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March 04, 2017

Rachael Rufino

The 411 on Engineering

Topics: Girls & STEM, STEM, STEAM

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Did you know that hover crafts, prosthetics and NASA’s spacesuits were created by engineers?  With National Engineers Week behind us and National Engineering Month happening now, it’s the perfect time for a blog post that celebrates the profession.

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The definition of an engineer is “a person who designs, builds, or maintains either engines, machines, or public works.”  With such a versatile job description, there is a place for engineers in almost every field of study.  Here are the six major branches of engineering:

Mechanical

Often referred to as the ‘general practitioners’ of the profession, mechanical engineers work in nearly every area of technology.  Sub branches include aerospace, automotive, computers and biotechnology.

A skill exclusive to mechanical engineers is the ability to design and implement objects and systems with motion.  Industries such as automotive, aerospace, biotechnology, computers and more, depend on mechanical engineers to manufacture their ideas into the marketplace.  Did you know that working with complex machines includes the human body?  Understanding mechanics, cartilage-tissue engineering, tribology (friction and wear) and vibrations have helped mechanical engineers create prosthetics.  These artificial body parts help people function with day-to-day tasks, regain a sense of normalcy and even achieve athletic feats!

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Chemical

Anything made of chemicals- from the rubber in a tire to the scent in a perfume- was created by an engineer.  Chemical engineers help us create medicines, fibers, plastics, energy and even compostable utensils.  Within the profession, there is also a large focus on creating cleaner technologies and measuring the environmental impacts of various chemicals.

Chemical engineering combines a number of subjects- physical science (physics and chemistry), life science (microbiology and biochemistry), mathematics and economics.  They apply the principles of those subjects to improve the production and use of chemicals, fuel, drugs, food and more.  They know how to transform, transport and use chemicals, materials, living cells, microorganisms and energy.  With so much knowledge, chemical engineers are able to make profound contributions to society.  Check out this list of notable figures.

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Civil

Have a look around.  Is there a building within your current line of sight?  Perhaps you are inside a building now?  That sturdy structure was built by civil engineers.  The job of a civil engineer includes constructing stadiums, skyscrapers, highways, bridges, water reservoirs and tunnels that can withstand earthquakes, storms and more. 

This is the branch for those who enjoy working in variety of locations and conditions.  Civil engineers are masters of creating structures- everything from dams to airports.  They are involved in nearly every aspect of the project, designing, building, supervising, operating and maintaining these systems.  Without civil engineers, our modern society wouldn’t have the Golden Gate Bridge, Eiffel Tower or the Hoover Dam.  In fact, we wouldn’t even have working water facets in our buildings.

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Electrical

This area of focus may be considered the most fun for some.  Just to name a few, electrical engineers may design and implement robotics, digital imaging or wireless-communications.  In addition to exciting technological advances, these engineers also work to maintain day-to-day power supplies for communities all over the world.  

How do you navigate an unfamiliar place?  Do you use a paper map or a global positioning system (GPS)?  Today, most people navigate through cities, metro stations and even airports using a GPS.  Electrical engineers help develop this electronic equipment and many work in areas related to computer hardware.  A GPS is essentially a communication system using satellites and radars to pinpoint location.  This also applies to space exploration.  Without electrical engineers, we would literally be lost!

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Management

Bridging tactile skills with administrative talents, engineering management is one of the newer major branches in the field.  Being experienced in the profession of engineering doesn’t automatically make someone a good leader.  Those who wish to obtain leadership skills pursue degrees and positions that specifically provide management experience.  Engineering managers are equipped to oversee operational projects, while maintaining administrative duties such as planning, decision making and organizational management.

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Geotechnical

Considered a sub-branch of civil engineering, this area of focus has grown so much it is now one of the largest branches in the field.  As the title implies, geotechnical engineers specialize in understanding the characteristics and qualities of natural materials.

It takes a ‘village’ so-to-speak to build a structure.  For example, you may have ten different types of engineers working together on one project.  Geotechnical engineers are essential, and must determine what materials are required and how those materials will interact with the proposed construction.  Natural hazards such as landslides, sinkholes and more are considered for human safety and long-term structure security.  They must also decide what materials the foundation of the project should be made of and how large.  These professionals are crucial to ensuring a strong base for every construction project that will stand the test of time.  With that in mind, it’s not surprising that geotechnical engineers are responsible for building offshore oil platforms, commercial buildings and even bridges!

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