These are a few of my favorite formulas


I always find it interesting how people from outside an organized group expect characteristics of individuals within the group to conform to a stereotype. For example, when I played on and managed a men’s softball team, one of our team members was a pediatrician. I found it unusual that a pediatrician would play on a men’s softball team. My stereotypical perception of doctors would have their preferred recreation to be playing 18 holes of golf at a private country club every Wednesday with other doctors.

I suppose many people have formed stereotypical opinions of engineers. When I was in college, the stereotypical engineering student wore a calculator on his or her belt — yes, I knew a girl who did this. And in extreme cases, he (I never saw the girls do this) used a plastic pocket protector to hold a variety of writing and drawing utensils. Of course, many — maybe even the majority — did not fit this stereotype. But one characteristic I think the majority of engineering students shared was a keen interest in what makes things work.

Suppose, then, you were an artist who had been commissioned to produce a painting that captured the essence of engineering. I found such a piece in a calendar from National Engineer’s Week. I didn’t really need a new calendar, but I thought I’d page through it to check out the artwork for each month. An image I found particularly interesting was the one for November, which is reproduced here.

This piece depicts a wide variety of engineering fields, such as rail transportation, space exploration, energy generation and transmission, and agriculture. However, one, and only one, equation appears in the illustration – it’s e = mc2. Have you ever used this equation in the course of your job? Of course, I can’t speak for all engineers, but I’ll bet less than 1% have ever actually applied this familiar formula.

So what formula would best represent the work done by engineers? My favorite is x = 1/2at2 + vt + x. Now, I realize this equation might seem too complicated to incorporate into artwork. So my second choice would be F = ma. This equation is even simpler than e = mc2 and has far more practical applications.

Of course, those in the electrical world would probably lobby for E = IR, which, again, has far greater application than e = mc2. While we’re at it, those involved in fluid power would likely vote for F = PA.

Considering all the different fields of engineering, it would be difficult to reach a consensus about a single representative equation. But I don’t know of any group that would promote e = mc2, except, of course, the proverbial rocket scientists. And most of them did wear calculators on their belts when they were in college.

What's The Hitch Post?

Observations about fluid power and other technologies, technical writing, and unrelated topics


Alan Hitchcox

Alan joined Hydraulics & Pneumatics in 1987 with experience as a technical magazine editor and in industrial sales. He graduated with a BS in engineering technology from Franklin University and...
Blog Archive

Sponsored Introduction Continue on to (or wait seconds) ×