Comparisons of Definitions of Engineering



The art and science of applying the laws of the natural sciences to Futrell, 1961 the transformation of materials for the benefit of mankind

The art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man

1828 definition cited in Ferguson, 1992

The art and science by which the properties of matter and the Burke, 1970 energies of nature are made useful to man

The art of applying the principles of mathematics and

Landis, 1992

science, experience, judgment, and common sense to make things which benefit people

The art and science concerned with the practical application of scientific knowledge, as in the design, construction, and operation of roads, bridges, harbors, buildings, machinery, lighting and communication systems, etc.

Funk & Wagnalls, 1973

The art or science of making practical application of the

Florman, 1976

knowledge of pure sciences draws on the traditional engineering method but, surprisingly, this method is relatively undefined, at least as compared with the scientific method. The contrast between science and engineering may be instructive for understanding the method used by engineers:

"Scientists primarily produce knowledge. Engineers primarily produce things." (Kemper, 1982) "Science strives to understand how things work; engineering strives to make things work." (Drexler, 1992) "The scientist describes what is; the engineer creates what never was." (T. von Karrsan, seen in Jackson, 2001)

Thus, engineering as a method involves procedures for making useful things. This is confirmed by a comparison of definitions (Table 1.4). It is interesting to note that most of these definitions refer to engineering as an art and, to many observers, engineering can best be described as what engineers do, rather than by some formal set of operations arranged in a standard routine. McCabe and Eckenfelder (1958) outline the development of a hybrid "engineering science" in the following quote:

Engineering, historically, originates as an art based on experience. Empiricism is gradually replaced by engineering science developed through research, the use of mathematical analysis, and the application of scientific principles. Today's emphasis in engineering, and in engineering education, is, and should be, on the development and use of the engineering science underlying the solution of engineering problems.


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