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What's The Difference Between Physics And Engineering?

  1. Dec 21, 2005 #1
    I'd like to hear people's perspective on where these two depart from each other such that they're considered two separate fields. It has always seemed to me the overlap is greater than the differences.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 21, 2005 #2


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    Physicists are generally paid to discover, document, or explain new physical phenomena.

    Engineers are generally paid to design marketable products which make use of such phenomena.

    Quite often, engineers are involved in almost every step a physicist takes to fully understanding a phenomenon (experimentation, for example). On the contrary, physicists are usually only involved in the first step an engineer takes to developing a marketable product (developing a smaller integrated-circuit process, for example).

    - Warren
  4. Dec 21, 2005 #3
    Well, the most general difference is that engineering is the study of building something in real life and therefore focuses on design techniques where physicists study the way nature works by performing an experiment, seeing what happens and trying to generalize nature with mathematical equations. Overall, I think the difference is more academic than practical. As a physicist (unless purely theoretical), you'll probably have to acount for a lot of real-life considerations in making experiments, which would then delve into engineering design. And engineers, well they'll probably need to read a physics book sometime in their career :wink:. My 2 cents.
  5. Dec 21, 2005 #4


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    From my perspective, an engineer is more or less an applied physicist. My group develops models of materials and how those materials perform in their environment, and mostly in my case, within nuclear fuel elements and nuclear reactors. The models are relatively simple geometrically, however we model rather coarsely what takes place on microscopic level. This requires an integration of thermophysical, thermochemical and mechanical properties, in conjuction with thermal-hydraulics and fluid-structure interaction.

    The net result is a model with which we do predictive analysis, both in steady-state and transient conditions.

    In essence we do engineering and applied physics concurrently, and we work with various groups around the world who do the same.
  6. Dec 21, 2005 #5
    THAT'S EXACTLY RIGHT. engineers are mercenaries; scientists & mathematicians have a much higher purpose. :wink:
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2005
  7. Dec 22, 2005 #6
    avg $$, thought process, and reality.
  8. Dec 22, 2005 #7


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    Zooby...you did start this thread for the sole purpose of stepping back and watching the sparks fly. Right?

    I tend to agree with Chroot's explaination. While there are soo many different kinds of engineers that it is impossible to do a 1:1 comparisson, it's going to cover the majority.
  9. Dec 22, 2005 #8


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    it's easy:
    1) engineerers are bad physicists.
    2) physicists are bad mathematicians.
    3) mathemticians are bad philosophers.
    4) philosophers are satan's advocates.

    you find the missing ingredient in the five element. :surprised :biggrin: :blushing: :tongue:
  10. Dec 22, 2005 #9
    No, that's not what I'm up to here. I'm just soliciting people's perspectives for my benefit, and no one should construe this as an invitation to squabble, There have been some good, thoughtful answers, so, I hope people will keep it that way.
  11. Dec 22, 2005 #10


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    I'm just giving you a hard time.
  12. Dec 22, 2005 #11
  13. Dec 22, 2005 #12


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    The line is often blurry, even in astronomy/astrophysics, since many astronomers spend the majority of their time building and designing instruments. Likewise, I know there are many engineers who spend the majority of their time on physics. On paper, the distinction is based on design vs. theory. In practice, I think both engineers and physicists can end up going in directions more appropriately described by the other field. Life is an adventure that way. :cool:
  14. Dec 23, 2005 #13


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    I kinda dig that...makes us sound tough.
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