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Types of Engineering Disciplines

Types of Engineering Disciplines

Choosing your engineering major is not an easy decision to make for anyone. Matching your interest with the right branch is the sensible thing to do. Through this write-up, we introduce you to the major engineering branches that have shaped modern technology.
CareerStint Staff
Last Updated: May 9, 2018
Two Architects
Have you always dreamed of building things? Does every mechanical contraption pique your curiosity, making you delve deeper into its internal working? Do you enjoy problem solving of every kind? Then engineering may be your ideal professional choice.
The field has evolved to offer solutions to almost every imaginable human problem, spawning multiple specialized realms of technology, where you could make a significant contribution. It is our endeavor to introduce you to the range of engineering branches that you could be a part of one day.
Engineering Defined
Engineering is finding creative, efficient, economical, safe and feasible solutions to any problem, in the form of processes, structures, technologies and products, by harnessing principles of nature, properties of materials and optimum use of resources. Simply put, it is about solving problems of any type, by developing an appropriate technology for the same. It is about devising solutions to make our day-to-day jobs easier and manageable. The skills required to be an engineer are problem solving ability, spatial thinking, ability to visualize, a capacity to integrate basic ideas into building a larger picture and the ability to apply what you have learned. Analytical thinking is the most important skill.
golden gate bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge stands testimony to the audacity of engineering prowess and mathematical precision.
Engineering Disciplines
Engineering is the application oriented facet of pure science. What scientists discover, engineers apply to find maverick solutions to humanity's problems. Here is a brief introduction to every one of its major disciplines.
Best Schools

Cornell University, Stanford University, Penn State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas (Austin), Arizona State University
Mechanical Engineering
The mother of all engineering sciences, mechanical engineering is the oldest and broadest of all branches. It involves studying, designing, manufacturing and maintenance of every machine operational on Earth. From motorbikes, robotics to space vehicles, this branch contributes to the production of every piece of machinery. A mechanical engineer must master design skills, study material science, physics, structural analysis, hydraulics, mechatronics, computer-aided-engineering (CAE), instrumentation, solid mechanics, mathematics, as well as any allied technology that is part of his project. The field is the bedrock of all engineering disciplines majorly contributing to the setting up of automated assembly lines and production of heavy machinery.
Best Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Cambridge (UK), Stanford University, National University of Singapore (NUS), Imperial College London, University of California (Berkeley)
Civil Engineering
This field involves designing, building and maintaining structures of all kinds. It may be a skyscraper, a bridge, tunnel, dam or even railway systems. This field involves a broad swath of specialized disciplines including site engineering, structural engineering, surveying, transportation, water resource and construction engineering. Subjects of study at the undergraduate and graduate levels include basic structural design, engineering mechanics, modeling and simulation, public transport systems, logistics systems, transit management and material science, to name a few. New fields like earthquake engineering have emerged to train engineers to build structures in high seismic activity areas.
Best Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), University of Cambridge (UK), Stanford University, University of California (Berkeley), Imperial College London, Oxford University (UK), Tokyo University
Electrical Engineering
From tablet computers, smartphones to the 24x7 electricity supply powering homes worldwide, creations of electrical engineers are ubiquitous. This branch is devoted to studying electromagnetism in all its manifestations, including electricity, magnetism and silicon based digital electronics and much more. Besides building digital computers, some of the prime subjects of study are power engineering, control systems, signal processing, RF engineering, telecommunications, robotics, microarchitecture (VLSI design), wireless communication and antenna design. With devices like Google Glass, electrical engineering is entering a new phase of mobile and wearable computing. With creations ranging from the electric shaver, super fast personal computers to rovers now exploring Martian surface, this field is only just getting into strides.
Best Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, ETH Zurich, University of Cambridge (UK), University of California (Berkeley), Oxford University (UK), Princeton University, Imperial College London
Aerospace Engineering
This field is devoted to development of airborne and space vehicles, including the construction of airplanes, rockets, unmanned vehicles, rotocrafts (like helicopters), rockets, spaceships and some time in the future - personal aviation vehicles. It's a multidisciplinary area of study, drawing from such diverse subjects as material science, fluid mechanics, aeroelasticity, sustainable energy research, orbital mechanics, avionics, control engineering, propulsion technologies, electronics, dynamics and many more subjects. This field has not only given us airplanes that breach the sound speed barrier, but also the moon landing, Mars exploration and the International Space Station, besides creating the rockets that transport our satellites into space. This discipline will spearhead our foray into outer space and eventually extraterrestrial colonization. It is one of the most challenging fields of study requiring analytical, mathematical, visual and spatial visualization skills, besides a good knowledge of physics (particularly dynamics) and electronics.
Best Schools

Rutgers University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Delft University of Technology (Netherlands), University of Michigan, University of Southern California, University of Maryland, Stanford University, Virginia Tech
Biological Engineering
The naturally evolved biological systems that abound nature dwarf all our technological achievements. The field of biological engineering is the meeting place of hitherto disconnected fields of technology and biology, creating a novel synthesis. Simply put, biological engineering is all about applying knowledge gained from biological systems (from genetics, toxicology, molecular biology and much more) to solve real world problems. It could be referred to, as a study of organic life envisioned as biomolecular machines and the creation of effective mechanisms to remedy their failings. Some of the most important subjects of study are genomics, computational biology and bioinformatics, biochemistry, tissue engineering, glycomics, bioimaging, proteomics, biological transport phenomena, biomolecular engineering, biomechanics, biophysics and carcinogenesis. Design of medical machinery and various types of implants, as well as the development of effective drug action mechanisms, is one of the prime subjects of research. Bioengineering and biotechnology are the FUTURE.
Best Schools

