Category Archives: Industrial Eng

Engineers and Scientists

By: John S. Usher, Associate Dean

My last blog post basically laid out the idea that engineers play a role in the design of just about every man-made object that we see in our daily lives.  I often hear people say that engineers “apply science”, that is, take the findings from scientists like biologists, geologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, and more, and apply those scientific concepts to solve problems.  In some cases that is true.  However, I would argue that it much more commonly goes the other way around.  Engineers usually design working systems long before the science is ever understood.

Take for example the steam engine, arguably one of the greatest inventions of all time, and the one which dramatically lead to the Industrial Revolution in the United States.   In 1712 the first commercially successful steam engine was developed by Thomas Newcomen.  The machine operated,  but was crude and very little of the input energy was converted to actual work, with as much as 80% wasted as heat.   Much later in the century, James Watt, (yes, that “watt” as in a 60-watt light bulb) worked as instrument maker at the University of Glasgow.  He was shown a small model of the Newcomen “atmospheric  engine”.  Watt studied it and in 1765 realized it could be greatly improved by introducing an external condenser.  Watt became famous for his steam engine designs as they became the backbone upon which the American mass production was built.

Yet, the actual science underlying the steam engine, namely “thermodynamics” was virtually non-existent in the late 1700’s.   Sadi Carnot, the so called Father of Thermodynamics, published Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire in 1824, nearly a half century after Watt’s findings were well known.  The first and second laws of thermodynamics were not known until the late 1850s, based on the works of William Rankine, Rudolf Clausius, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin).  Rankine’s thermodynamic textbook, the first of its kind, was not written until 1859, nearly 100 years after steam engines were commonplace.

Now, I will admit, this is but one example of science trailing engineering, but we can see similar results in many other fields such as electro-magnetism, computer science, chemistry, medicine and more.  Look no further than the work of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and their success with building and selling complex computers while the field of computer science was still forming.  Again,  we see the engineer “tinkerer” in the garage making an invention work, to improve the quality of life for someone,  without the benefit of well-formed scientific principles to help guide the design process.

Fortunately, we are now seeing the lines between science and engineering blur significantly, especially on the cutting edges of additive manufacturing, nanotechnology, genetics and bioinformatics, data analytics and cyber enable discovery.   Scientists and engineers now work side by side to unlock the mysteries of mother nature and find ways to apply them to our new technological world.   I am enthusiastic and excited about the science and engineering professions and the roles they will play in solving some of the world’s most challenging problems, including, disease, poverty, terrorism, energy, sustainability, and more.

Thanks for reading!  If you want to learn more about becoming an engineer, check out our website at

Life Takes Engineering

Life Takes Engineering

Life Takes Engineering…Speed School Delivers.

People often ask me to explain what engineers do.  I always say the same thing.  “Look around you.” Everything you see was designed, manufactured and delivered through the use of engineering. EVERYTHING!  Not just the obvious techie sort of things like the computer on your desk  or the cell phone in your hand, but the ho-hum things like the carpet on the floor, the paint on the walls, the lights overhead, and the electricity powering those lights. And I’m not only referring to the engineering required to design the products themselves. There’s even more engineering required to design the processes to make and deliver those items to you.  For example, to make carpeting  (designed by chemical engineers) you need a huge factory,  structurally designed by  civil engineers, with equipment  laid out by industrial engineers, filled with machines, conveyors, forklifts, computers and controls designed  by mechanical,  electrical, and computer engineers. And I haven’t even gotten to what it takes to store it, transport it, and install it.  All that just to make carpet? Yeah, and that is one product. Now, I ask you to look around the room you are in right now. If you really take the time to look closely, you will see hundreds, maybe thousands, of individual items; each one requiring engineering for its design and production.

Bottom line, we need engineers to produce what life demands.  The sad fact is, however, we as a nation, are not producing enough engineers each year.  The US produces less than 100,000 engineering BS degrees per year.  That number needs to go WAY up if we are to remain competitive.  To do this, kids from a very young age have to be exposed to engineering, math, and science and they need to know what engineers do.  Speed School prides itself on its outstanding outreach efforts that attract thousands of elementary and high-school kids to participate in engineering camps and activities.  To learn more about those programs, visit our website,

We all need to do more to fill the engineering pipeline with talented young people so that they can meet the complex needs of society in the coming decades.

John S. Usher, Associate Dean, Speed School

New Online Program: M.Eng. degree in Engineering Management

New Online Program: Master of Engineering in Engineering Management

New Online Program: Master of Engineering in Engineering Management

We begin a new chapter in the Engineering Management program. The Department of Industrial Engineering has offered the M.Eng.E.M. degree on campus in Louisville and in Panama for many years.

Beginning today (8/26/2013) this degree will be available as a fully online program. Our goal for the first semester was to have 20 students enrolled. As of this writing, there are 35 students registered for courses, with a few last minute applications pending.

Several of our students are recent grads of the various undergraduate degrees offered by Speed School. Most of our students are new to UofL as well as new to online education. The bulk of our students are in the general Louisville area, but we have students scattered around the U.S. and military students deployed internationally.

This a strong to an exciting new program.

If you would like more information, please click this link.