Of those "hard science" topics, I would argue that Chemical Engineering and Conservation Biology are about as opposite as they come. That notwithstanding, I joined the Wildlife Tour members for a day filled with the exploration of elk, bears, wolves and hares. What I found was a surprisingly complex world that shares many values with engineering.
Megan Parker (Working Dogs for Conservation) put it best; "Conservation biologists need to count how many are there, where they are, and are they increasing or decreasing?" We heard similar stories about elk migration in the Missoula area, where the species poses a competitive threat to livestock ranchers.
What I find striking is that each of these Conservation Biologists is using a population sample to elucidate an elaborate causal framework. These scientists are only able to measure the quantity of a species (e.g. snowshoe hares) in a given location at one snapshot in time. From this two-dimensional data, the next step is to evaluate how particular independent variables (e.g. climate shifts) may affect future migration patterns or population balances.
Pertinent to Metcalf's network lunch and beat dinner tomorrow, I see this data strategy as very similar to how scientists and engineers approach a deepwater crude oil flowline. Given that many deepwater lines are at least 5,000 ft. under the ocean, engineers and operators can typically measure only pressure and temperature along the line. They're trying to understand turbulent, multiphase flow (with oil, gas, water and probably gas hydrate) using only these two variables as guideposts. Because these flows are considered "turbulent," they contain random swirling motions ("eddies") that make pure theoretical prediction next to impossible.
Ultimately, the engineers and scientists that work on these flowlines are working on problems shared by their colleagues in Conservation Biology: trying to map highly complex systems based on a few macroscopic measureables. Perhaps we're not so different, after all.