Building things can be as simple as assembling a small piece of furniture or as complex as erecting a multi-story building. Instructions that accompany the furniture usually suffice to get the job done. If a mistake is made the potential for negative consequences is minimal. A multi-story building will support perhaps thousands of people and the risks for catastrophic damage are large. The resources devoted to assembling the furniture may only include an afternoon of work. The building example may take many months or years and require the efforts of hundreds of people.
These examples illustrate the variation in complexity and demonstrate two examples of engineering. The furniture likely involved an engineer only in the design and review phases. It is probable that extensive mechanical design and analysis engineering efforts are required to complete the building. Multiple types of engineers would likely be required as well.
Engineering is the application of scientific and mathematical principles to solve real-world problems. These professionals touch just about every aspect of modern life. Many projects involve the unique skill sets of different disciplines of engineering. Over time diversity and specialization of engineering practices have developed. New areas of human endeavor have driven the need for engineering specialties. The origins of different types of engineering stem from four main fields. These include mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical engineering.
Primarily concerned with physical items, mechanical engineers must understand physical forces and mechanisms by which they work. Their education includes a heavy emphasis on physics and mathematical tools used to describe and explain these forces.
Electromagnetic energy is the area over which electrical engineers must develop their expertise. Sub-branches include large electrical energy generation and transmission, radio broadcast technologies, control systems and computerized equipment.
These engineers overlap somewhat with mechanical engineers with an emphasis on physical forces. Generally, civil engineers are associated with specific public works projects and the provision of infrastructure such as transportation systems. Other areas of specialty include public water systems and water treatment.
The fundamental dynamics of reactions between various elements and their molecular and atomic characteristics make up a chemical engineer’s daily work. Specialties for this discipline include petroleum engineering and, more recently, nanotechnology applications. They also commonly work with industrial chemical processes or pharmaceutical development.
Pure science has historically explored fundamental areas to describe and explain them meaningfully. Research in these areas may uncover useful characteristics that represent opportunities for meeting the needs of society. The various disciplines of engineering take advantage of these discoveries to bring real-world solutions to bear on real-world problems. Little progress would be made without engineers who see these problems and solve them.