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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Keynote Address
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 his company."

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 civilization's designers.

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 a decade.

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.

Slide 1
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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 the nation.

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 committee).

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 as follows:
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 our world.

Slide 2
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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.



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