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Why Does the World Need Mechanical Engineering?

Though it may not be an engineering discipline many people think about, mechanical engineering is critical to many aspects of everyday life, from modern conveniences to a fundamental understanding of science. Indeed, mechanical engineering is one of the oldest scientific disciplines and can be traced back centuries to the great thinkers of Ancient Greece like Archimedes. Contributions from these ancient engineers include chariots with differential gears, water clocks, and even a primitive steam engine.

In 1206, one of the foundational mechanical engineering books was written by Muslim inventor and engineer Al-Jazari, called the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices, which included the beginnings of such important modern designs as the crankshaft.

As scientific thinking progressed, mechanical engineering expanded to include more analytical thought, particularly with Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of motion, which were integral to continued engineering progress. The first three mechanical engineering schools in the US included the US Military Academy, Norwich University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, all in full operation by 1825.

Ultimately, most things that we use today that involve any type of moving parts come, at least in part, from the minds of mechanical engineers, and that is likely to stay the same for a while. Even the development of more sophisticated electronics and other technologies will depend at least in part on mechanical engineers. That is why mechanical engineering is an exciting and essential area of concentration.

What Does One Learn in a Mechanical Engineering Program?

Mechanical engineering programs are fairly standardized across the US, thanks partly to the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). As a result, mechanical engineering undergraduate degrees typically begin with some foundational courses applicable across the spectrum of engineering programs, including calculus, physics, and basic introductory engineering courses.

Once mechanical engineers focus on their major, they can expect to find courses in design, manufacturing, mechanics, thermodynamics, and materials. Thus, graduates of a master of engineering (ME) program should have academic and lab experience in the various disciplines that apply directly to mechanical engineering.

Notably, a mechanical engineering degree offers a great degree of breadth, making it an attractive major for those students who know they want to study engineering but need help figuring out where to focus.

Mechanical engineers can begin their professional careers with a bachelor of science degree, but some students pursue advanced learning through a master’s or a PhD level education. It is common for engineers to gain some experience with their bachelor’s degree and later further their formal education to move forward in their careers.

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Branches of Mechanical Engineering

Because mechanical engineering is a broad topic, many engineering specialties can fit within its scope. Some of the most common mechanical engineering branches where graduating students could find careers include:

  • Acoustical engineering: the manipulation and control of vibration to reduce unwanted noise
  • Manufacturing engineering: optimizing manufacturing techniques, developing processes as well as machines, tools, and equipment for the manufacture of goods
  • Thermal engineering: creating and maintaining comfortable and safe environments through the control of heating and cooling systems
  • Vehicle engineering: the design and manufacture of all manner of vehicles
  • Aerospace engineering: vehicle engineering as specific to air and space travel

In some instances, other specialties also fall within the purview of mechanical engineering. For example, the Stanford graduate program in mechanical engineering is one of the world’s top institutions and features specialties in:

  • Automatic Controls
  • Biomechanical Engineering
  • Design Methodology
  • Dynamics
  • Energy Systems
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Heat and Mass Transfer
  • Manufacturing and Product Realization
  • Materials and Stress Analysis
  • Mechatronics
  • MEMS
  • Reactive Gas Dynamics
  • Robotics and Kinematics
  • Solid Mechanics

Undergraduate students are largely not expected to choose a specialty. Still, those who decide to go on to a graduate program should be prepared to focus on a particular area of mechanical engineering.

To learn more about programs in mechanical engineering, please visit our online mechanical engineering degree programs page.

The Present and Future of Mechanical Engineering

While the future is never certain, some emerging industry trends in mechanical engineering exist. For example, according to one survey of mechanical engineers working in their field, the most sought-after positions for mechanical engineers will be in energy, biomedicine, computers, electronics, water, and nanotechnology. This breadth of subjects suggests jobs will be fairly plentiful for knowledgeable, experienced, and certified mechanical engineers.

However, with technological advancements happening rapidly, aspiring engineers can’t graduate from an academic program and receive all the cutting-edge knowledge and experience needed for their future. To succeed, mechanical engineers must find a way to continue their education and stay abreast of technological developments throughout their careers.

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25 Top Professors of Mechanical Engineering

As with other engineering disciplines, mechanical engineering is complex, and the success of a mechanical engineering project can often be mission-critical. Given that, it is essential to learn from the best, and these professors represent the most accomplished and involved in the field, ready to inspire and impart their knowledge to a new generation of engineers.

Online Master’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical engineering coursework explores manufacturing systems analysis, manufacturing design, manufacturing systems and analysis, metals and alloys, data analysis, and biofluid mechanics, among other topics.