Dr. Joseph Bordogna
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
Eta Kappa Nu Awards Banquet
Princeton, New Jersey
April 30, 2001
It's a privilege to participate in this stellar evening
of honors and honoring. Thank you for the invitation
and the opportunity. I want to begin my remarks this
evening by saying something electrical.
In 1842, Senator Oliver Hampton Smith of Indiana, after
a demonstration by Samuel F.B. Morse of his telegraph
to members of Congress, said: "I watched [Morse's]
countenance closely, to see if he was not deranged...
and I was assured by other Senators after we left
the room that they had no confidence in his device."
In 1913, a U.S. District Attorney in prosecuting inventor
Lee De Forest for fraud, said: "De Forest has said
in many newspapers and over his signature that it
would be possible to transmit the human voice across
the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd
and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided
public... has been persuaded to purchase stock in
Well, it's tough to be an engineer.
This evening brings together the seasoned wisdom of
electrical engineering's luminaries, the intellectual
energy of its young stars, and the high envisioning
of all of us for an even more spectacular future.
Tonight, we honor six new Honorary Kappa Nu Eminent
Member Awardees and the Vladimir Karápetoff Awardee.
Each of them is known not only to our community but
to the nation and the world. Their names ring out
in every sector of our society. Their careers wind
a thread of creativity and innovation through industry,
academe, and public service. Their training is in
engineering. Their contributions extend to leadership.
They have changed our vision and our society.
Clearly, our young stars that we honor tonight have
had superb role models. They have learned in the reflected
light of those who have led in the last half of the
20th century. But the mark of those singled out as
new generation stars is the mark of someone who has
already staked out a vision, a territory, and a style
of his or her own. Our outstanding young engineers
have done that. They are forging a new era in electrical
engineering, technological innovation, and leadership.
Several years ago at the centennial celebration of
the Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City,
the Dean of Architecture from the University of Virginia
spoke. In his remarks he said, "design is the manifestation
of human intent." We all know that throughout history
it has been engineers who have routinely expressed
the intent of their societies. Through innovative,
useful, and effective structures, systems, tools,
and techniques, our predecessors charted humanity's
visions and dreams.
Engineers raised the great vaulted houses of worship,
the grand castles of monarchs, the aqueducts that
carried water, the bridges that spanned it, and the
sailing vessels that traversed it. This all happened
before electrification. Engineers have always been
Let's put this in the context of Earth's history. As
far as we know from our geoscientist colleagues, Earth
is about 4.5 billion years old; civilization as we
know is about 10,000 years old; the industrial revolution
about 200 years old. The electron was discovered just
over a century ago, the electronic digital computer
about 55 years ago, the transmitter about 50, the
laser about 40, the integrated circuit about 30, and
the Internet has impacted society grandly for about
Thus, electrical engineering has created a new world
era. In its early days, as you can see from this reproduction
of the Edison Plaque, (slide 1) electricity was a
wonderful but strange phenomenon.
Use back to return to speech.
This plaque appeared on the walls of hotel rooms and
of public buildings as both warning and assurance.
Today we can be amused by the warning, "Do not attempt
to light with match. Simply turn key on wall by the
door." And the guarantee that, "The use of Electricity
for lighting is in no way harmful to health, nor does
it affect the soundness of sleep."
Today, electrical engineering is an extension of ourselves.
For example, last year, the National Academy of Engineering
(NAE) unveiled a list of the twenty most influential
engineering achievements of the 20th century. The
criterion for judging the nominations was the impact
each advance had on improving quality of life across
Electrification was voted # 1. The NAE noted that it
"...powers almost every pursuit and enterprise in
society. ...including food production and processing,
air conditioning and heating, refrigeration, entertainment,
transportation, communication, health care, and computers."
The automobile came in at #2, the airplane at # 3.
Safe and abundant water was 4th for preventing the
spread of disease and increasing life expectancy,
electronics #5, radio and television #6, the computer
#8, the telephone #9, etc.
I'm sure many of you are familiar with the list, so
I won't belabor it. However, it is instructive to
note that (Norm Augustine was a member of the selection
The work of electrical engineers has provided the base
for most of the tools of scientific discovery and
of society's progress in the 20th century.
But, how do we value our engineers? This anecdote,
which some of you know, may shed some light on that
question. Legend has it that long after Charles Steinmetz
retired from GE he got a panicky request from a GE
employee to come fix what was wrong with a complex
system of machines that had broken down. Steinmetz
agreed and came to the facility. He walked around
testing the various machines, and then took a piece
of chalk out of his pocket and marked an 'x' on a
specific spot on one particular machine. The GE people
took that machine apart and found that the defect
lay exactly beneath Steinmetz' 'x.'
Shortly after that, GE received a bill for $10, 000
for services rendered. Management protested the amount
and asked for an itemization. Steinmetz' bill read
Making one chalk mark -- $1; knowing where to make
it -- $9, 999.
In the emerging era of engineering that our outstanding
young engineers will lead, the skills, tools, and
knowledge will be on new frontiers. The capabilities
that will be front-and-center in the 21st century
would have been unimaginable a half-century ago, when
many of us were beginning our careers. The physical
scale will continue to diminish, moving from micro
to nano; speed will ramp up to tera; complexity will
be our constant companion; knowledge will be conveyed
in a whole new vocabulary, and the ability to integrate
will be a clarion call for getting things done. Terascale,
nanoscale, complexity, cognition, and holism are exciting
and expansive capabilities that will permanently alter
Use back to return to speech.
The most important ingredient in getting all this underway
will be talented people who have the knowledge and
the leadership capability. Our eminent members have
brought us to this exciting threshold at the dawn
of the 21st century. Tonight they pass the torch to
a new generation of excellence to carry us forward.
Congratulations to all of you.