Monday, June 09, 2014

A Journey Through Civil Engineering: Part 1

Per a request on my blog, this post will start a multi-part series on Civil Engineering. Don't worry, it's not as boring as it sounds and I will try to inject humor along the way.

In Part 1 of this series (that would be what you're reading now if you hadn't gathered that from the title) I will break Civil Engineering down into its seven areas and give a nick-name and brief description of each. So without further ado and in no particular order (just the order they pop into my head) here are the seven disciplines of Civil Engineering.

1. Hydraulics (i.e. wet heads)
Hydraulics engineering is something that many different disciplines can claim. For instance, mechanical engineers may deal with systems colloquially known as "hydraulics." This could be the shocks on a car, a system used to raise an adjustable chair, or that little tube thingy at the top of your glass door that keeps it from slamming. Civil Engineering hydraulics is nothing like that. It deals with water distribution and drainage systems. Examples of these things include pipes taking water from a water tower to your home, storm water runoff system, sewer pipes, dams, and detention reservoirs. In this discipline there are two main areas of study that I know of so far. Keep in mind that I'm still in college and obviously don't know everything. These two areas are:

·         Open channel flow
·         Pipe flow

I will discuss these in a later post.

2. Structural Engineering (i.e. high risers)
Any type of structure that is built will have one of these engineers involved. Whether it is a small bridge or house or the Hoover Dam or the Empire State building, a structural engineer designed it to make sure it doesn't collapse at an inopportune moment (for the Hoover Dam, any moment would be inopportune). This type of Engineering has the largest potential for fame (and fortune!) and also the largest potential for catastrophic failure (Tacoma Narrows Bridge or the World Trade Center Twin Towers)

3. Transportation Engineering (i.e. )
Transportation engineers have the distinction of thinking that everything revolves around them. This is a joke, of course, since all engineers think the world revolves around their discipline. transportation engineers design roads, bridges (though structural engineers also have a hand here), air ports, etc. If it carries people from point A to point B, the transportation guys probably have a hand in it.

4. Construction Engineering (i.e. do-ers)
It doesn't matter how well you design your road, sky scraper, or dam, the construction engineer will be the one to implement it. These "do-ers" are quite skilled at planning and coordinating projects to accomplish them in the least amount of time with the least amount of money. Another name for them is "project managers." They also tend to know what they're talking about in legal matters that are within their purview.
(Tip: Getting a do-ers' opinion on a project while designing it will help make it much more "do-able" when it comes to actually constructing it. They can make sure the design doesn't call for threading an eighteen inch pipe through a fourteen inch hole or other impossibilities)

5. Geotechnical Engineering (i.e. dirt boys)
When any project has to do with dirt (and every project involves the stuff), dirt boys are involved. How porous is the soil? How much will it compact when a 500,000 ton building is put on it? How deep is the bed rock? These are all questions that the dirt boys can answer. This discipline is particularly important because it makes sure that projects have a firm foundation so they can last for a long time.

6. Materials Engineering (i.e. hard heads)
I nicknamed these guys "hard heads" because some of their best work is done with concrete and asphalt. In principle, they use a lot of the same tests and methods as the dirt boys as they test for strength, compressibility, porosity, and other characteristics of asphalt and concrete. They also work to develop better (stronger, cheaper) methods of making the stuff. They are important to the durability of roads and structural foundations. This is about all I know about materials, so if you have anything to add, please feel free to say it in the comments.

7. Environmental Engineering (i.e. guilt stricken)
This nickname came from my friend and I sitting in "Engineering Orientation" listening to what each of the disciplines did. That presentation made the guilt stricken sound like a bunch of tree huggers, but the truth is quite different. Water treatment, sewage treatment, water table analysis, and site runoff analysis all fall under this area. As you can imagine, the guilt stricken and the wet heads work closely together on a number of projects. Together, they make the Civil Engineering profession the one to lower the mortality rate the most of any profession in the world. The take away? clean water is more important than advanced medical care any day of the week.

Well, that is the most brief run-down of the Civil Engineering profession that I can possibly give. Actually, it would be shorter if I simply removed all of the article adjectives, but I think the decrease in readability would not justify the decrease in length. Stay posted for future posts dealing with each individual discipline.

As always, thank you for reading.


Peter Last

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