I sometimes worry about folks casually lumping engineers in with scientists. I just read an article in Business Insider headlined “Scientists are on the cusp of these 15 discoveries that will transform the world.” The author was reporting on an MIT report that detailed 15 industries and scientific fields in which we may soon see breakthroughs.
Einstein said that “scientists investigate that which already is; engineers create that which has never been.” Although I respect and admire scientific discovery, there is no doubt in my mind that the potential breakthroughs described in Business Insider will be the results of research being done in engineering labs.
Let me give you some examples. The article talks about cybercrime and its serious risk to society. The MIT report indicated that designing more secure systems can be done. Will it be a scientist who does this? I think the designer is likely to be closer to a computer engineer. It will take an engineer who understands the intersection of networking and security fields; knows how to secure network infrastructure; has knowledge of wired and wireless networks; and can build assured systems.
The list also includes investing in “futuristic” defense technology such as cloaking and alloys as strong as steel but lighter. A number of our Georgia Tech engineering faculty are already involved in these initiatives. The list goes on in the areas of next-generation materials, battery technologies, infectious diseases, and robotics.
Engineers will be the ones who move us forward in the future. My concern is that engineering can be invisible, and that’s a problem since we need talented young people to enter the profession, and we need leaders (as well as the general public) to understand the importance of our contributions to the world now and in the future. If we want our profession to grow and flourish, engineering must be widely understood, appreciated, and esteemed.
Maybe I am a little sensitive about this subject, but I am proud of my profession. I want people to value and respect engineering for what it is. We create real solutions that improve the world around us.
While we learn from what already is, engineers clearly have their sights set on the future. For that reason, and many others, I hope that people will not generalize the profession and confuse us with scientists. Let’s hear it for the engineers.