1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Who invent things? Engineers or physicists?

  1. Jul 6, 2013 #1
    Hello I am new to the Physics Forum and recently I am thinking of choosing an engineering major, but I am having some question about the jobs of engineers. My dream is to use the rules and laws of physics to invent and create things that are useful in life (I know it is not easy to really 'invent' something, so I am just wondering who's work is closer to doing things like that...).

    To me this sounds like close to an engineer's work, but from what I have heard of, engineers' job is not very close to 'inventing'. For example engineers would design the circuits in many household electrical appliance. Although the circuit would be different for every product and every company will have different ones, the basic method and rules they use I guess are the same and are already existing. Or I think sometimes engineers would calculate the right amount of an ingredient needed for a specific product in order to suit its specific purpose, or picking the best material to let it work best and stable in reality. If this is true, I think they do create new things, but this is by putting existing things together in new ways but not inventing new technology or things that isn't there before...

    So are the following also jobs of engineers? Like using the theory of the motion of electrified conductor in magnetic field to invent motors, or knowing the theory of Resonance and make use of it to invent something new?

    thanks for answering!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 6, 2013 #2
    Browse around the US Patent Office website. The VAST majority of inventions filed are by engineers. They apply physical principles to develop new technologies.

    Sounds like your dream is to become a very skilled engineer.

    There are a wide variety of jobs called "engineer" (like anything else). Some focus on advance technologies, some put existing parts together, some focus on reducing cost or improving quality of existing parts, some focus on testing, etc etc etc. If you want to invent circuits, for example, go to grad school in circuits and be outstanding enough you can get a job as a design engineer.
  4. Jul 6, 2013 #3


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    good for you!
    Oh Christ! I'm in the "Academic Guidance" forum again. Please ignore everything that I say.
    This is everyone's dream. A patented, useful invention will make you lots of money.*
    Your thread title doesn't appear to match what you are asking, but I'll attempt an answer.
    I use the word "attempt", as I am neither an engineer, nor a physicist, but a mere technician. Some might argue that this is just silly semantics, so I'll start off with wiki's definitions of the three fields:

    Given these three definitions, I will answer your "Thread title question" by saying the physicists don't invent anything. They are actually more like technicians, with fancier torque wrenches. They twist their particle accelerators to find out how and when a particle will break. They then write their discoveries down, and publish them, in a peer reviewed journal, of course. Technicians on the other hand, seldom write anything down, but complain about the fact that the engineers designed something wrong, and have to fix something after it has broken. So in this instance, the physicist discovered the properties of matter, the engineer designed something based on those properties, and the technician built the machine, based on the engineers drawings.

    "Inventing" seems to be the other main topic of your questions.

    Anyone can invent something.

    But what the hell is "Invention"?

    hmmmm.... That's actually a good wiki article. You should read that, in it's entirety.

    In conclusion, the thing all three of these types of people have in common is knowledge. So whatever happens, stay in school. (and floss, of course)

    I would tell you about the solar powered volleyball sand court watering system I invented a few years back, and how someone with way more money than I will ever see, built the same system, for 10 times the money, only to have it not work at all, but that would be depressing. With a good working knowledge of all branches of physics, you can do anything.

    Though, you do need necessity. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    What kind of problem are you trying to solve? Besides whether to be an engineer or physicist, of course.

    * I have come to find out, that everything in the universe is based either on economics or accounting. Strangest revelation I ever had in my whole life. Check out Drakkith's signature if you don't believe me.
  5. Jul 6, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I remember reading a reference to "Albert Einstein, the famous inventor". My reaction was "What???"
  6. Jul 6, 2013 #5
    The irony is physicists often confuse engineers with technicians. ;)
  7. Jul 6, 2013 #6
    Become an engineer if you want to become an inventor. An engineer's job might be to apply current solutions to new problems (which it sounds like you don't want to do), or it might be to come up with new solution methods altogether and then build them to see if they work (i.e. inventing). It sounds to me like what you want to get into is the "research and development" side of engineering. A lot of companies will have a research and development department whose job is basically to either solve problems that have never been solved, or try to come up with better solutions for problems where the current solution just isn't cutting it anymore.

