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Development of Engineering Science and Engineering Engineering Specialties
One result of the rapid expansion of scientific knowledge was an increase in the number of engineering specialties. By the end of the nineteenth century not only were mechanical, civil, and mining and metallurgical engineering established but the newer specialties of chemical and electrical engineering also emerged. This growth in the number of specialties is continuing with the establishment of such disciplines as aerospace, nuclear, petroleum, and electronic engineering. Many of these are subdivisions of earlier specialties — for example, electronic from electrical engineering or petroleum from chemical. Within the field of mechanical engineering the major subdivision is industrial engineering which is concerned with complete mechanical systems for industry rather than individual machines.
Engineers design and make machines, equipment and the like. Such work requires creative ability and a working knowledge of scientific principles. The engineer must also have an understanding of the various processes and materials available to him/her and could be working in any of the following areas: the organization of manufacture, research and development, design, construction, sales and education.
Because of the large number of engineering fields today there are often many different kinds of engineers working on large projects such as the development of nuclear power or new aircraft. In the design of a new aircraft mechanical engineers work not only on the plane’s engines but on other mechanical aspects such as the braking system. When the aircraft goes into production mechanical and industrial engineers are involved in designing the machines necessary to fabricate the different parts as well as the entire system for assembling them. In both phases of such a project mechanical engineers work with specialists in fields such as aerospace and electronic engineering. Each engineer is a member of a team often headed by a systems engineer able to combine the contributions made by all the different disciplines.
Another result of the increase of scientific knowledge is that engineering has become a profession. A profession is an occupation like law or medicine that requires specialized advanced education. Today it requires at least four or five years of university study leading to a Bachelor of Science degree. More and more often engineers, especially those engaged in research, get an advanced master’s or doctor’s degree. Even those engineers who do not study for advanced degrees must keep up with changes in their profession. A mechanical engineer who does not know about new materials cannot successfully compete with one who does.