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Report: Engineering Must Adapt
Jun 2004
WASHINGTON, June 2 -- Engineering education in the US must anticipate and adapt to the dramatic changes of engineering practice expected in the coming decades, in order to enhance the nation's economic productivity and improve the quality of life worldwide, according to "The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century," a new report from the National Academies' National Academy of Engineering (NAE).

"Technologies developed by engineers have helped lengthen the human life span, enabled people to communicate nearly instantaneously anywhere on Earth and created tremendous wealth and economic growth," the NAE said. "The next several decades will offer more opportunities for engineers, with exciting possibilities expected from nanotechnology, information technology and bioengineering."

However, the report says, other engineering applications -- such as transgenic food, technologies that affect personal privacy and nuclear technologies -- raise complex social and ethical challenges, and future engineers must be prepared to help the public consider and resolve these dilemmas. Challenges will also arise from new global competition, requiring thoughtful and concerted action if engineering in the US is to retain its vibrancy and strength, said the NEA.

With the appropriate education and training, the engineer of the future will be called upon to become a leader not only in business but also in nonprofit and government sectors, the report says.

"Future engineers must recognize the importance of public service and help set the nation's policy agenda. Also, since engineers are increasingly involved in international collaborations, they need to appreciate other cultures and their evolving roles in the global economy," according to the report.

Engineering schools should attract the best and brightest students, the NEA said, and be open to new teaching and training approaches.

"The engineering profession needs to recognize that engineers can build the future through a wide range of leadership roles in industry, government and academia -- not just through technical jobs," the NEA said. "Also, engineers should raise awareness of how an engineering education provides a solid foundation for careers in other fields, such as law, medicine and business."

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NEC Foundation of America, SBC Foundation, Honeywell International and the National Academy of Engineering Fund.

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The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
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