Looking Into Engineering, Science, Technology, and Social Science

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Looking Into Engineering, Science, Technology, and Social Science

The twentieth century was defined by technology. A short list of life-changing technological innovations from the 1900s includes cars, jets, space satellites, radio, television, photocopiers, pacemakers, the Internet, refrigerators, washing machines, cell phones, and digital computers. Imagine working in a field that regularly produces things that most people, once having used them, would not want to live without. These tools, devices, and machines that we take for granted all owe their existence to the privileged practitioners of engineering, science, technology, and social science.

The differences among them are not always obvious, and these terms are not easy to define. Although these three fields overlap, important distinctions do exist. Science is a discipline that focuses on understanding the natural world, such as understanding how energy is transformed from one state to another. Engineering is a process that applies scientific knowledge and scientific methods to the development of tools, machines, materials, and processes that have practical applications and solve human problems. For example, an engineer would use knowledge of how energy can be changed from one form to another to develop a solar heating system for a home. Technology has many definitions, but one is the tools, machines, materials, and processes that have practical applications and help solve human problems. In this case, the solar heating system would be the technology that solved the problem of generating heat in a home.

Scientists use scientific methods to understand the natural world. For example, the fact that the earth revolves around the sun is taken for granted today, but that fact was not always known or accepted. How, then, did this fact become universally accepted? It happened as a result of the work of scientists like Galileo who observed the heavens, amassing data and developing hypotheses, or explanations, that helped guide inquiry and make sense of observations. Galileo had invented a telescope that enabled him to chart the phases of Venus. These observations did not support the idea—dominant at the time—that the earth was the center of the universe. It was only when scientists put the sun at the center of their model solar system—as Copernicus had first suggested—that their observations made sense.

This simple example is essentially representative of the way much of science is done. Scientists make observations about nature and then develop hypotheses to explain these observations. The hypotheses are then tested, and new data may confirm or disconfirm them. Hypotheses that are tested over and over again, and those that are repeatedly confirmed are powerful concepts that help scientists make predictions about the world and explain particular phenomena. These powerful explanatory concepts are called scientific theories, which are much different from everyday theories, hunches, and guesses. One example is the cell theory, which states that all living things are made up of one or more cells, the smallest living units of structure and function of all organisms. In addition, the cell theory states that all cells arise from preexisting cells.

Engineers are the vital links between science and technology. An engineer implements the discoveries of science by creating and designing products that can serve society. Training for this career includes a solid education in the scientific discipline in which the engineer plans to work. Engineers apply this scientific understanding to the development of products that can be useful to human beings. An electrical engineer may apply knowledge about electricity to solve a problem with integrated circuits; a chemical engineer may apply knowledge about the chemistry of carbon to develop a new type of paper. None of the services we use daily—electrical power, phones, even running water—would be available in the safe, sanitary, and convenient forms we experience today if they were not under the supervision of engineers.


The traditional disciplines of the natural sciences are physics, chemistry, and biology. (Astronomy, also a traditional field of science, is sometimes considered a subfield of physics.) These disciplines overlap to a certain extent. For example, it is impossible to understand the biology of a living cell without understanding the physics and chemistry of the molecules that make up that cell. A biologist is generally knowledgeable about basic principles of chemistry and physics, and chemists and physicists who work on living systems are generally familiar with basic principles of biology.

Global View: Engineering, Science, Technology, and Social Science

Engineering in the United States has long been a profession geared toward the domestic market. At one time, almost every automobile and household appliance in the United States was designed and built in this country. Since the 1970s, however, foreign engineering firms have made serious inroads into the U.S. market for everything from the designing of power tools to services such as environmental cleanup. The rise of free-trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT has accelerated this process by opening up markets worldwide. Increased competition from foreign firms presents several challenges and opportunities for U.S. engineering.

One of the main challenges is holding on to business in the face of foreign competitors who operate at a lower cost. A growing number of domestic firms are building plants in countries where wages, even for highly trained engineers, are considerably lower than wages in the United States. For example, skilled engineers in Mexico and Poland earn less than half of what U.S. engineers earn. As more production moves to overseas facilities, engineers in the United States will be faced with a shrinking job market.

