However zeitgeisty it sounds, interdisciplinary engineering is a growing movement, and a truly beneficial one. The synthesis of disciplines, and the cross-functionality of engineering studies is increasingly more important as we blur the lines between mechanical, electrical, computer, aerospace, chemical, and biological fields. Disciplines that used to have nothing to do with each other are starting to realize the benefits of having broad expertise, and departments are popping up around the countries top research universities that encourage and foster this kind of interdisciplinary environment.
Cross-functional engineering in everyday life experiences can manifest many ways. In a previous post I noted how learning about water hammers in my graduate research lab helped me diagnose a problem with my washing machine years later. The following story is only mildly related to this concept, but bear with me. This morning, while desperately trying to keep my 10 month old entertained so that I could shower and feel human, I synthesized three very different experiences together to form one very fun distraction technique:
Part (1): Band Geek
Part (2): My undergrad alma mater's world-renowned pipes and drum band
Part (3): A Sonicare toothbrush.
Let me explain...
I played music for many years, most of my childhood/adolescence. I started with one of those tiny 1/2 size violins when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, and then switched to the flute in 5th grade. Many years of private lessons led into becoming a full-blown band geek in high school. Marching band, pep band, pit orchestra for the spring musical, parade band, the whole lot. I was even drum major my senior year. Yes, that kind of band geek. Through the standard wind ensemble repertoire, I became familiarized with the works of Frank Ticheli, Percy Grainger, and other pieces inspired by the British Isles. This love of all things bagpipe-y continued into my collegiate experience. Though I did not continue participating in the music world as a player, I thoroughly enjoyed the presence of all things Scottish on the Carnegie Mellon campus, including the pipes & drum band. Wednesday afternoons the band would practice on the Cut and I frequently (in good weather) took to sitting at a picnic table nearby to enjoy some music while working on a problem set. There is nothing remotely Scottish about me (although my husband is fractionally Scotch from his mother's side), but for some reason the music gives me goosebumps and uplifts my spirit.
In a seemingly unrelated fact: I love my Sonicare toothbrush. My grandfather Z"L was a dentist and I come from a healthy teeth family. Regular Sonicare brushings, along with a superb childhood dentist, has yielded me a string of happy adult cleaning appointments with complimentary dental hygienists. A now for the kicker: I realized recently that the buzzing sound that accompanies the satisfying clean of the Sonicare is almost exactly the same pitch as the drone emitted by a bagpipe.
Circling back, we are back in the bathroom where I am trying to keep my daughter busy while brushing my teeth. The discovery that the toothbrush emits a bagpipe-esque drone means that I now delight her with a performance of all the music i know that is bagpipe or bagpipe-inspired, hummed with my mouth full of toothpaste. Some of our favorites are Loch Lomond, Dueling Pipers, an assortment of Percy Grainger's works including Lincolnshire Posy, and Shenandoah. It may be that she is giggling about mommy's silly faces rather than in delight for the tastefully-delivered renditions of the classics... but regardless. I get to brush my teeth, and my daughter gets a show. Everyone wins!
In all seriousness, being able to draw on seemingly unconnected experiences while problem solving is invaluable and merits a continual, conscious push towards erasing the boundaries between fields. Interdisciplinary engineering is the future: get ready.