Bob Graham: the differences between engineers and scientists

Bob Graham discusses the differences between scientists and engineers.

You can’t be an engineer unless you’ve got dirty hands, and I mean that in – perhaps in the sense that you have to have that practical hands-on experience of how things work, how things move.  The theory side is fine and it gives you, it gives you confidence, it allows you to understand how you can improve things because you can see in effect, if you like, an equation and a rate of change if you change a variable in it and the impact, so you can use that to generate, analytically, a way that could improve a situation.  But ultimately materials, structures, do not fully conform to those analytical techniques, they are an approximation based on a series of assumptions, which is still conservative, hopefully, hopefully conservative, related to real life.  But you can only understand how good your assumptions were, how good your materials were and what level of risk you’re undertaking when you actually take a practical experiment in hand.  That’s the bit which, if you like to me, allows you to equate the theory to the practice, which is what makes you, if you like, an engineer.  It’s that understanding, that you can predict a failure analytically, but when you look at a material, when you look at metallic materials, some of them are brittle and therefore your prediction will be closer to what actually happens in practice.  Lots of them have elasticity and so when they deform the material changes from elastic to plastic, which changes the load path, which means it doesn’t fail catastrophically, it fails in a different mode, and it’s understanding that mode of failure and then how can you go on and predict that.  It’s something which, as I say, you only gain by that practical experience, and standing there watching a test on something that you’ve designed, which had just gone horribly wrong, and you’re having that, ‘Maybe I should’ve had a duvet day today,’ moment.  It’s, you know, that is part of that learning as you, you know, in the early stages, and it’s a bit worrying.  And then, you go back and you tell your boss, and he goes, ‘Hmm, yeah, that’s interesting,’ and then you suddenly realise that he’s fallible as well, because he checked your work.  And that I think brings that level of reality and awareness into what you do, and that I think is what that major difference between an engineer and scientist.

  • Interviewee Bob Graham
  • Duration 00:03:11
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 1/23/2013
  • Shelfmark C1379/90

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