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Engineering is the application of science to the needs of humanity. This is accomplished through knowledge, mathematics, and practical experience applied to the design of useful objectss or processes. Professional practitioners of engineering are called engineers.

Table of contents
1 Compared to other professions
2 The task of engineering
3 Etymology
4 Connections to other disciplines
5 Engineers in culture
6 See also

Compared to other professions

You see things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"
George Bernard Shaw

Engineering is concerned with the implementation of a solution to a practical problem. A scientist may ask "why?" and proceed to research the answer to the question. By contrast, engineers want to know how to solve a problem and how to implement that solution.

In other words, scientists investigate phenomena, whereas engineers create solutions to problems or improve upon existing solutions.

As an illustrative example, on November 21, 1877, Thomas A. Edison developed the phonograph -- a remarkable feat of engineering. Then, he directed his assistant (the technologist) to improve the device further by removing harmonics from the sound output.

The task of engineering

The engineer must identify and understand the relevant constraints in order to produce a successful result. Constraints include available resources, physical or technical limitations, flexibility for future modifications and additions, and other factors such as requirements for cost, manufacturability, and serviceability. By understanding the constraints, engineers deduce specifications for the limits within which an object or system may be produced and operated. Engineering is therefore influenced by many considerations.

Problem solving

Engineers use their knowledge of science and mathematics, and appropriate experience, to find suitable solutions to a problem. Creating an appropriate mathematical model of a problem allows them to analyze it (perhaps, but exceptionally, definitively), and to test potential solutions. If multiple reasonable solutions exist, engineers evaluate the different design choices on their merits and choose the solution that best meets the requirements.

Engineers typically attempt to predict how well their designs will perform to their specifications prior to full-scale production. They use, among other things: prototypes, scale models, simulations, destructive testss, nondestructive testing, and stress tests. Testing ensures that products will perform as expected. Engineers as professionals take seriously their responsibility to produce designs that will perform as expected and will not cause unintended harm to the public at large. Engineers typically include a factor of safety in their designs to reduce the risk of unexpected failure.

Use of computers

Computers and design software, play an increasingly important role. Using computer aided design (CAD) software, engineers are able to capture more information about their designs. The computer can automatically translate some models to instructions suitable for automatic machinery (e.g., CNC) to fabricate (part of) a design. The computer also allows increased reuse of previously developed designs by presenting an engineer with a library of predefined parts ready to be used in designs.

Additionally, engineers make use of a variety of circuit schematics software to aid in the creation of circuit designs that perform an electronic task when used for a printed circuit board (PCB) or a computer chip.


It is a myth that engineer originated to describe those who built engines. In fact, the words engine and engineer (as well as ingenious) developed in parallel from the Latin root ingeniosus, meaning "skilled". An engineer is thus a clever, practical, problem solver. The spelling of engineer was later influenced by back-formation from engine. The term later evolved to include all fields where the skills of application of the scientific method are used. In some other languages, such as Arabic, the word for "engineering" also means "geometry".

Connections to other disciplines

Science attempts to explain newly observed and unexplained phenomena, often creating mathematical models of observed phenomena. Technology and engineering are attempts at practical application of knowledge (often from science). Scientists work on science; engineers work on technology. However, there is often an overlap between science and engineering. It is not uncommon for scientists to become involved in the practical application of their discoveries; thereby becoming, for the moment, engineers. Conversely, in the process of developing technology engineers sometimes find themselves exploring new phenomena, thus becoming, for the moment, scientists.

There are significant parallels between the practice of medicine and engineering. Both professions are well known for their pragmatism -- the solution to real world problems often requires moving forward before phenomenea are completely understood in a more rigorous scientific sense.

There are also close connections between the workings of engineers and artists; they are direct in some fields, for example, architecture / landscape architecture and industrial design, and indirect in others. Artistic and engineering creativity may be fundamentally connected.

Engineers in culture

Historically, engineering has been seen as a somewhat dry, uninteresting field in popular culture, and has also been thought to be the domain of nerds (with little of the romance that attaches to hacker culture). For example, the cartoon character Dilbert is an engineer.

In science-fiction, also thought to be the domain of nerds, engineers are often portrayed as highly knowledgeable and respectable individuals who understand the overwhelming future technologies often portrayed in the genre. The Star Trek characters Montgomery Scott and Geordi LaForge are famous examples.

See also



Major branches

See fields of engineering for a full listing.