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Civil engineers saving lives and improving life

Robert Hayes Modified: July 10, 2013 at 11:00 am •  Published: May 26, 2013

Civil engineering has sometimes been referred to as the easiest of the engineering disciplines but similarly touted as the practice which has saved more lives than all of history’s physicians combined.  As it is, civil engineers provide us with clean sanitary water to drink and separate waste water removal systems for sewage and its treatment.  By this service alone, dysentery is almost single handedly removed from any community (as dysentery is a major cause of death in third world countries).  The name apparently goes back to the middle ages when anyone not doing engineering design work for the military was classified as a civil engineer so in this sense, all modern engineering disciplines branched out from civil engineering.

You may think designing roads, buildings, bridges and waste water treatment systems is simple but it really does take a lot of scientific and engineering know how to do these things right (imagine how life would be if these things were regularly done wrong or simply did not have a safe design).  The easiest way to prove the point on just how involved and deep a civil engineering degree is can be demonstrated by a short list of some of the technical course work required to obtain a B.S. from most engineering colleges.  These would include fluid mechanics, mechanics of materials, soil mechanics, water chemistry, structural analysis, concrete mechanics, hydraulics design, traffic engineering (to name a very short list) in addition to a full year of calculus, basic chemistry and physics followed by a second full year of advanced calculus and engineering physics.  Hopefully you are thinking how totally cool it would be to understand and use all of that, if so you definitely have the drive to become a civil engineer.

In other words, if you want your radio or cell phone tower to stay put in all weather, you need the skills of a civil engineer to design a structure and base that will hold up under those conditions.  If you want a road to have the correct subsurface materials or the rock paneling on a building to stand up to all the stresses and strains time and nature will bring, you need a good civil engineer to design these things too.  If you want a tall building to stay secure, you need competent civil engineering work done to insure the rock mechanics and soil dynamics are fully mitigated and the resulting construction designed accordingly.  If a city needs to expand is water distribution system or water reclamation process, this is again an engineering task which in this case (along with most others) will require a licensed civil engineer.

In principle, this doesn’t stop there.  You can also obtain advanced degrees in civil engineering including both the Master’s and Doctorate degrees.  This would allow you to go on to doing research in the field by evaluating properties of materials such as how you could improve them through treatments or preparation methods or any other means of advancing the technology we currently have.  You could evaluate new construction materials, testing methods and basically anything and everything related to civil engineering.  Still, the core of the discipline is and always has been the improvement of societal infrastructure through sound scientific principles.

So the next time you are enjoying the benefit of a road, feeling safe in a securely designed building, listening to the radio, talking on your cell phone or even taking for granted clean water, please thank a civil engineer.

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