My friend Larry came up to me the other night.
“I liked your blog," he said, "but I have one objection."“What's that?” “It’s all very well to talk about the importance of science and communication…”“mm?”“But you didn’t mention engineers.”“Oh”“I’m an engineer you see.”“Ah… Sorry about that.”“In New Zealand we’ve had an imbalance for years. We've got lots of scientists playing around in labs,” Larry explained, “But not enough engineers and even fewer manufacturers.”
“Japan is the opposite,” he continued. “They have loads of manufacturers, plenty of engineers and fewer scientists and they’re very successful. You only need a few small science ideas to start an industry.”
Larry's comments got me thinking. What is the difference between science and engineering?
According to my chemist friend Vlatco they are skill-sets rather than separate professions.
“Scientists look for knowledge and engineers make stuff that works,” (He works at Industrial Research Limited doing both)Science is all about exploration - pulling new knowledge from the dark unknown. Engineering is problem-solving – applying the wild discoveries of science to real life problems.
We talk about science being the key to lifting our economy and tackling problems like climate change but without engineering (and manufacturing) how useful is it?I was wondering about this when I went to Paul Callaghan’s incredibly inspiring lecture last Thursday - “New Zealand: The Place Talent Wants to Live.” You might not think of NZ as an ideal place for manufacturing but Paul has pretty much convinced me it is. The high-tech industry is already NZ’s third biggest export earner. That’s proof we can do it. Compared to our land-based industries its effect on the environment is miniscule – we’re making tiny niche products for overseas markets not cars or TVs. We get to export our creativity and brainpower rather than nutrients from the soil, coal and minerals. High-tech science-based companies would create lots of interesting jobs for graduates. They'd pay taxes which we could use for all kinds of goodies – healthcare, housing, light-rail…
It’s something to think about anyway!
You can watch this youtube video to hear Paul's argument in full.