STEAM Fields Have Come A Long Way In 100 Years. This Is How We Got Here

To say that the 20th century was the greatest for technological and scientific advancement is an understatement. What began without airplanes ended with the International Space Station in orbit, and all the while brilliant minds from science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) backgrounds pushed human progress forward. The contributions they have made in the past 100 years have taken us further than all the previous centuries combined.

In celebrating the accomplishments of the men and women who pushed STEAM fields to the next level, we often lose sight of the limitations, technological and otherwise, they had to overcome to succeed. What equipment was used to solve complex engineering problems before digital calculators? How were scientists able to map our planetary neighbors and nearby stars? How was it to work in an office without computers? We teamed up with Ford and traveled through time to take us into the future of STEAM fields.

Science Of Appliances

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When the first commercially available microwave oven was introduced by Raytheon in 1947, it changed the way households in the United States cooked their food. Unlike conventional ovens that take time to heat up, these devices use a magnetron to instantly convert electricity into microwaves that bounce back and forth inside the reflective walls of the food compartment, heating food in minutes where a normal oven may take hours. Since then, advances in science have paved the way for 3D food printers, which use macronutrients like proteins and starch to print a variety of foods like pizza and hamburgers (pictured). Eventually, NASA hopes to make 3D printers a standard feature in spacecraft, allowing astronauts to enjoy nutritious 3D-printed food during long-distance space expeditions.

Computing For Tomorrow

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Often considered the greatest engineering breakthrough of the 20th century, the invention of the computer is credited with unparalleled achievements in nearly every industry, from agriculture to zoology. The first commercial computer, the UNIVAC I (pictured) filled an entire room, featured 5,200 vacuum tubes and could perform 1,905 operations per second. Considering the high price of the UNIVAC I (over $11 million in today’s dollars), only government branches, corporations and academia could afford one. Modern computers are much, much smaller and cheaper than their predecessors, and more powerful, too, clocking in millions of operations per second. The increase in computing power has also allowed scientists to make big advances in a variety of computation-heavy projects like genome research and climate research.

Designing The Future

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In the 20th century, designers relied on blueprints and scale-model replicas to conceptualize their work for their peers to review. Thanks to modeling software and 3D printers, designers can now mock up their ideas, share them digitally using tablets and make accurate replicas in minutes, saving them time and money. What’s more, designers can use modeling software like NASA’s BLAST program to simulate hard-to-replicate environmental conditions, such as the surface of the moon (pictured), to test the robustness of their designs well before the prototypes are built.

Channeling A New Vision

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Although the first televisions appeared on store shelves as early as the 1920s, it wasn’t until the 1950s that viewers at home could tune in to television broadcasts in color. Engineers were able to create a color display by blasting three electron guns carrying red, green and blue signals at a screen coated with phosphors. The new technology transformed how viewers consumed content at home. Today, improvements in display tech are unlocking a new frontier of multimedia consumption, from 4K television sets that produce life-like viewing experiences (pictured) to virtual reality headsets that have the potential to train future astronauts.

Plotting The Way Forward

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Advances in math, GPS and gyroscopic technology have allowed hobbyist astronomers to simply point their phones at the night sky to determine what stars they are looking at ― a far cry from days of yore when you needed a telescope and a star chart to locate a star in the night sky. Using orbiting satellites to pinpoint the user’s location, applications like Sky Map (pictured), which plugs into Google’s vast database of stellar objects, give detailed information about objects in the night sky, above and below the horizon, something conventional telescopes can’t do. In the not-too-distant future, mapping technologies like Sky Map will be useful in providing cartographic information for the first Mars settlers who will rely on these geographic surveys to determine the best places to set up camp.

Now that you know how far STEAM fields have come in the past 100 years, visit the Ford STEAM experience to discover how Ford’s STEAM initiatives are inspiring the next generation of automakers and mobility shapers.