No matter what we use for whatever purpose – and no matter how simple or complex the item – it has been initially processed through individual vision, and ultimately through passion and creativity to finally ‘become’.
Through these developments and inventions we have produced a myriad of small, useful things – each one a tangible design of innovative thinking and engineering agility. And through growing ambitions, we have also produced great feats of mechanics, logistics and vast construction. Without question engineering drives everything in our lives, and is the mechanism through which we set the future in place.
Curious to think that this small, spiked piece of metal has literally been the bedrock of our construction development for centuries. Before nails we had interlocking boards, held together in geometric patterns, but when nails were invented around 3400 BC through the advent of casting and shaping, it changed both the speed and method of building. And today they still form part of the foundations of modern structures in the world.
When in the late 1800s, Samuel Fay was looking for a way to attach claim tickets to fabric, he invented a clip out of wire by shaping it into an X. In this way, he was able to slide the ticket and the fabric together in a secure connection. He obviously couldn’t use pins because they’d pierce the fabric, so his inspiration was a moment of genius. Hundreds of thousands of his invention are still in use today – a simple adaption of engineering agility.
This is probably the next most influential small invention that has truly changed the world. In fact it’s impact has been so indelible, it seems as though history can be split into two periods – before the microchip, and after it.
Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce were two engineers who were, separately, looking for the answer to the same problem in 1959 – how to fit more into less. The integrated circuit was an invention desperately needed as fledgling computers began to appear, requiring more space and more components. The microchip connected all the wiring, capacitors and electrical circuitry onto one board smaller than a fingernail.
Built on a layer of incredibly thin material, usually silicon (it’s a semiconductor), microchips are complex, hardy, and almost indestructible. A layer of silicon dioxide is deposited on the silicon, then a layer of photoresist (light-sensitive material) which hardens the areas light is exposed to. Gas is then used to etch into the remaining soft surfaces with the pattern of the circuit, with conducting paths between components created by overlaying aluminium.
Robert Noyce went on to form a little start-up called Intel and invented the microprocessor in 1968. Jack Kilby went on to invent the portable calculator. The world, and the way we live, was changed forever.
But as we have developed great possibilities from small success, we have graduated to greater challenges of size: taller, wider, longer, further. We have taken possession of land space in a way that amazes and astounds. What comes to mind when you think of the largest construction projects in the world? If you guessed airports, canals, and subways, you’d be right. The sheer determination to make an idea larger than life has as much to do with human expression as it does functionality. We have to cope with an ever-growing, ever-moving population – and we are forever pushing limits!
Al Maktoum International Airport, Dubai
No other airport could prepare you for the scale of Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, which extends over more than 21 square miles. The facility is designed to handle 200 wide-body aircraft at a time. The airport’s second expansion phase alone has an estimated cost of more than $32 billion.
Jubail II, Saudi Arabia
This is a 22-year-long industrial city project that began its second phase in 2014 with an $11 billion expansion budget. When completed, it will comprise at least 100 industrial plants, an 800,000-cubic-meter desalination plant, miles of railways, roads and highways, and an oil refinery producing at least 350,000 barrels per day. The entire project is slated to be finished in 2024.
International Space Station, Space
The International Space Station (ISS) circles the earth every 92 minutes. Created by a consortium of 15 nations and five space agencies, it has a currently scheduled construction cost that exceeds $60 billion. The eventual cost of the space station and its contemplated expansions could exceed $1 trillion, by which point it could become a habitat for up to 1 million off-planet occupants.
South-North Water Transfer Project, China
The north of China is home to almost 50 percent of China’s population but has only about 20 percent of the country’s water resources. To remedy this imbalance, China has funded the construction of three huge canals, each more than 600 miles long that will carry water to the north from China’s three largest rivers. The project has a 48-year construction schedule. When completed, it will supply 44.8 billion cubic meters of water each year.
High-Speed Railway, California
Work on California’s high-speed train began in 2015 and is scheduled for completion in 2029. It will connect eight of the 10 largest cities in the state and reach from San Diego in the south to San Francisco in the north. The project will be completed in two phases: Phase 1 will connect Los Angeles to San Francisco; Phase 2 will extend connections to San Diego and Sacramento. The train will be 100-percent electric, powered entirely by renewable energy, and capable of speeds up to 200 miles per hour.
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