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William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Differences between engineers and scientists
William K.   2/13/2012 8:51:49 PM
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One of my most fun engineering jobs was supporting a research scientist doing an interesting product development project. We would talk, and he would explain that he needed to find out about some response of some material to some condition, and then I would come up with a means of obtaining that data, and explain the process that I had chosen. At that point he would often have questions, and sometimes it would turn out that my plan would need to be revised, but mostly there were questions about how fast could it be done, and how accurate could the results be, and what were the cost relations between speed and accuracy of the results. IT winds up that nearly everything is a compromise, and as time and cost approach infinity the accuracy gets much higher. But we seldom went to that extreme. But it was fun because there was something new every few days, and I got to do both electronic and mechanical designs and see them all work.

The unfortunate thing was that we wound up showing that current technology could not produce some of the required materials at anything close to the targetede price, in the quantities required. The very good part is that we were able to determine this before any production equipment was procured.

Dave Palmer
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Journalism vs.Scientist Vs Engineering
Dave Palmer   2/13/2012 12:31:10 PM
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@charlessmart18: I realize I'm replying to a comment you made back in October, but I didn't see it until now.  Your statement that the knowledge of the crystalline structure of metals is "of no practical importance" to working metallurgists is simply not true.  Take it from me, a working metallurgist.

It's true that, many years ago, metallurgists developed alloys and heat treatments based primarily on trial and error.  That's not true anymore.  In fact, integrated computational materials engineering is a hot topic these days, and companies like QuesTek are having success developing alloys beginning from first principles calculations.  But even for things like failure analysis, a thorough understanding of microstructures is mandatory.

In fairness, those of us in the materials field occupy an unusual position somewhere between science and engineering.  My undergraduate program was called "Metallurgical and Materials Engineering" when I started.  It was called "Materials Science and Engineering" by the time I graduated.  This term points to the fact that we have to know about more than just metals these days, and that we have to be both scientists and engineers at different times (and sometimes at the same time).

Tom Barker
User Rank
Iron
Re: Not synonymous
Tom Barker   2/13/2012 11:50:46 AM
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"Regarding innumeracy: When a judge earlier this week sentenced former-Illinois-governor Rod Blagojevich in months, rather than years, it was said that some of the reporters were scrambling to figure out how to convert months to years."


Gotta link for that?

Thanks

Tom Barker
User Rank
Iron
Re: Engineering and science
Tom Barker   2/13/2012 11:44:13 AM
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This should be easy.  Watch a few episodes of 'Big Bang', and compare/contrast Sheldon and Howard.

Curt Carpenter
User Rank
Gold
Science AND Engineering
Curt Carpenter   2/13/2012 11:26:46 AM
I'm inclined to think that scientists are more about creating models, while engineers are more about using them.  So naturally we almost always find scientists doing a little engineering and engineers doing a little science.   That's a good thing.

GlennA
User Rank
Gold
Re: Theorem vs Application
GlennA   2/13/2012 11:23:29 AM
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sbkenn;

I have to take exception to your statement that engineers "understand" while technicians follow rote instructions.  Although I have many years experience as an Electrician and a Millwright, I have worked with engineers who believed that their title automatically makes them superior.  I have often had the title Field Service Engineer on my business cards, but I don't claim to be an 'Engineer'.  What I do claim is that my job is to take what was designed by an Engineer, and then fix it so that it works.  As a 'technician', I have especially had to train 'engineers' on the correct application of industrial robots.

I apologize if the engineers reading this post are insulted - but how many senior engineers have had the experience of having to teach junior engineers the difference between 'book learning' and 'real world' application ?  Isn't that why new engineers work under the supervision of senior engineers ?

And I take exception to the belief that a 'real' man/engineer/technician does not need a manual or schematics.  The reason that I have fixed equipment that more senior technicians couldn't was because I did read the instructions.  That was how I learned where the hidden circlip was, what parameter enabled the acceleration profile, at which degree angle the brake was supposed to disengage, etc.

GeorgeG
User Rank
Platinum
Scientist / engineer
GeorgeG   2/13/2012 10:19:59 AM
I have 45 years of hands-on science. Actually much more as I designed and built my own guitar amp at age 13. As a scientist doing what most people would consider engineering, I have noticed a few differences. Most importantly, when authoring a paper, scientists get to put their names first. While engineers generally loathe calculus, scientists find it merely a necessary inconvenience. The main difference seems to be focus - perhaps to general - engineers focus on how, scientists focus on why. Of course there are the outliers - theoretical physicists who live in an unimaginable world and by-the-book engineers who apparently are never curious. But the majority of both are much closer and the opposite tails of the distributions very much overlap. 

Personally, I have always found that hands-on engagement is a great way to stimulate discovery. Engineers tend to favor the build it and see approach to validating a concept while scientists tend to favor starting with a mathematical proof. Both approaches have pros and cons. The engineering approach is an efficient methodology when treading known territory e.g. applying known techniques to a well defined problem. This is the fastest way to get the job done in many cases but also leads to the path of rework (expensive and time consuming) and inertia (overattachment to a bad solution). The scientific approach is more efficient when known best practice is thin. It can take a good deal of time and effort to model the problem which is extra overhead when a tried and true solution is in the offing. On the other hand, this is a powerful way of understanding the underlying rules of engagement when tackling new problems. Generally, where both fail is in the cases where we don't know what we don't know.

Are some scientists impractical? Definitely: there are always challenges in turning basic research into economic product. But, it does no good to understand everything about manufacturing technology if the result is to ignore the principles that make a product or process work ... and vice versa. The bigger problem seems to be a lack of scientific literacy amongst engineers and the lack of mechanical knowledge amongst scientists, or more like, an appreciation of the need. Worse, money men and managers often have no clue. This often leads to dumbing down the problem with resulting command decisions that insult scientists and engineers and esily go wrong. Also, I would not discount the input of technologists. Many of my best engineering projects have depended heavily on the skills of technologists to actualize the designs. I may even have learned a thing or three from them.       

Sadly, the popular press and even the scientific press is pretty clueless. That's why we frequently see articles trumpeting some 'revolutionary' discovery that never sees the light of day. Usually, I stop reading when I read of something that will greatly drive down the cost of a thing based on an experiment at a millionth scale using platimum electrodes ...                                       

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Not synonymous
Charles Murray   12/9/2011 7:21:34 PM
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Regarding innumeracy: When a judge earlier this week sentenced former-Illinois-governor Rod Blagojevich in months, rather than years, it was said that some of the reporters were scrambling to figure out how to convert months to years.

Alexander Wolfe
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Not synonymous
Alexander Wolfe   12/8/2011 11:03:50 AM
Good points, Chuck. In the trade press, too, there are many folks who come up through the general media w/out technical training. The other thing which really bugs me is the widespread innumeracy in our society. You see this all the time in the mainstream media. I've seen many cases in the NYTimes where the age and year of birth given for somebody don't correlate. My other pet peeve is doing what should be a comparison as an absolute, as in "It's 90% faster." Ninety percent faster than what? 

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Not synonymous
Charles Murray   11/18/2011 5:44:15 PM
NO RATINGS
The problem goes beyond the headline writers. Most of the consumer media -- even those who serve as science/technology writers -- came up as general assignment reporters. In some cases, at the big dailies, those general assignment reporters are very knowledgeable. In many cases, however, the general assignment reporter was covering education a year ago, city hall two years ago, and the fashion beat three years ago. The result is a reporter who may think science and engineering are synonymous, or may think that engineering and air conditioning repair are synonymous, or may think that engineering and driving a train are synonymous.

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