Engineering Design & Technical Applications of Physics

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about how engineering involves technical applications of physics, and be able to give multiple examples of engineering design in the real world. Take a quiz and see how much you know.

How Physics and Engineering are Related

Do you like to build things? Do you like to take things apart to see how they work? You could be a great engineer. If you study engineering at university, you'll find a lot of the courses overlap with physics. But why is that? Physics is a science that tries to figure out the fundamental laws of the universe in a way that will allow you to make predictions. It tries to boil the universe down into some basic, mathematical laws. Engineering, on the other hand, is concerned with figuring out how to design, build, and use structures and machines. So how are those two things related?

Let's say you're building a complex suspension bridge. You need to build the bridge strong enough that it can take the weight of dozens of cars, but it also has to be able to handle wind, ice, rain, and whatever else nature might throw at it. How do you know it will do that? If you get it wrong, one unusually strong side draft and the whole thing could collapse.

Suspension Bridge
Suspension Bridge

The way to make sure the thing you're building will work properly is to analyze it using the laws of physics. The laws of physics can tell you about forces, tension, harmonic vibrations and oscillations, tensile strength, elasticity, and all kinds of other concepts that you can use to make calculations about your bridge. Put simply, if you understand the laws of nature, then you can use that knowledge to predict what will happen to the things you build. Engineering involves applying physics in technical ways -- applying it to technology.

Built in 1430, one of the earliest known suspension bridges had physics to thank for its success
tsangpro bridge

Engineering & Technical Applications of Physics

There are numerous applications of physics to engineering and other technical fields: to name but a few:

  • Civil engineering involves designing and building bridges, dams, sky-scrapers, roads, and railways, using our physics knowledge of forces, fluid pressure, and gravity.
  • Electrical engineering involves designing electrical circuits including motors, electronic appliances, optical fiber networks, computers, and communication links. Circuits use physics principles like voltage, current and resistance.
  • Chemical engineering involves designing systems for oil refining, the creation of industrial chemicals and man-made fibers and products, which requires an understanding of molecular forces.
  • Mechanical engineering deals with aircraft, engines, weapons, cars, pneumatics, and hydraulics. For these we have to understand forces, and complex fluid motions like air flow across an aircraft, or water flow through tubes.

Electrical Engineering Involves Dealing with Circuits
Electrical Engineering Involves Dealing with Circuits

When you put all these parts of engineering together, you can see why there are so many applications. An engineer might be hired to design a new fighter jet for the army. Or they might be hired to come up with a support system for what will becomes the tallest sky-scraper in the world. They could be designing a hybrid engine for a car, coming up with a new fiber for sports clothing, or coming up with the ideal materials for a new module for the International Space Station. An engineer might design the product itself, or just figure out a way to build it. But either way, success is impossible without an understanding of the physics behind each of them.

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