Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century | The American Ceramic Society

Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century

[Image above] Credit: *vlad*; Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

The last century has seen an exponential explosion in engineering developments that would not have been possible without ceramics. The following list of the National Academy of Engineering’s Top 20 Engineering Achievements ( that have had the greatest impact on the quality of life in the 20th century shows how ceramic materials have made life easier for all humanity.


   How Ceramics Contribute:

 1. Electrification

Electrical insulators for power lines,

insulators for industrial/household

applications, glass light bulbs

 2. Automobile

Engine sensors, catalytic converters, spark plugs,

windows, engine components, electrical devices

 3. Airplane

Anti-fogging/freezing glass windows, jet engine components,

electronic components

 4. Safe water supply and treatment

 5. Electronics

Substrates and IC packages,

capacitors, piezoelectrics, insulators, magnets, superconductors

 6. Radio and television

Glass tubes (CRTs), glass

faceplate, phosphor coatings,

electrical components, magnets

 7. Agricultural mechanization

Refractories for melting and

forming of ferrous and non-ferrous metal components

 8. Computers

Electrical components, magnetic

storage, glass for computer monitors

 9. Telephone

Electrical components, glass optical fibers
10. Air conditioning and refrigeration

Glass fiber insulation, ceramic


11. Interstate highways

Cement for roads and bridges, glass microspheres

used to produce reflective paints for signs and road lines.

12. Space exploration

Space shuttle tile, high-temperature

resistant components, ceramic ablation

materials, electromagnetic and

transparent windows, electrical

components, telescope lenses

13. Internet

Electronic components, magnetic storage,

computer monitor glass

14. Imaging: X-rays to film

Piezoceramic transducers for

ultrasound diagnostics, sonar

detection, ocean floor mapping and

more, ceramic scintillator for X-ray

computed tomography (CT scans),

telescope lenses, glass monitors, phosphor coatings for radar and sonar screens

15. Household appliances

Porcelain enamel coatings for major appliances,

glass fiber insulation for stoves and refrigerators,

electrical components, glass-ceramic stove tops,

spiral resistance heaters for toasters, ovens and ranges

16. Health technologies

Replacement joints, heart valves, bone

substitutes, hearing aids, pacemakers,

teeth replacements/braces, transducers

for ultrasound diagnostics, scintillators for X-ray computed tomography (CT scans), cancer treatments

17. Petroleum and natural gas technologies

Ceramic catalysts, refractories, packing media for

petroleum and gas refinement, cement and drill bits for well drilling

18. Lasers and fiber optics

Glass optical fibers, fiber amplifiers, laser materials, electronic components

19. Nuclear technologies

Fuel pellets, control rods, high-

reliability seats and valves, nuclear

waste containment

20. High-performance materials

Including advanced ceramics for their excellent wear, corrosion and high temperature resistance; high stiffness; high melting point; high compressive strength and hardness; and wide range of electrical, magnetic, and optical properties