Another challenge is capturing more of the world market for goods engineered in the United States. One reason Japanese auto and appliance manufacturers have fared so well in the United States is that they have been more responsive to the needs of American consumers. By contrast, American companies often fail to win new customers by offering the same products to every market. Engineers will need to become more aware of the importance of cultural differences as well as practical ones in global markets, such as differing electrical currents or driving on the left-hand side of the road.

One great opportunity presented by globalism is the opening up of developing countries to U.S. engineering expertise. The expansion of economies in Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe is accompanied by a demand for projects at which American engineers excel, including the designing and building of ports, airports, telecommunications systems, and power grids. The increasing demand for cleaner and "greener" development means that there will be a growth of environmental engineering projects. Some experts believe that Western Europe and the Pacific Rim present great opportunities for environmental engineering firms.

Because the amount of knowledge of each scientific discipline is vast, scientists generally specialize. For example, a physicist who is an expert on thermodynamics is not likely to be an expert on astrophysics as well. Similarly, a biologist who is an expert on evolution is not likely to also be an expert on neuroscience. However, all of these experts would probably be somewhat knowledgeable about many subjects within their major discipline. It takes many years of focused study to attain a level of expertise in a given specialized area of the natural sciences—a level of expertise that is required if one hopes to advance in that field.

Natural scientists investigate every aspect of our world, from the inanimate to the animate. At this very moment, physicists are busy investigating the farthest reaches of the known universe for clues as to how it started; biologists are studying agents of infection to understand complexities of the processes that allow them to cause disease; and chemists are the studying chemical processes hypothesized to have started early life on this planet billions of years ago.


Physicists study the structure of matter, the nature of energy, and the interactions between them. Physics can be broken down into many important specialties. For example, astronomers and astro-physicists are concerned with the structure of the universe and with the formation of planets, stars, solar systems, and galaxies. Nuclear physicists are interested in the physics of the atom and its particles. Quantum physicists study the behavior of the electrons that circle the nucleus of the atom and try to understand the forces that determine this behavior. Cosmologists investigate the origin of the universe and in doing so develop theories about its ultimate fate. Physicists are typically trained to do research in either theoretical or experimental physics. Theoretical physicists construct theories about nature, and experimental physicists design and implement experiments to test these theories. Physicists (including astronomers) held about sixteen thousand jobs in the United States in 2004.


Chemists and materials scientists search for and use new knowledge about chemicals. Like physicists, chemists specialize in one area and pursue research in either theoretical or experimental chemistry. Analytical chemists determine the nature of substances by identifying the molecules of which they are composed. Organic chemists study molecules that contain carbon, which are primarily found in living organisms. Inorganic and physical chemists study the molecules found predominantly in nonliving systems and the complex interactions of these molecules under the influence of different physical states and conditions. Biochemistry is a subdiscipline of both chemistry and biology. Biochemists, like molecular biologists, study the chemical composition of living things. Materials scientists study the structures and chemical properties of various materials to develop new products or enhance existing ones. Chemists and materials scientists held about ninety thousand jobs in the United States in 2004.


Biologists study the living world. Just as chemists and physicists concentrate on specific subdisciplines, so do biologists. Microbiologists study microbes such as bacteria and viruses. Some of their work focuses primarily on pathogens to devise new methods of dealing with the illnesses they cause in humans and animals. Evolutionary biologists study the process of evolution, the descent with modification, of different lineages from common ancestors. Geneticists study genes, the basic units of heredity, and their variations. Ecologists study living environments, such as tropical rain forests or coral reefs, to learn how the living organisms within such an environment interact with it and with each other. Biological scientists held about seventy-seven thousand jobs in the United States in 2004.


To pursue a career as a research scientist or as a teacher at the university level, an advanced degree is required. A doctoral degree (PhD) is usually necessary for these positions. Furthermore, individuals who choose such a career path must continue to study the scientific literature and refine their experimental abilities to keep pace with advances in their discipline.

Not all scientific careers require a doctoral degree, however. For example, a master's degree is sometimes sufficient to teach at junior colleges and technical colleges, and is sufficient to teach in secondary schools. In addition, the nation's high schools, middle and junior high schools, and elementary schools are having trouble recruiting enough people qualified to teach the sciences. In many scientific fields today, a tremendous shortage of qualified scientists exists at the intermediate levels of the educational system, whereas an oversupply of qualified scientists exists at the higher levels. The importance of quality science teachers at intermediate levels cannot be overemphasized.

Skills that are important if one is to excel in a scientific field include a keen interest in the natural world and an ability to reason clearly. An individual who is planning to pursue a career as a research scientist should have a strong background in mathematics and computers. It is also important to be familiar with how research work is conducted in the laboratory setting.


Engineers apply the theories and principles of science and mathematics to developing solutions to the practical problems of living. For example, engineers devise better ways to extract energy from various natural sources. They also design and develop vehicles such as supersonic aircraft and sophisticated automobiles that allow us to travel quickly and safely. Engineers have developed all the technologies that we take for granted in the modern age, such as television, computers, and sophisticated equipment that physicians use to diagnose disease. The almost routine use of technological innovations such as cellular telephones, fax machines, and fiber optics is the result of creative applications of scientific theory by talented engineers.

Engineers are currently involved in a wide variety of challenging problems that require their technical skills and broad knowledge. For example, engineers are being called on to devise new ways of generating energy for our planet, which is rapidly being depleted of its fossil fuels. In addition, engineers play a critical role in developing new technologies to increase food production in an already overburdened world that must feed an additional 100 million new people each year. Engineers also devise technologies to clean up the pollution that is threatening the earth.

Where Engineers Work

Like scientists, engineers typically specialize. For example, a chemical engineer might work for a chemical manufacturer. An electrical engineer might work for a utility company, a computer chip manufacturer, or an automobile manufacturer. An engineer who specializes in aerospace engineering might work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) or for one of the large corporations that design and manufacture weapons used by the armed forces. Engineers also teach in colleges and universities around the world, training the next generation of engineers. In addition, engineers are involved in research that will lead to new developments in their field.

In 2004 engineers held 1.4 million jobs in the United States. About 40 percent of these jobs were in manufacturing, and about 27 percent were in the professional, scientific, and technical services sector. Nearly 14 percent held local, state or federal government jobs. Only 3 percent of engineers were self-employed, usually as consultants.

Types of Engineering Specialties

Engineers can specialize in many fields, only a few of which are mentioned here. When we think about traditional engineering, the work of civil engineers generally comes to mind. Civil engineers plan, design, and oversee the construction of highways, bridges, and buildings. Without their work, crossing a bridge or visiting the top floor of a skyscraper would not be safe. In 2004, 237,000 jobs were held by civil engineers, the greatest number of any single engineering specialty.

Taken together, however, electrical and electronics engineers hold more jobs than civil engineers: nearly 300,000 in 2004. If computer hardware engineers are included in this category, the number of jobs held in 2004 rises to about 376,000. Electrical, electronics, and computer hardware engineers manage the production of electrical energy and design electrical systems and equipment that can be used for many applications. For example, electrical and electronics engineers have developed products used as control systems in such advanced technologies as airplanes, automobiles, and computers. Computer hardware engineers develop new hardware for computers and computer networks; their work affects everything from manufacturing to communications and the arts. (The work of computer software developers, who may have the job title of "computer software engineer" or some other, is not usually considered a specialty of engineering—it's part of a professional field often called computer science.)

Mechanical engineers design, test, and manage the operation of all kinds of machines, including engines, heating and cooling equipment, and household appliances such as refrigerators and dryers. Their work makes the things we often take for granted, such as a safe car or a cold refrigerator, possible. In 2004 mechanical engineers held 226,000 jobs in the United States.

Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to solve problems with the production or use of chemicals and biochemicals. For example, chemical engineers might develop a process used by a manufacturer to make a certain drug or a synthetic material such as plastic. Chemical engineers also develop treatments that minimize industrial pollution. In 2004 chemical engineers held thirty-one thousand jobs in the United States.

