious ergonomic as well as efficient object which means the building focuses on both performance and efficiency in every aspect. The seating tiers are split by a glazed concourse that gives spectators a view of the track as soon as they enter the venue, and allows them to keep up with the action even while they move around the building. The Velodrome has been dubbed ‘The Pringle’ due to the unique sweeping roof that is designed to reflect the curve of the cycling track. It won The Institution of Structural Engineers Supreme Award for Engineering Excellence in 2011.
Segmented Ceramic Armour
Ground-breaking armour, developed by engineers at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and NP Aerospace, is helping protect troops across the world. The Segmented Ceramic Armour system is being used to protect troops in a range of military vehicles from the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as well as machine gun fire.
The CAMAC® EFP armour is lightweight and modular, reducing the logistical burden of shipping entire armour kits to remote patrol bases for repair. It was used in Afghanistan, saving the lives of UK troops and local people.
High resolution MRI scanning
Siemens Magnet Technology (SMT) has developed a ground breaking 7 Tesla (7T) magnet that will enable many more people worldwide to access high resolution MRI scanning. Such high quality scanning has the potential to provide earlier diagnoses for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. The innovation from the SMT engineers could also assist in drug development, and could be used to help develop treatments for early stage diseases and enable monitoring of the efficacy of existing treatments.
The world’s first take-off and vertical landing system
Rolls-Royce developed the world's first short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) system capable of powering a supersonic aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter. The aircraft has been developed by the US Department of Defense and represents the largest defence programme of all time. It is the successor of the famous Harrier jet, and its LiftSystem™ is so powerful it could lift 17 Mini cars.
As these examples show, an engineering degree opens up a wealth of opportunities to create, invent and change the world in a variety of different ways. Not only that, but engineering skills are in demand. A recent EngineeringUK report found that between 2012 and 2022 engineering companies will need to recruit 2.56 million people: with 257,000 of them being new vacancies. There has never been a better or more exciting time to be an engineer. Who knows, you could be the next great innovator!