What is the difference between science and engineering?

Science: The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
(American Heritage Dictionary)

Engineering: The application of scientific and mathematical principles to practical ends such as the design, manufacture, and operation of efficient and economical structures, machines, processes, and systems.
(American Heritage Dictionary)

What is the difference between science and engineering?
Scientists investigate what is; they discover new knowledge by peering into the unknown...
Engineers create what has not been; they make things that have never existed before...

—Joe Bordogna, National Science Foundation

Scientists investigate nature to discover new knowledge. Engineers use that knowledge to create solutions to problems. There is overlap here because as soon as a scientists discovers a new phenomenon, he/she immediately begins thinking about ways in which it can be useful to humanity. The important difference is the end goal. The goal of a scientist is the discovery of new knowledge and explanations of observed phenomenon. The goal of an engineer is solving problems. These differences are evident when comparing the scientific method to the engineering design process. The most important difference is the challenge at the top of each column, below.

Engineering Design Process

“What can we make to solve this?”
Brainstorm many different design ideas
Select a design from your ideas
Explain your design
Build and test your design
Review and decide if design is the best one possible
Redesign (iterate) based on what you learned

Scientific Method

“How can we prove this theory right or wrong?”
Background and research
Describe procedure

As these two professions are complementary, engineering is often a part of the K-12 science classroom. This is true in science textbooks that discuss the uses of scientific discoveries. It is also true when students participate in design competitions. Whenever science class discusses the practical uses of a scientific discovery, the teacher is introducing engineering. The utility of science is often the most exciting part of science class for young students. The problem is most teachers do not label this engineering and thus most students do not learn what engineering is. When these students arrive at college, they do not know what engineering is, and are therefore not equipped to select it as a profession even if they ultimately would enjoy it. A second consequence of engineering being left out of K-12 science courses is that students often think that engineering is too hard. If it was easy enough for high school, it would have been included in the high school curriculum.

In summary, it is important for K-12 science teachers to know the distinction between science and engineering, and for them to identify for their students examples of engineering in their science classes. Discussing the amazing inventions engineers have created with the discoveries of science will ensure that students of the next generation understand what engineering is and are thus, less intimidated by the concept of engineering when they reach college.