Engineers design, evaluate, develop, test, modify, install, inspect and maintain a wide variety of products and systems. They also recommend and specify materials and processes, supervise manufacturing and construction, conduct failure analysis, provide consulting services and teach engineering courses in colleges and universities.
The field of engineering is divided into a large number of specialty areas:
Mechanical engineering involves design, manufacturing, inspection and maintenance of machinery, equipment and components as well as control systems and instruments for monitoring their status and performance. This includes vehicles, construction and farm machinery, industrial installations and a wide variety of tools and devices.
Electrical engineering involves design, testing, manufacturing, construction, control, monitoring and inspection of electrical and electronic devices, machinery and systems. These systems vary in scale from microscopic circuits to national power generation and transmission systems.
Civil engineering involves design, construction, maintenance and inspection of large infrastructure projects such as highways, railroads, bridges, tunnels, dams and airports.
Aerospace engineering involves design, manufacturing and testing of aircraft and spacecraft as well as parts and components such as airframes, power plants, control and guidance systems, electrical and electronic systems, and communication and navigation systems.
Nuclear engineering involves design, manufacturing, construction, operation and testing of equipment, systems and processes involving the production, control and detection of nuclear radiation. These systems include particle accelerators and nuclear reactors for electric power plants and ships, radioisotope production and research. Nuclear engineering also includes monitoring and protecting humans from the potentially harmful effects of radiation.
Structural engineering involves design, construction and inspection of load-bearing structures such large commercial buildings, bridges and industrial infrastructure.
Biomedical engineering is the practice of designing systems, equipment and devices for use in the practice of medicine. It also involves working closely with medical practitioners, including doctors, nurses, technicians, therapists and researchers, in order to determine, understand and meet their requirements for systems, equipment and devices.
Chemical engineering is the practice of designing equipment, systems and processes for refining raw materials and for mixing, compounding and processing chemicals to make valuable products.
Computer engineering is the practice of designing computer hardware components, computer systems, networks and computer software.
Industrial engineering is the practice of designing and optimizing facilities, equipment, systems and processes for manufacturing, material processing, and any number of other work environments.
Environmental engineering is the practice of preventing, reducing and eliminating sources of pollution that affect air, water and land. It also involves detecting and measuring pollution levels, determining sources of pollution, cleaning up and rehabilitating polluted sites and ensuring compliance with local, state and federal regulations.
Chemical engineer Norma Alcantar uses the prickly pear cactus in her work to create an inexpensive, sustainable way to purify drinking water.
Chemical engineer Norma Alcantar uses the prickly pear cactus in her work to create an inexpensive, sustainable way to purify drinking water.(Image credit: Norma A. Alcantar, Department of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, University of South Florida)
There is often considerable overlap among the different specialties. For this reason, engineers need to have a general understanding of several areas of engineering besides their specialty. For example, a civil engineer needs to understand concepts of structural engineering, an aerospace engineer needs to apply principles of mechanical engineering, and nuclear engineers need a working knowledge of electrical engineering.
Particularly, engineers require in-depth knowledge of mathematics, physics and computer applications such as simulations and computer-aided design. This is why most college programs include basic engineering courses in a wide range of topics before students choose to specialize in a particular area.