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Science and engineering bridges C P Snow’s two cultures

23 May 2014

A poetry competition organised by the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences addresses the gap between science and the humanities

In his “Two Cultures” lecture, novelist C P Snow famously gave a stark analysis of the split between science and the humanities. Snow argued that the breakdown of communication between the "two cultures" of modern society -science and the humanities - was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Some years later, the Engineering Council placed and advertisement in The Times, which ran: "Why isn’t there an Engineers' Corner in Westminster Abbey? In Britain we have made more fuss of a ballad than a blueprint …"

This prompted the poet Wendy Cope to write a satirical poem, Engineers' Corner, which included the lines:

"We make more fuss of ballads than of blueprints –
That’s why so many poets end up rich,
While Engineers scrape by in cheerless garrets.
Who needs a bridge or dam? Who needs a ditch?"

In 2012, a poetry competition in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPS) set out to show that the creativity and innovation necessary in science and engineering can produce poetry too. The competition was for a poem written by any student in EPS showing the creative and human aspects of science and engineering. Now in its third year, the competition was funded by the EPS Strategic Fund and is directly relevant to Manchester’s 2015 goals, specifically:

  • To provide superb higher education to outstanding students from all backgrounds and to produce graduates distinguished around the world for their professional employability, leadership qualities and broad liberal education.
  • To ensure that a Manchester education challenges students to develop strong personal value-systems.

The competition produced 166 submissions in 2012, 171 in 2013 and 163 this year, from every School in the Faculty. Competition organiser Dr Peter Fenn, Reader in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering, teamed up with Dr John McAuliffe, Reader in Creative Writing in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures, to produce a shortlist. The shortlist was sent to poets Wendy Cope and Lachlan Mackinnon, who picked the winner and runners-up.

Professor Colin Bailey, Vice President of The University of Manchester and Dean of EPS, said:

"The art of engineering and science is critical to address the global challenges facing society. It is important that our engineering and science students develop their creativity to obtain the skills to address these challenges. This initiative allowed students to express their ideas through the medium of poetry and I was particularly pleased that more than 160 students decided to enter the competition each year in the first three years, with the quality of the poems being extremely high."

For the inaugural two years, the prizes were funded by the EPS Dean’s fund, but this year Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co, an international law firm headquartered in the UK, kindly agreed to sponsor the prizes

2012 1st prize

  • Untitled poem: by Peter Thompson, undergraduate student (Physics with Theoretical Physics)

2013 1st Prize

  • A poem about love and passion: by Ruth Sullivan, undergraduate student (Textile Science and Technology)

2014 1st Prize

  • A scientific list: by Dr Holly Bardon, postgraduate assistant in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Science

You can read all the poems online at: