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Swelling the ranks of modern wonders

By Matthew Knight for CNN
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(CNN) -- With so many modern wonders to choose from, it is hard to whittle the list down to a mere seven or eight. Here are a selection of other contemporary marvels that reflect the engineering, design and technical achievements of our times.

The 'Gherkin'

The "Gherkin" as it was dubbed on completion in 2004 rises majestically from the former site of the Baltic Exchange, in London's financial district, which was bombed by the IRA in 1992.

Designed by Fosters and Partners the building won the RIBA Sterling Prize and Emporis Skyscraper Award not only for its unique shape but it functionality. From top to bottom its steel frame is wrapped up in swathes of diamond shaped panes, which lend it a vitality rarely seen in skyscrapers.

The curved shape cuts down on wind turbulence and gaps were designed between each of its 41 stories, which are served by five separate atria, which store or disperse heat, regulating the temperature of the building in an eco-friendly way. Energy costs are half that of a conventionally shaped skyscraper.

As you travel around the City of London, the "Gherkin" slides in and out of view. Its shape and beauty continue to catch the eye and it looks destined to remain a 21st Century architectural classic.

Hubble Space Telescope

Named after the American astronomer Edwin Hubble -- who discovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way -- the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has given scientists a spectacular new view of the universe since its launch in 1990.

Orbiting 600km above the Earth the HST -- 13.3m long and 4.2m wide -- is five times more powerful than the best land-based telescopes and peers deep into the Universe enabling scientists to study planets, stars and galaxies in startling detail.

One of its core objectives was to determine the rate of expansion of the Universe also known as the "Hubble Constant". Through studying Cepheids -- a type of star with stable and predictable brightness variations -- and supernovas, astronomers have concluded that expansion is accelerating and will continue ad infinitum.

The HST has also recorded some of the most mesmerizing images ever seen. The Trifid, Eagle and Swan Nebulas show towering formations of dust and gas which incubate new stars. To the untrained eye they appear like ethereal underwater worlds of coral and rock.

As of 2006 the HST is showing signs of age and its future is uncertain but its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope is due to be launched in 2013 and will delve deeper into the Universe.

The London Eye

The London Eye is the largest observational wheel in the world and since it officially opened in 1999 it has quickly established itself as a celebrated landmark on the south bank of the River Thames and has flourished as a tourist attraction -- 3.5 million people took a "flight" in 2006.

The London Eye offers great views of England's capital.

The London Eye weighs in at 1,900 tonnes. It uses two types of cable -- wheel cables and backstay cables. The 64 wheel cables, which stretch across to the central spindle, work in much the same way as bicycle spokes in supporting the outer rim.

A total of 3,400 tonnes of concrete were used to create the foundations -- 2,200 for the A-frame legs and 1,200 for the six backstay cables.

Designed by Marks Barfield Architects the London Eye is 135 meters tall and has 32 passenger capsules which complete a full rotation in 30 minutes. At peak height, on a clear day, passengers can see for over 25 miles.

The winner of countless awards, the London Eye has excited and amazed the critics and public alike.

Freedom of the Seas

Despite the inauspicious date of its naming ceremony in May 2006 -- the same day the movie Poseidon opened in the United States -- the Freedom of the Seas has secured the berth of the biggest passenger ship ever to set sail.

Weighing in at a colossal 160,000 tonnes and costing just under $1bn, it has capacity for 4,370 passengers and 1,360 crew. 15 decks stretch out over 300m and over 60m high, offering a dizzying array of entertainment which include a surf park, a 1,350 seat art deco-style theatre and a Royal Promenade -- a floating shopping mall.

With cabins priced at up to $22,000 for its maiden voyage, the Freedom of the Seas has set new standards in facility and luxury for cruise lovers everywhere.

Airbus A380

In January 2005, five years after the commercial launch of what was then called the A3XX project, the first completed A380 was unveiled to the world's media at Airbus HQ in Toulouse, Southern France.

Described by Tony Blair as "the most exciting new aircraft in the world" the Airbus A380 is the biggest passenger plane ever to take to the skies.

Components were made in the four partner countries -- UK, France, Germany and Spain -- and then shipped to Toulouse for assembly in 2004.

The A380 is 73 meters in length and has a wingspan of nearly 80m. The cabin has a total floor space of approximately 630 square meters in a double-decker formation. It has a range of 8,000 nautical miles and will cruise at 650 miles per hour. Not only is the A380 large it is also the heaviest plane to ever take off weighing an incredible 560 tonnes when fully laden with 555 passengers.

