Building the Future: The Role of Civil Engineers in Society

Building the Future: The Role of Civil Engineers in Society

Just think about it. The work of civil engineering touches on your life daily. Forming the cornerstone of our modern society from designing, building, and maintaining infrastructure, civil engineers have innovated and created amazing engineering feats, sometimes under the most challenging conditions.

Look at the Channel Tunnel, Eiffel Tower, Panama Canal, CN Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, and Empire State Building; the list echoes endlessly down the corridors of history.

So, where did it all begin?

Back to The Beginning

The first known engineer that has been recorded by name and his achievements is Imhotep, the builder of the Step Pyramid in Egypt around 2550 BCE, which still stands today.

Following in his footsteps were his successors, Egyptian, Greek, Persian and Roman engineers who built the Pharos Lighthouse of Alexandria, Solomons Temple in Jerusalem, the Persian and Roman road system, and many other large structures of which many endure in this day and age.

Civil engineering as a field emerged in 1747 when the first institution for teaching civil engineering, the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées, was established in France, with other countries in Europe following suit soon after.

The first self-proclaimed civil engineer was John Smeaton, known as “the father of civil engineering,” who constructed the Eddystone Lighthouse in England. Built of local Cornish granite, he pioneered hydraulic lime, a concrete that cured underwater, and developed a technique of securing the blocks using dovetail joints and marble dowels. 

Construction started in 1756 on Smeaton’s lighthouse and on completion was 59 feet tall with a diameter at the base of 26 feet and 17 feet at the top. The lighthouse remained in use until 1877, when erosion to the rocks under the lighthouse caused it to shake from side to side when waves hit. After decommissioning the lighthouse, it was rebuilt in Plymouth, and yet the foundations and stub remain close to the current lighthouse as the foundations of Smeaton’s lighthouse proved too strong to be dismantled.

By 1819 the first private college in the US to teach civil engineering was Norwich University, founded by Captain Alden Partridge. In 1905, the first woman was awarded a civil engineering degree by Cornell University.

Indeed, from water supply and sanitation systems to highways, railroads, bridges, and planned cities, the mark of the civil engineer has been there every step of the way.

Engineering Disciplines

So, you want to enter the field of civil engineering, but you are not sure what discipline appeals to you most. Let’s look at some of the technical areas you can specialize in.

  • Structural

Structural engineers typically design, plan, and oversee the construction of new buildings and bridges. They are also involved in alterations and extensions to existing structures. 

  • Environmental

Using the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry, Environmental engineers develop solutions to environmental problems in the fields of public health, waste disposal, and water and air pollution.

  • Transportation

Transportation engineers are involved in the planning and design of transportation systems such as highways, streets, road lighting, airports, and commuter trains.

  • Construction

Primarily involved in managing the planning and design stage of a construction project, construction engineers carefully evaluate each project’s structural, electrical, and mechanical condition.

  • Coastal Engineering

Involved with the design and rehabilitation of beaches and coastal structures, coastal engineering is all about breakwater design, access channels, wharves, jetties, and piers.

  • Geotechnical Engineering

Geotechnical engineering is about understanding how an infrastructure interacts with the ground, be it tunnels, bridges, dams, roads, ports, and landfills.

  • Architectural

Architectural engineers combine science and technology in the designing of buildings such as electrical, mechanical, and structural into an integrated whole.

  • Engineering Mechanics

Mechanical engineers are generally involved with the distribution and generation of energy with a focus on processing materials, control automation of manufacturing systems, and the design and development of machines.

  • Utility Engineering and Surveying

In this engineering field, the focus is on the planning, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and asset management of utility systems and the interaction between utility infrastructure and other civil infrastructure.

Landing Your Dream Job

You’ve got your civil engineering degree, where to now? Finding the right company to work for can prove challenging.

But with the right attitude and taking time to research your options, you can source civil engineering jobs in a company that is vested in providing you with opportunities to learn and grow with them. By supporting and mentoring you and providing an environment that focuses on a work-life balance. 

Look to company that offers contributions to your medical, takes an interest in your wellness, and is open to a flexible schedule if needs be.

To the Future

As the population continues to grow, so does the need for civil engineers, with employment in this field projected to grow by three percent from 2019 to 2029, adding about 74,800 jobs to the industry.

The emerging fields of artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are both set to play a major role in shaping the future of civil engineering.

Structural engineering is already undergoing major changes due to computer modeling advancement that enables complex structures to be generated using artificial intelligence. 

Nanotechnology, which involves materials that are 0.1 to 100 nanometers in size, is already in use and used across various disciplines. In civil engineering, by incorporating nano-silica, nano clay, or nano iron particles into concrete, pore structure and strength can be improved. This technology can also be used in the production of steel beams to reduce the overall stress of a structure and help prevent erosion.

But one of the most exciting fields is set to be in the area of transportation. With the emergence of electric and semi-autonomous vehicles, highways and roads will have to be changed to adapt to these self-driving vehicles. In addition, the need for charging stations will increase as more people make the switch to electric cars.

Then you have the Hyperloop concept, which is set to change how people travel. Proposed by Elon Musk, it involves constructing massive tubes extending from one place to another with pods traveling inside the tubes, reaching speeds of up to 700 mph. If this project gains traction and becomes part of our future, then the field of civil engineering will be called upon to construct the infrastructure to house these massive tubes and terminal stations. The future beckons, and it’s in the field of civil engineering.

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