Science, art & engineers

Published May 31, 2012

On KTH’s emblem it says “Science and Art”, but what does that actually mean? How are these words and phenomena connected? And where does the word engineer derive?

Two sides of the same person?
An engineer is often considered to be well oriented in scientific fields, having the characteristics of being logical and rational, someone who bases his/her conclusions on facts, perhaps even a bit of a square.

An artist on the other hand is often considered as being someone with a great deal of creativity, with headstrong ideas, and an intuitive sense for colour and shape, who often draws his/her conclusions on gut feeling, quite simply, a more liberated type of person.

How many people have the prerequisites to develop both these sides to achieve their full potential? Leonardo da Vinci, who is considered one of history’s most brilliant scientists and artists – was a genius in the fullest sense of the word – but was he a particularly unique genetic hit? How has the importance and perspective of science and art changed throughout the history of mankind?

Stone Age man
These two phenomena and concepts, “science” and “art”, which may seem to be in opposition to each other, have accompanied each other from time immemorial. The Stone-Age man made tools to obtain food. Although there is no doubt that the majority of these tools had a specific functional purpose, grave finds show that many tools were decorated and the workmanship was good.  Even the tool’s basic shape was changed and refined. Was this a result of killing time? Was it to impress others? Or did it lead to greater success when hunting?

Practical art and theoretical science

In the beginning, the word “art” was strongly linked with concepts such as knowledge, ability and technology. Technology, in turn, was associated with practical skills and handicrafts. Just take a word such as “construction” (konstruktion in Swedish) for example. Today many people associate it with science and the engineering profession. If you look closely at the word you see however, that it includes the word “konst”... (konstruktion – konst is the Swedish word for “art”).

What about the word “science”? What is the etymology of that word? Far back in time even this word seems to have described a phenomenon of a practical nature. During the antiquity, it seems however that the concept of the meaning started to adopt a different direction.  As philosophy developed through the writings of philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato, science came to be regarded as an increasingly theoretical activity. These philosophers distinguished between “natural” and “unnatural” movements.  An example of an unnatural movement was to work with your hands in order to construct various tools, so that the forces of nature could be controlled.  A philosopher would not be involved in such non-intellectual activities.

Uniting the engineer

Throughout many epochs, people have had many different attitudes to science and art.  Since ancient times, theoretical scientists and practical artisans have belonged to different social groups. In the 1800s, however, a door opened which made it easier for these groups to meet – this was when university colleges began to educate engineers. The engineer received a thorough, theoretical and scientific education which was then used in the practical sense to make various engineering constructions.

Military and civilian

The word “engineer” has an older history than that which came from the university education for engineers which developed during the 1800s. The word engineer has its origins in the Latin word “ingenium” meaning machine or ingenious tool, and the English word “engine” meaning war machine. The word was first used in Sweden during the late Middle Ages as a way of describing those who designed and built war materials. At the Higher Artillery College in Marieberg, military builders were trained and war machines were made to comply with the needs of the Army. When the Artillery College started to teach civil engineering, the title Master of Science in Engineering was introduced in order to distinguish these new engineers from those who worked within the military.

The issue of a regulated system for the use of the title civil engineer was debated extensively in technical educational establishments, student’s unions and the Swedish Association of Engineers during the early 1900s. Today the title is a protected designation for a professional degree obtained by studying a number of technical educational programmes – the equivalent of five full academic years of study.

A part of KTH since 1827

KTH = science + art? In any case, this always applies, for KTH and society as a whole. Science and art formed a basis for our human development and continue to drive us forward towards future innovations. So when you think of it, the word “engineering” is given a powerful meaning. Wherever you look, there are countless products of science and art in collaboration. The inherent power of this unification is significant. Science and art: an unbeatable couple working perfectly together. And together they constitute an inexhaustible source of new and untested possible combinations.

For KTH, the words “Science and Art” have been part of the school’s emblem since 1827. The newly established Technological Institute, which later became KTH, needed such a phrase. The department’s library, in particular, needed an “ex libris”, a stamp, to be able to mark the large number of books which it had taken over from a range of other contemporary institutions. The Technological Institute’s organising committee determined both the emblem and the motto. The emblem with a crown, an oak leaf wreath and the words “Science and Art” has been more or less the same throughout the years. The words have been regarded as catchwords and a manifesto from the time the institution was started.

Text Anna Klöfver

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