2020 Hoover Medal Award Lecture | AIChE

Established in 1929, the Hoover Medal is administered by a board representing five engineering organizations: AIChE, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

The prize commemorates the civic and humanitarian achievements of an engineer whose professional and personal endeavors have advanced the well-being of humankind.

We are pleased to announce that the 2020 Hoover Medalist Bill Hammack, William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign will deliver a lecture titled "Reclaiming the Engineering in the Minds of the Public:The Unheralded, Underappreciated, and Misunderstood Method that Built Our Modern World" at the 2021 Annual Meeting in Boston, MA.

Dr. Hammack has been awarded the Hoover Medal "For creating public awareness and understanding about the engineering profession through books and a large body of video and radio programs that have reached a wide range of audiences."

The session will be chaired by John L. Anderson, President, National Academy of Engineering.

Reclaiming the Engineering in the Minds of the Public:The Unheralded, Underappreciated, and Misunderstood Method that Built Our Modern World

Bill Hammack, William H. and Janet G. Lycan Professor in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, University of Illinois — Urbana-Champaign

Naively the public assumes the products of engineers arise from the scientific method, as reflected in an old joke among engineers about the relationship of science and engineering: “if it’s a success, then it’s a scientific miracle, if a disaster, then an engineering failure.” This joke highlights that successful technologies are invisible: The hallmark of good engineering is invisibility — we rarely think of our furnace, or a jet’s engine, or the purity of a pharmaceutical because the methods to manufacture all these have been honed to perfection. This, though, also hides the creative work of engineers because the public assumes the secret of engineering lies in the mastery of arcane realms of knowledge — sophisticated calculus and powerful computing science implemented by a dispassionate, almost mechanical person — yet the power of engineers to change the world lies in their method, a method used long before sophisticated mathematics and computers. This talk lifts the veil to show, in all its glory, the engineering method, which, once understood, highlights the creativity of engineers, demonstrates their work is the pinnacle of human reasoning, and lays a foundation about how to think about technology — how to decide its proper use and aid it in fulfilling its promise. Using rich examples, this talk strips bare the tools often confused for the engineering method – scientific knowledge, mathematical manipulation – to expose what lies at the heart of the method: a surprisingly simple notion called a “rule of thumb.”