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Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social, and practical knowledge to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes that safely realize improvements to the lives of people.
Engineering, much like other science, is a broad discipline which is often broken down into several sub-disciplines. These disciplines concern themselves with differing areas of engineering work. Although initially an engineer will usually be trained in a specific discipline, throughout an engineer’s career the engineer may become multi-disciplined, having worked in several of the outlined areas. Engineering is often characterized as having four main branches:
Chemical engineering – The exploitation of chemical principles in order to carry out large scale chemical process, as well as designing new specialty materials and fuels.
Civil engineering – The design and construction of public and private works, such as infrastructure (roads, railways, water supply and treatment etc.), bridges and buildings.
Electrical engineering – A very broad area that may encompass the design and study of various electrical & electronic systems, such as electrical circuits, generators, motors, electromagnetic/electromechanical devices, electronic devices, electronic circuits, optical fibers, optoelectronic devices, computer systems, telecommunications and electronics.
Mechanical engineering – The design of physical or mechanical systems, such as power and energy systems, aerospace/aircraft products, weapon systems, transportation products engines, compressors, powertrains, kinematic chains, vacuum technology, and vibration isolation equipment.
Beyond these four, sources vary on other main branches. Historically, naval engineering and mining engineering were major branches. Modern fields sometimes included as major branches include aerospace, architectural, biomedical, industrial and nuclear engineering.
New specialties sometimes combine with the traditional fields and form new branches. A new or emerging area of application will commonly be defined temporarily as a permutation or subset of existing disciplines; there is often gray area as to when a given sub-field becomes large and/or prominent enough to warrant classification as a new “branch.” One key indicator of such emergence is when major universities start establishing departments and programs in the new field.
For each of these fields there exists considerable overlap, especially in the areas of the application of sciences to their disciplines such as physics, chemistry and mathematics.