Today, let's talk about some words. The University of
Houston's College of Engineering presents this series
about the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
The words science, technology, and
engineering take such a kicking about! Who makes a
spaceship go up -- a scientist, a technologist, or an
engineer? Who takes the blame if it fails? Maybe we
should look closer at the words before we try to answer.
The word science comes from the Latin word
scientia, which means knowledge. We apply
the word science to ordered or systematic knowledge. A
scientist identifies what's known about things and puts
that knowledge into some kind of order.
Part of the word technology goes back to a nice Greek
word, techni. Techni means art
and skill -- what a painter, stonemason, millwright, or
glassblower might do. But the other part of the word is
its ending, ology, which means the study or
the lore or even the science of something. Technology is
the lore or the science of techni -- of
making and doing.
Technology is separate from the actual act of
glassblowing or machining. It's the knowledge of these
things. Our language would be a lot clearer if we could
reclaim the old Greek word techni for the
actual act of making and doing.
The last of the three words -- engineering -- comes from
the Latin word ingeniare, which means to
devise. A lot of other English words are related to this
word: ingenuity, which means inventiveness, and engine,
which can be taken to mean any machine of our devising --
any "engine of our ingenuity." So an engineer is, first
and foremost, a deviser of machines.
For about three hundred years science and
techni have joined forces. The latter-day
engineer is a technologist who's well schooled in science
and who can make effective use of it when he tries to
create the engines of his ingenuity.
Which of the three -- scientist, technologist, or
engineer -- reaps the credit or blame for a spaceship?
The answer, of course, is that the question is no good.
The three functions of techni, science, and
invention together make a spaceship. Of course, engineers
combine these functions. One behaves more like a
craftsman -- a user of techni -- while
another behaves more like a scientist -- refining
background information for designers. But a person earns
the title "engineer" when the goal of his labors is the
actual creative design process -- when he combines a
knowledge of techni with science to achieve
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where
we're interested in the way inventive minds work.