The Engineering Method

Science Fairs Inside Out

The Engineering Method

Aerospace Engineer Theodore Von Karmen said, “Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was.” Engineers use science, math and ingenuity to dream up new, creative and practical solutions to problems.

Engineering is everywhere, and there are many different types of engineers – aerospace, biomedical, audio, materials, chemical, petroleum, electrical, geological, manufacturing, mechanical and even nuclear. Most times, you don’t realize that engineers work behind the scenes and are responsible for changing the world all the time with their inventions.

Just like the Scientific Method, the Engineering Method includes a series of steps that serve as a guideline, but not to answer a question. With the Engineering method, the goal is to address a need or to solve a problem.

 7 Steps to the Engineering Method:

1) Can you think of a problem that needs to be solved? The first step in The Engineering Method is to identify a need and to define a problem. As you do this, you should consider creating a list of product requirements and specifically information about the functions and features that should be included. If you’re a skateboarder, you’ve probably thought about making sure you have really great shoes so you can better control your skateboard and to help absorb impact. Click on the “Video Activities” tab on this Discover Engineering web site to check out a video about what goes into the thought process when engineers think about building better shoes for skateboarders.

2) Do some background research about your selected problem. Examine the issue and current solutions. With the problem of building a better skateboard shoe, you would not only need to research skateboarding but would also need to research how shoes are made and what materials they’re made from. You would also need to research what other solutions have already been tested or built.

3) Brainstorm about possible solutions with your parents and/or teachers. Use science and math to figure out a few possible solutions to the problem. Determine which solutions best meet the original needs and requirements of the problem. Select one solution to develop and try to come up with a rough drawing or model of what your project will look like when it’s finished.

4) This is the fun part and is the real difference between a Science Project and an Engineering Project. It’s called the Design, Development, Fabrication, Validation and Testing phase. You need to come up with a design and build a model of your project, then test it and evaluate the solution. Does it work? Does it meet the original design issues and concerns?

5) Record the results of everything you do and every step you take on your Engineering Project in a note book. Don’t just take notes but draw pictures, use your camera to take pictures of yourself as you work on your project and make simple charts, lists and graphs in your notebook if applicable. Include phone calls and meetings you’ve had with scientists and other people about your project and record all observations even if they seem simple or uninteresting. Make sure every entry is dated and is in a bound notebook, not a loose-leaf binder. You’ll be surprised how much of your data and notes you’ll end up using as part of your display board or report. You’ll also be able to share the information with others who are interested in what you did as part of your project, like your teachers and science fair judges. If you create something important through your experiments, others will want to be able to repeat your experiment and they can only do this by following your records of what you did and how you did it. You might even be able to file for a patent or a copyright on your project!

6) Redesign and Retest if necessary. If your project did not work as you originally thought it would, you should consider going back to Step 2), doing more research and coming up with another solution based on the information you came up with during the tests.

7) Draw a conclusion and present the results. What are your conclusions? Did your solution meet the needs of the initial problem? Do you think it was the best solution? Can you come up with any impact of your solution to people you know, worldwide? The conclusions should include any surprises you found in the results and thoughts about possible future project improvements.  It’s okay if your project was not as successful as you thought it would be, but if it didn’t work then try to figure out why and be prepared to explain it to the judges or to include it in your report.

If you’re interested in learning more about Engineering Design check out NASA’s engineering design process video series.