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The people who make it happen (part one)

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.

The people who make it happen

In compiling the list we have drawn on many sources of information (including canvassing the IET membership online) before coming up with the 25 names that follow.

It wasn't easy. Any such list needs, we feel, to represent the wealth of talent operating in our arena, from the academic community to consumer technology, from mechanical design to Internet application design, from those who manage to those who make things. In other words, people who make it all happen.

There follows a snapshot of who the editors of E&T think are the movers and shakers in our industry at the beginning of 2009. Please note that this list of 25 engineers and other influential technology pioneers is not some kind of official IET ranking. It's a barometric reading of what we think is going on. If you don't agree, let us know who you'd like to see in the next list. Who knows? It could become an annual event.

Vinton Cerf

Godfather of the Internet

Vinton G Cerf is vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. He is responsible for identifying new technologies to support the development of advanced Internet-based products and services. He is also an active public face for Google among the technology community.

Cerf's most notable achievement to date has been co-designing the TCP/IP protocols and the architecture of the Internet, which he helped build while working as a researcher at Stanford University in California.

In December 1997, President Clinton presented the US National Medal of Technology to Cerf and Robert E. Kahn, for founding and developing the Internet. Kahn and Cerf were also the recipients of the ACM Alan M Turing award - the 'Nobel Prize of Computer Science', in 2004.

In November 2005, President Bush awarded Cerf and Kahn the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their work,the highest civilian award given by the US to its citizens.

Talking at the Guardian Edinburgh International Television Festival last year, Cerf revealed that he had been working on the future of the Internet, developing systems for using the it to communicate with and control space vehicles, including interplanetary landers sent to explore the surface of Mars.

When interviewed for the IET's Communications Engineer in October 2007, he remarked: "It's not entirely clear that I will make it into the history books: there are so many examples of inventions that people use every day while having no idea where they came from… the Internet isn't called 'Cerf' or 'Kahn'; it is called 'Internet', and it should be... It may very well be that people will not remember - or even care - who invented it. They just know that it works and that is helpful."

Gordon Moore

The man behind the Law

It is hard to believe that anyone in technology hasn't heard of Moore's Law. It began as a quick extrapolation of trends in a nascent integrated-circuits business for the magazine Electronics but rapidly took on a life of its own.

However, Moore's influence ranges beyond a graph, which he did not expect to have such influence. He occupies a position pivotal to the semiconductor industry. He wrote the Electronics article while at Fairchild in 1965. Five years later, he had defected with two of his colleagues to form what was then intended to be a memory company: Intel.

 A request from calculator maker Busicom led to the development of the world's first microprocessor - a computer processor on a single chip. This would ultimately form the core of the x86 architecture that now dominates computing.

Although Moore dislikes a lot of the attention that comes from his eponymous law, analysis of the past 40 years of IC development shows that companies use it as a planning tool. In 1975, he explained some of the assumptions that lay behind what he saw as a 10-year extension of the trend, which he correctly forecast would slow from a doubling every year to a doubling every 24 months. He thought much of the improvement in IC density would come more from improvements in circuit design and a gradual increase in die size rather than shrinking feature sizes.

Die size grew quickly and then slowed, with improvements in resolution powering much of the recent evolution of IC. The industry continually adjusts how it scales, seemingly to accommodate Moore's original projection of a doubling in density every two years.

At ISSCC in 2003, Moore recalled a crucial decision made several years before his lauded Electronics article. His Fairchild colleague and Intel co-founder Bob Noyce had difficulty selling ICs to military customers, who disliked the idea of not being able to test internal connections.

"...And then Bob Noyce made another one of his major contributions to the industry. He said, 'okay, we'll sell you the circuit for less than you can buy the transistors and resistors to build it yourself'," Moore explained. "And that was a major breakthrough...the solution the semiconductor industry developed was, 'whenever there's a problem, lower the price'. That's the way they solved all of these things. Let the elasticity of the market bail you out."

The expectation of continual deflation, a prospect that sets the semiconductor business apart, provided the pump that would drive Moore's Law. Without the request from a magazine for a 35th anniversary edition, the industry might not have realised the trajectory it was on until much later, and may never have glued itself to a clock set by a simple extrapolation.

Alex Dorrian

Main player in the defence field

As president of the Society of British Aerospace Companies, Alex Dorrian is a key figure in one UK industry that has demonstrated world-leading performance.