Aerospace engineers plan and design the manufacturing of airplanes and spaceships. They understand how a plane needs to be designed to minimize its resistance to the air, and they are responsible for designing planes that are safe. In 2004 aerospace engineers held seventy-six thousand jobs in the United States.

Nuclear engineers design and maintain nuclear power plants and nuclear submarines. They also design equipment that involves radioactive materials, such as that used to diagnose and treat medical problems. This group held seventeen thousand jobs in the United States in 2004.


To become an engineer, a person must complete a four- or five-year program in engineering at an accredited college or university. Nearly all colleges and universities in the United States offer bachelor's degrees in engineering. Most offer programs in electrical, computer, mechanical, or civil engineering. An engineering student must have an analytical mind, an ability to innovate and solve problems, and excellent mathematical abilities. Good English and writing skills are a big plus.

After graduating from college, new engineers usually take entry-level jobs under the supervision of experienced engineers. As they gain experience, they move on to more complicated tasks. Like scientists, engineers must be knowledgeable about computers because most engineering work is now done on computers. Computer-aided drafting and design (CADD) systems now perform much of the drafting and design work that engineers once did by hand.

Engineering students prepare themselves to use and improve existing technology and to anticipate future trends in technology. Major areas of growth in the coming decades include miniaturization and microelectronics, in which ever smaller computer chips are used to increase the power of computers; robotics, in which more advanced machines are made to function in place of humans; digitalization, in which even more aspects of technology are affected by computers; and communication, in which the spread of innovations such as fiber-optics and wireless communications systems are used to improve global communication.


Technologists and technicians are the skilled personnel who assist scientists and engineers in their work. Technologists and technicians might be called on to operate a machine, perform a laboratory experiment, or test a new piece of equipment. The titles "technologist" and "technician" are often used interchangeably, but they may designate distinct functions. In some workplaces, technologists assist scientists and engineers in developing and testing new products, conducting experiments, and monitoring the quality of manufacturing processes. In the laboratory, however, this type of person is generally called a laboratory technician. In other fields, technicians are generally individuals who have been trained to operate equipment or machinery.

Technologists and technicians are employed by manufacturers, consultants, government agencies, construction firms, research laboratories, utilities, and service companies. Many work in the biomedical, energy, and environmental industries. Some technical fields are growing rapidly, and the demand for skilled technologists and technicians is growing along with them. The computer, health, and engineering industries are expected to create the largest number of technical jobs in the early twenty-first century.


Technologists and technicians are not required to complete as much formal education as scientists and engineers. Some people obtain jobs in technical specialties after graduating from high school, but most employers require that job applicants complete at least a two-year technical course at a vocational school or community college. In the sciences, a bachelor's degree is generally necessary for the job of technician or technologist. Students interested in technical careers should take mathematics, science, and possibly shop courses in high school.

Many people become interested in a technical career after being trained in some technical specialty in the armed forces. For example, a person might learn about electronics by working as a radar operator in the Air Force. However, before people with military experience can qualify for a civilian job, they usually need one or two years of additional training.


Social scientists study society, including events, achievements, behavior, and relationships. Their research provides insight into human problems and often suggests possible solutions. Social scientists specialize in various fields, such as economics, history, political science, archaeology, anthropology, geography, and sociology.

In the United States in 2004, social scientists held about eighteen thousand jobs. About half are employed as economists. Economists analyze how human and natural resources are allocated to produce goods and services. Many economists work for the U.S. Department of Commerce and other government agencies. They monitor the economy and suggest ways to improve it.

Historians research, analyze, and interpret the past. They work for universities, museums, historical societies, and government agencies, preserving historic sites, records, and artifacts. Archaeologists study past cultures by examining buildings and artifacts. Cultural anthropologists study variation among human cultures, both past and present, while physical anthropologists study human evolution, physical variation, and classification. Geographers analyze physical and cultural information on local, regional, and global scales; increasingly they are using geographic information system (GIS) technology to create computerized maps that track such things as population growth, environmental hazards, and natural resources. Political scientists study governments and political organizations. Sociologists analyze how people interact with one another and how they behave in groups.

