What is Engineering? - Definition & Types

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  • 0:04 What Is Engineering?
  • 1:07 Types of Engineering
  • 3:09 Problem Solving With…
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

Engineering has changed the world. Learn what engineering is and about the main types of engineering, and then brainstorm a few of the problems engineering might solve in the future in this lesson.

What is Engineering?

What do Scotty on the Starship Enterprise, Neil Armstrong, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Bill Nye all have in common? They're all engineers! Engineers are capable of doing some amazing things: they solve problems in society that might seem impossible at first, like designing and building the first suspension bridge, assembling the equipment to put man on the moon, or creating the steam engine. In fact, that's where the word 'engineer' comes from: engineers are the individuals responsible for building everything from the steam engine to the engine in your car. But, what exactly is engineering?

Engineering is a scientific field and job that involves taking our scientific understanding of the natural world and using it to invent, design, and build things to solve problems and achieve practical goals. This can include the development of roads, bridges, cars, planes, machines, tools, processes, and computers. The things engineers build are called technology. Without technology, the modern world simply wouldn't exist. We're surrounded by the work of engineers practically every moment of our lives.

Types of Engineering

There are many different types of engineering. The most significant ones are civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering.

Civil engineering is probably the first one that comes to mind when people think about engineering. These are the roads, bridges, dams, buildings, and canals that make up our human communities and infrastructure. All of those structures are designed and built under the supervision of civil engineers.

Suspension bridges are designed and built by civil engineers.
Suspension bridges are designed and built by civil engineers

Mechanical engineering is what puts the 'engine' into engineering. This is often where the problem-solving cleverness of engineers is most on display. Mechanical engineers can turn one type of energy into another one, or one type of motion into another, to solve problems. They're responsible for cogs and levers, joints and belts, cams and wheels, and shafts and pulleys. These basic structures, when taken to a highly complex level, lead to things like steam engines and the internal combustion engine of cars. Mechanical engineering, therefore, encompasses everything from car mechanics, to air-conditioning systems, to military aircrafts and robotics.

Steam engines are an important, historical example of mechanical engineering.
Steam engines are an important example of mechanical engineering in history

Electrical engineering might be less acknowledged than other types of engineering, but it's probably the most central to the modern world in which we live. It's hard to imagine a world without electricity and electronics. From computers to televisions, to digital cameras to cell phones, each of these technologies is a product of electrical engineering. It began with simple electrical systems like the telegraph, telephone, and light bulb, and advanced more and more from there.

All electronics are thanks to electrical engineers.
All electronics are thanks to electrical engineers

Chemical engineering is perhaps the least well known, but it's a no less important part of the field. It involves producing chemicals, such as man-made and space-age materials, and fuels for human use. The gas you put in your car exists thanks to chemical engineering. So do polyester clothes, plastic toys and bottles, and even treatments for diseases, which often involve chemical engineering processes.

Distillation plants and refineries are designed by chemical engineers.
Distillation plants and refineries are designed by chemical engineers

When you put all of these pieces together, you see that the modern world we live in would be completely impossible without engineering; and even into the future, the problem-solving skills of engineers have the potential to solve many problems.

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