Production costs have escalated to €12bn but in December 2006 the A380 was granted its Certificate of Airworthiness after 2,600 hours of flight tests. Commercial take off looks set to happen in October 2007 when Singapore Airlines takes possession of the first A380.

The Falkirk Wheel

Ingenious and architecturally striking, the Falkirk Wheel was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 as part of celebrations to mark her Golden Jubilee.

Taipei 101's design is inspired by bamboo.

It is the only rotating boat lift in the world and it reconnects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal and restores the link between the east and west coasts of Scotland. Previously a series of eleven locks were in operation at the site, but they fell into disrepair and were demolished in the 1960's.

The wheel consists of two 15m steel arms -- reminiscent in shape of the Celtic crusader axe -- which house 80,000 gallon gondolas. Boats -- up to 20m in length -- enter a gondola at the top or bottom. With the aide of gravity, Archimedes' principle of buoyancy and eight hydraulic motors, boats are gently lifted or lowered 35m and continue on with their journey.

Costing just £17.5m the Falkirk Wheel is a modern engineering landmark of distinction which attracts thousands of tourists every year.

The Big Dig

Officially called the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, Boston's Big Dig is the most complex and expensive - $14 billion and rising -- highway project in the United States.

3.5 miles of the Interstate 93 -- the main highway which runs through the heart of city centre -- is in the process of being demolished and rerouted underground. In addition five new major highway interchanges and two bridges across the Charles River are being built -- one of which will be the widest cable-stay bridge in the world.

The original highway built in the 1950's was poorly conceived and displaced over 20,000 residents. Once the Big Dig is completed the land the old highway once blighted will be reclaimed by 27 acres of open space that will include a small amount of commercial and residential properties.

The disappearance of the highway from the skyline will reunite Boston's North End with the downtown commercial and financial districts and re-vitalize an area that has been literally choked to death.

Taipei 101

With a design meant to recall a stick of bamboo, Taipei 101 is currently the world's tallest building. Measuring 508 meters it is 56 meters taller than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

The Hubble Space Telescope

Being situated in one of the world's earthquake hotspots requires foundations which sink 80 meters beneath the surface and on the 92nd floor hangs a giant metal ball weighing 606 tonnes which dampens the effect of high winds.

As well as turning a few heads Taipei 101 has also succeeded in turning few stomachs. A ride in the fastest elevator in the world takes you from the ground floor to the top in 30 seconds at speeds approaching 40mph.

The skyscraper has also had the seal of approval from Alain "Spiderman" Robert who scaled its walls in December 2004 and it also hosts the insane pastime of "tower running" with Australian Paul Crake first to scale the staircase in November 2006 with a time of 10mins 31secs.

Built with the enthusiastic backing of Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, Taipei 101 has attracted business and tourism alike.

International Space Station

Approaching its 3,000th day in orbit the International Space Station (ISS) is one of the most complex scientific projects in history.

An international team is led by the United States with partners from the European Space Agency, Russia, Canada, Japan and Brazil. The first module Zarya -- meaning sunrise in Russian -- was launched in November 1998, shortly followed by the American module Unity which successfully attached with Zarya the following month.

Since October 2000 the ISS has been permanently manned by a succession of astronauts who spend on average 6 months on board.

The ISS is around 250 miles above the earth and completes one orbit every 90 minutes.

The first space tourist Dennis Tito visited the ISS in April 2001 paying a cool $20m for the pleasure. It has also hosted the wedding of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko who married his earthbound bride Ekaterina Dmitriev via video link in August 2003.

Akashi Kaikyo Bridge

On the April 5, 1998, after 10 years of construction, the world's longest suspension bridge opened in Japan. Known also as the Pearl Bridge it measures 3,911meters long, with the span between the two piers being 1,990 meters. It beats the previous titleholder the StoreBaelt in Denmark by 366 meters.

It is one of three bridges which connect the main island of Honshu with the southern island of Shikoku. By far the largest of the three, the piers, which comprise of 30 prefabricated steel segments, rise to a height of nearly 300 meters, the cables are more than a metre in diameter and the foundations reach 70 meters below the seabed.

The bridge spans the treacherous Naruto Straits and the Nojima fault line passes underneath the two piers. Whilst under construction in 1995 the Hyogo-ken Nanbu earthquake struck causing only minor damage and delay and no deaths. When it was completed it was ready to resist earthquakes measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale in a 150 kilometer radius.

Hong Kong International Airport

When the first plane landed at Hong Kong's new Chep Lak Kok airport in July 1998 it consigned the dramatic and sometimes perilous descent into Kai Tak to the history books. Gone was the scene of aircraft skimming the tops of the high-rise apartments of downtown Kowloon in the moments before landing.