Many social scientists teach in universities and colleges. Others work for private industry and business consulting firms, where they are involved in financial operations, in personnel or human resources development, or in the design and marketing of products and services. Many social scientists conduct experiments for research organizations, and thousands are employed by federal, state, and local governments.


Medicine, communications, and transportation have changed greatly in the past few decades. The work of scientists, engineers, and technicians has completely changed the way doctors diagnose and treat diseases, the means by which people exchange information, and the way people and goods move from one place to another.


Perhaps in no other area of human endeavor have the contributions of scientists, engineers, and technologists been combined to such great effect as in the field of human health. These professionals have produced spectacular new drugs, equipment, and procedures useful in the battle against illness. Furthermore, scientists are refining their focus on the causes of many different illnesses, which may soon bring advances that can lead to cures. Diagnostic machines, such as those for CAT (computerized axial tomography) scans and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), have allowed physicians to effectively diagnose many illnesses that were previously difficult to recognize. Surgeons now often perform delicate, lifesaving operations with the use of lasers instead of scalpels.

Some of the more exciting advances sweeping through the medical field have come about as a result of biotechnology, which is the use of scientific and engineering principles to manipulate organisms. Researchers are trying to develop vaccines to prevent and treat AIDS, malaria, genital herpes, and certain kinds of cancer. Molecular biologists and biochemists are gaining insight into the genetic components of certain illnesses, including cystic fibrosis, many types of cancer, and sickle cell anemia. Genetic engineers have also made breakthroughs in cloning mammals, which will likely have a profound impact on organ transplants, infertility treatments, and other medical procedures.

Industry Snapshots


The outlook for all types of engineering jobs will be good during the next decade, although growth in employment opportunities varies across specialties. A decline in job growth is expected for petroleum engineers, and for mining and geological engineers. Slower than average job growth is expected for aerospace engineers, marine engineers and naval architects, and nuclear engineers. Faster than average job growth is expected for environmental engineers and biomedical engineers. Starting salaries of engineers are higher than those of college graduates in other fields.


Science teachers at the elementary and high school levels will be in demand in the decade ahead. Competition will be keen, however, for positions at the college or university level. The demand for scientists in the field of biotechnology will remain strong.


Overall, employment opportunities for engineering technicians and science technicians will increase about as fast as average through 2014. Opportunities for technicians and technologists will be enhanced by the growth of technological industries such as robotics, fiber optics, superconductors, and microelectronics.


Communications refers to transmitting information and involves a spectrum of technologies. The work of scientists and engineers in these areas can be found all around us. People in New York can see and talk to people in Moscow by way of satellite hookups; television viewers can choose from hundreds of channels, thanks to cable hookups and satellite dishes; fax machines can send duplicates of documents between offices thousands of miles apart; computer users can log on to the Internet from any place that is wired, and, with wireless technology, from some places that are not; and people

$80,000 and up• Astronomer
• Fire Protection Engineer
• Mathematician
• Nuclear Engineer
• Physicist
• Political Scientist
$70,000-$70,999• Aerospace Engineer
• Artificial Intelligence Specialist
• Chemical Engineer
• Economist
• Electrical and Electronics Engineer
• Microwave Engineer
• Quality Control Manager
• Systems Engineer
$60,000-$60,999• Air Conditioning Engineer
• Anatomist
• Biochemist
• Biologist
• Biomedical Engineer
• Botanist
• Ceramic Engineer
• Ergonomist
• Forensic Scientist
• Genetic Engineering Research Scientist
• Industrial Hygienist
• Mechanical Engineer
• Metallurgical Engineer
• Photonics Engineer
• Safety Engineer

can talk to each other with cell phones from almost anywhere. Using a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, which utilizes satellite navigation, even a solitary sailor in the middle of the Pacific Ocean can precisely locate her position.

The computer revolution has brought the average consumer a personal computer that is exponentially more powerful than the much larger, more expensive computers of a generation ago. Computer technology has revolutionized communications, allowing telecommuting workers to work at home while remaining in contact with their employers via e-mail and wide area computer networks (WANs). The rapid expansion of the Internet created a new mass medium in less than a decade, and computer communications will continue to evolve in ways that are impossible to predict. It's the nature of computer technology to change at a very fast pace.