    Of course, that's not to say you can only be an inventor if you go into the R&D side of engineering, but it's a good place to go if you want to invent things.
  8. Jul 6, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    His name was on a patent for a refrigerator as I recall. Though from what I remember, Szilard invented it, and Einstein's name was piggy-backed.

    Though, as I recall, the design was simply an improvement, over someone else's.

    hmmm..... Isn't there a saying about "standing on the shoulder of giants" somewhere?

    But that is funny to think about.

  9. Jul 6, 2013 #8
    The electromagnet, the transistor and the laser were all "inventions" made by physicists. I use quotes because I doubt they themselves had set making an invention as their goal at the time, rather they ended up being spinoffs or neat byproducts of some fundamental research they were doing. But I don't know the historical details so I may be wrong.
  10. Jul 6, 2013 #9

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Einstein held a good number of patents - perhaps a dozen. But it's not so clear to me that a century-old example is particularly helpful. It's also probably not a very accurate view to look at Nobel-caliber inventions like the laser, the IC, or the CCD. Most inventions are not in that category - most are improvements to existing technologies and not brand new technologies.
  11. Jul 7, 2013 #10
    In industry, the engineers and technicians work for years to get the brilliant ideas (that the physicists may have come up with) to work in the real world...then the names of the vice president, president, maybe some patent people, and a few other people in the company go on the patent. BTW, the income generated and the patent license all go directly to the company you work for... Inventing in the 21st Century is a "corporate thing." Just look at Apple, GM, Intel, etc. Hundreds of people "invented" the iPod - but you will never know their names.

    My grandfather was an inventor - but I don't think that is actually a job title anymore. Now they are either technical employees, or entrepreneurs. But, being a successful entrepreneur requires more business skill than engineering skill, IMHO.
  12. Jul 7, 2013 #11


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    All it takes to be an inventor is a problem and a good idea. Anyone can do it.

    One of the engineers where I used to work, had over 30 patents hanging on the wall of his cubical, all were in his name. Though I believe that the company owned a piece of them.
  13. Jul 7, 2013 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Inventor was once a job title?
    A short while after I came up with my trillion dollar idea, there was a post at work about a tech that invented something. I emailed him and asked him about the details on his patent process. He said that because his idea was developed at work, our employer was the patent owner. He received a pretty glass etched award, and a picture of him getting a pat on the back in the company newsletter.

    I'm glad I decided to retire early.......

    Also, although I have no need for the services of this institution, young inventors may want to visit: http://www.lemelson.org
  14. Jul 7, 2013 #13


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Ok. I'll now give my definitive answer: Engineer
  15. Jul 7, 2013 #14
    Thanks for answering my question! The US Patent Office website is a good place to look at! Thanks for letting me know!
  16. Jul 7, 2013 #15


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Don't forget to check out the Small Business Administration website. They are also a good place to look at.

    And good luck Miaoya! God-Speed! :smile:
  17. Jul 7, 2013 #16
    Thanks for your detailed reply! :) I do believe this is everyone's dream since it has so many good things associated with it. I changed the content of my post after I wrote the title so I know it is kinda off topic...:P

    From what you have said, I know more about these 3 job's difference now! and I think engineer is definitely my best choice of majoring and being in physics major is kinda far from doing things like that. But I am still curious about one thing that is do physics major students have chances to become engineers or do works similar to them? I am asking this because I am now in the science faculty of my university and I don't know if I can successfully transfer to engineering faculty or not...I can easily be in physics major now and try to transfer and it doesn't cost me any extra time, I am not sure do I worth doing it?
  18. Jul 7, 2013 #17
    I have heard of the research part in engineering before but I am not sure what they really does, I think now I got a better understanding of their job! :) Thanks for letting me know~
  19. Jul 7, 2013 #18
    I am having my question in this post because as I recall many "inventions" are made by physicists... But I think you maybe right although I know nothing about them either, because I think sometimes it would be very easy to "invent" something if a brand new theory is discovered.
  20. Jul 7, 2013 #19
    Yes I agree with you... In my memory many inventions are made by physicist but maybe that's the impression I get from my science courses, the things mentioned in them are usually made from classic theories from decades ago...
  21. Jul 7, 2013 #20
    Yes I guess this is how the world works now... Although this is kind of depressing but I guess inventing things itself has a lot of pleasure in it, and people usually won't remember the inventor's name anyway because there is usually so many of them :P
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook