The people who make it happen (part five)

Your new-look Engineering & Technology first went to press a year ago and, to celebrate the anniversary, the editors here publish a list of who we believe to be 25 of the most influential figures in the world of engineering and technology today. Continued - part five.

Adrian Newey

The hottest engineer in F1

If you've followed Formula 1 racing at any point during the past two decades the chances are you will have seen an Adrian Newey-designed car pass the chequered flag. In a sport that eats people alive before spitting out the bones, Newey has had a remarkably long and consistently successful career.

But it can't exactly be said to be have been written in the stars. Unable to find a rhythm at school Newey dropped out without so much as an 'A' level to his name, only to re-emerge from Southampton University a few years later with a first class honours degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics (his thesis was on ground-effect aerodynamics).

After stints with several manufacturers in the feeder formulas, Newey's big break in F1 came at the beginning of the 1990s, when he was recruited by Williams who sought to break McLaren's stranglehold on the sport.

While at Williams Newey enjoyed no fewer than 58 Grands Prix victories and helped both Nigel Mansell and Alain Prost to their world championship driver's titles. The tragic death of Ayrton Senna in a Williams car in 1994 marked the beginning of the end of Newey's relationship with the manufacturer.

He moved to McLaren, judged by Autosport to have "bigger, more sophisticated" technical resources than any other team. It was here that Newey helped Mikka Hakkinen to the world title. A glittering decade at the Woking-based team was in part overshadowed by the emergence of Ferrari as a world player under the pioneering guidance of Michael Schumacher.

In 2006 Newey joined Red Bull Racing (RBR) - very much a developing team - where, as chief technical officer, he is currently overseeing the introduction of a new aerodynamic package for 2009 to run alongside the new KERS system. According to the RBR website Newey is not "particularly fond of designing his masterpieces on computers". He apparently prefers pencil and paper. This may sound unconventional, but Newey, right from the start has never been conventional, and at the age of 50 he has outshone many of the best F1 racing car designers of his era.

David Eyton

Prime mover in energy industry

David Eyton was appointed BP's group vice president for research and technology in April 2008. He is accountable for technology strategy and its implementation across BP and conducting research and development in areas of corporate renewal. In this role, Eyton also oversees the technological capability of the company.

"Fossil fuels and other energy sources provide a range of products that are fundamental to the quality of our lives today," Eyton says of the climate that he operates in at BP. He explains that in his role he faces three prime challenges: improving the discovery and recovery of fossil fuels; conversion of primary energy, in whatever form, into products; and lastly, developing low-carbon energy

"Most of our capital investment of over $20bn this year still goes into oil and gas production and the manufacturing of transport fuels," he says. "However, around one-third of our research and development spend, which in 2008 will be around $700m, is targeted at new energy value chains. This is consistent with the competitive advantage fossil fuels have today over the alternatives and our expectations for the future as we move toward a low-carbon world."

Looking ahead, Eyton says he is excited about some of the new areas of study. He cites carbon capture and storage, climate modelling, adaptation and geo-engineering as examples.

"As a technologist I remain optimistic. The risks associated with climate change have obliged the human race to learn how to confront its own sustainability on Earth. There will be other challenges and these learnings will stand us in good stead. This is not about de-carbonising the energy landscape; it is about reducing the emissions from fossil fuels. I am confident that we are investing in the right places when it comes to our research and technology."

Peter Coveney

Medical technologist

Among the many distinguished hats that Professor Peter Coveney dons for his work at University College London is director of the Centre for Computational Science, where pioneering work is underway to use the combined processing power of the US and UK supercomputer Grids to simulate the effect of drugs on human metabolisms.

Last year Coveney's team in UCL's Department of Chemistry tested the efficacy of an HIV drug in blocking a key protein used by the virus, using the Virtual Physiological Human (VPH) initiative, which aims to simulate patient profiles against drug options to determine which treatment should prove most effective.

Nine drugs are currently available to inhibit HIV-1 protease, but with standard procedures doctors have no way of matching a drug to the unique profile of the virus as it mutates, and have to rely on trial-and-error methods to find the best match to a patient's genotype.

Using a sequence of simulation steps performed across multiple supercomputers on the UK's National Grid Service and the US TeraGrid, VPH simulations were run to predict how strongly the drug Saquinavir - an HIV-inhibitor - would bind to three resistant mutants of HIV-1 protease - a protein produced by the virus to propagate itself. These protease mutations are associated with the disease's resistance to Saquinavir.

The VPH study is a first step towards the ultimate goal of 'on-demand' medical computing, where doctors could borrow supercomputing time from Grids to make critical decisions on life-saving treatments.
More recently Coveney has been behind a group of projects generically based on 'Genius' - Grid-enabled neurosurgical imaging simulation. One application of this system traffics brain scans to a network of supercomputers, the combined processing power of which generate a 3D model of the blood flow patterns in a patient's brain vasculature.
Using software written by Coveney and UCL student Marco Mazzeo, the system then displays representations of critical blood vessel parameters. These models, generated just before an operation, would also let doctors test the outcome of an intervention before doing it.

Alec Broers

Nanotechnology pioneer

Alec, Lord Broers has played a pivotal role as one of the pioneers of nanotechnology. A love of singing directed him to Cambridge, UK from his home in Melbourne, Australia as a graduate already with a degree in physics under his belt. With a choral scholarship to Caius College he took up electrical sciences and was set on a career path that took in many technological disciplines.

Leaving Cambridge in 1965, Broers worked at IBM's research laboratories in New York and helped usher in nanotechnology when he used an electron beam to write 'USA 1976' in 10nm-high gold letters. Returning to Cambridge in 1984, he continued the nanotechnology work and, as vice chancellor, set up partnerships with Microsoft and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that set a new course for technology labs.

More recently, Broers has focused on improving the public understanding of science and technology. In his 2005 BBC Reith Lecture, Broers argued passionately for the field: "Technology...will determine the future of the human race. We should recognise this and give it the profile and status that it deserves."

Made a life peer in 2004, Broers has also worked to improve government's understanding of technology, serving as chair of the House of Lords Committee on Science and Technology. In that post, he has fought to strengthen Internet security among other concerns and remains a key figure in science and technology.

Ratan Tata

Iconic Indian business leader

The past year has been even more eventful than usual for the chairman of Tata Group, the Indian conglomerate that became a force in global industry after a spate of deals including the purchase of steel maker Corus in 2007. Ratan Tata, an unusually shy and reclusive business leader, has increasingly been thrust into the limelight. In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, in December last year, for example, he criticised the Indian government and also pledged to restore the beseiged Taj Mahal hotel, part of Tata Group, to its former glory.

This followed the controversy in the autumn over the production site for the world's cheapest car, the ground-breaking Nano, which prompted violent protests by farmers unhappy with the compensation they had received for their land. This forced Tata Group to move the factory to another Indian state. In the meantime, Tata had become the owner of a British car company, Jaguar Land Rover, that boasts two iconic vehicle marques.

But Ratan Tata's global reputation is built not on sensational events, but on solid engineering success stories. In 1998 he undertook a major business and engineering gamble with the development of India's first indigenously manufactured 'people's car', the Indica. Two years later he surpassed that with an astonishing $435m deal for Tetley, the most English of teas and companies, in what was then the biggest acquisition in Indian history. Other deals followed, and Tata Group is now a behemoth that makes everything from salt to software.

During his 17-year tenure as chairman, the group's annual revenues have grown more than ten-fold to $62.5bn. Last year he received India's second-highest civilian award, the Padma Vibhushan. Late last year he became an Honorary Fellow of the IET. He is also renowned for his charity work. In 2007 he accepted the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy on behalf of the Tata family. He is also chairman of India's Investment Commission and a member of the Indian Prime Minister's Council on Trade and Industry, the National Hydrogen Energy Board and the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council.

In a rare interview for this article, Ratan Tata told E&T that he felt his most important contribution to engineering to date has been the creation of the Nano car. "[This has been] to conceptualise a product that has not been produced or a price level which is considered impossible. Nano is such an example," he said.

He also believes that it is Tata's acquisition of British companies such as Corus and Jaguar Land Rover that has "helped to put India on the global stage". But he acknowledges that the will economic downturn will "constitute a real challenge to our plans for Jaguar and Land Rover", and adds: "The challenge will mainly be to sustain ourselves during the worst period of the downturn and to pursue the technological and product programmes that have been planned. Our goal would still be to nurture these two brands and enhance their global position in the years ahead."

Vote

This collection of the 25 most influential engineers and technology pioneers has divided the E&T office. Do you think there is a glaring omission? Vote for your top five or nominate your own figure in our online poll. Voters will be entered into a £100 prize draw.

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