Engineering is everywhere. From nanotechnology and the Internet of Things to autonomous vehicles, healthcare, and even your morning cup of coffee – engineering shapes the world around us. Engineers launched us forward from our first use of tools to an era of space exploration, and they will play a central role in solving the challenges of our future. Create the Future explores the wonderful world of skill, creativity, and innovation that is engineering, and highlights how engineers impact our lives each and every day.
Creativity in Engineering
For Yewande Akinola MBE, engineering is all about staying curious, expressing creativity, and imagining the impossible.
Yewande Akinola is an award-winning chartered engineer, communicator, and role model. In 2020, she received an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honour’s list for services to Engineering Innovation and Diversity in STEM.
Inspired to become an engineer owing to the intermittent water supply she experienced growing up in Nigeria, she now specialises in sustainable water management, working on projects in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
In this episode of Create the Future, we explore Yewande’s varied career, from sustainable waterparks to television presenting on National Geographic. We discuss the importance of engineering mentors, her passion for communication, and how creativity (embracing culture, art, and music) is an essential tool for any engineer.
New episodes every other Tuesday
Making Waves: Renewable Energy
With approximately 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface covered in water, the predictable and consistent electricity-generating potential of the oceans remains a largely untapped resource.
In this episode of Create the Future, we speak to Sam Etherington, the engineer and entrepreneur behind Aqua Power Technologies Limited’s innovative wave energy generators.
Inspired by the wingspan of a manta ray, Sam’s new four-metre tall submersible, MANTA, is currently being put to use in offshore fish-farms and aquaculture. Unlike expensive and polluting diesel generators, these devices work instead by simply harnessing the rise and fall of ocean waves.
We explore Sam’s entrepreneurial journey from design and development to manufacturing, unpack how kitesurfing – or more specifically, being buffeted off the board – inspired his work, and learn about the search for simplicity in commercial product design.
Learning from Nature: Synthetic Biology
The heart of the biotechnology revolution, biochemical engineering has seen the launch of entire industries. Biochemical engineers work to develop sustainable solutions to some of our greatest challenges – whether that’s creating better biofuels and biodegradable plastics, or advancing large-scale pharmaceutical manufacturing during pandemics.
From the discovery and manufacture of penicillin in 1918, the extraction of nature's undiscovered potential is no less important today, sitting at the intersection of engineering, maths, biology, and chemistry.
The problem, however, comes when applying traditional engineering principles and practices to biology. Unlike the underlying principles building something more static like a bridge, nature rarely offers a consistent framework to build upon; it changes, ever evolving. Applying engineering to nature requires a shift in thinking. Synthetic biology is all about learning from nature, and adapting that to create solutions for the benefit of humanity.
In this episode of the Create the Future podcast, we speak to Kristala Prather, the Arthur D. Little Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and Principle Investigator of the Prather Research Group.
We unpack Kristala's work in biochemical engineering and synthetic biology and her route into the profession, explore why nature throws out the traditional rulebooks of engineering, and discuss ways to make STEM more accessible to future generations.
Building The Burj Khalifa
Standing a staggering 828 metres tall, comprised of more than 4,000 tonnes of structural steel, and setting nearly a dozen world records with its construction, the Burj Khalifa is immense. Not only is it a leviathan amid Dubai’s cityscape, but it currently dwarfs every other building on the planet as well. Even during the design process, the building grew from the initial proposal by almost the height of the Eiffel Tower.
Just over a decade since it opened, the Burj Khalifa is today iconic. It has been photographed by millions of people travelling from around the world, and it also played a key role in one of the most gripping stunt acts in recent years alongside Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.
In this episode of Create the Future, we speak with the structural engineer behind the world’s tallest building: William F. Baker. We speak with Bill about his extensive career working on large scale structures and the technical challenges he’s found that come with them. We explore the relationship between architecture and engineering and the role of design in the construction process, unpack Baker’s “top five” projects to date, and hear his advice for students looking to study structural engineering in an increasingly digital age.
Bill Nye: The Science (and Engineering!) Guy
Just as internet pioneer Vint Cerf is known for donning a three-piece suit, so too is this week’s guest known for their accoutrement of choice: a bow tie.
Whether you grew up in the US or not, chances are you’ve heard of Bill Nye. His titular show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, ran for five years in the mid-1990s, winning 19 of the 23 Emmys it was nominated for. Its combination of comedy and accessible educational content proved immensely popular, garnering an international audience while demonstrating that science can be for everyone. Not only did the show inspire a generation to study STEM, but its long-term success is now inspiring new generations as well.
Since the show’s conclusion in 1998, Nye has continued to promote science around the world – holding public lectures, hosting new shows, writing books, presenting podcasts, as well as doing the odd film and television cameo. So while many of us have grown up associating Nye with science, it might come as a shock to some to learn that he's also a mechanical engineer.
In this episode of Create the Future, we explore Nye’s exciting career as a scientist and engineer. We learn the origins of his iconic attire and his debut on television, discuss the impact of a career in engineering, and hear how he successfully campaigned to get sundials installed on both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.
A Driverless Future
Today’s technologies would be considered magic to people just a few decades past, but the ideas behind them are often far from new. The promise of a driverless future, for example, may seem to many like it arrived in the last decade, but it’s been both “just around the corner” and symbolic of the future for the past century.
The first driverless ground vehicle technically appeared in 1904, a radio-controlled tricycle developed by Leonardo Torres-Quevedo. In the 1920s, remote-controlled “phantom autos” drove through Ohio that could reportedly be operated from up to five miles away. The concept of a self-driving or ‘autonomous’ car then entered the mainstream in 1939, in an exhibit at New York World’s Fair that predicted America’s future in 1960.
After early prototypes debuted in the 1960s and 70s, the capability of autonomous vehicles has slowly improved alongside developments in parallel technologies. Today, the basic hardware is well established – almost all vehicles come with a combination of radar, cameras, LIDAR, GPS, and so on – and rapid advances in computing power have significantly improved the software side by making deep neural networks much more practical.
When the driverless future does become a reality, then it could cause paradigm shifts at multiple levels of society. It’s more than just a source for convenience, it could democratize transportation, reduce emissions, help to improve agricultural yield, and more.
The barrier to getting there is safety. One of the main reasons why it’s so difficult to build a commercial product is that it's no longer about just demonstrating that it works – it’s about guaranteeing that it works safely, and reliably. This isn’t even just in terms of the driving itself; the surrounding infrastructure, and potential problems with hacking and privacy breaches, are equally important factors.
So how long will it be until we get this peace of mind and, when we do, will people still retain some level of control? How do self-driving cars even work, for that matter?
In this episode, we discuss all of this and more with a “rockstar” of autonomous vehicles: Nvidia’s Justyna Zander. We explore why the driverless future has been slower to arrive than expected, the future of autonomous transport and its benefits, and the differences between a machine-based driver and a human.