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What is Engineering?

By UCL Careers, on 10 December 2014

In her final blog as a careers consultant here at UCL, Natasha Aminzadeh looks at “What is engineering?”

When I ask Engineers this question I get a reaction of disbelief. The question itself is too big and vague. No one is expected to define “medicine”.

But, just look at any urban or rural view at any time and engineering is everywhere…electricity pylons…, wind farms…, cars…..,the internet…,phone signals…,roads…,traffic lights…,drainage systems,… Engineering is all this and more…

Engineering is all around us. This makes it hard to explain.

Explaining Engineering:

Engineering is the act of manipulating science, materials and controlling resources including energy and managing the effects of the natural world in the way that a particular group need and want. This act of manipulating, controlling and managing can be of great benefit to Mankind. Engineering solutions are the natural output of human thought. Man has been an engineer since the beginning of human history.

Engineering is the compromise between idealism, possibility and necessity. It has evolved through formal training to increase its efficiency and build on past experience.

Why is engineering alien?

My time at UCL has confirmed the theory that Engineering is mis-understood as a discipline; and the way that non engineers describe it demonstrates this.

Essentially, every engineer is a practical problem solver with every engineering output bringing a new solution.  The French word for engineer is ingénieur which comes from innovation: starting something new…

The problem being solved can be big or small. But regardless of the scale of the problem, an engineer is always problem solving.

This is reflected directly at UCL Engineering where the major strands to engineering demonstrate our “Change the World” ethos.

Biochemical engineers scale up life science discoveries for use on a global scale…making medicines – from drugs to stem cell treatments – quicker to produce, more effective and widely available…they also use biological systems to generate other useful chemicals.

Mechanical engineers study motion, power and heat transfer to build machines and tools for just about everything you can imagine…from  oil rigs and Formula One cars to heart valves, robots, irrigation systems and satellite launch systems.

Chemical engineers take raw materials, reactions and ideas and scale them up into sustainable solutions for large-scale production. Virtually, all manufacturing and processing uses chemical engineers, whether they make beer, fresh water, bullet-proof polymers or fuel.

Electronic and electrical engineers make use of the properties of electricity and electromagnetism, from the scale of individual electrons right up to EM waves that cross planets…their work has brought us processing power faster than human thought, communications all over our planet and beyond, and revealed ever more about the world around us.

Medical physicists apply the fundamental principles of physics to the cause of human health. They are behind many of the lifesaving procedures carried out by modern medics, informing diagnosis, treatment and the maintenance of human health.

Computer scientists work in a massive range of activities – wherever there is computer/human interaction……from the basic instructions within processor cores, to the design of the buttons on a synthesizer app, to the algorithms which protect investment, or building minds that think for themselves.

Civil and environmental engineers work with local communities, natural resources and structures from microscopic to interplanetary scales, to improve our surroundings and the way we fit into them.

They design cities, buildings, transport, dams and much more.

In my 2 years at UCL, I have worked with students and academics who are at the cutting edge of world class research into all these engineering areas.

It has been a huge privilege to work here and to experience the inter-connected world of engineering at the academic level. Most of all I was able to work with UCL Engineering at the time that it is paving the way to enhancing the multi discipline collaborations (e.g. the introduction of the new Integrated Engineering Program (IEP) this year) as a response to the need to provide holistic engineering solutions to make the world finer place for all humanity.


For the better!

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