WHAT IS ENGINEERING?
Engineers use the laws of nature to create and refine the artifacts
of modern life. They seek, through ingenuity and invention, to
fashion a more livable world. Two dictionaries provide the following
definitions of engineering:
“... the application of scientific
knowledge about matter and energy for practical human uses such
machinery, products, or systems.”
Academic Press dictionary of science
technology. San Diego,
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
c1992. p.749. Q123.A33 1992 <SciRR>
... the science by which
the properties of matter and the sources of power in nature are
made useful to humans in
structures, machines, and products.”
McGraw-Hill dictionary of scientific
and technical terms.
6th ed. New York, McGraw-Hill, c2003. p. 722. Q123.M15 2002 <SciRR>
Joseph W. Barker gives
a more detailed description of engineering in the McGraw-Hill
encyclopedia of engineering (2nd ed. New York, McGraw-Hill,
1993. pages 409-410. <TA9.M36
1993 SciRR>). The following excerpt defines
engineering and its various
“Most simply, the art of directing the
great sources of power in nature for the use and the convenience
of humans. In its
modern form engineering involves people, money, materials, machines,
and energy. It is differentiated from science because it is primarily
concerned with how to direct to useful and economical ends the
natural phenomena which scientists discover and formulate into
acceptable theories. Engineering therefore requires above all the
creative imagination to innovate useful applications of natural
phenomena. It is always dissatisfied with present methods and equipment.
It seeks newer, cheaper, better means of using natural sources
of energy and materials to improve the standard of living and to
Traditionally there were two divisions or disciplines, military
engineering and civil engineering. As knowledge of natural phenomena grew and
civil applications became more complex, the civil engineering discipline tended
to become more and more specialized. The practicing engineer began to restrict
operations to narrower channels. For instance, civil engineering came to be
concerned primarily with static structures, such as dams, bridges, and buildings,
whereas mechanical engineering split off to concentrate on dynamic structures,
such as machinery and engines. Similarly, mining engineering became concerned
with the discovery of, and removal from, geological structures of metalliferous
ore bodies, whereas metallurgical engineering involved extraction and refinement
of the metals from the ores. From the practical applications of electricity
and chemistry, electrical and chemical engineering arose.
This splintering process continued as narrower specialization
became more prevalent. Civil engineers had more specialized training as structural
engineers, water-power engineers, bridge engineers; mechanical engineers as
machine-design engineers, industrial engineers, motive-power engineers; electrical
engineers as power and communication engineers (and the latter divided eventually
into telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and radar engineers, whereas
the power engineers divided into fossil-fuel and nuclear engineers); mining
engineers as metallic-ore mining engineers and fossil-fuel mining engineers
(the latter divided into coal and petroleum engineers).”
Kemper, John Dustin, and Billy R. Sanders. Engineers and their
profession. 5th ed. New York, Oxford University Press, 2001. 346
Includes bibliographical references.
Kemper, John Dustin. Introduction to the engineering profession.
2nd ed. Fort Worth, Tex., Saunders College Pub., c1993. 622 p.
TA157.K423 1993 <SciRR>
What is Engineering?
This website from the Whiting School of Engineers
at Johns Hopkins University offers an introduction to basic engineering
allows you to conduct experiments in a virtual laboratory, and
describes hands-on projects…helping you to discover just
what engineering is all about.