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FEATURE ARTICLE

Science in 2006

A former IBM chief scientist looks ahead from 1986 into the twenty-first century

Lewis Branscomb

Merging of Science and Engineering

The use of advanced engineering technology to further scientific objectives was, of course, not new in 1999. Back in 1986, the ability to reconstruct genetic material and to prepare new inorganic materials, unknown to nature, with molecular beam epitaxy, gave a hint of things to come. More and more, scientists were constructing a nature of their own design. With the increased complexity of the instrumentation, driven by internal computers that were directed by tens of thousands of lines of microcode programming, it had become harder to distinguish between the disciplines of science and engineering.

The main difference now was in point of view. Scientists still pursued questions, and engineers answers, but there was little distinction in the tools they used. Both scientists and engineers were heavily dependent on high-speed computer equipment to model their ideas and to simulate experiments and prototypes. Indeed, the theoretical experiments of the scientist were hard to distinguish from the prototype simulations of the engineer. Both ran on teraflop (1012 floating point instructions per second) parallel processors conveniently accessible through desktop workstations.








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