National Academy of Engineering awards ceremony is a highlight of
Engineers Week in Washington, D.C. In this regard, the 2001 black-tie
event was not unlike the half dozen prior ones that had taken place
since the first Charles Stark Draper Prize was given in 1989 to
Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce for their independent development of
the monolithic integrated circuit. In other regards, this year's
ceremony marked the beginning of a new era for engineering prizes.
As stated in
the program, the Draper Prize is given for engineering accomplishments
that have, regardless of field, "significantly impacted society
by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live
freely and comfortably, and/or permitting the access to information."
The 2001 Draper Prize was awarded to Vinton Cerf, Robert Kahn, Leonard
Kleinrock, and Lawrence Roberts "for principal contributions
to the development of technologies that are the foundation of the
To the Draper
Prize ceremony this year was added the inaugural presentation of
the National Academy's Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, named
after the founders of the electronic and automation corporation,
Systems Research Laboratories. The Russ Prize is intended to recognize
"outstanding achievement in an engineering field that is currently
of critical importance and that contributes to the advancement of
science and engineering, as well as improves a person's quality
of life and has widespread application or use."
the biennial Russ Prize will be awarded for achievements in bioengineering.
This year's prize went to Earl Bakken and Wilson Greatbatch "for
saving, extending, and improving the quality of human lives through
the engineering development and commercialization of implantable
reputation of a prize is ultimately established by the
aptness of the innovation and the quality of the recipients
whom it recognizes.
of the ceremonies were the brief acceptance speeches by each of
the prize recipients, many of whom recalled circumstances under
which they were given the opportunity to pursue an education or
how they engaged in the work that led to their achievement. Perhaps
it was Earl Bakken who looked most like an engineer at the lectern,
as he pulled out of his tuxedo pockets example after example of
As the evening
drew to a close, National Academy President William Wulf reminded
those in attendance that, thanks to an augmented endowment from
the Draper Laboratory at MIT, the Draper Prize would henceforth
be given annually. In odd-numbered years, like this year, it will
be awarded with the Russ Prize at a joint ceremony. Of course, that
would leave a single prize to be awarded in even-numbered years,
an asymmetrical schedule that some engineers might find unsettling.
There was hardly time to reflect on such an asymmetry, however,
before President Wulf made public the establishment of a new award
to be presented in conjunction with the Draper Prize in even-numbered
years, beginning in 2002.
The new award
is the Bernard M. Gordon Prize, which will be given for innovation
in engineering and technology education. Named after the electrical
engineer and acknowledged "father of high speed analog-to-digital
conversion techniques" who is presently CEO of Analogic Corporation,
the Gordon Prize is intended to identify experiments in engineering
teaching and learning that have wide-ranging potential impact on
Like the Draper
and Russ prizes, the Gordon Prize will carry a remarkable $500,000
honorarium, thus emphasizing its preeminence among engineering prizes
of all kinds. Half of the amount of the new prize will go to the
recipients of the award, with the remainder going to their institutions
in the form of a grant in support of further development and dissemination
of the innovation recognized. In addition, the winner of each Gordon
Prize will be asked to present a public lecture at the next annual
meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, thus giving engineering
educators a forum of unprecedented distinction.
of a prize is ultimately established not by the institution that
administers it or the honorarium that it carries but rather by the
aptness of the innovation and the quality of the recipients whom
it recognizes. The achievements and achievers recognized by the
Draper, and now the Russ prize unquestionably have been deserving,
but that is not to say the choices each year have been easy. Awards
processes thrive on a pool of highly distinguished nominations,
but having a plethora of eminently qualified achievements to consider
can make the task of a selection committee excruciatingly difficult,
if obvious in retrospect.
educators should wish a wealth of choices upon the inaugural selection
committee for the new Gordon Prize. Nothing will make next year's
Engineering Week ceremony more successful than for observers present
and at a distance to recognize immediately, as they have many times
already, that the recipients of the National Academy's prizes, both
established and new, are clearly deserving of the recognition.
Henry Petroski is the A.S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering
and a professor of history at Duke University.
He is the author of Remaking the World and other books
on engineering and design and is a member
of the current Draper Prize Selection Committee.