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The National Research Council recently recognized the need for improvement in both engineering design and engineering design education (13). Although there are numerous articles on engineering design (14-18), we will concentrate on the interaction between engineers and society.
One of the first sources of confusion, particularly among those who are not engineers or scientists, is the distinctionbetween science and engineering (10). The primary role of science is to develop knowledge and understanding of the physical universe (11). As pointed out by Davis (10) and others, an important distinction is that this pursuit of knowledge (science) may occur largely without regard to societal need (or to societal implications). The direction of scientific research has been described by some ascuriosity-based research which is not necessarily driven by the values of society. Societal values (and resulting priorities) do not necessarily define the bounds, direction or scope of scientific curiosity. * This is not a criticism of science, for such is the nature of "inquiring." Furthermore, it is often not possible to determine relevance of a particular field of scientific inquiry to thefuture needs of society. * Given this curiosity-driven process, the base of scientific knowledge about the physical universe may be represented by an amoebae-like structure uneven in its extent in the various directions with current scientific research efforts acting to extend its coverage (fig. 1).
Figure 1.
The utilization of scientific knowledge over time establishes that some of the knowledgeis immediately relevant to societal needs while other parts are less immediately relevant (society may never realize the relevance of a particular scientific inquiry). While the congruence of societal need with scientific knowledge is much more complex than indicated in this article, it may be represented for the purpose of this discussion by a Venn diagram as seen in figure 2. The authorsmaintain that it is this overlap of scientific knowledge with societal need, more specifically, the application of scientific knowledge to the needs of society, that is the domain of engineering (inter alia) (see below). Clearly, the extent of human enterprise is much more complex than is represented here. If, for example, it is in the interest of society to increase our store of scientific knowledge,then engineers and scientists who ply their trade in the frontiers of scientific research are both serving societal need. Nevertheless, our contention is that the central focus of the engineering profession is the application of scientific knowledge to meet societal needs.
Figure 2.
This analogy can be extended by superimposing the distinction of the creative versus the analytical aspect of thehuman enterprise (19). We can represent this aspect of the human intellect by another Venn diagram shown in figure 3. As indicated in the diagram, one may pursue creative efforts without involving analytical skills, and one may apply analytical skills without entering the domain of creativity. For example, as engineers apply commercial software to the solution of an engineering problem, theapplication of analytical skills, per se, * may involve little or no creativity.
Figure 3.
One may superimpose these two Venn Diagrams and use the resulting diagrams to examine engineering enterprise as shown in figure 4.
Figure 4.
Considering the intersection of scientific knowledge with societal need (designated as the domain of engineering), the authors will discuss three sectors, shown asA, B, and C.
Sector A represents the intersection of purely analytical talents with the engineering domain. This may be used to represent engineering science, an ability to model complex systems and predict their response to various inputs under various conditions. * This segment of engineering has, of course, been the subject of intense development over the last half century and has...
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