Helping STEM Students Realize Engineering is Inherently Creative

Oct. 15, 2014

What do Lord Byron's daughter and a star architect have to do with STEM anyways?

Stuart Nathan is the features editor of a well-known U.K. journal, The Engineer. Recently he wrote a post called "Ada, Zaha and creativity: the soul of engineering?"

The question I'd like to pose is what do Lord Byron's daughter and a star architect have to do with STEM anyways?

Well Lord Byron’s poetic influence might prove that engineering is the ultimate creative endeavor

Nathan writes:
We could argue for years over whether architecture is a branch of engineering. It’s an issue we’ve tackled, asking the question, who built France’s soaring bridge in the clouds, the Millau Viaduct? Was it Lord Norman Foster, whose name is most often attached to the project, or its impish chief engineer, the less well-known (to the public at least) Michel Virlogeaux?

I looked at the Aquatic Centre at London’s Olympic Park, nominated for this year’s Stirling Prize, and the structural engineering that was needed to realise the designs of the architect, Zaha Hadid, after they’d been adapted from a competition entry to a pared-down, cost-controlled version required by straitened economic circumstances. It was a significant challenge to support the soaring winged roof with its dramatic parabolic curves.

Hadid is, however, one of the most engineering-aligned architects. Trained as a mathematician, her work exemplifies one of my favorite descriptions of architecture — 'frozen mathematics.. Indeed, her current project is to design the mathematics gallery at London’s Science Museum, whose centerpiece will be a solid representation of the air vortices which form around the wings of a vintage aircraft designed to fly at low velocity.

As an example of the creative possibilities of STEM subjects, Hadid (and other architects who work at a heroic scale) is hard to beat. But a recent event at the Royal Academy of Engineering asked whether engineering should be removed altogether from the STEM acronym, as it downplays the creative aspect of the discipline; something which, it is argued, dissuades many people, notably women and girls, from considering it as a career.

Which is extremely patronizing, in my opinion. And if readers will permit another digression in a piece which has already digressed quite a bit (I am conscious of my tendencies as a writer, you see) it downplays the contribution of the figure many claim as the queen of STEM and the figurehead of women in the field, Ada Lovelace, who was honored yesterday in a day which bears her name.

What do you think? Is engineering a “creative” field? Do girls have to be “tricked” into thinking engineering is creative lest they choose to avoid it?

Read the entire original article here: