It's been said that engineers often create without actually thinking about the usefulness of their end product, but rather to push the boundaries of what is possible. Supporting this theory are the myriad YouTube videos of potato cannons that could be mistaken for rocket launchers, flamethrowers that would make medieval dragons envious, and (perhaps most of all) elaborate Rube Goldberg machines that achieve nothing (much) - like this one - all of which I've seen my engineering colleagues build "for fun". While I appreciate the spirit that motivates these creations, I want to focus on how basic and readily available tools can be used to answer questions arising from more complex ideas. In particular, I want to concentrate on how engineering tools can be simplified and adapted to answer specific scientific questions. This is different from the way that many marine design engineers traditionally operate, where the focus is on creating vehicles that push limits (of speed, endurance, depth capacity, etc.) and afterwards, on scientific questions that can (possibly) be answered by their designs. Less emphasis is placed on the applications, which sometimes read more like a justification for creating the fastest/highest endurance/deepest diving vehicle possible. Although scientists may be better suited to think of applications, it is less likely that they would discover the best use while trying to force a question to fit an established methodology. It might seem like a harmless distinction, but there's a reason good workers choose their tools after they've figured out what their task is. As a machinist I know always says, "choose the right tool for the right job".
Last revised: July 3, 2017