I have been working with scientists and engineers on explaining their research and other work to the general public for almost a decade. I've explained the science of many things and how they connect to the real lives of real people. But it occurred to me this morning that if you asked me to come up with a sentence or two on what an engineer's job is, I would struggle with it.

What exactly does an engineer do? How is he or she different from a scientist? What is their role in our world?

Did I mention that I am dating an engineer who works for a big local utility company, and I don't understand what he does either.

So I did what most people would do and Googled it - Asking what an engineer does of the world's most incredible search engine. Here's some of what came up on the first page or two.

From Georgia Tech - Engineering is the practical application of science and math to solve
problems, and it is everywhere in the world around you. From the start to the end of each day, engineering technologies improve the ways that we communicate, work, travel, stay healthy, and entertain ourselves.

From IEEE - They came up second and there was no definition so I typed my question onto their web site search tool.  A bunch of listings with the word engineer in it came up. Maybe there is something else up there, but I didn't see it quickly so on to the next site.

From Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering - The field of engineering has become so diverse in recent years that a definition is not easy to come by. Yes, engineers still
build skyscrapers, design machinery, and oversee public works. But that's
only the beginning. They also address society's needs and problems on a number
of other scales with a unique blend of technology and science. At the atomic level,
materials engineers are developing data storage techniques focusing on
the spin of electrons in atoms. At the molecular level, chemical and bioengineers
are working on drug delivery systems that work inside cells. At the macro level,
environmental engineers are quantifying the particle flow of
pollutants through soil to better understand how to clean up abandoned industrial sites, oil
spills, and other biohazards. And at the galactic level, astronautical
engineers are designing spacecraft for other-world exploration.

From Wikipedia - Engineering is the discipline, art and profession of acquiring
and applying technical, scientific, and mathematical knowledge to design
and implement materials, structures, machines, devices, systems, and processes that safely realize a desired objective or invention.

From the University of Pittsburgh - The origins of engineering go back to the very beginning of human civilization where tools were first created and developed. Today, the
field of engineering offers more career options than any other
discipline. Engineering students can have their pick of many fields.
From mechanical to civil to bioengineering to industrial, each
discipline will lead to an exciting and rewarding life and career. To
put it simply, engineering is the application of science to the needs of

From Dartmouth - The Dartmouth/Thayer approach to engineering problem solving is a
framework for bringing problems of the "real world" into the classroom. Students
solve these problems by proceeding through a problem-solving cycle, step by
carefully documented step. If they discover that the solution they are working on is, in fact,
unviable, they examine their paper trail and move back only so far as they need, perhaps
only a single step.

When students have gone the full round of the problem-solving
cycle, they look at the original problem and decide whether their solution is specific
enough or whether they need to iterate the cycle.

From the University of Colorado at Boulder -

Fundamentally, engineering is about creating things for the benefit
of society. Airplanes, buildings, bridges, telephones …
where would the world be without these things?

Engineers have developed the world’s communication,transportation and building infrastructures, while also making it possible

for people to live longer, healthier lives. Clean drinking water, safe
food storage, and the protection of our environment are all in
the domain of the engineer.

Some engineers create really big things, like skyscrapers and dams, while others focus on really small things. Through the advancement of technology, engineers are now developing complex miniaturized devices, so small they can be implanted in the human body to monitor and treat disease.

So what's an engineering career information seeker or just a curious person supposed to do?

Well no one has the same definition and some of the ones I found just don't make much sense.

Clearly the last explanation from the University of Colorado is the most accessible to the general public.

But my point is this - If the engineers don't have a standard definition that everyone can understand - how are we supposed to know what they do? How is the next generation supposed to get interested in becoming an engineer?

So I ask all of you out there on ScientificBlogging what does an engineer do? Can you help me explain it to a fifth grader?