leads to the conversion of scientific discoveries into functional, marketable, profitable products and services.
Engineers take new and existing knowledge and make it useful, typically generating new knowledge in the process. For example, an understanding of the physics of magnetic resonance on the atomic scale did not become useful in everyday life until engineers created magnetic resonance imaging machines and the computers to run them. And researchers could not have discovered these magnetic properties until engineers had created instrumentation that enabled them to pursue research on atomic and subatomic scales. Without engineering research, innovation, especially groundbreaking innovation that creates new industries and transforms old ones, simply does not happen.
In fact, groundbreaking innovation was the driving force behind American success in the last century. An endless number of innovations—from plastics to carbon fibers, electricity generation and distribution to wireless communications, clean water and transportation networks to pacemakers and dialysis machines—has transformed the economy, the military, and society, making Americans more prosperous, healthier, and safer in the process.
Consider, for example, the long, productive history of collaboration between engineering and medicine in the development of medical technologies (e.g., devices, equipment, and pharmaceuticals) and in support of medical research (e.g., instrumentation, computational tools, etc.) (NAE, 2003). Engineers created the tools of drug discovery and production, materials for joint replacements, lasers for eye surgery, heart-lung machines for open-heart surgery, and a host of imaging technologies, just to name a few remarkable achievements. Future engineering research will apply knowledge of microsystems and nanotechnology to diagnostics and therapeutics, providing effective treatment of a variety of chronic conditions (NAE, 2005a). Revolutions in bioengineering and genomics and the associated promise of huge advances in diagnostic tools and therapies testify to the continued vitality of the partnership between engineering and medicine.
Future breakthroughs dependent on engineering research will have equally powerful impacts. Sustainable energy technologies for power generation and transportation could