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Science and technology

A photograph from Apollo 11 of Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the Moon

The United States has been a leader in scientific research and technological innovation since the late 19th century. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the first U.S. patent for the telephone. Thomas Edison's laboratory developed the phonograph, the first long-lasting light bulb, and the first viable movie camera. Nikola Tesla pioneered alternating current, the AC motor, and radio. In the early 20th century, the automobile companies of Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford popularized the assembly line. The Wright brothers, in 1903, made the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.

The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led many European scientists, including Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, and John von Neumann, to immigrate to the United States. During World War II, the Manhattan Project developed nuclear weapons, ushering in the Atomic Age. The Space Race produced rapid advances in rocketry, materials science, and computers. IBM, Apple Computer, and Microsoft refined and popularized the personal computer. The United States largely developed the ARPANET and its successor, the Internet. Today, 64% of research and development funding comes from the private sector. The United States leads the world in scientific research papers and impact factor. As of April 2010, 68% of American households had broadband Internet service. The country is the primary developer and grower of genetically modified food, representing half of the world's biotech crops.


The Interstate Highway System, which extends 46,876 miles (75,440 km)

Personal transportation is dominated by automobiles, which operate on a network of 13 million roads, including one of the world's longest highway systems. The world's second largest automobile market, the United States has the highest rate of per-capita vehicle ownership in the world, with 765 vehicles per 1,000 Americans. About 40% of personal vehicles are vans, SUVs, or light trucks. The average American adult (accounting for all drivers and nondrivers) spends 55 minutes driving every day, traveling 29 miles (47 km).

Mass transit accounts for 9% of total U.S. work trips, ranking last in a survey of 17 countries. While transport of goods by rail is extensive, relatively few people use rail to travel, though ridership on Amtrak, the national intercity passenger rail system, grew by almost 37% between 2000 and 2010. Light rail development has increased in recent years but, like high speed rail, is below European levels. Bicycle usage for work commutes is minimal.

The civil airline industry is entirely privately owned and has been largely deregulated since 1978, while most major airports are publicly owned. The three largest airlines in the world by passengers carried are U.S.-based; Delta Air Lines is number one. Of the world's thirty busiest passenger airports, sixteen are in the United States, including the busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.


The United States energy market is 29,000 terawatt hours per year. Energy consumption per capita is 7.8 tons of oil equivalent per year, the 10th highest rate in the world. In 2005, 40% of this energy came from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 22% from natural gas. The remainder was supplied by nuclear power and renewable energy sources. The United States is the world's largest consumer of petroleum. For decades, nuclear power has played a limited role relative to many other developed countries, in part due to public perception in the wake of a 1979 accident. In 2007, several applications for new nuclear plants were filed. The United States has 27% of global coal reserves.


Some 80% of U.S. college students attend public universities such as the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson.

American public education is operated by state and local governments, regulated by the United States Department of Education through restrictions on federal grants. Children are required in most states to attend school from the age of six or seven (generally, kindergarten or first grade) until they turn eighteen (generally bringing them through twelfth grade, the end of high school); some states allow students to leave school at sixteen or seventeen. About 12% of children are enrolled in parochial or nonsectarian private schools. Just over 2% of children are homeschooled.

The United States has many competitive private and public institutions of higher education. According to prominent international rankings, 13 or 15 American colleges and universities are ranked among the top 20 in the world. There are also local community colleges with generally more open admission policies, shorter academic programs, and lower tuition. Of Americans twenty-five and older, 84.6% graduated from high school, 52.6% attended some college, 27.2% earned a bachelor's degree, and 9.6% earned graduate degrees. The basic literacy rate is approximately 99%. The United Nations assigns the United States an Education Index of 0.97, tying it for 12th in the world.


The Texas Medical Center in Houston, the world's largest medical center

The United States life expectancy of 78.4 years at birth ranks it 50th among 221 nations. Increasing obesity in the United States and health improvements elsewhere have contributed to lowering the country's rank in life expectancy from 1987, when it was 11th in the world. Approximately one-third of the adult population is obese and an additional third is overweight; the obesity rate, the highest in the industrialized world, has more than doubled in the last quarter-century. Obesity-related type 2 diabetes is considered epidemic by health care professionals. The infant mortality rate of 6.06 per thousand places the United States 176th out of 222 countries.

The U.S. health care system far outspends any other nation's, measured in both per capita spending and percentage of GDP. Health care coverage in the United States is a combination of public and private efforts, and is not universal as in all other developed countries. In 2004, private insurance paid for 36% of personal health expenditures, private out-of-pocket payments covered 15%, and federal, state, and local governments paid for 44%. In 2005, 46.6 million Americans, 15.9% of the population, were uninsured, 5.4 million more than in 2001. The main cause of this rise is the drop in the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance. The subject of uninsured and underinsured Americans is a major political issue. In 2006, Massachusetts became the first state to mandate universal health insurance. Federal legislation passed in early 2010 will create a near-universal health insurance system around the country by 2014.

From Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
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