What do engineers do?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From the invention of the wheel to the launch of the Internet, engineering has dramatically shaped our world. Engineers create technology, infrastructure, processes and materials that we use every day. Medical devices that save lives, cell phones and PDAs that we use for communication, hybrid vehicles and rapid transit systems that we rely on for transportation, and robotic systems used in automated processes and exploration in space are all products of engineering.

Over the past 50 years, the world’s population has more than doubled, from around 2.9 billion in 1958 to nearly 6.8 billion today.

The expanding population means increased demands on our water, energy and food supplies. There are also concerns over global warming, new patterns of disease spread, and the variation in quality of life throughout our world.

Perhaps now, more than ever before, the world needs more engineers, especially those who can work within and across industry, business, health care, government and education.

There are lots of different types of engineers. Read on to discover the different types of engineering and what those engineers create.

Aerospace engineers focus on the design and development of aircraft, spacecraft and other nonterrestrial vehicles and their systems.

What do aerospace engineers create?

  • Commercial aircraft, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, missiles and rockets
  • Models of airflow around cars, airplanes and wind turbines
  • Structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication and production methods
  • Aerodynamically efficient wings and surfaces that reduce the drag on airplanes, racing cars and sailboats
  • Lightweight materials for use on airplanes, helicopters and other aircraft
  • Propulsion systems for airplanes, rockets and interplanetary spacecraft

Bioengineers develop tools and equipment needed in medicine and biology. They also study fundamental principles of the functioning and structure of living systems.

What do bioengineers create?Bioengineering at work

  • Tools to help blind people see and paralyzed people walk
  • Medical instruments and materials
  • Cutting-edge devices for diagnosis and treatment
  • Artificial organs 
  • Customized devices for special health care or research needs
  • Safety standards for devices
  • Standards for the selection and use of medical equipment
  • New biocompatible materials and implants

Chemical engineers apply chemistry, physics and mathematics to the process of converting raw materials and chemicals into more useful or valuable forms.

What do chemical engineers create?

  • Plastics, petroleum products, pharmaceuticals, computer chips, specialty chemicals and bioproducts
  • High-performance materials for aerospace, automotive, biomedical, electronic, environmental and military uses
  • Methods to reduce the pollution created during manufacturing
  • Techniques to recover usable materials from wastes
  • Methods for safe and affordable production of medicines
  • Techniques for energy production

Civil, environmental and sustainable engineers work to achieve safe and sustainable development in a cost-effective, environmentally protective and socially responsible manner.

What do civil, environmental and sustainable engineers create?

  • Buildings, skyscrapers, bridges and airports
  • Transportation systems, including mass transit, airports, highways and ports
  • Geotechnical systems for tunnels, landfills and earthquake suppression
  • Water infrastructure including reservoirs and dams, canals, river systems and groundwater management
  • Drinking water, sewage treatment, wastewater reuse and desalination systems
  • Systems for air-pollution control
  • Processes to manage complex human-natural systems

Computer scientists engage in computer design, computational process development, and information transfer and transformation.

What do computer scientists create?

  • Web search engines
  • MP3, movie and video game technologies
  • Email, online video sharing and social networks
  • Interactive maps and GPS
  • E-government, online banking and stock trading systems
  • Electronic health records storage
  • DNA sequencing tools
  • Antivirus and firewall protocols for computer security
  • Supercomputers
  • Image recognition software
  • Robot and artificial intelligence
  • Human-machine interfaces

Computerized hand

Computer systems engineers design integrated hardware and software solutions for technical problems.

What do computer systems engineers create?

  • PDAs, iPods and cell phones
  • PCs and supercomputers
  • Audio and video codec
  • Game engines
  • Pacemakers and patient vital-sign monitors
  • Software and systems for avionics
  • Process control systems for petroleum refinery plants
  • Robots
  • Internet switches and routers
  • Automobile safety systems
  • Cryptographic devices

Construction managers organize, lead and manage the building process.

What do construction managers create?

  • Infrastructure systems such as roads, railroads, airports, dams, canals, transmission and distribution lines, water and wastewater processing facilities
  • Schools, stadiums, high- and mid-rise offices and other commercial buildings
  • Power plants, refineries, wind farms, and solar, metal processing, pharmaceutical and semiconductor facilities
  • Residential developments such as houses and condominiums

Electrical engineers apply the laws of electricity to developing a variety of electrical, energy and computing devices and applications.

What do electrical engineers create?

  • Consumer electronics such as cell phones and iPods
  • The power grid
  • Circuits inside computers
  • Solar cells
  • Lasers and electronic sensors
  • Motors and automotive electronics
  • Aircraft anti-collision radar
  • Antennas and satellite communication systems
  • Control systems for robots and aircraft
  • Wireless communication systems

Industrial engineers combine the physical, mathematical and social sciences to design efficient manufacturing and service systems that integrate people, equipment and information.

What do industrial engineers create?

  • Supply chains that move materials around the globe
  • Road networks and airline schedules that move people
  • Industrial plants for manufacturing products
  • Health care delivery systems
  • Customer service and support networks
  • Safe and efficient workplaces
  • Product quality and safety standards
  • Financial products and capital budgeting plans

Materials engineers are focused on the relationships between the structure and processing of materials and their properties.

What do materials engineers create?

  • Core components for the automobile, aerospace, construction, manufacturing, electronics, computer and telecommunications industries
  • Processes that shrink the size of electronic circuits to make them cheaper and faster
  • New materials for cell phones
  • Metals, plastics and ceramics
  • New materials for engines that improve energy efficiency
  • Artificial skin, hip joints and veins
  • More efficient solar cells and hydrogen fuel cells

Mechanical engineers draw upon the basic sciences to design, build and control the devices, machines, processes and systems of modern society.

What do mechanical engineers create?Manufacturing robot

  • Power-producing systems based on solar or wind energy
  • Techniques for measuring the acoustics of a concert hall
  • Machines that help people with disabilities 
  • Sophisticated computer models for predicting the forces on turbine blades
  • Methods to make products using computer-aided design
  • Hybrid fuel systems for the next generation of land, sea and air vehicles
  • Techniques for harvesting energy from walking
  • Robots for manufacturing

Are you interested in learning more about engineering, and getting a taste of what it involves? Visit the K-12 outreach programs at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.