2024 Draper Prize: Where Science Meets Engineering

The 2024 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering awards gala celebrated the coming together of science and engineering. We commemorated the accomplishments of Dr. Stuart Parkin, an experimental physicist, “for engineering spintronic technologies, enabling digital information storage that serves as a foundation for our data-driven world.”

That celebration was also a reminder that discovery, without creation, is not enough. It is engineering ― the act of creating something new — that provides the greatest benefit to society.

Recognized as one of the world's preeminent awards for engineering achievement, the Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering honors an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably, and/or permitting access to information. To date, 60 pioneering engineers have received this honor. Now, we add Dr. Stuart Parkin to that list.

Throughout 2024, which marks the 60th anniversary of the National Academy of Engineering, we will celebrate engineers and the role they play in addressing some of the biggest challenges our world has ever faced. From mitigating and adapting to climate change, to securing our energy sources, to safeguarding our citizens and protecting our planet, engineers are called upon to create solutions that are feasible and optimal and that meet physical and economic constraints — all while taking into account people’s health, the environment, and equity.

It’s a big job. And it calls for creative minds. It demands diverse skill sets and backgrounds. And it requires global efforts.

In my remarks at the Draper Prize dinner, I drew upon some comments made by NAE Chair Donald C. Winter at the NAE National Meeting earlier this month. Don spoke briefly about the stages of change our nation has encountered. This included the Steam Age, followed by the Industrial Age, which was supplanted by the Information Age.

Don’s view was that, “looking at the breadth of recent engineering accomplishments and their impact on society… the term, ‘the Engineering Age,’ is well-suited for what is transpiring today.”

It’s an interesting concept. And it’s one that acknowledges the impacts engineering and engineers have on shaping our world. From life-saving vaccines, to space travel, to our global connectedness through the World Wide Web, engineers are creating the change the world needs to be safe, secure, and prosperous.

Discovery is important; it is a necessary part of life. But it is engineering that creates the change the world needs.

I send my sincerest congratulations to Dr. Parkin, whose scientific discoveries led to engineering spintronic technologies — and in doing so, provided the world with a change we didn’t know we needed, but now cannot live without.

Congratulations, Dr. Parkin, recipient of the 2024 Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering!