Difference between a Scientist and an Engineer

By: | Updated: Jan-30, 2018

Scientists and engineers work hand in hand to bring technological innovations that are meant to improve the quality of life for everyone. Some would argue that they are practically the same since both involve many discoveries and innovations. So how do we differentiate one from the other?

Summary Table

Asks questions, forms theoriesDevelops and designs solutions
Deals with the unknownWorks with the known
Usually motivated by the need for acclaimUsually motivated by material gains


Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist

A scientist is someone who studies and possesses expertise in the many fields of science. There are many fields of science, and a scientist is usually an expert in one or more fields. The scientist applies systematic methodologies to acquire new knowledge that explains or predicts the world around us. They conduct research and studies to acquire a more complete understanding of the natural world and beyond, including the mathematical, physical and social realms. Scientists are involved in building new models that seek to explain existing information and predict new outcomes. There are also scientists who test models by performing measurements. The study of the principles of law and mathematics are often associated with the sciences. Some of the well-renowned physicists such as Albert Einstein have been brilliant lawyers and mathematicians.

A scientist’s unwavering quest for knowledge is motivated by many different things. Some are motivated by the need to understand the natural world and how it came to be. Others possess a strong sense of curiosity about reality, while some seek recognition and prestige. Scientists are less likely to be motivated by direct financial rewards for their work. This might explain why many scientists would accept lower pay than other professions that actually require the same qualifications and extensive training.

Examples of professionals in the field of science are physicists, astronomers, biologists, archaeologists, psychologists, and chemists.

Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla was a brilliant inventor, mechanical engineer, and electrical engineer

An engineer designs structures, materials, and systems within the bounds of practicality, safety, regulation, and cost. In fact, the word comes from a combination of the Latin terms ingeniare, which means “to devise,” and ingenium which means “cleverness,” forming the word ingeniator.

An engineering course is usually based on a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Engineers in North America take further examinations in law, ethics, and professional practice in order to secure a professional license.

Engineers are often seen as indispensable links between scientific breakthroughs and their applications that can potentially improve the quality of life for everyone. They search for new technological solutions by defining problems and conducting research. Engineers do not stop at finding a solution; instead, they analyze and run further tests with it. Engineers spend a big chunk of their time researching, finding, applying, and transferring research data.

The field of engineering is divided into many branches, and each is a specialization in its own right. This is why engineers possess deep knowledge in a particular area and basic knowledge in other related disciplines. For instance, a mechanical engineering course would also include basic courses in computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, software engineering, and metallurgy. It is also common for engineers to work with interdisciplinary engineering teams when developing a product.

There are many kinds of engineers. Some are architectural engineers, chemical engineers, electrical engineers, software engineers, and mechanical engineers.

Scientist vs Engineer

So what’s the difference between a scientist and an engineer? While it’s the consensus that they are very different, both fields of expertise complement each other. In fact, they usually work with each other.

Scientists formulate the theories while engineers implement these theories into optimized real-world applications. While scientists observe and study the natural world (and beyond), engineers develop and build new technologies based on scientific research.

Scientists have a much broader scope dealing with many different subjects and issues. Engineers, on the other hand, focus on one main discipline. They do have a basic knowledge of related engineering fields, however.

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