"Building bridges and stuff"

Image of three young women smiling on stage looking off to the left, the furthest on the right is holding a microphone

23 April 2014


My brother is seventeen. He loves science and will soon be applying for university. Long before he started looking at courses and departments though, someone suggested that he consider engineering. He replied, “what’s that about?” It seemed like a funny question at the time: how can you not know what engineering is? But the answer he got was funnier still and all too familiar.

The entire world of engineering – everything from defence systems to social media – was condensed down into that one tired example: “what’s engineering? It’s just building bridges and stuff”. I rolled my eyes and tried to explain a little. But it wasn't until months later when I was talking to someone about an education scheme I took part in (helping a team design a filter system for a waste management company) that I realised that engineering is just solving problems.

Engineers take problems and provide solutions using what we know about the world around us. It sounds so obvious that it’s silly! Imagine if the world’s earliest engineers had seen that circular objects aid movement and then failed to invent the wheel. Imagine if the first farmers had seen plants grow better in fertile conditions and then failed to cultivate their plants there. Imagine if people saw rivers flow and did not realise they could use them to travel. So yes, the world needs science and maths. The effort to understand our ecosystem, our climate and our universe is by no means complete but if we keep learning new things and not doing anything about it then we’ll just be a really smart species that died out because we learnt too much and did too little. And that is why the world needs more engineers.

Article from 'Young Engineers' Series.

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