Johns Hopkins University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California (San Diego), Duke University (Pratt), Rice University
Chemical Engineering
This field of engineering is devoted to the synthesis of materials and chemicals for general and industrial use. From the synthesis of polymers, paper, drugs, petroleum refining to waste management and nanotechnology, this field covers an entire gamut of industrial operations. Some of the prime areas of study are basic organic and inorganic chemistry, chemical thermodynamics, polymer synthesis, fluid mechanics, biotechnology, separation processes, thermal hydraulics, transport processes, process design and chemical reaction engineering.
Best Schools

University of California (Berkeley), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Cambridge (UK), ETH Zurich, Oxford University (UK), National University of Singapore (NUS)
Computer Science and Engineering
In a nutshell, this domain of engineering is all about the development of computing hardware and software that runs on it. The field overlaps with electrical engineering as far as development of chips, memory, graphic cards, networking components and other associated devices is concerned. The subjects of study are diverse, ranging from microelectronic devices, electromagnetism, digital electronics, networking to the development of algorithms, simulation, programming languages and artificial intelligence. The entire field of information technology, that has truly globalized the world today, has its roots in the field of computer engineering. Artificial intelligence or the creation of intelligent machines remains the ultimate quest for engineers and scientists working in this domain.
Best Schools

Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Harvard University, University of California (Berkeley), Cornell University, University of Cambridge (UK), University of Oxford (UK), University of Tokyo
Environmental Engineering
Primarily a sub-field of civil engineering, environmental engineering is large enough as a field to be considered separately. As human technological revolution takes its toll on the environment, there is an ever-increasing demand for solutions to counter air, water and land pollution, through innovative engineering ideas. Solid waste management, water resource management, improvement of water and air quality, reducing the environmental impact of technology, creating sustainable eco-friendly technologies are some of the prime research topics in this area.
Best Schools

Harvard University, University of Cambridge, University of California (Berkeley), California Institute of Technology, Imperial College London
Material Science & Engineering
A multidisciplinary field, it deals with all pursuits of the material world in the literal sense. It is concerned with the properties and synthesis of all types of materials, ranging from organic tissues, polymers to magnets, with applications in industry, medicine, space, biology and much more. Subject matters of study range from thermodynamics, electronic and mechanical properties of materials, physical metallurgy, material processing, polymer engineering, optical, electrical and magnetic properties of materials to photonic materials and devices. The creation ofsmart materials like piezoelectric crystals (that produce voltage when squeezed) and quantum tunneling composites (which switch from being insulators to conductors when squeezed) are just some of the prime research achievements in this field of engineering.
Best Schools

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University (McCormick), University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), University of California (Santa Barbara), Stanford University
Nanotechnology
A branch of material engineering that became a separate discipline due to the inherent scope of its applications, nanotechnology is all about engineering things on the molecular scale (which is the nanometer (10-9m) realm, hence the name). Some of the prime subjects of study are properties and synthesis of nanomaterials and nanoparticles, nanobiotechnology, nanoelectronics. Applications and goals include the building of self-assembling molecules, molecular electronics, creating zeolite catalysts, building highly efficient solar cells, creating nanosensors, developing efficient medical diagnostic methods and much more. The field is still in a nascent stage, in need of bright minds to help unleash its potential.
Nuclear Engineering
All of nuclear engineering is centered around harnessing the inherent power granted by the phenomena of nuclear fission, fusion and radioactivity, as well as the spin-offs provided by particle physics. The development, maintenance and safety of nuclear power plants, production of nuclear weapons systems, development of medical applications using radionuclides (non-invasive imagine for example), creation of effective nuclear waste disposal systems are some of the main subjects of study. For many years, controlled nuclear fusion (energy production through fusion of hydrogen nuclei) has been the holy grail of nuclear physicists. Spots are open for brilliant minds who can bring it to realization one day, solving mankind's energy problems, once and forever.
Best Schools

University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), University of Wisconsin (Madison), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University (College Station), Georgia Institute of Technology
Marine Engineering
One of the oldest of branches, marine engineering deals with the construction and maintenance of all kinds of watercrafts, offshore facilities like oil rigs and naval architecture. The designing of well-equipped marine vessels, including cruisers, submarines, aircraft carriers, fishing ships and offshore oil extraction facilities, from ground up, forms the primary subject of study for a marine engineer. It draws heavily from mechanical and electrical engineering. A branch allied with marine engineering, is ocean engineering, primarily dealing with oceanic exploration, creation of eco-friendly marine technologies, pollution control, hydrodynamics and even forecasting. 
Best Schools

United States Navel Academy (Annapolis, Maryland), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor), Virginia Polytechnic institute and State University, United States Coast Guard Academy, University of New Orleans, Massachusetts Maritime Academy
Like science, engineering has no defined boundaries. Compartmentalization only serves the purpose of making things easier to understand. The central theme unifying all these branches is their focus on harnessing the known natural laws to solve humanity's existential problems.