KOCHI: “Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was.” –Theodore von Kármán, the Hungarian-American mathematician and aerospace engineer.
Najeeb Kuzhiyil, a native of Aluva, and staff engineer at ExxonMobil Corporation in Houston, USA, believes, and rightly too, that the contributions of engineers to human progress are not fully recognised or appreciated. People generally don’t know what engineers do while most people would quickly answer that doctors heal people, lawyers negotiate the intricacies of laws, and accountants keep track of money.
Engineers contribute to society in so many ways that it is hard to stereotype what they do.
“They create things. Washing machines, for example, was not there before it was created by an engineer; or an electric bulb. You look around, most modern creations are the work of engineers,” explains Kuzhiyil.
Unfortunately, even engineering students do not realise this important factor. “I have found that many students of engineering do not have a good idea about what engineering is or what skills are required to be a good engineer. Such a lack of basic understanding prevents them from appreciating engineering and physical science courses to their fullest potential,” reckons Kuzhiyil.
During his recent visit to the state, he says he had a teaching session with students at the Government Engineering College, Thrissur, his alma mater. “When I asked them how many of them were creative, just one student raised the hand,” he points out. Realising that students need to be told about engineering in a simple way, Kuzhiyil, an engineer trained in both chemical and mechanical engineering, authored ‘Spirit of Engineering: The Journey of Two College Freshmen and the Soul of Engineering’ in the United States.
When he started to write the book, he wrote the concept of engineering in an essay format. “Then one day I read it and I thought ‘Maan, children are not going to read this’. No way. Then I thought of scrapping the project. Because there are a lot of books out there in the market with the same boring essay. This book will only further complicate matters; children will not learn anything. You cannot blame them. That’s their age,” he says. “Then when I looked it from their age perspective, I thought of telling the entire concept through a story format,” he reveals.
Kuzhiyil, who has a PhD in Biorenewable Resources and Technology from Iowa State University in the US, and a master’s degree in Combustion and Energy from the University of Leeds, says he has used fiction as a carrier for his message. “Everybody loves to listen to a story. There will be more interest to read one. There will be a natural interest in a story which has children, Wright brothers and a climax.”
Kuzhiyil, who now lives in Dallas, Texas, with his wife and children, says it’s just a six-hour drive to Dayton, Ohio, from Pennsylvania where he used to stay. Dayton was where the Wright brothers began their experimentation in flight in 1896 at their bicycle shop.
“I would go there and sit there for hours just imagining the fairytale-like story of two bicycle mechanics who went on to invent the airplane. This was a major source of inspiration to write the book. ‘Spirit of Engineering...’ tells the story through first-year college mates Matt, an American, and Maya, an Indian girl, who is in the US for higher education. The book tells the story of how the two college mates try to learn engineering, and their travel to Dayton.
An easy read, the book is intended to help students to understand what engineering is all about in simple terms and determine for themselves whether they have the aptitude to be engineers. The book is brought out in India by Konark Publications and was launched in Delhi on Tuesday by poet and critic Ashok Vajpeyi. The book will be launched in Kerala at a function at Ernakulam Public Library on Thursday by former Indian diplomat T P Sreenivasan.