05 February 2014

Drinking water, petrol and antibiotics top poll of best ‘inventions’

Best inventions ever

In a new survey, published by the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), chemical engineers have voted for what they consider to be the most important chemically engineered inventions and solutions of the modern era – with drinking water, petrol and antibiotics topping the poll.

With a global population of over seven billion people, chemical engineers provide many of the foundations for the modern world by producing a vast array of products and solutions on an industrial scale including energy, healthcare, water and food production. 

From a shortlist of over 40 inventions, chemical engineers1 have voted for their most important chemically engineered solutions over the past century. The ten inventions, considered to have made the biggest impact on society, were: 

1. Drinking or potable water2
2. Petrol or gasoline (and other fuels including diesel)3
3. Antibiotics4
4. Electricity generation (from fossil fuels)5
5. Vaccines6
6. Plastics7
7. Fertilizer8
8. Sanitation9
9. Electricity generation (from non-fossil fuels)10
10. Dosed medications (such as tablets, pills and capsules)11

Some notable inventions which didn’t make the top ten included biofuels (11th), contraceptives (12th), batteries (13th), the catalytic converter (14th), adhesives (28th), pneumatic tyres (39th) and photographic film (41st).

David Brown, IChemE’s chief executive, said: “Chemical engineering is a remarkable profession. It can take the smallest of discoveries in laboratories – from all fields of science and technology – and replicate them on a mass scale, consistently and economically. 

“The facilities and plants built to produce products like petrol and clean water are equally impressive. It is easy to forget how complex they are. Here too, chemical engineers make a major contribution to the design and operation of industrial facilities, and their safe management.

“Historically, it is clear that chemical engineers have enabled society to evolve and quality of life to improve. And this will continue. 

“As the global population grows to an estimated nine billion by 2050, issues like energy generation, the management of health, water supply and food production will become more challenging. They are issues that chemical engineers are already looking at to find the next generation of sustainable solutions.”

The role of chemical engineers in modern society is explored in IChemE’s latest technical strategy, Chemical Engineering Matters.

IChemE is a registered charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 039661).