Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Engineering Our World

Something puzzles me. I like to read about science and technology. I scan newspaper headlines and websites to see what's happening. Finding science news isn't hard. One of the best sites I've found is SciTechDaily, a compendium of news and opinion on the topic. But technology has come to mean computer/software/web technology. HiTech. As though that is the only form of technology. Mostly, HiTech is in the news because this where investors hope to make a buck. Nothing wrong with that. It's more about the money than the technology.

What seems to me to be missing from almost all of the news and websites I scan is information about engineering. Engineering is what converts all the science into useful products, structures, applications, materials, and services. Yet, there seems to be little or nothing written about engineering. Maybe that's consistent with the low profile of engineering as a profession. Engineers tend to be quiet people who are more interested in getting the project done than in drawing attention to themselves.

My contention is that with all of the news about science breakthroughs and the investment-driven HiTech news, engineering has become almost transparent to our society. Even the National Academy of Engineering has a low profile to most people. That is until something like a bridge collapses or a product failure forces a massive recall. Both have happened in my town in the last couple of months. On August 1st, the I-35 Bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River. Just a couple of days ago, Medtronic announced a recall on implantable defibrillators due to potential leadwire failures. This is NOT the kind of attention that engineering needs. But unfortunately, this is pretty much the only time that engineering makes the news. People don't stop to be thankful that their cars running reliably 99.999 percent of the time. People assume that the electric grid will always be on (and it virtually always is, at least in this country). People have no trouble getting into an elevator and assuming it will get them to their floor without mishap.

Engineering is everywhere around us. It permeates every corner of our lives. We are all consumers of engineering. Too bad it doesn't get more positive press on a regular basis. If you know an engineer, thank him or her sometime for the good work.

(Image of Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco from Wikipedia)

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