Applied Mechanics News

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

We are Mechanicians

In his Timoshenko Medal Lecture, Bernard Budiansky remarked on why applied mechanics lacked visibility. The full text of his lecture will be posted in Applied Mechanics Research and Researchers in a few weeks, along with the Timoshenko Medal Lectures of other recipients, but here are two paragraphs from his lecture:

“There are two obvious reasons for this lack of visibility, one sublime and one ridiculous. Our very success in promulgating the role of applied mechanics within such a large number and variety of fields has led to the seamless integration of substantial parts of applied mechanics into the various fields I mentioned. This, of course, is very welcome. But as a natural consequence, subsequent research in such an incorporated segment of applied mechanics tends to assume the identity of its host. The absurd reason for our lack of status is that we still don’t know what to call ourselves! Can it be that this is the crux of the problem? We are not the only group whose activity cuts broadly across traditional disciplinary boundaries, but mathematicians, engineers, physicists, biologists, and computer scientists proudly retain their identities, no matter how scattered and diverse their working environments, and, of course, their titles provoke instant recognition. But what are we? In informal conversation, “applied mechaniker” is all right, but is clearly too whimsical and slang-ey for general acceptance. Some years ago, Norman Goodier urged the adoption of the appellation “applied mechanicist” but this never really took hold, and “applied mechanician” doesn’t seem to make it either.

“So if we agree that we should burst the bonds of anonymity, perhaps we should begin by coming to grips with the question of our job description. I could live with either “applied mechanicist” or “applied mechanician”. Why not boldly start using one or the other at every opportunity, and let the better one survive! Then – let’s lobby scientific and technical societies, honorary or otherwise, that have not yet seen the light, to establish applied mechanics divisions! In universities, reverse the slide into oblivion and recommend that establishment of applied mechanics committees across standard departmental lines, maybe empowered to grant degrees as well as give courses! Preach to funding agencies about the merits of interdisciplinary sections of applied mechanics! Give interview, or write popular articles, about applied mechanics and its practitioners! Run for Congress!”

To gain name recognition is hard, especially for people with no names. This much we know. In this blog, I'll start to call ourselves mechanicians, and not the timid phrase "people in the community of Applied Mechanics". Thus the title of this entry.

Budiansky gave the lecture in 1989.
Now we have yet one more way to let the world know who we are: the Internet. Here is an idea, borrowed from the Mathematics Genealogy Project, an online genealogy of mathematicians. You can get the basic idea of the project by looking at the page of William Prager, the PhD advisor of Budiansky. Perhaps someone in our field can start such a project for us mechanicians. We may even set it up as a wiki, to be updated by the entire community. (Alternatively, we can simply submit data to the Mathematics Genealogy Project, as the Mechanics of Deformable Solids and Fluid Mechanics both belong to Mathematics Subject Classification.)

Note added on 29 April 2006: I've started an entry titled Mechanicians in Wikipedia. Everyone is welcome to edit.


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