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‘Doing Engineering’ was the first of Engineering Life’s experimental, interdisciplinary meetings.
The Engineering Life project is inspired by and focuses on the relationship between engineering and biology in young fields like synthetic biology. Because synthetic biologists express great admiration of and a desire to emulate traditional engineering fields, we care about what engineering itself is. ‘Doing Engineering’ was intended to explore this type of discipline and work from a variety of perspectives. Most importantly, we brought engineers and synthetic biologists to discuss their personal experiences of engineering.
Seventeen practitioners, including social scientists, philosophers of technology, policy experts, synthetic biologists and engineers came together and used novel methods to study the nuances of being an engineer and practicing engineering. We began the day by introducing ourselves using images that for each person represented engineering. Those included wooden propellers, a Saturn V rocket blasting off, a champagne glass filled with raspberries, and a make-believe image of bacteria filled with electronics.
The most important part of the workshop was composed of live interviews. One of the team members from Engineering Life sat with several of our synthetic biologists and engineers and asked them about their motivations for practicing engineering, their experiences in doing so, their ambitions, and their views of what constitutes great engineers and great engineering. The conversations, along with short presentations and some engineering Scrabble, made possible lively debate among the entire group, and has given us better understanding of a concept found at the core of our project.