The Essential Engineer (Book Discussion)

Is the engineer as essential as the scientist for solving our global problems?  How should we value the role of engineers in society?  What are the roles of development and research in corporate, governmental, and non-governmental R&D efforts? Questions like these will form the heart of this discussion about the content and issues raised in Henry Petroski's 2010 book The Essential Engineer:  Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems (IEEE Review).

The following issues are discussed in the book and will provide good fodder for discussion:

  • What are the differences between science and engineering?
  • Does science really depend on engineering as Petroski "proves"?
  • Is it widely understood that engineers often "do science" in their work?  Is it also true that great scientists do engineering?  Petroski provides several examples including Einstein as engineer!  Does this surprise us?  Should it?
  • Which comes first science or engineering?  Can engineers build things that science doesn't understand?  Yes!!!  Really?  Can science get far without ingenious devices to measure phenomena?  No!!!  Really?
  • Does our culture value the sciences over engineering?  Why?  Is this derogation of engineering justified?  Harmful?
  • Does C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" sentiment apply to the "unbridgeable" gulf between science and engineering?
  • Is there a distinction between science and technology (we discussed this during last July's meetup on "The Nature of Technology")?  What are the roles of science and engineering in developing technology?
  • What is the nature of risk analysis in engineering?
  • What is the role of failure in engineering?
  • What is the importance of complex systems in engineering?
  • What it the role of engineering in developing alternative energy?
  • If development (engineering) is more important than research (science) should we call it "development and research" instead of "research and development"?  What is the role of engineering in the R&D process?  Is the D more important than the R in R&D?
  • Engineering does not have a Nobel prize despite the fact that Alfred Nobel was an engineer.  How can we prize engineering?
  • What were the greatest achievements of the 20th century?  Are they the achievements of engineering or science?
  • What are the greatest challenges facing society?  Is the engineer's role vital in solving them?

 

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  • Jean S.

    Fabulous discussion on the Essential Engineer. Soup to nuts - medicine, re-cycling, architecture, solar energy, the advancement of world cultures, etc. - we had a blast of ideas. Without risk there is no advancement. My thinking is still buzzing today with new thoughts. If you missed the discussion, you missed a really good one. Hat's off to CJ for being our "engineer."

    1 · January 14, 2013

  • CJ F.

    January 14, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Friends i am sorry i couldnt find the place. Google maps kept takinf me to 10thtalk and walnut and after looking around i couldnt find the place. May be it was showing incorrect directions. Hopefully i would be able to meet next time.

    January 13, 2013

    • CJ F.

      I'm sorry you had trouble finding Capriccio Cafe. It is on 16th Street just north of Arch Street on the corner of 16th Street and the Ben Franklin Parkway. Did you try clicking on the venue name? For me it leads to a correct Google Maps page.

      January 13, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      I eventually found the place by ignoring the GPS and trying to go by my gut - it turned out to be a trivial example of what we discussed today regarding engineers, arts and solutions. I am glad I could make it albeit late.

      January 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Amazing discussion today. It was well led and he diversity pf thoughts made it so much intellectually challenging. I look forward to more discussions.

    2 · January 13, 2013

  • CJ F.

    My essay on "Society and our technology built world" is relevant to the discussion too: http://blog.cjfearnley.com/2011/06/02/society-and-our-technology-built-world/

    January 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I would love to join this conversation but I havent read this book yet. Would it be ok if I attend the event and be a part of the conversation tomorrow?

    January 12, 2013

    • CJ F.

      You do not have to have read the book to attend. But please RSVP.

      January 12, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Thank you, much appreciated. Looking forward to it.

      January 12, 2013

  • CJ F.

    January 12, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Petroski argues that our culture is largely ignorant of the design and engineering arts so that we tend to misunderstand their nature including strengths and limitations. For example, engineering is not a requirement for graduation in most disciplines (including education, law, nursing and medicine, science, social science, nor even in the humanities). Yet our citizenry and our professional classes are continually called upon to set our values and choose the path forward to solve our global problems (from climate change to ecological degradation to tapping abundent sustainable energy). Would our path forward be more effective if there were a broader understanding of the design and engineering arts? Is a deeper understanding of engineering crucial to humanity's success aboard Spaceship Earth?

    January 12, 2013

  • CJ F.

    This short 7 minute TED ED video "Adam Savage: How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries" is remarkable to me in the way it shows the kind of technology and engineering that lies behind our most profound scientific discoveries (Aristophenes's well and Hippolyte Fizeau's measurement apparatus). To me it really emphasizes Petroski's point: science depends on engineered technology to make its discoveries. That is, in this sense science is built upon engineering.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8UFGu2M2gM

    January 11, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Very nice 6 minute interview with Petroski about his book "The Essential Engineer":
    http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/video/science-engineering-global-problems-10088939

    January 10, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Here is a good short 6 minute interview with Petroski: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8IzxExPoOc

    January 10, 2013

  • CJ F.

    Exquisite interview of Henry Petroski by Dr. Moira Gunn for IT Conversations. After covering the basics of Petroski's argument, they have a poignant discussion about how to make civilization work and address our global problems. She does a brilliant job of pulling out Petroski's big ideas.

    Program site:
    http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail4443.html

    Download the mp3 podcast:
    http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/audio/download/ITC.TN.HenryPetroski-2010.03.25.mp3

    January 9, 2013

  • CJ F.

    In this video Henry Petroski, author of "The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems", discusses his book at the 2010 National Book Festival. If you don't have time to read the book, this 33 minute video will give a good overview of his main points. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qk8XxZ3Wzuk

    January 8, 2013

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