This section discusses the nature of a variety of engineering disciplines: the background, engineering activities, and what is designed and built by engineers in the discipline.
Agricultural engineering involves the design of agricultural machinery and equipment, the development of ways to conserve water and improve the processing of agricultural foods, and the development of ways in which to conserve soil and water. None of this would be possible without an understanding of geology, chemistry, and biology.
Aerospace engineers use their knowledge of physics, math, and engineering to design and build airborne and space structures and the systems that support them. These include airplanes, helicopters, rockets, satellites, and the space shuttle. Examples of new human-related challenges are in designing safer and more comfortable commercial aircraft and in designing private airplanes for the elderly and physically challenged. Aerospace engineers typically work for organizations such as Lear, Boeing, and NASA.
Bioengineers design and develop devices and procedures that solve medical and health-related problems by combining a knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine with engineering principles. They develop and evaluate systems and products such as artificial organs, prostheses, instruments, medical information systems, and health management and care delivery systems. They work with doctors and health care specialists to design and build components and systems that aid and improve the physical well being of humans. These include diagnostic devices (e.g. blood sugar sensors for diabetics) and body repair or replacement parts such as artificial hips or prosthetic legs. Examples of new challenges include developing organ replacements and sensors to monitor body chemistry. Bioengineers typically work for companies such as Medtronic, Baxter Healthcare, and Johnson and Johnson.
Chemical engineers apply the principles of chemistry to solve design and supervise facilities for the production and use of chemicals and biochemicals. They must be aware of all aspects of chemicals manufacturing and how the manufacturing process affects the environment and the safety of the workers and consumers. Examples include desalinization plants and semiconductor processing equipment. Examples of new human-related challenges are in designing and building equipment for large-scale production of artificial skin and bacteria-created antibiotics. They typically work for organizations such as Dow, DuPont, Motorola, and Monsanto.
Civil engineers design and supervise construction of structures and infrastructure such as roads, buildings, bridges, and water supply and sewage systems. Examples of new human-related challenges are in providing ready access and easy mobility for the elderly and physically challenged to all structures as well as infrastructure improvements for controlling and reducing urban environmental pollution of water and air. Civil engineers typically work as consultants and for architectural and city organizations such as Del Webb Houses and the City of Phoenix. They make use of mechanics from physics in the design of roads and structures, but also need the tools of chemistry and biology when addressing environmental issues related to water supply and sewage.
Computer scientists and engineers design computers and the instruction sets in computer programs that control systems and devices in the world around us. Examples are automobile engine controls or Internet information delivery. Examples of new human-related challenges are in developing programs that help physically challenged for controlling the motion of artificial limbs or for driving a car. Computer engineers work for companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Hewlett Packard.
Electrical engineers design and fabricate electrical and electronic devices and systems. Examples include cell phones, televisions and skyscraper electrical delivery systems. Examples of new human-related challenges are in developing the sensors and electronics for bionic systems such as artificial eyes and ears. Electrical engineers typically work for organizations such as ATT, Motorola, Intel, and Medtronic.
Industrial engineers design and implement the most cost-effective organization of resources (people, information, energy, materials, and machines) for manufacturing and distributing engineering services and goods. Examples of new human-related challenges are improving safety and ergonomic design of cars for average or physically challenged individuals. Industrial engineers typically work for a variety of manufacturing organizations such as Intel, Boeing, and Honeywell.
Materials engineers design, select and improve the materials used in a wide array of engineering applications. These include the alloys in jet engines, plastics in bicycles, ceramics in radar equipment, composites in golf clubs, and semiconductors in cell phones. Examples of human-related challenges are new and improved materials for leg, arm or hand prosthetics and implants for hips and other joints. Materials engineers typically work for a variety of organizations such as Motorola, Boeing, and Ford.
Mechanical engineers use physics principles of motion, energy and force as a basis for understanding, analyzing, designing, and building mechanical components and systems. Such systems could include bicycles, cars, engines, and solar energy systems. New human-related challenges could include robotically controlled artificial limbs and mechanical components for an artificial heart. Mechanical engineers often work for organizations such as Boeing, Intel, and Honeywell.
Nuclear engineers design and build the processes, instruments, and systems that include radioactive materials. They might design nuclear power plants to generate electricity or to power ships and submarines. They also might design medical devices and systems that use trace amounts of radioactive material for diagnostic imaging and radiation treatment. This field makes extensive use of chemistry, biology, and physics in designing for such applications.
Activity—What kinds of engineers are needed in a team to solve a specific problem.
For each of the global societal issues in Table 1 in the What Is the Role of Science and Mathematics in Engineering? section, decide the types of engineers that would be needed on a team to address these issues.
Activity—What do career resources say about engineering?
The purpose of this activity is to help you compare answers about various fields in engineering and the possible uses of math and science within these fields. Access the occupational outlook handbook on the web site www.bls.gov/oco/. On this site, click on the “A to Z Index,” and then click on the letter “E” in the index. Take a moment to note the numerous options listed within “Engineering” or that have “Engineering” in their title. Select the “engineers” option, and you will be directed to a page that lists all possible career paths for a student pursuing engineering, along with a brief description of each specialty. Examine these career paths and then answer the following questions:
- Did you learn about any different new engineering careers or activities?
- Give an example for a single engineering career about the nature of the work, working conditions, training requirements, employment, job outlook, and earnings.
The following questions will help you assess your understanding of the Connecting Engineering Career Fields with Science and Engineering section. There may be one, two, three, or even four correct answers to each question. To demonstrate your understanding, you should find all of the correct answers.
- Aerospace engineers
- train air traffic controllers to use up-to-date equipment
- design airport runways and passenger lounges
- teach at the Air force Academy in Colorado
- design and build things such as airplanes and space shuttle
- Agricultural engineering involves
- designing the best layout for a farm
- selecting the plants that will produce the largest crop
- designing agricultural machinery and equipment
- selecting the best way to transport products to market
- The engineering field or fields that use a great deal of mathematics are
- marine engineering
- nuclear engineering
- chemical engineer
- industrial engineer
- work with doctors and health care specialists
- develop devices to diagnose diseases
- must have a medical degree
- develop health management systems
- Most chemical engineers
- know how making chemicals affects the environment
- typically work for the military creating weapons
- are not responsible for their products’ safety
- transform gases and liquids into useful products
- Electrical engineers
- write computer programs
- build solar energy systems
- build sensors
- design computers
- Mechanical engineers
- work on mechanical rather than human-related problems
- use physics principles of energy, force, and motion
- develop new materials for building mechanical devices
- none of the above
- Civil engineers
- build bridges and water systems
- work primarily for the federal government
- do not need a background in biology
- none of the above