EDA, Incorporated

Physics versus Engineering

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Physics (Grand Unification) vs Engineering

In the 19th Century, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) electrified the scientific community when he discovered that electricity, magnetism, and even light (electromagnetic radiation) were all described by the same "electromagnetic" force.  Such unification would have made Occam and his razor proud, as it appeals to our belief that "simple is beautiful." Albert Einstein (1879-1955) deeply believed in unification, and devoted the last half of his life in an unsuccessful effort to combine electromagnetism with gravitation through a unified field theory. Yet, his efforts were not in vain, as they inspired others. In 1979 a Nobel Prize went to Glashow, Weinberg, and Salam for their unification of the electromagnet force with the weak interactive force (responsible for some types of radioactive decay).  Today, high energy physists continue the effort to link the three remaining fundamental forces (gravity, strong nuclear, and electromagnetism) through a Grand Unified Theory (GUT), sometimes referred to as a "theory of everything"  Such a result would be an intellectual triumph for the human race, but would have little or no effect on the way engineers carry out their own analysis of the universe!

This is because, for engineers there are many forces in the universe.  A list might include; gravity force, pressure force, viscous force, elastic force, buoyant force, inertial force, surface tension force, centrifugal force, coriolis force, osmotic force, and magnetic force.  When confronted with a challenging problem, engineers proceed by pairing up these forces two-by-two via dimensionless numbers (like the famous Reynold's Number, inertial force divided by viscous force).  In this way, it is easy to determine which forces will dominate behavior in any given situation.  By knowing the relative sizes of these forces you can tell if a boat will float, a plane will fly, a beam will break, how a fluid will flow, or if a chemical separation will work. Equipment can be scaled up and scaled down using a paper and pencil. Engineers can make excellent predictions via compiled correlations, instead of relying upon blind luck coupled with trial and error.  A physist may very well scoff at such a list of forces, because it makes the world seem so much more "complex".  Yet an engineer would criticize a grand unified theory for the same reason... it is too "complex" to be useful for "real world" problems.  If is futile and unproductive to argue who's world view is right and who's is wrong, they are simply different...  The ironic thing is that both the scientist and the engineer believe that "simple is beautiful."

When Einstein showed that the universe was accurately described by his "General Theory of Relativity" (1915), and not the classical laws of motion, Sir Isaac Newton's (1642-1727) views were hardly abandoned.  Newton's laws of motion hold as well today as they ever have, and until we start transporting materials at velocities that approach the speed of light, we are wasting our time if we try to employ some relativistic form of fluid dynamics.  Similarly, Einstein's discovery that mass and energy can be interconverted is profound, yet not very useful unless we are designing nuclear reactors.  Best to keep mass and energy separate, so we have two equations, instead of just one, in our continuous battle to match overly abundant "unknowns" with an equal number of equations.  Grand unification would no doubt fall victim to some of the same technical deficiencies.  The great paradox is that a law may be simple in form, yet impossibly complex to apply.  A grand unification theory would look very "beautiful" until you tried to use it on a real world engineering problem.  At that stage you would decide that scientists and engineers have different definitions for the words "simple" and "beautiful".


For free calculations go to the Calculator page.  The calculators should be used with caution.  Many of these calculators are not verified and are only intended to provide for a starting point in performing a design calculations.  All final design calculations should  be performed using verified and validated programs or calculators that have documented evidence of the verification and validation.

 


Company Profile

EDA, Incorporated provides quality-engineering services on time, on schedule and within budget.  EDA, Inc. is able to do this by performing the work correctly the first time. We accept the most challenging problems and look forward to working with the client as a team member.  EDA believes that the client should be an active participant in the work process to ensure that the product is commensurate with client expectations and is delivered within schedule and budget constraints.

EDA, Inc. belongs to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), the Society of Instrument Control Engineers, Society of Professional Engineers (ISA) and the American Nuclear Society (ANS).


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For more information on EDA, Incorporated services, please contact Client Service Manager at:

Client Service Manager

EDA, Inc.

6397 True Lane

Springfield, VA 22150

 

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