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That Which Has Never Been

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

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Watching the videos and reading about Judy Lee, I recalled something Marilyn vos Savant said: “Everyone knows we need teachers and nurses, and we all love to recognize the individual genius philosopher or mathematician. But the occupational group most responsible for modern society is engineers, who should win a ‘most under-appreciated’ award.”

How true! I’ve lately started to notice the way roads work and I’ve wondered about the layout of pipes and cables underground. I stand in awe of those who pioneered and perfected the technique of using circulating refrigerant to exchange hot, wet air for dry, cooler air, giving us both refrigeration and air conditioning. I’m more and more mindful that with just a flick of a finger I connect with deep wells of oil and veins of coal, with sun, wind, and water. Without knowing how it happens, I use those elements to light up or warm or cool my environment. Everywhere we turn we see such everyday miracles. We don’t often see or hear about the miracle workers.

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That Which Has Never Been-renault_190hp_cooling_fig9.jpg
It’s all French to me!

Who are the people who make these things happen? How do they choose to become engineers? I’m sure we could find many answers, but I asked one engineer I know. Dan McLaughlin, who has worked on the Navajo Reservation and on the Pueblos near Santa Fe, New Mexico, told me that the first time he thought about being an engineer was in his sixth grade class. “My teacher had bought into the ‘Sputnik baby’ ideas that science was super-important for the future,” Dan said. “She told us the difference between pure science and applied science. Pure science is for learning about things. Applied science, which is what we engineers do, uses science to do something useful.”

It goes without saying that scientists and engineers depend on each other. We’re all indebted to both. But Dan chose engineering because, “as a Calvinist/Presbyterian kid, son of a practical father, I figured that I wanted to be an engineer because what was the point of doing something if it did not accomplish something useful.”

“Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been.”—Einstein.