Engineering, History of

What is the world's greatest construction made by human beings? Is it the Taj Mahal? The Great Wall of China? The Egyptian pyramids? These and other great creations all have one thing in common: they were all created through engineering.

What Is Engineering?

Engineers apply scientific and mathematical principles to the construction of useful objects. These objects range in size from microchips to skyscrapers.

Ancient engineers built simple devices for lifting water from wells. They also enabled the building of colossal structures such as the pyramids. But only in modern times did engineering become a true science.

Engineering in the Past

Engineering dates to the dawn of civilization and likely earlier. The first cities used engineering to bring water to their people. Often, they had to transport it from distant places.

The Irrigators

Over 5,000 years ago the Egyptians began building irrigation systems. To supply the water, they created reservoirs behind large dams. This required understanding the forces exerted by water. It also demanded building structures in a way that contained these forces.

By 600 B.C. the Assyrians had constructed a water canal 50 miles (80 kilometers) long. The Romans would perform even greater feats. In 312 B.C. they began building aqueducts. At one point, 14 Roman aqueducts channeled some 300 million gallons (1 billion liters) of water each day.

The Monument Builders

No account of engineering would be complete without mentioning the Egyptian pyramids. The most celebrated is the Great Pyramid at Giza. It was constructed about 4,600 years ago. It rises to a height of 481 feet (147 meters). It contains approximately 2.3 million limestone blocks. Granite slabs line three internal chambers. Its engineers used great ingenuity to transport and lay the massive stone blocks.

Scientific Engineering

Modern engineering developed during the 1600s. The first engineering schools followed in the 1800s. Engineers formed technical societies to help their profession grow. They specialized in different scientific fields. But modern engineers still use some of the skills of early engineers. Craft, experience, and intuition all play roles in good engineering.

Engineering Today

Today, we divide engineering into five categories. They are civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, and industrial.

Civil engineers design buildings, roads, bridges, and related facilities. Mechanical engineers design machinery. This includes power plants and vehicles. Electrical engineers design electrical and electronic appliances. These include robotic equipment, computers, and power generators. Chemical engineers develop the processes and equipment used to make chemical products. These include medicines, foods, and synthetic materials. Industrial engineers design manufacturing systems. These systems must coordinate workers, energy, and raw materials. They aim to maximize quality and safety. They also attempt to minimize pollution.

Many fields branch off these main disciplines. They reflect the needs of modern society. For instance, aerospace engineers design technology for airplanes and spaceflight. Biomedical engineers design medical devices. Computer engineers design, build, and operate computer systems. There are dozens more specialties as well.

Engineering at Work

Today's engineers continue to work on ambitious construction projects. In their own ways, these projects rival those of the ancient world.

One of these modern marvels is the International Space Station (ISS). Now orbiting Earth, the station is a work in progress. By 2013 it was 239 feet (73 meters) in length and 356 feet (109 meters) wide—as big as a football field. And it was still growing.

Back on Earth, Chinese engineers completed the Three Gorges Dam and its hydroelectric power plant in 2012. The massive structure is 594 feet (181 meters) tall. This $26 billion project prevents floods and generates power on the Yangtze River. It is the world's largest hydroelectric power station. As an engineering feat, it rivals the building of China's Great Wall.

In New York City, engineers helped build the new 1 World Trade Center tower. This building stands where the old World Trade Center stood before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It is scheduled to open to the public by 2014. The skyscraper, with its spire, is 1,776 feet (541 meters) tall.

The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, pushes the boundaries of engineering and science. The collider is an underground tunnel 17 miles (27 kilometers) in circumference. It is designed to smash charged particles together at almost the speed of light. The energy of the collisions creates different particles.

Whatever their fields or individual projects, engineers share a respect for scientific principles. Their work helps to keep the world safe and to assure progress toward making it a better place.

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SOURCE: The New Book of Knowledge

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