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The Never-Ending Battle: Physics Vs Engineering

Users from Quora debate about the main difference between Physics and Engineering, and ultimately, what’s more difficult.

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Ah yes, the never ending battle between Physics and Engineering. These two fields of science and technology are both very similar, yet very different from one another. Of course, this means people will end up debating about what being a Physicist or Engineer actually means, what they do, and how they do it, which ultimately leads to the questions “Which field is better” or “Which field is harder”.

Source: Youtube, n33nja10, The Big Bang Theory

Now this probably got you curious about what actually is the difference between Physics and Engineering. Well, while the answers could be pretty long and we could go on and on about every single aspect of what makes their jobs different, luckily, our friends at Quora have summed it all up for us.

The main difference between the two that everyone seems to agree on is that Physicists study the universe and its laws, whilst Engineers create things using those laws as a guide. As Theodore Von Kármán said, “Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been.”

“In many ways, engineers can be considered to be “applied scientists”. In that case, physicists are instances of “pure scientists”,” says Malcolm Shute, and it is indeed true. “Physicists are generally concerned with learning how the universe operates. They’re not necessarily concerned with practical applications of that knowledge,” adds Franklin Veaux. “Engineers are generally concerned with designing and/or making things that work. The engineers I know use a knowledge of physics to do so, but at the end of the day, their goal is not to probe the rules by which the universe operates. Knowledge of physics is a means to an end. They’re after creating something that works.”

Source: Charles Iliya Krempeaux

Dan Church provides an even more technical explanation on the difference between the two. He says that a Physicist’s main job is to “Produce a paper explaining to others in the field some aspect of how the universe works,” and their professional achievement for something new is to publish a paper or a book. “A physicist writing a paper explaining a new concept spends an inordinate amount of time tracking down references, making sure theorems and assertions conform to accepted and known ways to communicate to others in the field. More time suck is spent collecting, tabulating and otherwise reducing data to make some small point. There are journeys to conferences, and endless correspondence discussing ideas with peers.”

Source: Gear Technology

Engineers, however, “Produce a set of engineering (drawings, datasets) that can be used by others (techs, mechanics, construction workers) to assemble some ‘thing’”. And their professional achievement for something new is to patent a new invention. “To do that, there is a lot of drudgery involved in documenting the ‘thing’ that is to be built. That documentation goes a long way in making a ‘thing’ makeable and perform useful service. The purchaser of parts, the assembler of components, the construction worker all need road maps that ultimately results in the ‘thing’ getting made. An engineer, in doing a good thorough job, has to delve into a wide variety of disciplines outside of his/her specialty”.

So to sum it up, Physicists study the universe and how it works, and discover and formulate new laws according to their observations, whilst Engineers take the knowledge they have of those laws to invent something new and interesting to make people’s lives easier. Both fields work hand in hand to do what they do without even knowing it, and one can do what the other has difficulty with. This ultimately shows that neither field is better or harder, rather, they’re compliments of each other, and they help each other out to create new things for the world.

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