What types of engineers are there?

Learn all about the different types of engineering with this guide to the main disciplines.

In engineering, knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences is applied to develop ways to use the materials and forces of nature economically for the benefit of humans, touching every phase of modern life.

It extends human physical power through machines; human reasoning power through computers; and human powers of observation through instruments, enabling people to explore the tiniest microscopic structure or the far reaches of the universe. It has given people great power to control their environment and, with this power, the responsibility to control it wisely.

Today, engineering is generally considered to consist of these major branches:

  • civil
  • chemical
  • electrical
  • mechanical

There are numerous other sub-disciplines and interdisciplinary subjects.

Civil engineeringCivil engineering involves the planning, designing, and supervision of the construction of facilities essential to modern life. These facilities include space satellites and launching facilities, offshore structures, bridges, buildings, tunnels, highways, transit systems, dams, airports, harbours, water supply and wastewater treatment plants, and other facilities for mitigating environmental problems.

Sub-disciplines include:

  • Geotechnical engineering, which is the science of studying the interior of the 
earth. Geotechnical engineering includes the specialties of gas, geological, geometrics, metallurgical, mineral, mining, oil 
and petroleum
  • Structural engineering, which is the engineering of structures that support or resist structural loads. Major specialties include earthquake, wind, architectural and ocean engineering
  • Transportation engineering, which is the use of engineering to ensure safe and efficient transportation of people and goods. Major specialties include traffic, highway, and railway systems engineering
  • Environmental engineering, which is the application of engineering to the improvement and protection of the environment. Major specialties include ecological, fire protection, sanitary, hydraulic and municipal engineering

Chemical engineeringChemical engineering deals with the chemical and physical processes for converting raw materials to useful products and involves the design, improvement, and maintenance of processes involving chemical or biological transformations for large-scale manufacturing.

Sub-disciplines include:

  • Materials engineering, which involves the properties of matter and its applications to engineering. Major specialties include ceramic and crystal engineering
  • Process engineering, which focuses on the design, operation, control, and optimisation of chemical processes. Major specialties include petroleum, plastics and paper engineering
  • Molecular engineering, which focuses on the manufacturing of molecules

Engineers in a Line

“Engineering extends human physical power through machines; human reasoning power through computers; and human powers of observation through instruments”

Electrical engineeringElectrical engineering is a rapidly developing and diverse field ranging from integrated circuits and submicron devices to powerful computational systems and massive communication networks. Sub-disciplines include:

  • Electronic engineering, which is the design of circuits that use the electromagnetic properties of electrical components such as resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, and transistors to achieve a particular functionality. Major specialties include control and telecommunications engineering
  • Computer engineering is a discipline that integrates several fields of electronic and computer science required to develop computer systems. Major specialties include software, power and optical engineering

Mechanical engineeringMechanical engineering is the discipline of engineering that applies to the principles of physics and material sciences for analysis of design, manufacturing, and maintenance of mechanical systems. Sub-disciplines include:

  • Vehicle engineering, which is the design, manufacturing and operation of the systems and equipment that propel and control vehicles. Major specialties include automotive, aerospace, and marine engineering
  • Thermal engineering, which concerns heating or cooling of processes, equipment, or enclosed environments
  • Acoustical engineering, which is the branch of engineering dealing with sound and vibration

Interdisciplinary and specialised fieldsIndustrial engineering applies fundamentals from the mathematical, physical and engineering sciences to efficiently design and analyse large systems that serve industry and government, both in manufacturing and service sectors. Major specialties include manufacturing, component, systems, and construction engineering.

Applied engineering is the field concerned with the application of management, design, and technical skills for the design and integration of systems, the execution of new product designs, the improvements of manufacturing processes, and the management and direction of physical and/or technical functions of a firm or organisation. Major specialties include packaging engineering.

Biological engineering is the application of concepts and methods of physics, chemistry and mathematics to solve problems in life sciences using engineering’s own analytical and synthetic methodologies. Major specialties include biomedical, genetic, biochemical, tissue and protein 

Bioenvironmental engineering utilises the physical and biological sciences in solving problems related to plants, animals, food, wastes, and our natural environment.

Written by Jennifer Hollis (2011)
Admissions Counselor
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey (USA)