What Is the Difference Between a Scientist and an Engineer?

Scientist vs. Engineer

Chemical engineers can work anywhere in the world.
Chemical engineers supervise the central pumping station at the Yukos Oil and Gas company in Nefteyugansk, Siberia. Getty Images

Scientist versus engineer... are they the same? Different? Here's a look at the definitions of scientist and engineer and the difference between a scientist and engineer.

A scientist is a person who has scientific training or who works in the sciences. An engineer is someone who is trained as an engineer. So, to my way of thinking, the practical difference lies in the educational degree and the description of the task being performed by the scientist or engineer.

On a more philosophical level, scientists tend to explore the natural world and discover new knowledge about the universe and how it works. Engineers apply that knowledge to solve practical problems, often with an eye toward optimizing cost, efficiency, or some other parameters.

There is considerable overlap between science and engineering, so you will find scientists who design and construct equipment and engineers who make important scientific discoveries. Information theory was founded by Claude Shannon, a theoretical engineer. Peter Debye won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with a degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in physics.

Do you feel there are important distinctions between scientists and engineers? Here is a collection of reader explanations of the difference between an engineer and a scientist.