Best Engineering Feats of 2012

top engineering achievements



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As millions around the world sat glued to the stream of Felix Baumgartner jumping from the edge of space, how many of them marveled at the monumental engineering feat they were watching?

From thin air (part 1)

Achievement: A small company in northern England revealed technology that successfully creates gasoline using only air and electricity.

Impact: The breakthrough could prove revolutionary in the battle against climate change and a watershed moment in the global energy crisis.

Oil consumption by country, top 10

Thousand barrels per day

United States 18949
China 8924
Japan 4464
India 3426
Saudi Arabia 2986
Brazil 2793
Russia 2725
Germany 2400
Canada 2289
Korea, South 2230

From thin air (part II)

Achievement: Man jumps from edge of space to land safely on the ground.

Impact: Daredevil skydiver Felix Baumgartner ascended 24.2 miles above the surface of the planet in a capsule, and then descended with nothing but parachutes, becoming the first person to break the sound barrier without the assistance of a motor. 

Algae to biodiesel

Achievement: A breakthrough by a team from the University of Michigan sped the process for algae-based biofuels from 90 minutes to just 60 seconds.

Impact: Researchers estimated that an area the size of New Mexico could provide enough biofuel to match what the U.S. now consumes a year in gasoline.

The yearly gasoline consumption in the U.S. is about 134 billion gallons; that’s more than 430 gallons per person.

Mind power

Achievement: Zac Vawter climbed the 103 floors of Chicago’s Willis Tower with the help of a prosthetic leg that he controlled with his mind, the limb responding to electrical impulses from his hamstring muscles. 

Impact: Thought-controlled limbs are not new, but the focus on legs rather than hands may lead to safer artificial limbs for veterans, accident victims and those who have lost legs due to illness.

Any room?

Achievement: Space X’s Dragon docked at the International Space Station.

Impact: With NASA’s shuttle missions now a thing of the past, private companies have been hired to help ferry supplies to the space station and are expected to further expand their reach into the cosmos.

About the space station Size: About the same as a football field

Weight: 460 tons

Altitude: 240 miles above Earth

Let the games begin

Achievement: Organizers staged a massive production, the 2012 Summer Olympics, in London, one of the busiest cities in the world.

Impact: 2.1 million people crowded into Olympic venues in just the first three days of the two-week event.

Engineering athleticism People: 30,000 engineers and construction workers

Hours: 700,000,000 man-hours since 2005

Power cables: 80.3 miles of cable were laid underground

Communications cables: 298.2 miles of phone and Internet cables crisscrossed the venues

Hi, Mars

Achievement: NASA’s rover Curiosity landed safely on the surface of Mars.

Impact: The rover daily beams back images of the Red Planet that are unlike anything earthlings have ever seen from one of our planets closest neighbors. Plus, there’s always the chance Curiosity will reveal that there’s life on Mars – and it has its own Twitter account.


The Associated Press
Huffington Post
The Telegraph
Energy Information Administration
Center for the Advancement of Science in Space

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