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Best Inventions – Three Cheers For Chemical Engineers

Feb. 6, 2014
Folks who continue the work from the brain trust behind things like sanitation and drinking water – chemical engineers – have voiced their opinions on what they deem the most important inventions over the last 100 years.

Most of us live on easy street. We forget that our day-to-day living goes by without much hassle because we have potable water, access to flush toilets, medicines to make us well and fuels to power our cars and light our lights. It's so mundane to us that we hardly marvel at the remarkable inventions and discoveries that make it possible to easily do things that are a chore for many in other parts of the world.

But the folks who continue the work from the brain trust behind things like sanitation and drinking water – chemical engineers – have voiced their opinions on what they deem the most important inventions over the last 100 years.

From a shortlist of over 40 inventions, here are the top 10 inventions considered to have made the biggest impact on society, according to results from a recent survey by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE):

1.    Drinking or potable water
2.    Petrol or gasoline (and other fuels including diesel)
3.    Antibiotics
4.    Electricity generation (from fossil fuels)
5.    Vaccines
6.    Plastics
7.    Fertilizer
8.    Sanitation
9.    Electricity generation (from non-fossil fuels)
10.  Dosed medications (such as tablets, pills and capsules)

Some notable inventions which didn’t make the top ten included biofuels (11th), contraceptives (12th), batteries (13th), the catalytic converter (14th), adhesives (28th), pneumatic tires (39th) and photographic film (41st).

The inventions were voted for by the Institution of Chemical Engineers’ MediaEnvoys. MediaEnvoys are volunteers from IChemE’s global membership and are responsible for promoting public understanding and awareness of chemical engineering, worldwide.

David Brown, IChemE’s chief executive, said: “Chemical engineering is a remarkable profession. It can take the smallest of discoveries in laboratories – from all fields of science and technology – and replicate them on a mass scale, consistently and economically.

“Historically, it is clear that chemical engineers have enabled society to evolve and quality of life to improve. And this will continue."

Indeed, one survey respondent, IChemE MediaEnvoy Deborah John, a chemical engineering student in Malaysia, said: “Many people in developing and first-world countries take for granted the ability to obtain fresh water at the turn of a tap or faucet.

“But the chemical engineering and scale of activity needed to achieve the provision of safe, clean water is huge and highlighted by the challenge faced by many developing countries that do not yet have the infrastructure or skills to provide reliable and safe drinking water to its population.

“The provision of clean water, its recycling, storage, conservation and more efficient use will become more important as the world’s population grows to nine billion people by 2050.”

You can read many more comments via the press release from IChemE.

Traci PurdumSenior Digital Editor and grateful recipient of the entire list of inventions. 
About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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