(NewsUSA) – The pioneers of engineering — practical artists and craftsmen — proceeded mainly by trial and error. Yet, tinkering combined with inspiration have produced many ingenious devices that we take for granted. From turn-of-the century farm equipment that spurred agricultural expansion to elevators, electricity and home heating systems, engineers have paved the way for future generations.

The word “engineer” originated in the 11th century. Translated from Latin, it means the “ingenuous one.” Today’s engineers live up to that moniker, developing high-tech products particularly in the areas of energy, medical diagnostics and biotechnology.

The technological frontier reaches farther each day. At the Department of Nanomedicine at the Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Houston, implantable, mechanically engineered nanoglands that closely mimic the body’s natural healing processes promise the final achievement of personalized treatment of many diseases worldwide.

It’s technological advances like this that are laying the groundwork for what’s come to be known as “humanitarian engineering” — making it possible to offer affordable technology to help those less fortunate around the world. For example, engineering students at the University of Illinois are providing adjustable prosthetic arms at minimal cost to people who have little or no access to medical care, and Dartmouth College engineering students are building wind turbines in remote regions of Tanzania.

Hoping to build on these and other advances, ASME, IEEE and Engineers Without Borders-USA have launched an initiative called Engineering for Change (E4C), which aims to build a community of engineers, technologists, social scientists, non-governmental organizations and local community advocates who are passionate about improving quality of life. E4C?(www.engineeringforchange.org) seeks to enable this growing community to design, apply and share appropriate and sustainable technical solutions to achieve transformational results for humanitarian and global development challenges.

The right projects can have enormous impact. A simple latrine can prevent diarrhea, the world’s second leading cause of infant deaths. An irrigation system might allow farmers to grow surplus crops for sale. A pedal-powered generator to recharge cell phones could let villagers check prices before bringing products to market. In these ways and more, engineers are making the world a better place for future generations, one project at a time.