Scientists, engineers, and technicians play key roles in the design and production of products that move people and things from place to place. Researchers are constantly looking for ways to design transport vehicles that are faster, stronger, and safer. One example is the Japanese (Shinkansen) and French (TCV) high-speed "bullet" trains, which travel at speeds of up to 277 miles per hour.


New developments in science and technology are so abundant and so constantly changing that it is difficult to single out only a few of them for discussion. At every turn, one encounters the direct results of technical innovation.

The Digital Revolution

Computers were originally developed to perform mathematical calculations quickly and accurately. Few could have predicted how well computers would do this—well enough for an IBM computer named Deep Blue to soundly defeat world chess champion Garry Kasparov by 1997. The dependence of modern financial transactions on computers is so great that as the year 2000 approached, people feared—unnecessarily, as it turned out—that existing software would be unable to process new dates and banking would come to a halt. But mathematical applications are far from the only ones that now depend on computers; the processing and transmission of text and images is of greater significance in most people's daily lives. Computer technology has made possible a social and economic revolution in which digital technology affects society on every level, from manufacturing to communications to arts and entertainment.

To demonstrate how the digital revolution has fundamentally altered technology, we can turn to artificial intelligence (AI) as one example. AI systems allow computers to perform complex analytical tasks requiring the ability to predict future possibilities. Many companies now use "expert systems," an example of artificial intelligence, to diagnose and solve manufacturing and transportation problems before they arise. Some railroads, for example, use expert systems to simplify the routing and scheduling of trains. In this way digital technology has touched even railroading, the epitome of a nineteenth-century "smokestack" industry.

Although it is impossible to predict future developments in computer technology, the general trend is clear: Computer chips will continue to be smaller and more powerful, allowing computers and computer networks to perform even more quickly and efficiently. Changes in computer science will spur developments in electronics, communications, software, and other technology-related industries. The changing nature of the computer industry and its ancillary industries will produce a changing job market, offering great opportunities to scientists and engineers willing and able to cope with change.


In science fiction, robots are often portrayed as antagonists to human beings. In reality, robots are simply computers with a limited ability to duplicate human movements, and they can serve many useful functions. Most of the robots used today were built to perform only one or two specific functions. One robot may tighten screws on a washing machine chassis, while another may spot-weld fenders onto cars. More sophisticated robots have optical components that allow them to "see" objects, or arm-and-hand mechanisms that allow them to detect the characteristics of an object, such as its position, size, texture, and temperature.

Robots in the United States today are used most often in manufacturing, primarily in the automobile, nuclear, mining, aerospace, metals, and textile industries. Japan currently makes greater use of robots in industry than does the United States; however, it is likely that in the future American industry will rely increasingly on robots to perform tasks that have historically been performed by low-skilled workers. Robots may even be developed for use in homes; a simple robot vacuum cleaner is already on the market.

Fiber Optics and Lasers

The communications industry is undergoing a technological revolution. There are now so many ways to transmit information that the major focus has become how to send voice, data, and video signals most efficiently. Fiber optics—the use of light signals to transmit information through transparent fibers—may be the ultimate solution to this problem because fiber optic cables can transmit all three signals mentioned above over the same network. Many types of workers, including physicists, chemists, and electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineers, are employed to research and develop fiber optic products.

Lasers (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation) are concentrated beams of light employed in many devices to accomplish tasks in science, industry, medicine, and communications. Most households today have compact disc players and DVD players, which use laser technology to reproduce digitally recorded sound and pictures. Laser technology is also important in fiber optic communication systems. Dentists use lasers to bond protective coatings to teeth, eye surgeons use them to remove cataracts, and computers use them to store and read data. The military has developed sophisticated lasers that are used in weapons and navigation systems, and scientists hope to use lasers to stimulate the fusion of hydrogen nuclei to produce a virtually unlimited source of energy.

Ceramics and Superconductors

Superconductors are materials that can transmit electrical impulses over long distances without losing power. Considerable research is under way to develop superconductors that can operate effectively at the high temperatures encountered in many electrical devices, including computers. Researchers have discovered that certain ceramic materials enable superconductors to work at higher temperatures.

Scientists are experimenting with ceramics not only to improve superconductors but also to develop materials to replace metals as the primary material used by many manufacturers. New possibilities include the use of ceramics in the construction of space stations and rockets and in the development of artificial body parts to replace those damaged by injury or disease.

Environmental Technology

The growing realization that humans must protect the earth's air, water, and soil in order to survive is fostering technological developments that can clean up and prevent pollution in the natural environment. The chemical industry, in particular, has been developing new manufacturing methods that reduce toxic waste. The chemical industry has also been developing methods to recycle waste products.

Scientists and engineers are searching for better ways to clean up oil spills, reduce toxic emissions from factories, find clean sources of drinking water, and dispose of solid waste. This research will likely continue in the future, requiring more environmental scientists and engineers.


As mentioned previously, biotechnology is the use of scientific and engineering principles to manipulate organisms. Recombinant DNA technology is a biotechnological breakthrough that allows scientists to manipulate the hereditary molecule, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), in various ways, including inserting pieces of DNA from one species into another species. This technology has many practical applications. For example, the human gene (DNA sequence) responsible for the production of insulin can be inserted into bacteria to enable a population of bacteria to generate human insulin, thus greatly reducing the cost of treatment for diabetics and reducing the possibility of reaction to insulin derived from non-human sources.

Another biotechnological breakthrough, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), allows scientists to replicate exponentially pieces of DNA molecules. This important advance has many applications. For example, it allows scientists to sequence minute traces of DNA from crime scenes that previously were not useable as evidence.

DNA is at the forefront of another ongoing research project. The Human Genome Project, launched in 1990 by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health to map the approximately 25,000 genes in human DNA, was completed in 2003. This detailed DNA information will be key to a deep understanding of the structure, organization, and function of DNA. One hope is that this information will lead to new treatments of disease.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects overall engineering employment to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations between 2004 and 2014. The fast-growing service industries should generate most of the employment growth for engineers.

Analysts expect the years ahead to bring a sharp increase in the demand for qualified science teachers at the primary and secondary levels. The competition will be keen, however, for scientists and engineers looking for teaching positions at the college or university levels. Many qualified people apply for very few openings at colleges and universities across the country.

In the social sciences, overall employment is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations through 2014. However, the job growth outlook for anthropologists and archaeologists is better than for other social scientists; they will experience average employment growth.

Looking Into the Future

Several trends will affect the availability of jobs in the engineering, scientific, and technical fields. The end of the Cold War was expected to bring decreases in defense expenditures that translated into a decreased demand for specialists such as physicists and engineers. However, the administration of President George W. Bush substantially increased the defense budget in the early years of the twenty-first century. The "War on Terror," the reconstruction of Iraq, and potential trouble spots elsewhere signal higher defense budgets ahead. Should defense spending level off again, it is possible that funds previously used for maintenance of the armed forces could be reallocated to basic and applied research, thus generating an increased demand for these specialists.

Another important trend is the rapid emergence of a truly global economy. The U.S. economy has changed substantially as a result of this global economic network, and many of the labor-intensive industries that were once the backbone of the U.S. economy are now obsolete. Low-skill, low-technology industries are now found primarily in developing nations. The United States has the best higher education system in the world for science and engineering, and it also invests more money in basic research than does any other nation. Because of this advantage, the U.S. economy has technologically advanced, information-driven industries such as telecommunications, aerospace engineering, computers, and pharmaceuticals. The current trends suggest that the American economy of the future will be even more dependent on these high-technology industries.

These complex and sophisticated industries will require a highly skilled, technically knowledgeable workforce. For this reason, workers with scientific knowledge, engineering skills, and technical skills will continue to be in great demand. However, because of the rapid pace of change, it is likely that the workers most suited to play a critical role in the future will be adaptable and have a broad range of skills and abilities.

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