I stayed in Sheffield city centre a few weeks ago and walked past the standard measures in the photograph on my way to speak at a workshop. In the past, when the cutlery and tool-making industry in Sheffield was focussed around small workshops, or little mesters, as they were known, these standards would have been used to check the tools being manufactured. A few hundred years later, the range of standards in existence has extended far beyond the weights and measures where it started, and now includes standards for processes and artefacts as well as for measurements. The process of validating computational models of engineering infrastructure is moving slowly towards establishing an internationally recognised standard [see two of my earliest posts: ‘Model validation‘ on September 18th, 2012 and ‘Setting standards‘ on January 29th, 2014]. We have guidelines that recommend approaches for different parts of the validation process [see ‘Setting standards‘ on January 29th, 2014]; however, many types of computational model present significant challenges when establishing their reliability [see ‘Spatial-temporal models of protein structures‘ on March 27th, 2019]. Under the auspices of the MOTIVATE project, we are gathering experts in Zurich on November 5th, 2019 to discuss the challenges of validating multi-physics models, establishing credibility and the future use of data from experiments. It is the fourth in a series of workshops held previously in Shanghai, London and Munich. For more information and to register follow this link. Come and join our discussions in one of my favourite cities where we will be following ‘In Einstein’s footprints‘ [posted on February 27th, 2019].
Term has started, and our students are preparing for end-of-semester examinations; so, I suspect that they would welcome the opportunity to deploy the sleeping-learning that Aldous Huxley envisaged in his ‘Brave New World’ of 2540. In the brave new world of digital engineering, some engineers are attempting to conceive of a world in which experiments have become obsolete because we can rely on computational modelling to simulate engineering systems. This ambitious goal is a driver for the MOTIVATE project [see my post entitled ‘Getting smarter‘ on June 21st, 2017]; an EU-project that kicked-off about six months ago and was the subject of a brainstorming session in the Red Deer in Sheffield last September [see my post entitled ‘Anything other than lager, stout or porter!‘ on September 6th, 2017. The project has its own website now at www.engineeringvalidation.org
A world without experiments is almost unimaginable for engineers whose education and training is deeply rooted in empiricism, which is the philosophical approach that requires assumptions, models and theories to be tested against observations from the real-world before they can be accepted. In the MOTIVATE project, we are thinking about ways in which fewer experiments can provide more and better measured data for the validation of computational models of engineering systems. In December, under the auspices of the project, experts from academia, industry and national labs from across Europe met near Bristol and debated how to reshape the traditional flow-chart used in the validation of engineering models, which places equal weight on experiments and computational models [see ASME V&V 10-2006 Figure 2]. In a smaller follow-up meeting in Zurich, just before Christmas [see my post ‘A reflection of existentialism‘ on December 20th, 2017], we blended the ideas from the Bristol session into a new flow-chart that could lead to the validation of some engineering systems without conducting experiments in parallel. This is not perhaps as radical as it sounds because this happens already for some evolutionary designs, especially if they are not safety-critical. Nevertheless, if we are to achieve the paradigm shift towards the new digital world, then we will have to convince the wider engineering community about our novel approach through demonstrations of its successful application, which sounds like empiricism again! More on that in future updates.
Image by Erwin Hack: Coffee and pastries awaiting technical experts debating behind the closed door.
I was in Zürich last weekend. We visited the Fraumünster with its magnificent stained glass windows by Marc Chagall [see my post entitled ‘I and the village‘ on August 14th, 2013] and by Augusto Giacometti (1877-1947). The Kunsthaus Zürich has a large collection of sculptures by another Giacometti, Alberto (1901-1966), a Swiss sculptor, who is famous for his slender statues of people which portray individuals alone in the world. He was part of the existentialist movement in modern art that examined ideas about self-consciousness and our relationship to other people. For me, this echoed a lecture that I contributed last week to a module on Scientific Impact and Reputation as part of our CPD programme [see my post entitled ‘WOW projects, TED talks and indirect reciprocity‘ on August 31st, 2016. In the lecture, I talked about our relationship with other professional people and the development of our technical reputation in their eyes as a result of altruistic sharing of knowledge. This involves communicating with others, building relationships and understanding our place in the community. The post-course assignment is to write a reflective essay on leadership and technical quality; and we know, from past experience, that our delegates will find it difficult to reflect on their experiences and the impact of those experiences on their life and behaviour. Maybe we should help them by including a viewing of existential art in one of the Liverpool art galleries as part of our CPD programme on Science and Technology Leadership?