Making ethical choices, crucial in any walk of life, is especially important in engineering. The work of engineers is grounded in fundamental science but translates quickly into structures, devices, and systems that bring broad benefits and big changes to the world. Most recently, the sweep of digital technologies across our lives has raised questions around privacy and security, even while increasing productivity and convenience. Similar issues arise in any engineering discipline. More than a century of development around fuels, transportation, buildings, and medicine — to name a few areas — has remade many aspects of daily life, the environment, the global climate, and human health, while promising myriad future advances. With almost every product, bridge, or vehicle we use, we trust in the ethical behavior of engineers to keep us safe.
When the stakes are this large, the demand for ethical behavior and integrity is even greater.
In my own research group, I make ethics an explicit topic of conversation with students and postdocs, not only as we go about day-to-day research and publishing but as we discuss the motivation behind our work and the implications of our findings. We discuss conflicts of interest and encounter the fuzzy lines and cultural differences that emerge when the precision of math and science intersects with the variations of human nature. I am proud to lead an engineering school where these conversations are common. And I am grateful to be part of a university where faculty and students collaborate and learn easily across disciplines, including public policy and the humanities, which are needed for a view of technology framed from a human perspective.
This magazine offers a sampling of ways in which ethics is an important part of research and teaching in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.