Engineering Week: February 21, 2014 – Five Engineering Feats That Forever Changed the World

Today is the last day of Engineering Week, and we thought we’d try to choose the five engineering feats that had the most proofed global impact. Do you agree? Let us know!

glass water against skyClean Water

Choosing clean water as having the most global impact was easy, and not because we are a water engineering firm. Read our blog from earlier this week, and you will see how dirty water causes more death than all forms of violence combined. Major disease epidemics from the past were caused by contaminated water, and still are to this day in developing countries. Clean water definitely gets our vote as #1 (even if we are a little biased.)


Try to think of what the world would be like without telephones. Telephones forever changed the way we communicate, and connected the world in a way it never had been. From the inception of Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to the smartphones of today, the telephone deserves a spot in the top five.


Electricity modernized the world, and now affects nearly everything we do. It heats our homes, powers our world-changing computers, lights the darkness, and allows simple and quick automation of so many tasks that were once time-consuming (washboard, anyone?)


Like the telephone, the computer has changed the world on so many levels. From automated manufacturing to global communication to computer-assisted surgery and the internet, our lives would not be the same without the invention of the computer.


The airplane changed the world by allowing fast transportation of goods and people. Transcontinental voyages that once took weeks now take hours, and global trade is now commonplace. In today’s world, overnight shipping is not a luxury but an expectation, with internet super-retailer Amazon considering using drones for package shipments.

Engineering has certainly changed the face of the world in so many ways. Do you agree with our top five? And what will be the top five in the next 100 years? One thing is certain: the world wouldn’t be the same without engineers. Happy Engineering Week!

Engineering Week: Thursday, February 20 Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day

Thomas Edison. Alexander Graham Bell. These are household names, engineers well known for their brilliant inventions. But how many female engineers can you think of? Throughout modern history there have been many female engineers who have contributed to the advancement of society. As we celebrate Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, a part of Engineering Week, we’d like to familiarize you with three pioneers in women’s engineering, and to introduce you to a few of Tata & Howard’s own female engineers.

Three Amazing Female Engineers in History

Stephanie Louise Kwolek (born 1923)

stephCountless law enforcement and military personnel owe their lives to Stephanie Louise Kowlek, who discovered liquid crystalline polymers while working for DuPont. The result? Kevlar. Kevlar contains fibers that are five times stronger than steel, does not rust or corrode, and is extremely lightweight. Kevlar is best known for its use in the bulletproof vest, but it is also used for fiber optic cables, airplane fuselages, brake linings, boats, parachutes, skis, building materials, and radial tires. Ultimately obtaining 28 patents during her 40 year career, Kowlek was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995, received the National Medal of Technology in 1996, was awarded The Perkin Medal by The American Chemical Society in 1997, and was named to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003.

Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000)

hedyHedy Lamarr is best known as a beautiful and sought-after movie star of the 1930’s and 1940’s, but she was actually a whole lot more. Lamarr invented a remote-controlled communications system for the United States military during World War II. Originally from Austria and born of Jewish parents, Lamarr was deeply troubled by Nazi attacks. When German submarines began torpedoing passenger liners, she said, “I’ve got to invent something that will put a stop to that.” Lamarr came up with “frequency hopping,” an electronics radio system that would enable Allied submarines to avoid signal jamming from enemies, thus allowing far more successful allied torpedo attacks. In later years, Lamarr’s “frequency hopping” is what made cell phones, Wi-Fi, and other wireless developments possible.

Lillian Gilbreth (1878-1972)

lillianThere’s a common saying that necessity is the mother of invention, and it seems to have been coined with Lillian Moller in mind. Moller is known as the “mother of modern management” due to her education, scientific nature – and being the mother of 12 children! Along with her husband Frank, Lillian’s life is the basis for the books “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Belles on Their Toes,” written by two of their children about life in the Gilbreth household. Frank and Lillian sought endlessly to find the “one best way” to perform any task in order to increase efficiency and productivity. These studies are called time and motion studies, and are still applied today in Lean Manufacturing practices.

