Wednesday, 24 April 2013

What would life be like without engineers?

Pro Vice Chancellor Professor Tony Ryan imagines what life would be like without engineers and talks about how much of our scientific achievements should be credited to the engineers that made them possible.
"engineering came before science; the wheel was around for a long time before Archimedes or Newton!"
What would life be like without engineers?

We’d still be living in caves grooming & picking fleas off each other. We might be interacting socially and demonstrating well-developed emotional intelligence but we’d have a very poor quality of life.

We benefit from the wondrous achievements of engineers every day. Not only the obviously engineered things: bridges, buildings, cars & planes, energy distribution systems for gas & electricity and fantastic micro-electronic devices, but also soft things; like our clothing, cleaning products and the food we eat, often the creations of chemical engineers.

And we must recognise that engineering came before science; the wheel was around for a long time before Archimedes or Newton!

Feats of engineering are often mistaken for science. For example the 5-sigma confirmation of the Higgs boson at CERN might result in a Nobel Prize for a physicist but we all know it would still be only a theory were it not for the contributions of the engineers who built and operated the LHC - the biggest and most complicated machine the world has ever seen.

The same is true in astronomy and earth observation. It was mechanical engineering PhD students, Alex Baker and Chris Rose, who helped students from Sheffield High School send a balloon and camera and a host of other instruments 30km up into the sky to record images and data at the edge of space.

And we can all recognise that the content-rich world in which we live relies on computer science and systems engineering to deliver all that information through complex technology.

In fact one of the wonders of modern engineering, computational fluid dynamics, has actually become part of our sporting culture. The advantages it brings to materials and engineering are the reason why the Speedo laser swim suits have been banned from the Olympics. CFD underlies the strategy of the aggregation of marginal gains espoused by Team Sky; most recently Phil Leggett invoked CFD to explain why the yellow jersey was wearing a helmet with no-vents and why Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish wore them as they powered down the Champs Elysee in the Tour De France, leaving Cadel Evans, Matt Goss, and Andre Greipel trailing in their wake.

Engineering has an important impact on the quality of our lives not least because when people talk about wealth creation they are fundamentally talking about engineering. It is our engineering graduates that will drive this process.

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via Compfight cc

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