From CERN to the ISS, here are 9 big tech projects that changed the world

tech projects
CERN’s Large Hadron Collider CERN

It’s no secret that technology and the people who build it have made some pretty impressive advances over the years, but while there are plenty of smaller, incremental advances that change our lives in some minor way, there are a handful of giant mega projects which have helped transform the world around us.

Whether it’s rocketing us into space, bringing us all together, building astounding edifices, or answering fundamental questions about who we are and where we come from, here are our picks for nine of the most ambitious tech projects in history.

European X-ray Free Electron Laser

tech projects
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images
TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

The most recent completed project on this list, the European XFEL — a.k.a. the world’s most powerful image-producing X-ray laser — officially opened for business in Germany in September. A giant laser located 125 feet below ground, in a 3.4-kilometer tunnel beneath the northern city of Hamburg, the XFEL is capable of recording images of biochemical reactions as they happen.

“This way we hope to get a new understanding of the fundamental steps of emerging chemical reactivity,” Professor Christian Bressler, one of the scientists involved in the project, told Digital Trends. Plus, who wouldn’t love a massive underground laser?

Three Gorges Dam

big engineering tech projects night view of illuminated three gorges dam in yichang
Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

The world’s largest hydroelectric dam, China’s Three Gorges Dam cost a whopping $37 billion to build, and generates 11 times the power of America’s Hoover Dam. Stretching 410 miles on the Yangtze River in China’s Hubei Province, the dam opened in 2003 after a decade-long construction process. Last year, it generated a massive 93.500 TWh, slightly less than its 2012 record of 98.100 TWh.

However, while certainly an astonishing example of large scale engineering, the Three Gorges Dam has also been controversial — not least because building it displaced well over 1 million local residents.

Apollo space program

big engineering tech projects the apollo 11 crew
Photo by A724/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Every item on this list is an example of the power of technology in action. However, nothing screams “we’re living in the future” quite like the results of the 1960s’ Apollo space program, whose crowning achievement was placing man on the Moon on July 20, 1969. In all, six Apollo missions landed on the Moon between 1969 and 1972. (Apollo 13 was supposed to, but failed on account of a spacecraft malfunction.)

A towering achievement for humanity, the Apollo missions are the precursor for the continuing space exploration in the years since, and remain a source of inspiration to millions.

International Space Station

spacex mrsa delivery iss
NASA/Crew of STS-132

Picking just two space-related mega projects for this list wasn’t easy. But there was no possible other choice for a second entry than the International Space Station (ISS). Launched in 1998, and built by 14 different countries working together, the ISS represented a new age in collaborative space research following the end of the Cold War.

Costing an eye watering $150 billion, it is the largest human-built creation ever launched into space, and is even visible from Earth with the naked eye. A staggering achievement.

DARPA’s CALO project

Type to Siri

Sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), CALO was a five-year, 500-person project which ran between 2003 and 2008. The project name was short for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes. Its goal was to bring together various different aspects of artificial intelligence including machine learning, knowledge representation and natural language processing to build AI tools for the military.

One notable technology which resulted from the project? The arrival of smart A.I. assistant Siri, which Apple debuted back in 2011. If you’ve ever wondered where we got A.I. technology that allows you to speak to a computer and get an informative answer back, it’s DARPA you need to thank.

Human Genome Project

big engineering tech projects dr paul nurse workshop
David Jones/PA Images via Getty Images

Running from 1990 until 2003, the Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international scientific research project which set out to sequence and map human DNA; allowing us to read nature’s blueprint for forming a human being. Thanks in part to the Human Genome Project, today anyone can have their genetic makeup sequenced for just a few thousand dollars — opening up a plethora of possibilities for things like proactive medicine that’s tailored to the individual.

Large Hadron Collider

Located 300 feet underground on the border of Switzerland and France, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. Costing $9 billion to build, and first switched on back in 2009, the LHC is a 27-kilometer ring of superconducting magnets designed to help unwrap the secrets behind… well, pretty much everything to do with high energy physics.

