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What is a scientist?

  1. Dec 11, 2008 #1
    thread title...

    is an Engineer a scientist?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2008 #2


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    I would say their day to day work and basic skills are very similar but the intention is different.
    In applied physics/experimental physics/engineering science you are trying to make something work. the only result is does it get the measurement you need.
    In engineering there is a further goal that something must work efficiently or reliably or cheaply.
    Somebody once described it as; any fool can build a house that stays up - engineering is building it so it only barely stays up.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2008
  4. Dec 11, 2008 #3
    While engineers and physicists are technically different with different goals, a lot of physics Nobel prizes have been about getting something to work instead of discovering some new thing about nature.

    Although I guess mgb is right, after some sort of scientist develops some technology, engineers go and perfect it and use it.

    You mean just barely stays up or what?
  5. Dec 11, 2008 #4
    Engineers study the natural world to build things, scientists build things to study the natural world.
  6. Dec 11, 2008 #5


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    Yes - exactly, economy of materials, optimsation and all that.
  7. Dec 11, 2008 #6
    yes, I agree....an engineers work is not the same as a chemists or a physicists.
    but engineering is applied science, so shouldn't we call an engineer a scientist?

    say a PHD chemist at his job does no type of 'new discovering' of any type, but purely applies his chemical knowledge to make paint, is he no longer a scientist?
  8. Dec 11, 2008 #7
    I approached this all wrong.

    My question should have read:

    whether you agree an Engineer is a scientist or not, how would you argue (to a prof) that Engineers are in fact scientists?
  9. Dec 11, 2008 #8

    D H

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    To answer the original question, no. Think of it this way. Almost all scientists use mathematics; some even develop new mathematics. That does not mean scientists are mathematicians. While the border between math and science is a bit fuzzy, math and science are different endeavors.

    The same goes for engineering and science. While the border between them isn't exactly clear, they are different endeavors. Engineers have to worry about what is real and practical. Scientists worry much more about things that are neither real nor practical today. They build the foundation for future engineers.
  10. Dec 12, 2008 #9


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    Scientist - a person learned in science and especially natural science : a scientific investigator

    Science - a: knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b: such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena.

    Natural science - any of the sciences (as physics, chemistry, or biology) that deal with matter, energy, and their interrelations and transformations or with objectively measurable phenomena

    Physics and chemistry are considered 'pure science' (implying to me more of a theoretical aspect) as opposed to Engineering which is an applied science.

    Are Engineers scientists? To some extent yes.

    Some engineers are involved mainly in application and the support of application. Other engineers do research to better understand the system or element that is being engineered.

    I'm classified as an engineer, and so are my colleagues, yet we do a fair amount of research into the physics of materials (thermophysical/thermomechanical) and effects of radiation. We take experimental results and transform them into mathematical models, which are then integrated into system models with which we make predictions. Based on the success or failure of predictions, we identify shortcomings in the models and experiments, and we propose improved experiments. We also use the models to improve the utilitization of technology.

    Our group interfaces with other groups who are involved as users of technology or developers and suppliers of technology, and those groups involves a large population of engineers and scientists of a variety of disciplines in engineering, physics and chemsitry.
  11. Dec 12, 2008 #10


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    You could also say that an engineer is a scientist who has as his study object a certain technology, while what's usually understood as a scientist is somebody who has as study object natural phenomena.

    That said, as Astro points out, there are engineers who (for the sake of their profession) need to study certain aspects of natural phenomena. There are also a lot of scientists who think of technological applications of the natural phenomenon they were originally studying.

    I think "scientist" is in fact more related to a way of thinking, and a way of doing things, than a specific study object. To me, a scientist is somebody who adheres to, and uses, the scientific method. This is not particularly related to what that person has been taught in school, or what is his exact profession, although there is of course a certain correlation.
  12. Dec 12, 2008 #11


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    boy are you guys naive. in my family and among certain friends growing up, if someone was a scientist, it meant they wouldn't go to the doctor when they were sick, but would just pray over them. Actually our scientist friends wouldn't even admit when their relatives got Alzheimers. "Mother's been acting a little funny lately."
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