Applying Science To Solve Problems

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It was never a subject in school—those were social studies, English, gym—and now I had to choose between enrolling in the School of Engineering or the School of Everything Else. The only degrees my school offered were a Bachelor of Arts—which included clearly non-arts fields like chemistry and computer science—or a Bachelor of Science in Engineering. And how did it somehow become so prominent that it balanced against arts-and-sciences-and-politics-and-sociology-and-economics-and-philosophy? “Engineers build things,” she wrote, “and scientists understand things.” So, do engineers not understand what they build?

If the world could be divided into engineering and everything else, why had I never heard of engineering? One of the first answers someone gave me was that “engineers solve problems.” Neat. Like, they make a car, but then they think the car is magic?

Science is an enormously successful human enterprise.

The study of scientific method is the attempt to discern the activities by which that success is achieved.

I hope this article doesn’t start an internet flame war between the two camps.

(Scientists: “I will investigate why you suck.” Engineers: “I don’t care why, but I will quantify, to five decimal places, how much you suck.”) I hope, instead, that it answers my question from 20 years ago, a question many science trainees face today: What’s the difference between a scientist and an engineer? Both are great rhyming stories about kids destined for certain careers based on their talents and proclivities.Rosie Revere builds awesome machines that she sketches on graph paper. I next asked the most biased possible person: the dean of my university’s engineering school. In one of my graduate school rotations, for example, I worked on protein engineering. Twenty years later, I’m a scientist (with a job—take that, engineering dean), but I still have no idea where to draw the line between science and engineering.” Another is that “engineers solve real problems, while scientists solve theoretical problems.” This explanation sounds like it was written to deliberately shortchange scientists—because when a theoretical problem has a theoretical solution, what’s to say they’re not both a bunch of bull? ), I think this oversimplification captures the romantic misperceptions about both fields.We want to see scientists as visionaries, exploring the corridors of the possible.Indeed, this is the most common characterization of scientists versus engineers.It reminds me of two books by the same author that my 6-year-old daughter owns: .Among the activities often identified as characteristic of science are systematic observation and experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the formation and testing of hypotheses and theories.How these are carried out in detail can vary greatly, but characteristics like these have been looked to as a way of demarcating scientific activity from non-science, where only enterprises which employ some canonical form of scientific method or methods should be considered science (see also the entry on science and pseudo-science).


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