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Engineers apply scientific knowledge and principles for practical applications. They design and test new machines, materials, and products as well as new processes and systems, and they work to improve existing ones. Engineers make extensive use of computers. In addition to meeting the goal of any given project, they must take into account the expense and time involved. And when a project or product does not succeed, it is up to an engineer to determine what went wrong.
Most engineers specialize in a particular area but have a base of knowledge and training that can be applied in many fields. Electrical and electronics engineers, for example, work in the medical, computer, missile guidance, and power distribution fields. Someone embarking on a career as an engineer has a tremendous range of choices regarding the type of work he or she wants to pursue. Nearly every industry requires the work of some type of engineer.
A nuclear power station provides a good example of how different engineering specialties work together. The contributions of civil engineers include helping select the site for the power station and developing blueprints for all structural details of the reactor building. Nuclear engineers handle every stage of the production of nuclear energy, from the processing of nuclear fuels to the disposal of radioactive wastes. Environmental engineers also attempt to find ways to dispose of such wastes safely. Mechanical engineers develop and build engines that produce power using the nuclear fuel. Electrical engineers design equipment to distribute the electricity to thousands of customers over a wide area. Even an engineering discipline that may seem unrelated to nuclear power, biomedical engineering, is essential for the people who will be employed at the plant. The device workers wear to monitor the levels of radiation their bodies absorb over a period of time was developed by biomedical engineers.
All engineers engage in one of five areas of work: research, development, application, management, and maintenance. The first stage of any project is research. Engineers who work in research are responsible for investigating new materials, processes, or principles for practical applications of ideas and materials.
Development follows research. An engineer working in development takes the research results and determines how best to apply them to their practical functions. Application is the actual production of a developed idea. Engineers design and produce the materials, machines, methods, or other results of research and development. Management and maintenance are the final stages of engineering work. These engineers are responsible for keeping the developed idea working. Without some form of upkeep and improvement, engineering discoveries would be lost.
Engineers have traditionally enjoyed great employment security because their work is so essential to maintaining and advancing America's infrastructure and industry. Even in times of economic decline, engineers' jobs are generally safe. Demand will continue to be strong for engineers with a solid math and science background and training in new technologies.