The World of Engineering

31 May 2018

Today’s world is a highly mechanised world. The element of human labour is almost eliminated in all human activities- even thinking. This is thanks to the giant progress made by humans in harnessing primary energy to convert it into useful secondary energy.

Engineering can be defined as the art and science of conversion of primary energy into secondary energy.

This all started in the 18th century with the invention of the steam engine which were the first efforts to harness heat energy into motive energy. Simultaneously, it was discovered that a metallic coil rotating in a magnetic field generated electricity. Thus the rotative motion from the steam engine was used to generate electricity resulting in the creation of the electric grid. The third important discovery was that of energy dense fossil fuels- coal, oil and gas that made primary energy easily available for humankind to harness.

Thus most of the engineering was related to conversion of fossil fuel energy into motive energy- leading to the development of the petrol and diesel engines, steam and gas turbines, aviation and marine engines and innovations of these such as motors, compressors and pumps.

The world domination of western countries is attributed largely to the use of engineering and technology in industry, commerce and military which utilised the primary energy available many times over.

There were inventions of newer materials and advancement in metallurgy that resulted in the fabrication of new alloys which could withstand higher temperatures and pressures and which were corrosion resistant.

These were the foundations of the Industrial revolution that led to the prosperity of the Western world.  

In the twentieth century, the engineering paradigms shifted from Newtonian mechanics to Quantum mechanics- from the gross to the subtle. This resulted in new branches of physics- nuclear physics and semiconductor physics. This resulted in the development of electronics, communication and computer engineering which is encompassing all our lifes today.

Indeed, engineering has improved our material life greatly today!