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When tackling a physics problem, An Engineer will manipulate the axes/coordinate system where a Mathematicians and/or Physicists will use the original coordinate system and math. Why do Engineers think differently? I know its likely because that is how they are taught, but why are they taught that way?

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closed as off topic by David Z May 31 '11 at 21:25

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Who told you that this is special to engineers? I learned it both ways and I teach it both ways, because the important thing is that each person be able to do it in a way that makes sense to them and still be able to follow when someone else does it another way. –  dmckee May 31 '11 at 18:26
    
My calculus professor made this general statement about engineers, and my engineering professors agree. –  JoeHobbit May 31 '11 at 18:45
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I'm with dmckee. Physicists will seek out coordinate systems to greater simplify problems. –  Jerry Schirmer May 31 '11 at 19:36
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This strikes me as a question about engineers, not about physics. –  David Z May 31 '11 at 21:26
    
Such statements are good for jokes,eventually! The span of very different attitudes of engineers (civil, electronics, surveillance, etc) to math and physics shows that this statement on "engineers" is silly. –  Georg Jun 1 '11 at 8:58

4 Answers 4

Choosing an appropriate coordinate system often vastly simplifies a problem. Anyone who wants to solve a problem expediently will try to find a coordinate system that simplifies the problem.

If your professors told you that physicists do not do this, then your professors told you a falsehood.

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Engineers and Physicists have different requirements so they use different tools, and sometimes use the same tools with different approaches

Engineers usually are after solving differential equations, or doing resonance analysis on some structure, which mostly involves doing Laplace transforms of complicated systems of equations, these equations might become significant easier to solve in specific coordinate systems. Some coordinate systems are better than others for certain problems

Physics also use this for solving equations (think how easier is to solve Schrödinger equation for the hydrogen atom in spherical coordinates rather than, say, cartesian). However in theoretical physics one usually does not want to focus how the equations look in specific coordinates; one actually wants to see what part of a equation does not change (or change in a preescribed manner) when a coordinate system is changed, since the most interesting theoretical quantities are usually the ones that transform in particular simple and elegant ways

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There are a few reasons. The first is that most engineers do project work, so a coordinate system is usually developed to suit the project making everything simple and easy to input into calculations.

The second reason is that engineers like to look at solutions to problems by comparing the results calculations and designs with other designs at different stages. It is far easier to compare the dimensions of items when the units and origin of the coordinate system are suited to the problems. For example if you had to compare the depth of bridge girders but the bridge girders were measured as offsets from a origin at the support of the bridge rather than simply the depth of the girder it would be far more difficult to do a simple comparison.

The final reason is simply that one engineering structure often interfaces with another. If you take the example of the London Underground it has it's own coordinate system for x, y and z coordinates. This means that it is easy for a new project to connect to an existing project

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Every particle physics experiment I've worked on had it's own coordinate system. Some had multiple systems (i.e. accelerator coordinates, electron spectrometer coordinates, hadron spectrometer coordinates, etc.). Sometimes these were reasonably obvious, other times ... "whaddya mean the z-axis runs 3.4 degrees below the horizontal?!?". Each set was chosen for a good reason. –  dmckee Jun 1 '11 at 1:16

Because engineers like making things simple - it it's easier to work in the coordinate system of the aircraft (rather than galactic coordiantes) then they will.

On the other hand the physicists will redefine all the constants to 1 to simplify the sums.

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