Kenneth W. Ragland
Recently I have enjoyed reading Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, a fascinating account of the Lewis and Clark expedition from September 1803 to December 1806, exploring the newly acquired U.S. territories via the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Ambrose, who is a UW graduate and who received an honorary doctorate at Commencement last December, gleaned much of his material from the explorers' original journals.
At the time of the expedition, there were no roads west of the Appalachian Mountains, and most travel was by muscle power--human or horse. Mail delivery from St. Louis to Washington, D.C. took nearly a month. Although they took regular sightings of the sun and stars, the explorers had no working clock and thus could not determine their longitudes enroute; they had to wait until they returned to Washington and could consult star tables to make the first map of the northwestern U.S.
Today, of course, we can travel nearly the same route as Lewis and Clark at 65 mph in our own cars at a constant 70° F environment, all the while keeping in instant communication with our loved ones and knowing our position to within a meter, if we so desire. When I compare today's technology with that used by Lewis and Clark, I cannot help but wonder where technology is taking us. Since we have so much technology today, and since the Cold War is over and thus there is less need to build ever more advanced weaponry, what should young engineers be working on these days?
In speaking to the Pi Tau Sigma initiates last month about this question, I suggested that engineers can strive to improve people's lives with useful products, make people's lives healthier through biomedical engineering, remove drudgery from the workplace through productivity improvements, eliminate pollution and reduce environmental impact from manufactured goods, develop renewable energy, continue to make travel more efficient and safer, and produce and distribute food to everyone in the world. I am sure you can add to this list.
Yes, there is much important work for engineers to do. As one whose
very existence has depended for three years now on a 35 mm, carbon
fiber, mechanical mitral heart valve, I am thankful for the work that
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MAY 1997 Contents