Structural engineering is an engineering discipline that is concerned with the analysis, design, and testing of structures that must support loads. It is found in many engineering branches, most commonly aerospace, civil, and mechanical engineering. The analysis of structures is necessary to optimize them for their ability to resist loads, to last a lifetime, and to provide a safe engineering solution to oftentimes difficult design problems. The design of structures is critical to the overall process of conceptualizing and producing a product. The testing of structures is usually a final step to assess product fragility and to prove that a specific design meets specified requirements. Structural engineers oversee and participate in all disciplines that are related to the structural engineering of real-world products and structures.
Structural engineers have a unique and important responsibility for ensuring that structures are safe, as well as optimized for weight and load bearing capability. The importance of a structural engineer’s abilities and credentials are evident in all walks of life. This can be seen in the design of everyday structures, such as skyscrapers and bridges. It is also obvious in ‘high tech’ aerospace applications, such as airplanes, rockets, or space vehicles, such as the Space Shuttle. Structural engineers routinely provide safe structures that protect people, ensure the safety of astronauts, or simply ‘perform an intended function’. Structural engineers must provide structures that do not fail by overload or fatigue, regardless of the application. The structural engineer works closely with many other disciplines within and outside of engineering.
The educational requirements for structural engineers are very similar to all engineering students. There is a strong emphasis on math skills, with science and the humanities being important secondary skills. Most structural engineers take all the rudimentary classes in statics, dynamics, and strength of materials. In addition, further study in engineering mechanics specialties such as vibration and advanced mechanics of materials is normally emphasized in both Bachelor’s and advanced degree programs. Emphasis on both theoretical and experimental verification of structural behavior is also an important part of the educational process that occurs at structural engineering schools. Once the educational process is completed, graduates can look forward to finding a variety of structural engineering jobs with engineering firms, the government, and private industry.
Structural engineering dates back to the days of the pyramids in Egypt. It is obvious that a masterful job of structural design and assembly was done to create these huge structures. These structures were commonly built during this time period because of their stability and the ability for engineers to scale their dimensions for new projects. It is likely that structural theory did not exist at this time, but pyramid designs were based on empirical information that had been gathered from previous successful projects. The Civil Engineering community can look with pride at these historic structures for the engineering ingenuity and resourcefulness in building these massive stone structures.