Fictional Engineers in Popular Culture

Recently, my little 10 year old cousin Olivia asked me what I was studying at university and I promptly told her engineering. She looked at me and said that that was really boring because it just made her think of a car mechanic. I rolled my eyes, this of course being a common misconception that the general public have about engineers. No, they’re much cooler than that. You know, like in Thunderbirds. She looked at me blankly. I sighed.

She got me thinking about how people view engineering, often viewing it as a boring fixing thing for trainspotting men who are not quite as clever as “real” scientists. I wondered, has no one else benefited from a childhood of awesome fictional engineers? Personally when I was little I wanted to be like Albert the Fifth Musketeer, inventing things to solve the problems, or maybe join Wallace and Gromit in building a rocket to go and get cheese from the moon. These things can have a massive influence on the decisions you make. Where are all these fictional engineers? Who are they?

tumblr_ltgc03gpcD1qekldwSo I did a bit of research.  I found myself sat there realising how many awesome fictional engineers were out there that I had never even previously realised were engineers! Characters from across the worlds of literature, games, films that called themselves inventors and scientists but really, at heart, they were both and thus engineers.

In total, I found 146 fictional engineers

(see the next page for the full list)

I discovered:

ONLY 5% WERE MECHANICS

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The rest were just every other type of engineer that everyone forgets.


7% INVENTED TIME TRAVEL

tumblr_m1m6sgaPPd1qdrpdrIf only the real statistics were that good.

15% WERE FEMALE… BUT 8% WERE NEUTRAL?

b 008_2This is still higher than the % of professional female engineers in the UK (about 9% if you’re interested)  but it should be noted that diversity in engineering is also greater in fiction because of the number of engineers that are robots and mice…


11% ARE PROFESSORS

AND

23% ARE DOCTORS

good_news_everyone-525x296

We don’t believe that real engineers should get PhDs but often assume that fictional ones must have one?

and finally…

…79% ARE GOOD AND ONLY 21% ARE BAD!

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Hooray! The evil engineers trying to take over the world with their new super weapons are outnumbered by the good ones so we’re sure to stay safe in the fictional world!

My statistics were affected by several simplifications though such as including the racers of the Wacky Races as one (except the notable Dick Dastardly and Muttley) and including ALL the Scooby Doo villains as one entry too.

I haven’t yet ordered them into a timeline of any sort but it would be interesting to see whether the public’s exposure to these characters has changed over time, whether less are now targeted at the younger age groups like my little cousin perhaps?

I have posted my full list of characters on the next page  but I am sure that I have probably missed off many characters that I have forgotten or never knew about. I hope sharing this list will remind people of the awesomeness that has inspired so many engineers already and will hopefully continue to do so now that we need them most!

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85 thoughts on “Fictional Engineers in Popular Culture

    1. How have I never heard of the Fraggle Rock Doozers before now? Thanks for the suggestion, both as an addition to the list and as a general introduction to the series, I will look into it further!

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  1. Sadly I don’t have a head for science (read: I’m really quite stupid) but I’ve always loved engineers! They’re my go to class in TFC/TF2 for starters, and many TV ‘space mechanics’ hold a special place in my little metal heart. From B’elanna Torres to Chief Tyrol, I always end up rooting for them. Were I to live in that lovely little sci-fi world I’d head straight for the engine room.

    Lovely post and congrats on being freshly pressed!

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      1. Maybe a little uneasy at first, because the realisation that someone out there knows more about what goes on inside you than you do is a bit scary for everyone I think. But one fixed joint or tightened bolt and I’m sure it would get along with them just fine!

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  2. I think not only your list but your blog will definately inspire many current and future engineers! It is nice to see comics and engineering as well used in the same blog! Good luck to your success as a blogger and engineer!

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  3. Considering how many engineers/engineering majors I know and how big the engineering department is at my school, I can’t help but think of engineering as something bigger than what it seems to the public. Not to mention there are more divisions in engineering (mechanical, industrial, computer) than there seems to be in the other sciences.

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  4. Great post. I love Professor Fransworth. It is true, many fictional engineers are labeled as scientists, professors or doctors, we never have a clear idea of what an engineer is.

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  5. Hello there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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  6. For starters, if you want to increase the female percentage of engineers, look no further than Steampunk fiction. That subgenre is littered with women engineers.

    And I’m guessing that your tally of engineers as mechanics or not mechanics is for those who were *only* mechanics? Because Kaylee’s chief job on the Serenity is very clearly Ship’s Mechanic. She just moonlights as plan facilitator and heart/moral compass of the crew.

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    1. When a friend told me to add Tinkerbell to the list I didn’t believe her at first and had to look it up! My cousin is also delighted by this one and thinks it is a great excuse for me to sit and watch all the Tinkerbell films with her.

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    1. There are some brilliantly cool real engineers out there and Elon Musk is definitely one of them. I couldn’t make a list of all of the real ones though because it would be too long!

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  7. I remember reading that Scottie on Star Trek was emulated by a lot of future engineers. Without him the Enterprise would have been destroyed a multitude of times. Good piece of work.

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  8. Nice. Although I am embarrassed to admit that I was part of the majority who though engineers were boring people who fixed stuff. :$ Thanks for the clarification 🙂

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    1. Glad to know I’ve corrected at least one person! How many people do you reckon will never read this post though because it has engineers in the title and they’ve assumed it will be boring/irrelevant? Thanks for not being one of them anyway!