After her husband died of a heart attack in 1924, Lillian wrote four books and taught industrial engineering courses at various prestigious schools including Bryn Mawr and Purdue. President Hoover asked her to join the Emergency Committee for Unemployment during the Great Depression, and she worked as a consultant for the government during World War II. Lillian is credited with many inventions, including the foot-pedal trashcan, the electric mixer, the L-shaped kitchen, and refrigerator door shelves.

During her lifetime, Lillian Gilbreth received many honors. She became the first female member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1926, she was the first woman to be elected into the National Academy of Engineering, and she was also issued the very first membership in the Society of Women Engineers.

Tata & Howard’s Female Phenoms

shiraTata & Howard boasts some brilliant female engineers as well. As a firm, we employ a much higher percentage of female engineers than is the industry norm. Shira A. McWaters, P.E., pictured at right and who has been with the firm since its inception over 20 years ago, is an Associate and manages our Arizona office. Two of our six members of the Board of Directors are women, Karen L. Gracey, P.E., and Jenna W. Rzasa, P.E. In addition, we have many other female engineers at all levels throughout the organization, and their contributions to the firm are invaluable. Last week, we were able to stop some of Tata & Howard’s female engineers just long enough to pose for a photo. Pictured left to right are Jennifer Fruzzetti, Jenna Rzasa, Patricia Fox, Amanda Cavaliere, Hayley Franz, Vicki Zabierek, Justine Carroll, Marie Rivers, and Karen Gracey.

female engineers at THEngineering still tends to be a male-dominated field, and young girls are often overlooked even when their abilities clearly point to engineering. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day is intended to bring awareness of the engineering profession to school-aged girls, and to encourage them in pursuing a career in the field. During engineering week, there are many special events across the country in which young girls can participate. Check out your local engineering universities for events. For online resources, visit or for fun activities and ideas to introduce the young girls in your life to engineering.

Women engineers have brought us not only the bulletproof vest and the basis for wireless technology, but also disposable diapers, windshield wipers, the compiler (which translates English into computer code), signal flares, noise cancellation technology, air pollution mitigation technology, and the Brooklyn Bridge – what could be next? Introduce a girl to engineering, and the possibilities are endless.

Engineering Week: Famous People You Didn’t Know Were Engineers

In honor of Engineering Week, we’ve put together a list of some people who were engineers before they were made famous for doing something else. Some may surprise you!

Tom Scholz, guitarist for Boston
Before Donald Thomas “Tom” Scholz became famous with the rock band Boston, he was an engineer working as a Senior Product Designer for Polaroid Corporation. Tom received both his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering from MIT. And apparently engineering runs in the family! In 2005, Scholz’s son Jeremy also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT.

Dolph Lundgrun, Actor
Before starring in such Hollywood blockbusters as Rocky IV, Universal Soldier, and The Expendables, Dolph Lundgren received Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Chemical Engineering. In addition, he was studying at MIT on a Fullbright Scholarship when he decided to drop out to pursue acting.

Herbie Hancock, Jazz Musician
Herbie Hancock attended Grinnell College and double majored, receiving Bachelor’s Degrees in both Electrical Engineering and Music. While engineering was Hancock’s initial career choice, his incredible musical talent has provided him with an extremely successful music career spanning over half a century.

Alfred Hitchcock, Director
Alfred Hitchcock graduated from the London County Council School of Engineering and Navigation before pursuing his career in directing psychological thrillers. And his engineering background actually helped him have the incredible success that he did. When working on “Vertigo,” Hitchcock was told that to simulate dizziness on camera would be too expensive to produce. He put his engineering mind to work and pioneered a technique that involved zooming in with a camera while moving the camera backward, which made the shot seem to be in double vision.

Bonus: five more famous engineers
Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of England
Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter, 31st and 39th Presidents of the United States, respectively
Tom Landry, NFL Coach
Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Engineering Week: Tuesday, February 18 – Engineers Save Lives, and You Can, Too

third world waterIt has recently been argued that engineers save more lives than doctors, and for a very clear reason. While doctors treat existing maladies and certainly save countless lives in the process, there is no debate that the greatest contributor to saving lives and preventing needless death and illness is access to clean water and sanitation. In developed countries like the U.S., we don’t give modern plumbing a second thought. Here, grabbing a glass of water from the sink or having working toilets is a right, not a privilege. However, as of this moment, one in six human beings does not have access to clean, safe drinking water. That’s 1.1 billion people worldwide. Dirty water is responsible for 80% of all illness and disease and kills more people annually than all forms of violence combined – including war. Therefore, many underdeveloped countries are now looking to bring more engineers to their countries than doctors, maintaining that prevention of illness would be more effective in saving lives than treatment would be. And we here at Tata & Howard couldn’t agree more, which is why we support Water for People, a charitable organization whose mission is to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to all the people of the world. And it is an achievable goal. The U.N. estimates that the $30 billion dollars per year that the U.S. alone spends in bottled water would be enough money to provide worldwide clean water access.

It’s going to take a little time, and a little money, and the dedication of some charitable engineers, but we look forward to a time when clean, safe drinking water is a right – and not a privilege – to all the people who inhabit this earth. For more information on Water For People and how you can help, visit

Engineering Week: Monday, February 17 – Team Hoyt

Today marks the start of Engineering Week 2014. This week, we will be showcasing some of the amazing and inspirational accomplishments of engineers, and how they have made our world better, more efficient, safer, and more technologically advanced – and also a little bit kinder.

Monday, February 17 – Team Hoyt and the Engineers Who Helped Them

Dick and Rick Hoyt
Dick and Rick Hoyt

Dick and Rick Hoyt are a father-son racing duo from Massachusetts who have inspired millions, and who have broken down many barriers for people with disabilities. But did you know that engineers are a big part of the Hoyts’ success? After Rick Hoyt suffered oxygen deprivation at birth due to his umbilical cord being wrapped around his neck, leaving him with cerebral palsy, doctors told his parents that he would always be non-responsive and should be institutionalized. The Hoyts weren’t buying it. They saw the way their son’s eyes followed them and the way he laughed at jokes. In 1972, armed with $5,000 and a love of their child, Dick and Judy Hoyt hired some engineers at Tufts who developed a device that allowed Rick to communicate with them by utilizing a computer on which he could type by tapping his head left or right. His first words? “Go Bruins!” Rick was later integrated into public school and went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in Special Education from Boston University, all thanks to the device that allowed him to communicate. He currently works at Boston College.

Statue honoring Dick and Rick Hoyt at the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, MA
Statue honoring Dick and Rick Hoyt at the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, MA

In 1977, Rick expressed an interest in running a charity 5K to support a local lacrosse player who had been paralyzed. Even though he was overweight and out of shape, Dick obliged and pushed his son in his wheelchair, a task that proved overwhelmingly difficult due to the weight of the chair and the awkward handling. Afterwards, Rick said he felt like he had no disability when he was running, and Dick knew that he needed to find a different chair so that they could run more races together. Once again, Dick and Judy hired local engineers, this time from MIT, and these engineers designed a racing wheelchair with lighter pipes, a single front wheel, and higher handles in which Dick could more easily push Rick. This incredible chair eventually gave birth to the jogger stroller, a now commonplace household device for families with young children, and also inspired thousands of others to push their disabled loved ones in races.

Dick and Rick Hoyt went on to race in over 1,000 races, including marathons, triathlons, and Ironmen, and broke down barriers for the disabled every step of the way. Pushing the disabled in wheelchairs, once prohibited and scorned, is now accepted and commonplace, all thanks to the love of a father for his son. This year’s Boston Marathon will mark the final running of the iconic event for the dynamic duo, now aged 73 and 51. Last year, the father and son team was honored by the unveiling of a bronze statue in their likeness at the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, and they were presented with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYS in Los Angeles. Team Hoyt is now a well-known charitable organization that inspires millions and has sub-chapters all over the country.

Ben Affleck presents Dick and Rick Hoyt with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYS, July 2013 JOHN SHEARER/INVISION/AP
Ben Affleck presents Dick and Rick Hoyt with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYS, July 2013

And it was all made possible by love, determination…and some brilliant engineers.

For more information on Team Hoyt, visit