My November column in Mechanical Engineering magazine.
Nature is often what delivers the inspiration to innovate. We see cocoons turning into butterflies in the spring and leaves turning brown and dying in autumn. We adapt to the changing cycles of nature and this encourages us creatively—whether it is to write an article or to design the next mobile device.
There is symmetry between nature’s work and an engineer’s creation. This month, we salute some of the individuals who have contributed in significant ways to improve our lives. The men and women we showcase in this issue are recipients of different ASME honors—Honorary Membership, awards, medals, and the status of Fellow. Eleven will receive their honors this month at the Society’s International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition in Denver. In the case of some of the recipients, the impact of their work on our lives has been direct, and in the case of others it is subtle, but the common thread among these award recipients is that they all have embraced the possibilities of technology to advance our living conditions. (For more on these honorees click here.)
The work of these individuals underscores the accidental bond between engineers and Mother Nature—both focusing on the complex systems of the world. Nature’s ecosystem is the classic example of a complex adaptive system.
Our cover story this month highlights the relationship of Nature’s system and the way engineers work to sustain it. Designing for sustainability is an important aspect of managing a complex adaptive system. The cover touts a story that reveals the results of our third annual survey on sustainable practices in manufacturing.
When we asked many of you for your views, you told us that you feel a heightened awareness that designing and using sustainable processes in the workplace both help preserve our environment and can also be good for business. We are delighted by how many of you felt it was important to respond to the survey and be heard on this topic.
Any discussion of complex adaptive systems would not be complete without checking in with Ahmed K. Noor, who is a frequent contributor to the magazine. This month, in his article, “The World Is More Than Complicated,” Noor tells us about future complex systems and the approaches that will be necessary in order to engineer them. His always interesting and futuristic article begins on page 30.
Also this month, we are excited to be among the first publications to excerpt the newest book from celebrated writer and educator Henry Petroski. The book, An Engineer’s Alphabet: Gleanings from the Softer Side of a Profession, is being released this month.
Petroski is the author of numerous books, including some of my favorites, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance; Invention by Design: How Engineers Get From Thought to Thing; The Toothpick: Technology and Culture; and last year’s book, The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems. In his latest book, Petroski reflects on the “state of the art” of engineering through a collection of snippets arranged in alphabetical order. Under “S,” symbols of engineering, Petroski lists ASME’s original logo. He says of it: “There is no equally universal and deeply rooted symbol of the engineering profession.”
The lasting image of Archimedes’ lever moving the Earth is a fitting reminder of the relationship between engineers and nature, and about the power of the profession to impact the world.