Engineering – it’s right at your fingertips

158

The increasing dependence on technology for our standard of living requires a more technologically trained work-force. From urban centres to remote corners of the Earth, from the depths of the oceans to the edge of space, humanity has always sought to transcend barriers, overcome challenges, and create opportunities that improve life in our part of the universe.

In the last century alone, many great engineering achievements became so commonplace that we now take them for granted.Technology allows an abundant supply of food and safe drinking water for much of the world. We rely on electricity for many of our daily activities.We can travel the globe with relative ease, and bring goods and services wherever they are needed.Growing computer and communications technologies are opening up vast stores of knowledge and entertainment. As remarkable as these engineering achievements are, certainly just as many more great challenges and opportunities remain to be realised. While some seem clear, many others are indistinct and many more surely lie beyond most of our imaginations. Today, we begin engineering a path to the future.

However, considering its critical role in the running of our everyday lives, engineering is often overlooked. We might appreciate it in some spheres – the feat of engineering involved in the building of a skyscraper, for example, but we all too often overlook its role at the very tips of our fingers.

Today, we regularly see other terminology usurping engineering; literally editing engineering right out of its contributions. Technology is not a synonym for engineering, it is a skill or an indiscriminate end product as it is used today, but it has largely replaced engineering in the public view. Innovation is a successful new implementation, not a synonym for engineering. And science is not engineering either: it discovers and engineering creates; fundamentally, they are orthogonal, as different as you can get. In the public media, the E-word has become largely silent. If President Seitz were standing here today, I expect that he might also seek to redress the imbalance of engineering with technology and innovation.

A key question is, does anonymity matter? Because public perception determines public support and interest, which are essentially everything, I believe that it matters significantly. It is important for our society to appreciate what its future depends on. How will public appreciation of engineering ever develop if it remains cloaked in invisibility? Is it time to consider reintroducing the word engineering into our lexicon?

As we progress through the twenty-first century, we must embark on a worldwide transition to a more holistic approach to engineering. This will require:

  • a major paradigm shift from control of nature to participation with nature
  • an awareness of ecosystems, ecosystems services, and the preservation and restoration of natural capital
  • a new mindset of the mutual enhancement of nature and humans that embraces the principles of sustainable development, renewable resources management, appropriate technology, natural capitalism (Hawken et al., 1999), biomimicry (Benyus, 1997), biosoma (Bugliarello, 2000), and systems thinking (Meadows, 1997).

In addition, engineering educators must take a closer look at how engineering students are being prepared to enter the “real world.” Current graduates will be called upon to make decisions in a socio-geo-political environment quite different from that of today. In their lifetimes, engineering students now attending college can expect to see an increase in world population, major global warming phenomena, and major losses in biological and cultural diversity on Earth. Whether colleges and universities are doing enough proactively to teach students what they need to know to operate in a future environment is an open question.Clearly, engineers must complement their technical and analytical capabilities with a broad understanding of so-called “soft” issues that are nontechnical. Experience has shown that social, environmental, economic, cultural, and ethical aspects of a project are often more important than the technical aspects.

So, what is it that engineers really do? What is engineering exactly? It’s time to take a proper look at this vast field and to claim back its importance. It’s time to start really appreciating its place in our world.

For starters, did you know that there are actually around 200 types of engineering?

Whether it’s the car you drive, the building you live in, the water you drink, or the circuit boards underneath your laptop keys – pretty much everything you see in your everyday life required some sort of engineering to come into existence.

We take a quick look at some of the main types of engineering – from the people who bring us clean drinking water, to those who are finding ways to cure disease.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineers use their chemistry, maths, and physics knowledge in the design and manufacture of chemical products. From soaps and detergents to paint and plastics, chemical engineers are responsible for figuring out the chemical make-up of the products and materials that you and I take for granted.

Agricultural Engineering

Agricultural engineers work in the field (excuse the pun!) of farming. They develop irrigation systems, plan and design storage for crops and plants, and work on designing new farming machinery for harvesting new crops.

Engineering Chemists

Chemical processes have long been used by man to dye materials, preserve foods and develop new and useful materials. Our engineering chemists are also involved in developing pharmaceuticals.

Environmental Engineering

These guys are busy finding solutions to some very real environmental problems. As well as looking out for our future, they’re also involved in air and water supply quality control, toxic waste disposal, and even working out ways to reduce noise pollution.

Metallurgical Engineers

Sounds strange, but the clue is in the name. These guys research, control and develop processes that are used to extract and refine metals. That not-so-useful piece of rock is a goldmine for these engineers!

Civil Engineering

This is one of the oldest types of engineering, and you probably know someone who has studied hard to become a civil engineer and is working away on some new piece of Dubai infrastructure as we speak! Civil engineers are involved in the design, construction and maintenance of infrastructure such as road, bridges, and water and sewage systems.

Construction Engineering

Construction engineers see through whole construction projects from start to finish! Right from design and planning to building and project completion.

Electrical Engineering

Our electrical engineers are working away on the generation and distribution of electrical energy. They’re involved in the production of lights and other electrical equipment, and they also contribute to telecommunications and computer engineering.

Computer Engineering

You guessed it – anything that ‘computes’. Circuit boards, electrical systems and devices all make our lives easier and keep us organised. Computer engineers are responsible for the design and manufacture of all these technical aspects of our lives.

Electromechanical Systems Engineering

Take two words, put them together, and you have electro – mechanical engineering. These engineers combine skills to make devices that make electronic and mechanical systems work together. Think automotive and aviation.

Geotechnical Engineering

Here, we have the engineers dealing with our natural resources. Extracting them and turning them into something useful. This field encompasses Gas, Geological, Mining, Geomatics, Mineral, Oil, and Petroleum Engineering.

Mechanical Engineering

These super-smart engineers combine maths, material science, physics and economics to design and manufacture mechanical equipment such as ships, planes, and even ventilation systems.

Engineering Management

Taking combined experience in the field of civil and construction engineering, engineering managers are responsible for project-managing big projects. They’ll not only need to use their technical expertise to get the job done, but will also have to display really good leadership and management qualities.

Biomedical and Biomechanical Engineering

By applying engineering principles and mechanical engineering to human anatomy and physiology, these engineers are making waves in the field of medicine. They’re working on prosthetics for people who have lost limbs, making the lives of spinally-injured people easier, developing artificial hearts and producing pacemakers. Their reach extends across the field of medicine, and they’re using their knowledge and skills to extend and enhance the lives of millions.

Medical Engineering

Medical engineers are involved in developing diagnostics, treatments and medical applications for acute and chronic illness and disease. They spend a lot of time in research, development and testing. Like our biomedical and biomechanical engineers, medical engineers are busy finding ways to diagnose and treat disease and illness that cripple lives.

To find out more, check out the following resources:

  • www.futuresinengineering.com
  • www.typesofengineeringdegrees.org
  • www.prospects.ac.uk (search ‘Engineering’)
  • www.tryengineering.org