Modern Marvels Hail the Nation’s Top Mechanical Engineers

The next time you’re riding in a plane, train or automobile, the next time you’re popping in a piece of toast, microwaving a pizza or brewing coffee, the next time you fire up a laptop, gas grill or lawnmower, thank a mechanical engineer.

We rely on the problem-solving skills mechanical engineers in almost every facet of our modern daily lives.

Engineers apply the principles of science and math to develop low-cost solutions to technical problems. Their work is the link between scientific discoveries and the commercial applications that meet societal and consumer needs.

And they’re often the most closely associated with traditional notions of inventing.

This month, as part of our quarterly celebration of innovators in selected fields, we’re honoring six mechanical engineers for their contributions to civilization.

We reviewed candidates from corporations, universities and garages and from diverse industries including automotive, consumer products, green technologies, infrastructure, marine and nanotechnology.

We selected these six based on peer recognition, societal impact of their work and commitment to the craft.

Bona Fides: Pioneer of recycled plastic for 20 years. Invented/discovered way to build bridges out of discarded milk jugs and the like. The Army Corps of Engineers used his material to build bridges capable of supporting M-1 tanks and locomotives. Now being used to make erosion-resistant railroad beams, pilings, planks and bulkheads.

Building Bridges

Dr. Tom Nosker

Age: 54

Alma Mater: Georgia Tech, Rutgers University

Area of Study: Mechanical Engineering Degree(s): Master’s of Science in Material Science; Ph.D. in Polymer Physics

Employer: Rutgers, New Jersey

Trophies: 1998 Federal Laboratory Consortium award recipient for work with U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers and ASTM on the development of test methods and standards for recycled plastic lumber materials; 2000 Civil Engineering Research Foundation Pankow Award Finalist for successfully developing composite railroad ties; 2000 Rainforest Relief Rainforest Star Award for successfully developing recycled plastic composite railroad ties; 2001 Thomas Alva Edison award from R&D Council of New Jersey; 2003 Excellence in Recycling Award from New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

What got him interested: I love machines. I also love materials science and saw a great opportunity to develop recycling technologies in the 1980s because plastics packaging had taken lots of market share from other packaging materials and there were no real viable technologies.

Advice for aspiring engineers: Engineers make and/or design nearly all manufactured things. They change the world on a daily basis. I think if graduate school is in your plans, consider also adding a slightly different undergraduate degree to the mix.

Most satisfying project: High load military bridges with a 34:1 return on investment for them made from recycled plastic. No maintenance and a lower installed cost than any other material.

Current project: A new aircraft composite, more and larger bridges, and expanding manufacturing plants.

Dream project: Build a recycled plastic bridge as large as the Brooklyn Bridge.

Humankind’s greatest engineering feat: The communication systems – phone/Internet/computer – that we all use every day. For entire story please go to RUTGERS TODAY


Photo by Carl Blesch