Its replacement was a mixture of ingenuity and striking design. Built largely on artificial land reclaimed from the sea, the airport and surrounding changes to the transport infrastructure cost $20 billion and took six years to complete.

The terminal building was designed by Foster and Partners and is one of the largest enclosed spaces in the world -- 570,000 square meters. But despite its size it is one of the most accessible and user-friendly terminal buildings in the world.

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

The Guggenheim Museum is credited with reviving Bilbao's fortunes.

Visitors to the Guggenheim Museum don't so much turn up to see what's inside its numerous walls as to marvel at its own extraordinary composition. Its shimmering iridescence -- courtesy of its titanium cladding -- and its sweeping curves set against the abrupt and irregular angles give the impression of seeing a conventionally designed building through a fairground mirror.

Designed by Canadian architect Frank Gehry the museum was officially opened in 1997 to a flood of open-mouthed gasps and the odd ugh. Broadly speaking, the building is meant to reflect its location near the port of Bilbao and its shape is reminiscent of a ship. The legion of polished titanium tiles look like fish scales -- the museum sits next to the river Nervion.

With the benefit of computer-aided design and with immaculate methodical planning Gehry succeeded in completing the museum on time and on budget. He and his wonderful museum are credited with putting Bilbao on the map.

The Seikan Tunnel

Often put in the shade by it's more historically and geographically important cousin the Channel Tunnel, the Seikan Tunnel is in fact the world's longest railway tunnel.

Running beneath the Tsugaru Strait, it joins the Japanese islands of Honshu and Hokkaido.

The need for a tunnel was put sharply into focus when in 1954 a typhoon sank five ferryboats crossing the Tsugaru Strait killing 1,430 people.

After a painstakingly long process of surveying started in 1946, construction was eventually given the go-ahead in 1971. 12 years later the two ends of the tunnel met.

It was finally completed in 1988 at a cost of $7 billion. The tunnel is 33.4 miles long with 14.3 miles running under the seabed, 800 feet below the surface.

Today the tunnel is under-utilized as travelling by air travel is quicker and almost as cheap, but it remains one the great engineering feats of modern times.

Itaipu Dam

Until China started constructing its Three Gorges Dam, the Itaipu Dam, on the Brazil/Paraguay border was the largest dam in the world with a maximum capacity of 12,600 megawatts of power. That alone would meet the energy needs of the whole of California.

In creating it, 50 million tonnes of rock and earth were shifted, altering the course of the world's seventh largest river, the Parana. Switched on in 1991 the project employed a total of 40,000 people and took 16 years to complete at a cost of $18 billion.

In 2007 two more generating units will be added making a total of 20 and increase capacity to 14,000MW.

Langeled Pipeline

In recent years companies and consumers in the United Kingdom have experienced massive rises -- nearly 20 per cent -- in the cost of their gas supply. The reason? North Sea production has declined markedly which has meant that 5-10 per cent of supplies have to be imported from other countries.

The Langeled Pipeline -- the longest underwater pipeline in the world -- might just ease the pressure on supplies. Stretching nearly 750 miles from the Nyhamna terminal in Norway to Easington in North Yorkshire. The pipeline officially opened on October 1st 2006, and when fully operational in 2007 should carry 70 million cubic meters per day, providing 20 per cent of the UK's gas.

The pipeline was laid by the Acergy Piper - a slow-moving barge that looks like a cross between an oil platform and a rusty old cargo vessel. The project required one million tonnes of steel to create the pipes which were then encased in concrete, making each section of pipe weigh roughly 25 tonnes.

DNA Fingerprinting

22 years ago in a laboratory at Leicester University in the UK, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys made a scientific breakthrough which would give categorical proof of a person's identity.

DNA is our own human barcode. DNA appears on x-ray film as columns of black dashes scattered randomly across the page.

Its most obvious application has been to radically improve the police's ability to solve crimes. Because even the most minute samples of body tissue can carry enough information to identify a person, the task of proving whether a suspect was at a crime scene or not has become accurate and indisputable.

It has also been used to settle millions of paternity disputes and identify victims of wars who otherwise could not have been identified.

Like many of the new scientific advances in recent years, DNA fingerprinting has been at the centre of debates surrounding personal privacy. In the UK calls for a national DNA database have so far been resisted by politicians.

Its inventor hasn't agreed with all its applications in the UK. Persons acquitted of crimes still remain on a DNA database. "That is discriminatory", Sir Alec Jeffreys said, "It works on a premise that a suspect population is more likely to offend in the future".

Nevertheless, DNA fingerprinting remains one of the greatest scientific advances of modern times.

The "Gherkin" looms over London's financial district.


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