The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering

One thing the last few weeks I neglected to comment on was the newly introduced “Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering”, which its promoters hope will become the equivalent of a sort of “Nobel prize” for engineering.

This has been long needed. Chemists, Physicists and other sciences have the Nobel Peace prize, there’s even one for Economics (personally given the mess they’ve made of the world economy I’d argue that all Economics Nobel’s awarded since 1980 should be revoked and returned). Mathematicians have the Field’s Medal. But engineers, the people who take the abstract concepts the scientists come up with and turn it into something the general public can actually use, we’ve always been the unsung heroes of technology.

In short we take a mass of equations and graphs that most members of the public would sooner eat than try to understand and turn it into a jet airliner, or a mobile phone or a printed circuit board.

Take the first winners of the prize, the developers of the Internet. Again, the idea of mass communication and transmitting data long distance had long been discussed by scientists and egg heads. DARPA had long considered the idea of a distributed network, rather than one working around a central hub as a good idea (notably in the event of nuclear war!). But it took the action of engineers over several decades to actually turn these concepts into what you’re now reading this blog post via.

My only worry, is that given that this prize was the brainchild of various Engineering institutes in the UK (at least one of whom, the IMECHE, I’m a member of) they might adopt a bit too much of a “pro-British” stance. There were accusations in the early days of the Nobel committee doing just this towards Swedish & Norwegians. On the other hand thought, if this prize is to achieve the sort of recognition wanted (which will mean avoiding any national bias) then there were probably won’t be many British winners, given that the engineering industry has decanted (thanks to successive Tory governments) to either Europe or Asia.

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