Engineering Marvels for Your Next Excursion

If you’re traveling this spring and summer, the SWE editorial board offers recommendations for destinations that feature stunning engineering prowess.

By Nicole Woon, SWE Editorial Board Chair-elect; Alina Bartley, Emily Carney, and Payal Singh, SWE Editorial Board

As the weather gets warmer and days get longer, you may be thinking of your next vacation. Consider adding a destination with an engineering spin to your itinerary. These locations are visually impressive, solve problems in their communities, and educate the broader public about scientific and technological achievements. Members of the SWE editorial board have suggested a few of the many engineering marvels around the world to inspire your next adventure.

Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway  |  Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons/Adam Selby

At 2.7 miles in diagonal length, Sandia Peak Aerial Tramway is the longest aerial tram in the Americas and has the third-longest single span in the world. The tram cables are supported by only two towers between terminals. The longest portion is between the second tower and top terminal, at a length of 7,720 feet. It took more than 5,000 helicopter rides back and forth along the mountain to build the terminals because of the rugged terrain. The upper station of the tramway is at an elevation of 10,378 feet at a point on the main crest of the Sandia Mountains. Once at the top of the tramway, a number of great activities await visitors, including nature hikes and backpacking and a restaurant that offers spectacular views of the mountainside. As of March 2024, the tram is almost 58 years old and has just undergone a $1.3 million upgrade of its power system and its 1960s-era controls. — Payal Singh

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel  |  Norfolk, Virginia, USA

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons/Jim Powers, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania

If you are driving along the East Coast, take a detour to Route 13 and drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 17.6-mile stretch without a single stop sign, traffic light, or intersection in sight. First, stop at the scenic overlook on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to admire the bridge design, which includes truss structures and a suspension bridge in the center. If you are traveling in the spring or fall, pack your binoculars and look for migrating birds such as the northern gannet and little gull that use the structure as a resting place during their travels. Then start driving the nearly 5 miles across the bridge. Other than the scenic overlook, you will not be able to stop along the way. As a passenger, I remember feeling nervous about the seemingly endless length of the bridge and impressed at the same time. — Emily Carney

Shinkansen Bullet Train  |  Japan

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons/MM, Switzerland

The network of high-speed railway lines, capable of transporting passengers as fast as 200 miles per hour and connecting Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, was a unique engineering challenge when first developed. Due to the high speed, an atmospheric pressure wave built at the front of the train, causing a “tunnel boom” noise when near the tunnel exit. Engineers solved this problem through biomimicry. They redesigned the front of the train to mimic the unique beaks of kingfisher birds, the shape of which reduces impact on the beak when the bird submerges in water. This redesign reduced noise in the tunnels and allowed the train to travel 10% faster and use approximately 15% less electricity. When I traveled through Japan on the shinkansen bullet train, all I could think was: “It would be really nice to have something this fast and convenient in Texas!” — Alina Bartley

Deutsches Museum  |  Munich, Germany

CREDIT: Nicole Woon

With more than 1.5 million visitors each year and more than 40,000 square meters of exhibition space, the Deutsches Museum is one of the largest science and technology museums in the world. German engineer and museum founder Oskar von Miller dreamed of creating a place that expressed the importance of teaching science and technology to the greater public and established the museum in 1903. An exhibit is available for every scientific interest, complete with hands-on interactivity and demonstrations featuring bridges, agriculture, robotics, and much more. On my visit, I was particularly fond of the aviation halls, musical instrument displays, model railway, and chronometry exhibit. The museum is undergoing renovations to be fully refreshed by the 125th anniversary of the museum’s founding in 2028. — Nicole Woon

Bailong Elevator  |  Zhangjiajie, China

CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons/Nix Ning

Recognized as a global geopark by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is notable for its towering pillar-like quartz and sandstone formations, dense foliage, and deep ravines. The area’s unique landscape has inspired many forms of creative expression, including the world of Pandora from the movie series Avatar. One engineering marvel within the park is the Bailong Elevator (meaning the “hundred dragons sky lift”). This set of three glass-faced, double-decker elevators was built onto the side of a cliff to provide easier access to the park’s attractions. It holds the record for the world’s tallest outdoor lift at 1,070 feet high, taking just 1 minute and 32 seconds to ascend to the top. Each elevator can carry 50 passengers at a time, revealing spectacular views to all as it ascends and descends. — Nicole Woon

Corning Museum of Glass  |  Corning, New York, USA

CREDIT: Courtesy of the Corning Museum of Glass

The Corning Museum of Glass has a vision to be “the international leader in transforming the world’s understanding of the art, history, and science of glass.” The museum holds more than 35 centuries of glass and 50,000 objects on display, representing art from nature and cultures around the world. In the Innovation Center, visitors will recognize Corning’s role in engineering and technological advancements, including familiar products such as Gorilla Glass (used on smartphone screens) and Pyrex glassware (known for quality and heat resistance in both the laboratory and the kitchen). Plan your visit so you can witness a glass demo or book a class to take home a project of your own. — Emily Carney

About the authors

Nicole Woon (she/her) is a senior product manager at Microsoft, owning the product life cycle for various SharePoint features. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.S.E. in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics and two B.S.E.s — bioengineering and management, specializing in entrepreneurship and innovation. Recognized as a SWE Distinguished New Engineer in 2021, she is an active SWE life member and is chair-elect of the SWE editorial board.

Alina Bartley (she/her) is a director with Alvarez and Marsal, assisting clients with supply chain management solutions. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering and from The University of Texas at Austin with an MBA. A SWE member since 2009 and a member of the SWE editorial board, Bartley has enjoyed working as a leader within her local Houston Area Section and with collegians at the global level.

Emily Carney (she/her) works in manufacturing continuous improvement at uniQure, a global leader in gene therapy. She graduated from Tufts University with a B.S. in environmental engineering and an M.S. in engineering management. An active SWE member, Carney currently serves on the SWE editorial board.

Payal Singh (she/her) is a software developer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, supporting the National Ignition Facility. She graduated from the University of California San Diego with a B.S. and an M.S. in electrical engineering. She has been a SWE member since 2017 and currently serves on the SWE editorial board.