On Wednesday afternoon three students, Shin, Marcel and Tomo, paid a visit to the Institute for Manufacturing in Cambridge, a cross-disciplinary arm of the Department of Engineering which draws together expertise in technology, management, policy and other related areas.
They were shown around by Dr. Tim Minshall, reader in Engineering at the university, and talked about, among other things, copyright and liability issues with 3d printers, a field of particular research interest at the IfM, and, in its consideration not just of technological but also legal and policy implications, an object lesson in the way the institute tends to think. (For a post about 3d printers in space, see here).
Dr Minshall has given a TED talk on the subject of children’s perceptions of engineers. It seems that 9-10 year olds universally regard engineers as people who fix things (perhaps because the English for some reason use engineer as a synonym for technician, so that the individual who comes to fix your washing machine is an engineer; and then of course the engineers in Star Trek are typically stuck in a Jefferies tube degaussing plasma relays, another possible source of confusion). 11-14 year-olds may or may not have a better idea of what an engineer actually does, but they regard the career as ‘boring’ and ‘not important’, something which Tim Minshall finds horrifying.
In the talk he provides a lively corrective, identifying and illustrating ten key words which capture what engineering is actually about.