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Both sides of the brain
Engineering is “brain science” in that it involves both cognition and the affect; and it is a science that is based on conceptualization as well as experimentation. As a multidimensional discipline, it is also an art and a profession that emphasizes an understanding of timeless and universal principles, as well the application of scientific, mathematical, and economic practices and concepts. As a highly “social” medium of expression, it also provides very tangible evidence of our species’ ability to apply practical knowledge to the design and building of all kinds of structures, machines, devices, and systems.
Engineers are also experts at defining the properties of a great number of materials and processes, both of which create solutions that fulfill the needs of human society. But as Ian Creelman says in this podcast, “Engineering is in many ways an invisible science.” The creations of engineers may seem obvious but behind that creativity lies critical thinking at its most profound.
The complexity of the world of engineering
Engineering is many disciplines, as well as an art form. A highly conceptual science, it has many specialized sub-disciplines and a long history in terms of the evolution of human society. When you consider the deceptively simple science of such human inventions as the wheel, the lever, and the pulley, you are only scratching the surface of our species ability to be ingenious and resourceful.
And engineering also goes far back in time. The symmetry of Stonehenge, the Pyramids of the Pharaohs; the classical Greek structures of the Acropolis and Parthenon; Roman aqueducts and theatres throughout Europe and Britain; Hadrian’s Wall; Mayan, Inca, and Aztec temples and pyramids; the Great Wall of China are just a few of the best known and iconic structures that have stood — literally and figuratively — the test of time.
Inherent in each of the above is engineering.
And consider the following: the impact on society of the steam engine (and the subsequent Industrial Revolution); such artists/engineers as Leonardo da Vinci; mathematicians/engineers such as Archimedes; and the relatively recent aerospace industry. These examples suggest why the art and science of engineering is both about lateral thinking and the more linear thinking of the Scientific Method.
Engineering is, above all, critical analysis and the results-oriented intellectual processes of identifying, understanding, and interpreting how seemingly ordinary resources can be designed (or redesigned) in order to provide solutions to human needs. And also inherent in the discipline is the concept and practice of predicting. And this is also why engineering is inextricably interlinked with the evolution of human societies and of human behaviour.
Function and form
As Ian also emphasizes in this podcast, “If you are forced to choose between one or the other, the functionality and use of an item often comes before the look, feel or ‘form” factor’; yet I think this is an oversight. You shouldn’t have to choose one or the other. Form shouldn’t follow function but be integrated into it from the beginning. Anything else is just lazy. Great design is when you find the middle ground between both form and function.”
And as higher order thinkers, human beings have always striven to find a balance between the realm of the possible and the here and now. As professionals, engineers have internalized this concept, and the knowledge base, in order to design projects that further the cause of civilization. But, as we know, the best laid plans of mice and men can go askew; and therefore forensic engineering is also a key discipline in the field because there are also times when problem-solving is critical to discovering what went wrong. And to add to the ethical dilemmas of engineers is the fact that war and engineering has always been an all-too-human and interconnected endeavour.
The relatively new world of software engineering
As Ian also comments in this podcast, the invention of the Internet is probably the most important technological advance since the invention of the printing press.
And the Internet means software.
Global business, global communications, and the increasingly global access to information have grown in leaps and bounds. In the 21st century, much of this advancement is software-based. And as Ian also points out in this podcast, travel destinations almost anywhere in the world can now compete on a more equal basis. Thanks to software engineering — in many ways virtual travel that helps consumers learn more about a destination before they go and to therefore customize their travel plans — direct two-way and multimedia access to the travel “products” that a destination markets, is facilitated far more than in the past.
Travel and engineering
If you think about that last great trip, and if you carefully consider the context or landscape in which it took place, you may just become a little more conscious of certain feats of engineering implicit in the destination in which you found yourself. Perhaps you were strolling down the Champs–Élysées in Paris; and admiring Baron Haussman’s redesign of one of the world’s most famous cities. Or perhaps you were looking at a glorious field of tulips in The Netherlands in the middle of which stood a solitary windmill.
To see a thematic slide show of iconic images relating to the world of travel and engineering engineering, click here.
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This Canadian organization works primarily in Africa helping locals improve the basic infrastructure of their lives.
To quote one of the reviews of this book, ” ‘‘Must’ reading for all thoughtful engineers and historians of technology, and even for those physical scientists who wonder why engineers frequently act and think differently than do basic scientists.”
3. The official website of The City of Lethbridge, Alberta
As we discuss in this podcast, significant tourism destinations, such as the Alberta city of Lethbridge, are now in the position to compete for tourism dollars throughout the world. Also on the home page, you will see an image of the largest trestle bridge in the world; an engineering attraction in itself.
4. The Art of Engineering, a blog by Duncan Drennan
Like Ian Creelman, Duncan Drennan is a young person who looks carefully at social issues and themes related to the diverse field of engineering; and how engineering can create a better world for human societies.
This podcast is a co-production of Ian Creelman and Bob Fisher
All photos, with the exception of the Eiffel Tower and the trestle bridge in Lethbridge, are copyright of Bob Fisher.