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  9. wow… you really did your research. That is one heck of a list! My image of fictional engineers? “make stuff. blows up while being used. gets stored in one area of the room and a new invention begins” haha but great stuff

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    1. Aaah, but I’ve already started accumulating further characters to add to the list – it’s not finished yet! A Russian colleague of mine (who is slightly odd but very clever) has pointed out that this is a very “Western” list and he feels he never even had this stereotype of a mad scientist, let alone engineer, when he was growing up! It could be interesting to look into cultural variations…

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  10. Same here.. When I tell people I’m from electrical engineering background, all they think about is whether I can fix their broken TV or not! Sometimes it’s making me mad. But thanks to Iron Man movies now that engineering become popular, I can proudly say: “Tony Stark is also an electrical engineer” 🙂

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    1. I took my youngest brother and his friends to the cinema to see Iron Man 3 for his 13th birthday and when we came out I turned to them and said “And that boys, is why you should all become engineers!”. I was expecting my brother to be embarrassed but actually his friends started asking me about how you would go about learning to build a real Iron Man suit!

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  11. Hmmm… I’m not sure. It is assumed that, as the recent Muppets film shows he works on the ATLAS experiment on the LHC with Bunsen, he must have some sort of science qualifications other than testing but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has an engineering role… I will look into this further!

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    1. Dr Who was a source of debate amongst my network of geeks (also known as my friends) as to whether he classed as an engineer or not! The main evidence of his engineering skills in the newer series (Eccleston onwards) is with the TARDIS which is a living being and so it could be viewed as medical skills instead? We couldn’t explicitly find any evidence of inventing, research and other engineering skills personally when going through older episodes and the internet BUT if the fandom generally believe that the Doctor is an engineer then I will add him to the list, I do not feel qualified to make this judgement though! What do people think?

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  12. I love this! As a female, it was an easy step for me to major in English, but I often wish someone had suggested engineering. I think looking for fictional characters who are in engineering is a great way to expose kids to the idea, particularly young girls. A lot of my friends with daughters are concerned with the lack of representation of females in science and technology fields, so I think its great that you found some.

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  13. Good news Everyone!!

    My mom was book-smart & I think the term ‘Jerry-rigging’ came to be, as my dad’s name is Jerry. I was held back from my science interests in high school because of my low math scores. That didn’t stop me from having my own chemistry set at home, along with other experiments brewing.
    I am not a degreed engineer, but I feel what my brain can do classifies me as one.

    Congrats on getting PRESSED!!!

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  14. When I was a kid, I viewed Engineers as someone who designs and builds a structure (nothing else). When I got older, I learned that those were the Architects and Carpenters, respectively. Well, I never did thought that there a lot of fields in Engineering until I entered college.

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  15. I love your inclusion of Dr. Farnsworth from Futurama! Cloning, reverse engineering of alien technologies, and simply keeping Fry alive all sound like impressive feats to me.

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  16. AFAIK

    When Dr. Wily learns that Dr. Light decided to use the master robots to help humanity, Dr. Wily took control of the first 6 master robots to take over the world.
    This is a backstory shown in all the games, but Dr. Wily is always portrayed in the Megaman series as a bad guy.

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  17. Such high numbers! For my part there are only a few examples of anthropologists I can think of in pop culture, and not enough to make stats yet. I’ll link to your post if we ever publish about it on our blog! Good job!

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  18. I loved this! Being surrounded by engineer friends, I’ve heard so many frustrations in regards to engineers not being recognized enough. What type of engineer are YOU? 😀

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  19. I’m surprised that I’m the first to mention Howard Wolowitz from the Big Bang Theory. His wife and his friends may have PhD’s, however with a masters degree in aerospace engineering Howard gets to build Mars rovers and was an astronaut on the International Space Station.

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  20. The stone pilot is one of my favourite fictional characters ever! They’re actually called Maugin by the way 🙂

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    1. The Stone Pilot is definitely one of the best things about the Edge Chronicles, I really admired them when I read the books as a child! I got my youngest brother reading the series and we both agreed that a picture of them was necessary just as a nod to other Edge fans out there. I knew about their name but thought I thought they would be more recognised as the Stone Pilot although perhaps I should add (Maugin) as well? 😃

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  21. Huh… I like people who are cerebral this way. I am a little more artsy than mechanical, and often am boggled at how someone can come up with some of the solutions or build the things they can.

    Probably why I love Mythbusters so much. More than the myths, I like the way they make the stuff and come up with solutions/complications.

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  22. I dated someone who was studying engineering and upon meeting my parents my father said, “so you are going to school to be a train conductor?” — we ended things shortly after that. — Howard wolowitz from Big Bang Theory is my favorite !!

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  23. I am going to admit, until college, I really didn’t know what an engineer was and did think they were like mechanics (and I thought civil engineering was basically architecture or urban planning). Now I’m doing a graduate program in materials science and engineering.

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  24. This was a really curious read for me as I’m soon to start my formal training to become an engineer – I had no idea that the gender split was so wide in the field though!

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  25. This is a decently comprehensive list! I’m quite impressed, as it looks like quite a time commitment. I have met so many unique/ slightly quirky (and thus interesting) computer science majors during my time in university. Their personalities are strangely comforting, and they are outgoing in surprising ways… Onwards with more engineers!

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  26. Perhaps this is a touch nitpicky, but Tony Stark is actually a doctor. He has 6/7 doctorates (depending on the canon you’re looking at) in various fields.

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