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High fives all round for the engineers … now it’s over to the scientists

By Max Middleton - Last updated: Thursday, November 13, 2014
Photograph: J Mai/ESA

As I write this blog, Rosetta’s Philae probe is sitting on the surface of the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The operations team can’t quite tell what orientation it is in and the anchoring system didn’t work as hoped, but this is a huge…HUGE day for celebrating engineering.

Hearing the scientific leads on the Rosetta mission in various interviews on various channels, you can hear their excitement about their part of the mission, which is really just starting. Their chance to start discovering all they can with this suite of circa 1980’s scientific equipment.

For the engineering teams, this is largely the day after the climax of their mission. A mission that has been going on and off for 30 years.

Listening to the news gave me pause for thought on one of my recurring preoccupations, how engineers (and scientists) are portrayed in the media. Yet again, the vast majority of experts being interviewed by the media have been introduced as scientists, regardless of their actual skill-set. “Space Scientist” has been an often used term, which sounds like an annoying further dumb-down…but I digress.

Working in Cambridge Consultants means you cannot pigeon-hole people. The line between science, maths, engineering, design, research and many other areas is very blurred here. However, this Rosetta mission is an excellent example to describe the difference between Science and Engineering….between Scientists and Engineers. This is how I broadly describe it to school children, when I get to meet them.

Scientists see things we don’t know and don’t understand…and they want to explore and discover. Engineers see things we can’t do and problems that stand in our way…and they want to solve them through invention.

For Rosetta, the scientists are amazed by the comet and want to explore it…to discover its secrets. It’s the engineers that solve the problem of getting them there. And today, they finally did it.


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AuthorMax Middleton


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