Engineering Realities

Spontaneous Generations 4 (1):94-110 (2010)
We live in a world that increasingly is designed by engineers. So it is worth asking what are engineers doing when they design. There is no simple universal answer to this question, and my strategy for answering it both acknowledges the impossibility of a simple answer, while also identifying and elaborating some important elements to engineering realities. I start with the simple posit that engineering a reality is about controlling aspects of that reality through designed artifice. I then “complexify” this simple idea by examining one company’s multiple contributions to engineering realities. Ometric Corporation was birthed out of the USC NanoCenter in the fall of 2004. The company makes spectrometric equipment that allows for “real time in line” analysis—and control—of materials. Markets that Ometric is focusing on include pharmaceuticals, food and energy. But Ometric lives in an engineer’s reality, while simultaneously working to engineer realities. It must survive financially, initially by selling the ideas behind its innovations to venture capitalists, and then by selling products to markets that may or may not currently exist. Ometric is the product of the University of South Carolina’s efforts to turn its intellectual property into gold for the University. Ometric, thus, is part of a larger effort to re-engineer the University and its relationship to industry. My examination of Ometric, then, identifies some key ways that “control through designed artifice” is a complex, and yet prevalent and powerful force in the construction of our realities
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