Engineering’s biggest winners and losers of 2014

As 2014 has come to an end, we look back on a year of extreme highs and lows for the engineering sector. We have witnessed incredible feats of engineering achievement in outer space and devastating air accidents. PIF takes a look at our biggest winners and losers of the year.

2014 Engineering Winners

Cobalt Light Systems

Airport security
UK engineering company, Cobalt, beat Rolls-Royce to the prize of the Royal Academy of Engineering's MacRobert Award. The recipients of the UK's premier engineering prize pioneered a technique to determine the chemical composition of materials in containers and behind a range of other barriers including skin. Their breakthrough led to the introduction of an airport security scanner earlier this year that may soon enable airports to relax the existing hand-luggage liquid ban. The same technique is also being used for other applications, including real-time diagnostic tools for cancer and bone disease.

European Space Agency


On 12 November, after 20 years of meticulous planning, the Philae comet lander successfully touched down on a 4km-wide comet, snappily titled 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, more than 300 million miles away from earth. The mission wasn't a complete success, with the initial impact propelling the robot explorer a kilometre into space, before descending to the comet's surface hundreds of metres away from the planned landing zone. However, to achieve a landing at all – on an object hurtling through space at approximately 34,000 mph (54,400km/h) – is truly impressive.

Content-sharing social media

Popular social media channels

As we predicted earlier this year, content-sharing platforms – like Instagram and Pinterest – have surged in popularity. Facebook continues to be the world’s biggest social network, with 1.35 billion active monthly users. But research, from the Global Web Index, has found that Tumblr’s active user base grew 120 percent in the last six months (taking Instagram's mantle as the fastest-growing social network) and Pinterest showed the biggest overall member growth rate at 57 percent. Photo-sharing app, Snapchat, was the fastest growing mobile based social network with 56 percent more users this year.

2014 Engineering Losers

Fracking and Shale gas

fracking shale gas

Well, we envisaged that the high stakes fracking debate would continue to rage into 2014 and it did just that. The slump in global crude oil prices has made the controversial method of drilling look increasingly uneconomic and has led some experts to predict that the UK fracking rush could be over before it really got started. In the US, where fracking has boomed in recent years, New York state has banned fracking altogether due to its potential health risks.

Barbie for Female Engineering

Barbie the computer engineer
In a blow to efforts to boost the number of female engineers, and females studying STEM subjects generally, a new Barbie book – called Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer – came under fire for its suggestion that Barbie was entirely dependent on the help of her male colleagues. In an embarrassing U-turn for toy manufacturers, Mattel, the title was removed from online sale. They said:

“We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologise that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girls’ imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.”

Malaysia Airlines

Malaysia airlines disasters
It's been a tragic year for Malaysia Airlines. The inexplicable disappearance of Flight MH70 in March led to a search mission involving aircraft, ships and searchers from 26 countries to look for the wreckage. Twenty three thousand square miles of Indian Ocean floor are currently being searched, using high-tech sonar, but results aren't expected until May 2015 and, thus far, no wreckage has ever been found. Meanwhile, in July, militants were blamed for downing a second Malaysian jet as it flew over Ukrainian airspace. A total of 298 passengers on board were killed.

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