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What is Engineering?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Engineering is an incredibly broad field that involves the harnessing of mathematical and scientific concepts to create practical and useful things, ranging from automobiles to wind turbines. This field is huge, encompassing people in a wide range of industries, and some people call it “the invisible science,” because engineers are often unsung and unheralded, despite the fact that the work they do is very important. Many colleges and universities offer courses in this discipline for people who are interested in pursuing it as a career.

As a very ancient field of human endeavor, engineering was used by early humans, who used their knowledge of the natural world to figure out things like irrigation schemes and how to build boats that didn't sink. Over time, as humans learned more about science and mathematics, engineering got more complex, and this field paved the way for modern society. Anyone reading this article is benefiting from a product of this field, be it a computer or other similar electronic device.

There are a number of subfields of this discipline, including mechanical, computer, electrical, military, civil, environmental, aerospace, and chemical engineering. All of these fields require different types of training; aerospace engineers, for example, learn a great deal about physics and space in the course of their work, while environmental engineers consider issues like pollution control and the impact of humans on their environment.

Most engineers pride themselves on being problem solvers. Their field of work involves the analysis of a problem, such as the need for a safe and stable water supply for a city, and the creation of a solution, such as an aqueduct. In the course of their work, engineers often interact with people in a number of other disciplines, and this field of work places a high value on collaboration, fact checking, and quick thinking.

Most countries regulate the field, because engineers participate in projects that could be very dangerous if conducted without proper training. Engineers, for example, analyze the plans for structures to ensure that they are sound and stable; an unqualified civil engineer might sign off on plans for a bridge or building that could fail with catastrophic results. Most people who pursue careers in this field go through both graduate and undergraduate training, and they may be required to complete examinations as well.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All The Science researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By KoiwiGal — On Sep 07, 2012

@anon227857 - You really should do your homework yourself. It's not too difficult now that you've got the internet. A good start might be to look up "civil engineering" with the search at the top of the page here, and then "define civil engineering" in Google.

Civil engineering is a blanket term for all the different types of engineers who work with anything that's been built by humans in the environment. So, environmental engineers, structural engineers, and so forth.

It's a really massive thing to be doing a single project on, so you might want to look at a single city, or a single building even, and use it as a way to demonstrate what civil engineering is in general.

By MrsPramm — On Sep 07, 2012

@croydon - I would find those two the more interesting jobs though. Environmental engineers and agricultural engineers get to work outside and try to integrate humanity into nature (if that's the route they chose to work on, of course!).

I had a friend who had focused on agricultural engineering and he ended up teaching agricultural methods in Africa. He said he learned as much or more as the people he was living with, but that he really thought sending more engineers over there to teach basic methods of healing the land was the answer to a lot of problems.

So you could end up anywhere with an engineering degree. It's such a wide field, you really need to just get into it and figure out what you'd prefer to do.

By croydon — On Sep 06, 2012

@anon22456 - There's a lot of different things people can do with a degree in either of those fields but I don't think they are the most common we see in our everyday lives. Most people live in cities now and probably see the work of civil and structural engineers, or maybe even chemical engineers. When it comes right down to it, engineers pretty much help to build everything around you.

Agricultural and biomedical engineers definitely help to shape our lives indirectly as well but city dwellers probably don't see as much of them.

By anon227857 — On Nov 06, 2011

I'm doing a project for my teacher about civil engineering. Can anyone help me?

By anon43304 — On Aug 27, 2009

What are som sample projects on civil steel structure?

By alevoltage — On Jan 26, 2009

hello everybody, i want to know something about switched mode AC power supply (not switched mode DC power supply). please help.

By anon22456 — On Dec 04, 2008

Please i want you to talk more about other engineering field like agricultural engineering and biomedical engineering since they seems to be the commonest ones we observe in our everyday life. Please you can also give job opportunities to the various types?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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