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What Is Mechanics?

Zhigang Suo's picture

So, What is Mechanics? It seems that useful answers ought to depend on who you are talking to. If you are persuading your dean to hire a new faculty member in Mechanics, perhaps you’d like to point out promising research in one area or another, and how foundational mechanics is to the education of future scientists and technologists in (almost) all fields.

If you are explaining what you do for living at a dinner party, assuming that the party has heard enough of Iraq or intelligent design or entropy, perhaps you’d like to point out Mechanics helps to understand how a gecko climbs, or how an earthquake occurs, or how a computer chip fails, or how an airplane flies, or how a cell crawls, or how the Twin Towers fell. You may also speculate if we can build an elevator all the way to the moon, or bury all the excess carbon dioxide beneath oceans. In any case, you’d pick an example that you know well, keep it short, and be ready to answer obvious questions.

If you are talking to an aspiring student, in addition to pointing out promising research areas and great applications, perhaps you’d like to point to a book that she’d gain an inspiring, yet technical, overview of our beloved subject. A book similar to Courant’s What is Mathematics would be excellent. Such a book on Mechanics, however, has not been written.

Your aspiring student will not wait for The Great Book, and must have searched on the Web. She’d most likely be disappointed of what she has found. The Google search of “Mechanics” may give her some idea, but hardly yields anything really useful for her purpose. It has been fashionable for some academics, along with parts of mainstream media, to dismiss the Web as a credible resource. Perhaps we have been unfair. We are mechanicians. It is up to us to tell the public what Mechanics is. If future generations will learn from the Web, then the Web is where we should evolve our subject.

To this end (seems to me the inescapable end), I have just started an entry of Applied Mechanics in Wikipedia, with hyperlinks to existing entries (blue), and nonexisting ones (red). Like all entries in Wikipedia, this one is a work in progress, and admittedly inadequate. Mechanics evolves, so should the entry in Wikipedia. Please feel free to delete, add, rearrange, and hyperlink.

Click the tab "edit this page" on the top of the page in Wikipedia, you are on your way to become a Wikipedian. Click the tab "history", you will see who has edited this entry. Anyone is free to edit anything. However, if you'd like to have your name listed in the history, you need to log in to Wikipedia before editing.

(If you are new to Wikipedia, you may want to read a previous post in iMechanica, Wikipedia and Applied Mechanics. You may also want to read a few entries inWikipedia, such as , Nanotechnology, information technology, and Computer science.)

Let us hope that we will soon have enough material in Wikipedia and in iMechanica for anyone to learn Mechanics, on any occasion and to any depth. I'd be curious to learn what you think is Mechanics, and how we should convey what we think to the public.

Note: This entry is updated from an entry posted on Applied Mechanics News on 31 March 2006.


Henry Tan's picture

Fundamentally, I believe, whatever discipline that contains forces and responses can be called mechanics. So we have mechanics of solids, mechanics of fluids, mechanics of structures, mechanics of politics, mechanics of economy, mechanics of bio-systems, mechanics of love, etc. ...

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