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National Academy of Engineering

Photo by Valerie R. Chase Recognizing the Extraordinary Contributions of Engineering

Average citizens probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about how engineering has changed their lives. Yet, society's transformation in only the last 100 years because of engineering is nothing short of stunning. In 1904 the country was not electrified; the airplane had just made its first flight; Ford had just opened his assembly line making cars affordable; few people had phones; the average life span was 46 -- mostly due to unclean water and poor sanitation; radio, television, computers and the Internet did not exist -- and the list goes on.

In conjunction with our broader program on the Public Understanding of Engineering, the National Academy of Engineering has established a set of major prizes to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of engineering to society. With these prizes, each now valued at $500,000, we aim to recognize individual achievements that demonstrate the rich and profound ways in which engineering improves the quality of life for all of us.

NAE introduced its first major prize in 1989, the Charles Stark Draper Prize. Originally awarded every other year, the prize was made annual in 2001. This year's team of winners -- Alan Kay, Butler Lampson, Robert Taylor, and Charles Thacker -- designed and developed the first networked personal computer. Other accomplishments that have been recognized by the Draper Prize include the global positioning system, polymers for the controlled release of drugs, the Internet, fiber optics, the jet engine, and integrated circuits.

In 2001 NAE introduced the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize. Focused on critically important newer areas of engineering, this prize is being given, at least initially, for contributions to bio-engineering. The achievements that have been recognized so far are the implantable pacemaker and the artificial kidney.

And the Bernard M. Gordon Prize was introduced in 2002 for contributions to engineering education. This year, Frank S. Barnes, won the award for pioneering a program that produces leaders who bridge engineering, social sciences, and public policy. Additional information on Barnes and all past winners of these prizes can be viewed at <>.

The contributions of engineers to society is not slowing down. Indeed, the pace of technological innovation and its impact seems to be increasing -- the penetration that took the radio 60 years to achieve was accomplished in 10 by the World Wide Web. The National Academy of Engineering's prizes -- like the Nobel prizes -- present a moment each year when the public can pause and reflect on some of mankind's truly noteworthy achievements.

    WM. A. WULF
    National Academy of Engineering

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