Were science and engineering seen as distinct fields in 18th century

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Summary:

I was reading a Wikipedia article and got confused about a point. I'm not sure if it's true only in the context of civil engineering and science, or all kinds of engineering and science.

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi,

I was reading about Euler-Bernoulli beam theory on Wikipedia and couldn't understand few points under the history section.

Euler–Bernoulli beam theory

It was first enunciated circa 1750,[2] but was not applied on a large scale until the development of the Eiffel Tower and the Ferris wheel in the late 19th century. Following these successful demonstrations, it quickly became a cornerstone of engineering and an enabler of the Second Industrial Revolution.

History
Prevailing consensus is that Galileo Galilei made the first attempts at developing a theory of beams, but recent studies argue that Leonardo da Vinci was the first to make the crucial observations. Da Vinci lacked Hooke's law and calculus to complete the theory, whereas Galileo was held back by an incorrect assumption he made.[3]

The Bernoulli beam is named after Jacob Bernoulli, who made the significant discoveries. Leonhard Euler and Daniel Bernoulli were the first to put together a useful theory circa 1750.[4] At the time, science and engineering were generally seen as very distinct fields, and there was considerable doubt that a mathematical product of academia could be trusted for practical safety applications. Bridges and buildings continued to be designed by precedent until the late 19th century, when the Eiffel Tower and Ferris wheel demonstrated the validity of the theory on large scales.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euler–Bernoulli_beam_theory

How were they making bridges and buildings back then if they were not 'trusting' science? Isn't engineering an application of science where different branches of science combine in a very detailed way to produce a trust worthy practical outcome? How were they defining 'engineering' back then? Did they think that engineering is an outcome of practical experiments? You do one experiment, then modify it to make it better and so on. Could you please guide me with it? Thank you.
 

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  • #2
clem
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They learned from their failures, as I hope was learned from the two world trades.
 
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Delta2
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I think science and engineering were always interrelated through human history. It is just that this relationship started to become very strong from the renaissance era and after. (ok for the bridge and building engineering a little later at the late 19th century)
 
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How were they making bridges and buildings back then if they were not 'trusting' science?
The article you quoted gives the answer to this question. It says “Bridges and buildings continued to be designed by precedent”. In other words, an engineer would say “my father built that bridge and it is still standing so I will build this bridge the same way”.
 
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We should look back with admiration to the Romans. They built many unprecedented structures. But I surmise they had a number of "principles" that they reapplied from earlier experience.

If anyone knows of a source for Roman-era engineering manuals or education, I would love to read it.
 
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  • #6
Baluncore
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How were they making bridges and buildings back then if they were not 'trusting' science?
“Engineers” were once “ingenious” inventors, hence the name. Masons, mill wrights and blacksmiths did what had worked earlier, learning from their mistakes. It is quite surprising how much can be achieved by a little ingenuity, without theory or mathematics. Arithmetic was used to make measurements and do costings. For example, the area of a circle was simply half the diameter multiplied by half the circumference. Symbolic equations and Pi were irrelevant.

Many engineers carried out practical experiments to optimise components and designs. The results of those experiments were rationalised by applied mathematicians. For example, Faraday carried out experiments in electricity and magnetism, creating terms and rules. Only later did Maxwell come up with a robust mathematical framework. That was rationalised by Heaviside before Maxwell's Equations became part of the scientific foundation. Theory and mathematics followed practice. Engineering theory can be delayed by a lack of experiments or a lack of mathematics. Science can only advance as the necessary pieces fall into place.

As the theoretical basis for materials and engineering was established, a new type of engineer evolved, one who could determine how to achieve a specified result for a minimum cost. Today's engineers are quite different to the original engineers.
 
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  • #7
Vanadium 50
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If anyone knows of a source for Roman-era engineering manuals or education, I would love to read it.
De Architectura by Vitruvius. Same Vitruvius as Vitruvian Man.
 
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Even the huge stone domes of the middle ages were built without any good mathematics about structures or loads. Buildings were designed based on long lists of rules of thumb, e.g. for how thick a column needed to be to support a certain weight, how closely spaced columns needed to be (since stone doesn't work well under tension, only compression). These were all just based on trial and error. Architects would try and push the limits or sometimes just design wrong, sometimes with failures like when Jacopo Sansovino spent a year in prison in 1545 for the collapse of some vaulting/ceiling. It is kind of amazing how far you can get by using rules of thumb based on precedent.

The reality is that even contemporary architects STILL design based on this way, though their "rules of thumb" are tabulated and verified by actual mathematics. Basically every smaller building, every house, even up to the scale of a 5 story hotel building, are designed based on these rules of thumb for how much spacing and column thickness etc. The result is that most buildings are overbuilt, beyond the typical 150% or 200% margins that are industry standard if you actually do the analysis. For larger buildings, where it actually matters, they hire "architectural engineers" who actually know the math and build CAD models to test loading and stability. Your average architect today doesn't know beam theory any more than someone who lived in 1650. Well, that's an overstatement, they probably know that beam theory exists, so in that sense they know more. I'm not trying to insult architects, I'm just saying you can build a huge mansion without understanding beam theory.
 
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  • #9
Baluncore
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How were they making bridges and buildings back then if they were not 'trusting' science?
They were scientists, by definition trusting science.
Science does not require mathematics or theory.

A scientist hypothesised that if a bridge was built in a certain way, it would remain standing.
The scientist carried out an experiment by building the bridge. It remained standing.
Another scientist repeats the experiment by building a similar bridge, and confirms the result.
Many more similar bridges are build by scientists as confidence in the design rises.
 
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  • #10
A.T.
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They were scientists, by definition trusting science.
Science does not require mathematics or theory.

A scientist hypothesised that if a bridge was built in a certain way, it would remain standing.
The scientist carried out an experiment by building the bridge. It remained standing.
Another scientist repeats the experiment by building a similar bridge, and confirms the result.
Many more similar bridges are build by scientists as confidence in the design rises.
You mean they were experimentalists, not theorists.
 
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The reality is that even contemporary architects STILL design based on this way, though their "rules of thumb" are tabulated and verified by actual mathematics.
It is not just architecture. We have building standards and codes, electrical codes, plumbing codes, boiler codes, and many more that spell out what you must do in detail. You might call that "rules of thumb," but that sounds pejorative. We should not regard "actual mathematics" as superior, because the art is not in the calculations but rather knowing which terms and assumptions to include in the equations.

Often, codes are the result of negotiated compromises and/or politics. That makes it difficult to verify the codes mathematically or to explain with confidence the rationale behind the code.

We encounter this frequently on PF. Students and amateurs want to calculate as part of design, and we are forced to tell them to follow the code rather than do their own calculations. They are prone to doing the calculations wrong, but even if correct it would be illegal and foolish to do something contrary to the code.

An interesting aside and an exception to the norm: When the Ada programming language was released, the authors published a Rationale to accompany the language standard. To me, the rationale was much more interesting than the language.
 
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  • #12
boneh3ad
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You mean they were experimentalists, not theorists.
Experimental science and theoretical science are both still science.
 
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