Dorrian joined French-based defence group Thales in 1999 as senior vice president of its worldwide naval business. Appointed CEO of the company's UK arm in 2002, he is also responsible for operations in the USA, Australia and Canada.

A mechanical engineering graduate from Strathclyde University, Dorrian was recruited by naval engineering company Yard in 1970, rising to managing director in 1987. A move to BAeSEMA was followed by a period as deputy group managing director responsible for defence systems at British Aerospace.

Currently chief executive officer of Thales UK, Dorrian is a Fellow of both the IET and the Royal Academy of Engineering, and sits on the National Defence Industries Council.

Julia King

A leader in academia and industry

With the publication last year of her major review for the UK government of low-carbon transport technologies, Julia King looks set to join the list of figures whose names have become synonymous with a coverage of a subject.

The driving force behind the King Review has just entered the third year in her current job as vice chancellor of Aston University, the latest stage of a career in academia that has bookended senior roles in industry.

It was in March 2007, shortly after she joined Aston, that King was appointed by then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown to look at how the country can reduce carbon emissions from road transport over the next 25 years. A final report was published in March 2008, with a government response following in December.

An expert on fatigue and fracture in structural materials, and developments in aerospace and marine propulsion technology, King spent 16 years as a researcher and lecturer at Cambridge and Nottingham universities before joining Rolls-Royce in 1994. The move led to a series of jobs including director of advanced engineering for the company's industrial power group and engineering director for its marine business.

She left in 2002 to become chief executive of the Institute of Physics, returning to academia two years later as principal of the engineering faculty at Imperial College, London, then moving to Aston in December 2006.

Current public sector roles including working closely with the government as a non-executive member of the Technology Strategy Board and the DIUS Strategic Board, and as a member of the Ministerial Group on Manufacturing. She sits on the governing board of the European Institute of Innovation and was recently appointed to the Committee on Climate Change.

King is pleased with the impact that her review has had in advancing the debate on cutting carbon emissions from road transport in the UK and further afield, and hopes the fine words will now progress rapidly to action.

However, she believes her most significant achievement is the part she plays in developing the next generation of scientists and engineers. "I am enormously proud of my PhD students, who now hold senior academic and industrial positions all over the world," she says.

In this vein, she plays an active role in encouraging women and young people to go into science and engineering-based careers and led the Royal Academy of Engineering working party on 'Educating Engineers for the 21st Century' which published its final report last year. What does she think deters girls from becoming engineers?

"I wish I had the answer to this question. I have been working to encourage more girls to come into engineering since I was a PhD student. We clearly have the ability: a large proportion of A level maths students are female and women now outnumber men in medical schools, but they still account for only around 15 per cent of students on engineering courses."

King is convinced that role models are part of the challenge. "Doing a course where very few of your lecturers are women, and working in a company where there are no women on the board and only a smattering amongst the senior management, does seem to give a message that women find it hard to succeed here," she says.

Andy Hopper

Putting Cambridge technology on the map

A driving force in the emergence of Cambridge as a global centre of technology entrepreneurship, Andy Hopper was awarded his PhD at Cambridge in 1978. In 1979 he co-founded, with Chris Curry and Herman Hauser, Acorn - a company that helped introduce computers to the UK using its own brand, and which built the hardware for the BBC's computer literacy programme. It later spun off ARM, the semiconductor intellectual property company whose processor designs are at the heart of most of today's mobile phones.

When Acorn was taken over by Olivetti in 1986, Hopper was appointed to head a new industrial research lab for the company in Cambridge. Hopper ran the lab, which had a succession of owners during its lifetime, creating a core of information and communications technology expertise in Cambridge that has underpinned the area's start-up culture.

Hopper has retained an academic role throughout his commercial career, and is now head of the University of Cambridge's Computer Laboratory, one of the world's leading IT departments. He has also helped start at least nine technology companies, as well as advising Amadeus Capital Partners, a local firm that invests in high technology.

Hopper's genius has been to develop an academic career alongside a commercial career running an industrial research lab and creating technology companies, demonstrating that is possible to navigate between these worlds successfully.

Hopper is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, the IET, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and of the Royal Society. He is also a Mountbatten Medallist and former Trustee of the IET. He is chairman of three companies, and former director of at least nine more. He was made a CBE in the 2007 New Year's Honours list, for services to the computer industry.

Continued - part two

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