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This was originally asked by Sabre Tooth on Area 51 not too long ago. Perhaps it's relevant to put it on meta now that we're in beta, because although all the people here have clearly been on Area 51, not all may have seen the discussion. And it's good to make it official.

Anyway, should experimental physics questions be on topic here? The one answer, by martin (which got some upvotes) said that it should be on topic:

I'd definitly say that questions of the type "how can I build " would be on topic.

Remember, engineering practice may contain experiemnts too - measuring the performace curve of a pump would be one example.

Looking at experimental physics, I think questions of the type "I have this hypothesis, how can I test it" should be off topic. Here, I mean question were the focus is to translate the hypothesis into something testable in the first place.

For the record, I fully support these questions being on topic on Engineering (if they focus on the engineering aspect of a problem), and I have one planned. Cloud chamber experts be on the lookout!

Oh, and I would suggest that we generalize this to all sciences, not just Physics.

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To cite from Wikipedia:

Engineering [...] is the application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to invent, design, build, maintain, research, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. (source)

As such, questions about how to apply knowledge from physics, chemistry and so on, are questions which are on topic.

Engineering is a very broad field. As such, it is nonsensical to define a sharp boundary to other fields - I would say it is impossible! Experimental physics is a field, where you sometimes have to be an engineer e.g. to build/invent a novel measurement system. So, we have a lot of overlap. But there are questions which are clearly not about engineering.

So, I agree with you that every question, regardless of the type of science contained, is on topic, as long as the engineering context is clear.

This is a question which is on the borderline. I myself find it interesting, but the 'engineering' in there is sparse. It is mainly about the search for a formula, which then 'might be useful'. Please comment if you disagree.

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  • $\begingroup$ engineering.stackexchange.com/questions/160/… is probably another good example of a non-engineering question. It's really about the technique of machining as opposed to the materials science behind engineering. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 25 '15 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ I think as a practical matter, that "Multi-gas barometric height formula" question may just as likely be answered by a nuclear or chemical engineer that a meteorologist, physicist or physical chemist, so pragmatically I don't think it is borderline. By asking here, the questioner needs to expect an engineering perspective in an answer, rather than a scientist's perspective. $\endgroup$ – dcorking Jan 25 '15 at 22:58
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I hope so. In name, experimental physics is what I do. In practice I think it's 99% engineering. If you are designing instruments for chemistry or biology I assume it's the same.

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The basis for engineering include all science disciplines including physics, chemistry, biology, zoology, mathematics etc. Performing experiments is an important part of engineering. IMHO what differentiates engineering from sciences is engineering develops a product or service that is useful to all.

  • Chemist were able to extract gasoline from petroleum that is use in a internal combustion engine which is part of the modern automotive
  • Physicist discovered electricity which lead to computers

Engineers use combine sciences and business objectives to develop product and services to benefit greater community at a affordable price that meets generally accepted safe guidelines. These safety guidelines would include EMC, EMI, ROHS and many more regulatory requirements.

So Experimental Physics Themed question in the Engineering framework should be entertained. This is a very gray area and the community has to address this as a case by case basis.

Presented in an Engineering framework Principal Component Regression with an additional factor is a very good question. As it is (1/25/2015) the engineering components are missing in the question.

In summary context matters.

PS: I notices that there is physics SE

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  • $\begingroup$ The physics SE does exist but takes a VERY hard line against answering engineering questions. I've seen more than a few experimental questions shot down as being off-topic: engineering. It's not really a place where an experimental scientist can go for help. $\endgroup$ – Dan Feb 4 '15 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ I am referring to experimental engineering as oppose to experimental scientist $\endgroup$ – Mahendra Gunawardena Feb 4 '15 at 23:51
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Just the term "experimental" has an "engineering" flavor to it.

Now I can see where an experiment might be the test of a "theory" or a "hypothesis" in physics or some other science. In that case, the question might be better suited for its home science than engineering.

But the minute you veer into realm of applications, that's engineering, IMHO. That would be particularly true if you were talking about "machines" or "equipment," as opposed to "processes."

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    $\begingroup$ Engineers frequently have to test various theories in order to determine the best approach for applying a principle to solve the problem at hand. So your distinction between the two realms doesn't quite hold. Most accept that there's a lot of overlap between engineering and their sciences backed fields. $\endgroup$ – user16 Jan 25 '15 at 15:51

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