If you look up the word engineering in the dictionary then the first few definitions will probably refer to engines, structures and such like, but the third or fourth definition might describe it as ‘the action of working artfully to bring something about‘. The origins of the word ‘engineering’ lie in the Latin word ‘ingeniare’, which means to contrive or devise. Unfortunately, engines have been a phenomenal success and are now synonymous with our profession. I say unfortunately, because it hides from the general public that we do far more that contrive and devise engines as sources of power. The vast majority of engineers have nothing to do with engines and instead work artfully to bring about all of the other things in our man-made world.
The Roman poet, Lucretius in his poem De Rerum Natura (On the nature of things) wrote ‘Nothing in the body is made in order that we may use it. What happens to exist is the cause of its use’. In other words things did not evolve in nature to meet a demand but instead uses were found for what evolved. Engineering is the reverse of this: its use is the cause of the existence of everything. Well, perhaps not quite because people find uses for devices which were not thought of by even the most artful designer.