Why Engineering is Purple


Some purple students at a Waterloo Engineering event (from engsoc.uwaterloo.ca)

Waterloo’s official colours are black, gold and white, but you might have noticed that Engineering’s brochures, websites and other material have a lot of purple.  Sometimes I’ve been asked why that is, or why we are using Wilfrid Laurier or Western University‘s colours.    The main explanation is that sometimes our students are purple, as illustrated in the picture, so why not use that as our theme colour?  But there are purple engineering students at other universities like Queen’s, so there is more too it than just that. There is a bit of a long explanation that can be given in more detail as follows.

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The Burden of the Iron Ring

A typical Iron Ring.

As some people know, Canadian engineers usually choose to wear an Iron Ring, as illustrated in the picture, on the small finger of their “working” hand.  Actually, it’s now usually stainless steel, and so about 72% iron, 18% chromium, 8% nickel and some other elements.  It is originally a Canadian invention, so engineers in the U.S. and elsewhere are often unaware of it.  What is its significance?  Let’s start with what it is Not supposed to be about:

  • It is not a reward from the university for finishing an engineering program.
  • It is not a status symbol.
  • It is not a sign of belonging to some prestigious or secret society.
  • It is not an indicator of any competence or qualification.

So what is it all about?  First, consider its history… Continue reading