Engineering – Concept, origin, characteristics and branches

We explain what engineering is and what was its historical origin. Also, what are the characteristics of each of its branches.

Engineering involves the design, construction, and development of tools.

What is engineering?

Engineering is a discipline and field of study consisting of the application of scientific knowledge to the solution of problems and challenges facing humanity, in its very different areas. This implies both the design, construction and development of tools, machines and installations, as well as the management of natural resources, the production of synthetic materials or the conceptualization of processes and systems.

Although engineering as we understand it today is recent in history, it is fair to say that as a discipline it has been accompanying us since ancient times. So much so that it would be difficult to find a point of origin, since the mastery and reproduction of fire, the construction of ceramic furnaces or the manufacture of lithic tools are, in their own way, forms of engineering, that is, of applying ingenuity. human to solve everyday problems.

In fact, the word “engineering” has a Roman past, born from the word ingenium. With the latter, they called war machines (generally siege machines) in the Roman army, which acquired that name because they were the product, precisely, of human ingenuity, that is, of the innate character, of the genius that resides in people (ingenium comes from the words in, “Inside”, and genium, “Begotten”).

From this term was derived engineer, who was the expert soldier in operating the mills, and from there came in turn the French ingénieur (machinist), which ended up being engineer in English and ingeniero in Spanish. Over time, the sense of “machine operator” passed to that of “machine builder”, and thus the current sense of what an engineer is was born.

However, the sense of engineering changed dramatically with the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century: it became one of the most vast and complex disciplines of humanity, probably one of those that has had the greatest impact on the way in which human beings inhabit the planet, transforming it to our benefit.

That is why engineering training implies access to a gigantic pool of specialized knowledge, as well as an important command of formal languages ​​(logic, mathematics) and complex techniques whose purpose is, in one way or another, to make human life more simple, comfortable and durable.

Branches of engineering

engineering branches
Each branch of engineering addresses a specific problem in human life.

Engineering is an extremely broad discipline that has a large number of specific applications, through which it addresses different aspects and problems of human life. Its most important branches are:

  • Mechanical Engineering. This is one of the oldest and most important branches of engineering, dedicated to the study and design of machines: from robots and hydraulic or cooling systems, to land, sea and space vehicles. Mechanical engineering uses the principles of physics to compose complex tools, allowing new dynamics of construction, obtaining energy, displacement, and a gigantic etcetera. In general, when we think abstractly of engineering, we tend to think of mechanical engineering.
  • Industrial engineering. It is dedicated to the study and optimization of the production processes and systems of humanity, through which the raw material is converted into various products made for direct or indirect consumption. This branch of engineering became in the 18th century one of the most relevant disciplines in the labor, economic and technological world of the moment, and continues to be so today. The design and development of machinery, tools and all kinds of productive circuits is found within the consumer society, and engineering uses all kinds of disciplines and sciences to achieve the objective of making production more viable and efficient.
  • Civil Engineering. This branch can be understood as engineering dedicated to making the world passable by human beings, since it uses formal tools such as calculus, sciences such as physics and the practical study of the real environment, to design and build facilities and constructions, such as ports, bridges, dikes, dams, etc. It is very in contact with urbanism and architecture, and is one of the most fundamental branches of engineering in the entire world.
  • Environmental engineering. Many consider environmental engineering a sub-branch of civil engineering, but in recent times, in the face of the need to think about an ecologically sustainable world, this form of engineering has gained clear importance. Using knowledge of chemistry, physics, biology, geology, economics and the technological tools of the moment, its mission is to propose a model of sustainable development that allows the fair use of the earth’s resources, so that it makes it profitable financially, but not ruining the ecosystem in the process. Seen this way, it is about engineering that designs the world for future generations.
  • Electric engineering. As its name implies, electrical engineering is dedicated to the study of the practical applications of electromagnetism. Through the appropriate tools from physics and mathematics, it deals with the design, construction and installation of equipment and networks capable of generating, transmitting and preserving electric current, so indispensable in the postindustrial world of the 21st century. His field of interest is also very close to that of electronics and telecommunications.
  • Electronic Engineering. Focused on electronics, electromagnetism and circuit theory, this is perhaps one of the branches of engineering that had the greatest impact on the world since its emergence, and that transformed the other branches and even other areas of knowledge more dramatically and radically. . His applied knowledge led to the development of microprocessors, microcontrollers, integrated circuits, and other pieces of technology vital to the world of telecommunications, computing, and the electronic instruments that we use on a daily basis.
  • Informatics Engineering. Also called computer engineering, it is dedicated to the application of the knowledge and principles of computing in the design of computational equipment, also taking advantage of the contributions of electrical, electronic, telecommunications engineering and the so-called software engineering, which despite its name is a branch of computing.
  • Telecommunications engineering. Its name makes it very clear: it focuses on the design and development of tools for the transmission of information over long distances, that is, telecommunications. Whether through electromagnetic waves or optical fibers, this branch of engineering aims to improve and perfect the dynamics of data transmission to achieve increasingly fast, efficient and practical systems. Without them, we would not have the Internet.
  • Chemical engineering. Dedicated mainly to the industry of the chemical transformation of matter, this branch of engineering focuses its efforts on studying, designing, simulating, optimizing and maintaining the dynamics of production of compounds and substances, especially those that cannot be found in nature ( synthetic), or that cannot be found at high levels of purity. In addition, the design of new materials, the control of chemical reactions and even the processes of refining substances are not unknown to him.
  • Physical engineering. The closest thing to a theoretical branch that engineering has is physical engineering, whose purpose is to adapt the new sciences and technologies to new uses in the industry, through the abstract contemplation of the physical phenomena that are involved in them. Put more simply, it is an area of ​​technology developers, strongly committed to innovation.
  • Petroleum engineering. Another important branch of engineering in the modern world, which proposes the design through scientific and practical methods of efficient systems to detect, extract, process and refine the hydrocarbons that are stored under the earth’s crust: we refer to coal, oil and natural gas, the main sources of energy and derived materials in the contemporary world.
  • Food Engineering. It is a field of multidisciplinary knowledge, in which sciences such as microbiology, chemistry, applied physics and even agriculture come together, in order to design and implement profitable, efficient and responsible circuits for the production of food and products. pharmacists. This can include activities such as the design of production plants, government supervision, technical support and food preservation, among many others in the field.
  • Military engineering. As its name indicates, this is the branch of engineering dedicated to the development, innovation and manufacture of military equipment, that is, military weapons and vehicles for military use. It is not limited to the design and construction of rifles or tanks, however, but it also ventures into the world of telecommunications, demolition or construction, always for military attack or defense purposes.
  • Genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is not properly a branch of engineering, but rather a set of scientific procedures whose goal is the manipulation of genes in animal and plant species, in order to make them more beneficial for various industries. Thus, manipulated species are obtained (often called “transgenic”) capable of withstanding worse environmental conditions, of bearing more fruit or more milk, or simply of resisting certain diseases, making their exploitation more profitable and guaranteeing the supply of food on a large scale. .