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Frequently Asked Questions - Disciplines

Some Common Engineering Disciplines

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Aerospace and Aeronautical Engineering

Aerospace engineering is concerned with the physical understanding, related analyses, and creative processes required to design aerospace vehicles operating within and beyond planetary atmospheres. Such vehicles range from helicopters and other vertical takeoff aircraft at the low speed end of the flight spectrum to spacecraft operating at thousands of miles per hour during entry into the atmospheres of the earth and other planets. In between are general aviation and commercial transports flying at speeds well below and close to the speed of sound. Although each speed regime and each vehicle type poses its own special research, analysis and design problems, each can be addressed by a common set of technical specialties or disciplines.

These include aerodynamics, the study of how airflow produces effects on temperature, forces, and moments; flight dynamics, the study of the motion and flight path of vehicles; flight structures, the study of the mechanical behavior of materials, stresses and strains, deflection, and vibration; flight propulsion, the study of the physical fundamentals of how engines work; and the synthesis of all these principals into one system with a specific application such as a complete transport aircraft, a missile, or a space vehicle through the discipline of aerospace vehicle design.

Major Employers:


Links to Industry Associations

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Architectural Engineering

Architectural Engineering is the application of engineering principles to the design of technical systems of buildings. The profession of architectural engineering includes practicing engineers designing, managing, and constructing mechanical, electrical, or structural systems for buildings. The profession also includes engineers educated as mechanical, electrical, or civil engineers who practice the application of engineering principles to the design of building systems. Some of the great architectural engineers of past and present are Gustave Eiffel, Buckminster Fuller, Ove Arup, and Santiago Calatrava.

National Society of Architectural Engineers

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Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Biological and agricultural engineering, two closely integrated disciplines often called biological systems (biosystems), bioresources, and natural resources engineering, are concerned with finding solutions for life on a small planet. Our swelling world population places great demands on our limited natural resources, and biological and agricultural engineers work to ensure that we have the necessities of life: safe and plentiful food to eat, pure water to drink, clean fuel and energy sources, and a safe, healthy environment in which to live.

Biological engineers devise practical, efficient solutions for producing, storing, transporting, processing, and packaging agricultural products. They solve problems related to systems, processes, and machines that interact with humans, plants, animals, microorganisms, and biological materials. They develop solutions for responsible, innovative uses of agricultural products, byproducts and wastes and of our natural resources-soil, water, air, and energy. And they do all this with a constant eye toward improved protection of people, animals, and the environment.

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Biomedical Engineering

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Chemical Engineering

Chemical Engineers apply the principles of chemistry and engineering to solve problems involving the production or use of a plethora of products. Most work involves the production of chemicals and chemical products. Typical responsibilities of a chemical engineer involve developing chemical processes, designing process equipment, planning and testing methods of manufacturing products, and supervising production activities and personnel. Because the knowledge and duties of chemical engineers cut across many fields, the engineer applies principles of chemistry, physics, mathematics, and mechanical and electrical engineering in their work. Major types of industries include refining petroleum, pulp and paper, pharmaceuticals, synthetic fibers, and polymers.

Major Employers:

E. I. duPont de Nemours and Co.,  Amoco,   Bayer, Georgia-Pacific,   Union Camp


American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

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Civil Engineering

What do Civil Engineers do?

Civil engineering is a people-serving profession, concerned with the planning, design, construction and operation of large, complex systems such as buildings, dams, roads, water purification and treatment systems, highways, rapid transit and rail systems, bridges, ports and harbors, airports, tunnels, power generating systems, and structural components of aircraft and ships. Civil Engineers understand the structure of materials such as concrete and soil, and need to understand the codes associated with building large structures. Civil engineers work closely with architects and land surveyors in thier work, and rely heavily on mechanics and materials science.

American Society of Civil Engineers

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Electrical Engineering

Electrical engineers

Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers

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Environmental Engineering

What do Environmental Engineers do?

Environmental engineers are primarily concerned with cleaning up waste. The waste may be soil contamination, air pollution, or water pollution. Environmental engineers are faced with understanding the laws associated with environmental standards, and heavily rely on chemistry and geology in thier work. Environmental engineering uses many disciplines from both chemical and civil engineering. Some schools offer environmental engineering courses as a part of a civil or chemical engineering program.

Where do Environmental Engineers Work?

Env. Engineers may be found at hazardous waste sites, taking soil samples, in a laboratory evaluating samples, they may be in an office developing plans for cleaning a site, or designing a treatment facility.

American Academy of Environmental Engineers

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Fire Protection Engineering

Fire protection engineering professionals (FPE's) are a valuable, and often necessary, part of any building construction team. Society demands that the buildings it occupies be free of threat from fire. As a result, a significant portion of the cost of modern building construction is devoted to fire protection features. These features may include structural fire resistance, detection and suppression systems, egress systems, alerting systems, and limitation of combustibles. The fire protection engineer ensures that these features all work together as a system to combat the single phenomenon - fire.

Society of Fire Protection Engineers

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Industrial Engineering

Industrial engineers focus on the management and controls aspect of engineering. For example, Industrial engineers may design and develop manufacturing systems. Industrial engineers rely heavily on statistics and operations management in their work.

Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering is a broad curriculum that focuses on the design of mechanical and thermo-mechanical devices. Mechanical engineers may design cars, airplanes, heating and cooling systems. They may work with vibrations and earthquake engineering, power plant design. Aeronautical and aerospace engineering, materials engineering, nuclear engineering, and manufacturing engineering are all specialties that derive from mechanical engineering. Mechanical engineers rely heavily on mecanics and thermodynamics in thier work.

Mechanical engineers work for a wide array of manufacturing and design firms. Almost every large technical or manufacturing company has a need for mechanical engineers. Manufacturers, utilities, and consulting firms large and small hire mechanical engineers.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers

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Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear Engineering deals with the practical use of nuclear energy from nuclear fission, fusion, and radioisotope sources. The major use of nuclear energy is in electric power generation. Other uses are in the areas of chemical processing, medicine, instrumentation, and isotope trace analysis. The nuclear engineer is primarily concerned with the design and operation of energy conversion devices ranging from very large reactors to miniature nuclear batteries, and with the use of nuclear reactions in many environmental, biological and chemical processes.
Because of the wide range of uses for nuclear systems, the nuclear engineer finds interesting and diverse career opportunities in a variety of companies and laboratories. Nuclear engineers are found in the nuclear utilities, nuclear equipment suppliers, fuel manufacturers, architect/engineering firms, federal and state regulatory agencies, national laboratories, in the medical field, and in the US Navy Nuclear Power Program


Major Employers:

Northeast Utilities, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. Navy , U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy

American Nuclear Society

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Last Updated: 4/23/2004