News and Events
Volume 1 - Edition 7
December 10, 2004
From Engineering to Psychology

What do engineering and psychology have in common?  John Beeckmans.

Like many retired professors, John Beeckmans who was a Western Engineering faculty member, is still conducting research at The University of Western Ontario.  The only difference is his current research has nothing to do with his 38 years of research in chemical engineering.

“I realized almost 50 years ago, that consciousness was a mystery that science could not even begin to explain,” says Beeckmans. “I decided then that I would study it seriously upon my retirement.” And studying consciousness seriously is just what he has done.

Immediately after retiring in 1995, Beeckmans started to explore the study of consciousness.  By 1999 he had advanced sufficiently to have a paper accepted for presentation at the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC) conference held at Western.

This year Beeckmans presented a paper at the conference “Toward a science of consciousness” held in Tucson, Arizona, and published a journal article, “Chromatically rich phenomenal percepts” in the journal Philosophical Psychology.  The paper discusses the nature of sensory experiences evoked by chromatically detailed images. “It is an honour to have my paper published,” says Beeckmans. “Not many people with no credentials get papers published in a professional journal.”

Having no credentials was a hard thing for Beeckmans to get used to.  During his 38-year career in engineering he was known internationally for his research in fluidization which led to the development of a dry coal cleaning technology that is currently in use in three plants in Chinese coal mines.

Beeckmans was also very successful at the university level.  In 1998 he founded the Western Engineering Integrated Engineering program and in 1991 he co-founded the Modular Program, a graduate course-work program for engineers in industry that was subsequently phased out in favour of the ADMI (Advanced Design & Manufacturing Institute) program, a cooperative initiative involving four other Ontario universities.  Beeckmans still represents Western at ADMI program committee meetings.

The question still remains - why did Beeckmans choose engineering as a profession?

“In the 60s I couldn’t have made a living working on consciousness,” explains Beeckmans.  “The study of consciousness has become a respectable field of study for science only within the past 20 years or so.” 

So, as a young man, Beeckmans decided to enter the field of engineering because he always liked mathematics and engineering was a profession with good career prospects.  Little did Beeckmans suspect that choosing a career in engineering would also benefit his goal to pursue the study of consciousness after retirement.

“Perceptual psychology is a form of reverse engineering,” explains Beeckmans. “In reverse engineering an engineer studies an existing system and tries to figure out how it works.  Likewise, in doing research in perceptual psychology, we do experiments using people and try to figure out the architecture of the mind.” 

Beeckmans’ story just goes to show that engineering is a field of study that can open the doors to many opportunities.  Beeckmans, for example, took the problem-solving skills he learned throughout his many years as an engineer and applied them to his other areas of interest.  Many young engineers of today plan to do the same and with Western Engineering’s numerous concurrent degree programs and research opportunities, engineers could end up just about anywhere, doing just about anything.  Just like John Beeckmans.

  Celebrating 50 Years of Engineering Excellence
Faculty of Engineering Home search engineering Phone Book University of Western Ontario Home Western Engineering Home

Last Updated: 04/03/05