If you’re new to engineering, trying to figure out which engineering major is for you, or trying to explain what you do to someone who isn’t an engineer, it can be tricky to sum up all the different fields. Here we break down the six major branches, but under each branch there are literally hundreds of different subcategories.
Chemical engineering is the application of chemical, physical, and biological sciences to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful forms. This includes fields like biomolecular, materials, molecular, process, or corrosion engineering. This field requires studying sciences, such as chemistry, biology, physics, and math. Most work in offices or laboratories.
Civil engineering is about the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and natural built environment. It’s about solving infrastructure problems. This includes environmental, geotechnical, structural, mining, transport, utility, and water resources engineering. Working in this field can mean splitting time between the office and the worksite.
Just as it sounds, electrical engineering is about the study and application of electricity, electronics, and electromagnetism. This includes computer engineers, power engineers, and optical engineers. Similar occupations include electricians, biomedical engineers, and architectural and engineering managers.
This field includes the design and study of the heat and power needed for operating machines and mechanical systems. This includes acoustical, manufacturing, optomechanical, thermal, sports (testing sports equipment), vehicle engineering, power plants, and energy engineering. Related occupations include petroleum engineers, mechanical engineering technicians, and materials engineers.
This is the ultimate combination field and the largest of all six. Plenty of the previous fields could easily cross over into others, which is where this category comes in. Consider that aerospace engineering has both the design and development of the aircraft and air traffic control systems, but also has to consider the spacecraft itself, including the spacecraft systems, ground control, and orbital mechanics. Interdisciplinary engineering has multiple fields along these lines, with everything from aerospace to farming to systems to software. This is the technical title for a vast and varied landscape of studies.
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