To achieve this, it smashes almost inconceivably tiny particles into one another at incredibly high speeds in an attempt to simulate conditions found in our universe at the time of the Big Bang. So a bit like monster trucks for physicists, then.

Manhattan Project

big engineering tech projects fat man on transport carriage
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

No other project on this list — including the Moon landings and the creation of the internet — has shaped the world to quite the extent of the Manhattan Project. A giant R&D project led by the United States between 1942 and 1946, the Manhattan Project drew on pioneering work involving nuclear physics and chemistry to build the world’s first atomic bombs.

The resulting weapon helped end World War II, cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and forever changed the course of international politics and warfare.

Emerging Tech

The world’s first practical quantum computer has cash and a timeline

The dream of building a practical quantum computer could be closer than ever, thanks to a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation to seven universities around the United States.
Deals

Save hundreds with the best MacBook deals for August 2018

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Movies & TV

Tarantino casts actor to play Bruce Lee in 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

Quentin Tarantino's ninth feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, uses the infamous 1969 Manson murders as a backdrop to tell a story set in bohemian Los Angeles. Here's everything we know so far.
Cars

Apple Car may make its debut in the middle of the next decade

Apple likely won't become a full-fledged manufacturer like General Motors or Ford, but the tech giant is diving into the auto industry pool. Here's everything we know about the company's automotive efforts.
Computing

Apple AR glasses will launch in 2020, says respected industry analyst

Apple AR glasses may be closer to reality than we thought. Here is everything we know so far about the augmented reality system, including the rumored specifications of Apple's Project Mirrorshades.
Emerging Tech

Forget flying cars: This shoe-tying robot is proof that the future is here

Engineering students from the University of California, Davis, recently built a robot whose sole personality in life is to tie shoelaces. It cost them under $600 to do it as well!
Emerging Tech

Bizarre stork robot uses a drone to compensate for its weak, twig-like legs

Developed by engineers from Japan’s University of Tokyo, Aerial Biped is a robot whose top half is comprised of a flying quadrotor UAV that's rooted to the ground by thin stork-like legs.
Emerging Tech

A treasure trove of 3D scientific specimens is now free to see online

Thanks to the California Academy of Sciences, you can access more than 700 scientific specimens and artifacts from the world-class collection via the online 3D and virtual reality platform Sketchfab.
Emerging Tech

Lyd is a battery-powered, ‘no-spill’ bottle that is activated by your lips

Lyd is a battery-powered bottle that’s something like a sippy cup for adults. Its no-spill solution is a specialized lid that uses an algorithm to detect when your lips are on the bottle.
Emerging Tech

Cotton and corn! Reebok’s newest sneaker is ‘made from things that grow’

Keen to move away from using oil-based materials to make its footwear, Reebok has turned to cotton and corn for its latest sneaker. No dyes have been used to color the shoes, either, and the packaging is 100 percent recyclable.
Emerging Tech

A new way to ‘freeze’ water could help transform organ preservation

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital have developed a way of keeping water as a liquid at temperatures far below freezing. Here's why that could help transform organ preservation.
Emerging Tech

Meet the Mantis Q: A drone you can control by yelling, waving, or even smiling

"Mantis, take a picture." Yuneec's new consumer drone, the Yuneec Mantis Q, responds to voice commands along with gestures and smiles. The 4K drone also integrates several different flight modes and safety features inside a one-pound…
Emerging Tech

This robot arm could soon recharge your electric car, no driver effort required

Researchers in Austria have developed a smart robotic charger that can automatically plug itself into any electric vehicle, no driver effort required whatsoever. What could be simpler?
Emerging Tech

Police body cams are scarily easy to hack into and manipulate, researcher finds

Nuix cybersecurity expert Josh Mitchell has demonstrated how it is possible to hack into and potentially manipulate footage from police body cams. The really scary part? It's shockingly easy.