Entertainment that brings a Spark to your Engineering

wise person once opined, “a medic aids a human while an Engineer aids a civilization”. Engineering is all about the application of scientific knowledge. It is the art of converting scientist text into practice. It is about connecting dots and making best use of available resources. It is a journey of  investigation, innovation , designing and maintenance.

When it comes to entertainment, Engineers are known to have certain preferences. Needless to say that and Engineer’s choice is heavily skewed towards Sci-fi programs. In fact,  it is expected from an Engineer to be a die hard fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. Similarly, there is also a stereotype for techies that says “Engineers love motor sports, particularly Formula 1”.  It is true that Space movies like Interstellar, Apollo 13 and Gravity feature heavily on the Engineer’s leisure  time options.  However the aim of this article was to unearth entertainment that compels creativity and lateral thinking.

A survey was conducted among Engineers to find out what was the most compelling TV/Cinema product that has helped them to think creatively and the following results were found. Both Trek and Wars have been discounted to add freshness to list.


MacGyver was a television series in that ran in the 1980’s. The series gained popularity across the globe. Richard Dean Anderson played the lead character i.e. the role of McGyver. In every episode the protagonist would find himself in sticky situations. He would use his ingenuity, engineering skills mostly alongside a  duct tape and Swiss-knife to dig himself out of trouble. In the 80’s there were other programs that had similar themes such as the “Wizard” and the “A-team”, however McGyver takes the cut because of the character’s innovative ideas and ability of using almost everything in the environment to his advantage. In 2016, based on popular demand a reboot version of MacGyver was aired. However it did not gain as much traction compared to the original series.


The 1986 sequel “Aliens” featuring Sigourney Weaver, came out on top of Engineer’s list. One of the main reasons is the weaponry/gadgetry shown in the movie. From the motion detecting  sentry guns, to the iconic flame thrower, from the Dropship (UD-4L) to the Exosuit (Power Loader),  M577 Armoured Personnel Carrier to the man portable “Smart” Machine gun, the movie had everything. Aliens was a trend setter in many ways. It should be noted that the concept of Exosuit that was first to feature in this movie has since been used in a number of other movies and games. These include Avatar, District 9, Pacific Rim and many others.  In fact Korean scientists have recently built a real life Robot  that mimics the  human pilot housed inside its chest cavity.

Exosuit "Power Loader" first appeared in Aliens.

Exosuit “Power Loader” first appeared in Aliens.

30 years after its release, it still continues to captivate the imagination. Even today, one can get all the gadgets shown the movie as die-cast models.

Iron Man

In 2008, Tony Stark character was expertly played by Robert Downey Jr. The scene where Stark build’s the first “Iron Man” suit or Mark 1 in a cave with nothing but tools of a middle age blacksmith is an  inspiration for many budding Engineers. Similarly, Stark’s own workshop/ laboratory in his  Malibu residence with a holographic computer screen, robots, 3D printers and a backdrop of classic cars is any Engineers cup of tea. Who wouldn’t like to create 3D CAD model in air with simple hand movements.

It should be noted that fascination of technology is the highest when the simple objects are utilized for engineering complex machines. Breeding high tech material out of high spec machines doesn’t have the same impact.

Scrap Heap Challenge

Scrap heap challenge was a TV program that was broadcast in the UK  for almost 11 years (1998-2010).  It was is extremely popular among the tech community and the program format was exported to the US where it was titled “Junkyard wars”.   Among the challenges were to build a “Jet car” and a “Bridging machine”.  The program did put a ding in the Engineers mind. In fact it compelled them to ogle their local scrap yard. The idea for the show came from a movie that is another Engineers favourite, “Apollo 13”. In the movie, Astronauts receive instructions to construct a carbon-di-oxide filter in a short amount of time using nothing but removable parts  on the spacecraft.

Scrap heap challenge inspired several spin-offs namely Scrappy Races, Warship Mega Challenge and Scrap Heap Mega Challenge.  The program should be a must see for engineering students as it helps their lateral thinking and puts them in good stead in their work environment (which may not necessarily be a junk yard).

The Martian

The Martian (2015), if had been released a decade ago would have been a raging success. Its release in the proximity of “Interstellar”  and in the era of Marvel/DC movie wars has undoubtedly stolen its thunder. The whole plot of the movie revolves around problem solving.  A marooned Astronaut on Mars has to find a way to survive can escape an inhospitable planet. The character not only has to establish a method of communication with his colleagues but also needs to grow food to last the ordeal. He has to traverse long distances and somehow re-launch himself in to orbit using an abandoned spacecraft. Only a very resourceful person would overcome such challenges. To an engineers disappointment, the central character is a biologist. Nonetheless because of the  problems solving and overcoming of adversity, the movie still tops  the list of many sci-fi nerds, not just engineers.

Dropship model shown in Aliens (1986) UD-4L Cheyyenne

Dropship model shown in Aliens (1986) UD-4L Cheyyenne

It has to be mentioned that Director/ Producer Ridley Scott movies seem to follow the pattern that sparks the most imaginative scenarios.

Further Reading

Engineering Analysis of Iron Man Suit


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