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Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including works like roads, bridges, canals, dams, and buildings. Civil engineering is the oldest engineering discipline after military engineering, and it was defined to distinguish non-military engineering from military engineering. It is traditionally broken into several sub-disciplines including environmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, geophysics, geodesy, control engineering, structural engineering, transportation engineering, earth science, atmospheric sciences, forensic engineering, municipal or urban engineering, water resources engineering, materials engineering, offshore engineering, quantity surveying, coastal engineering, surveying, and construction engineering. Civil engineering takes place on all levels: in the public sector from municipal through to national governments, and in the private sector from individual homeowners through to international companies.
Engineering has been an aspect of life since the beginnings of human existence. The earliest practice of civil engineering may have commenced between 4000 and 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (Ancient Iraq) when humans started to abandon a nomadic existence, creating a need for the construction of shelter. During this time, transportation became increasingly important leading to the development of the wheel and sailing.
Until modern times there was no clear distinction between civil engineering and architecture, and the term engineer and architect were mainly geographical variations referring to the same person, often used interchangeably. The construction of Pyramids in Egypt (circa 2700–2500 BC) might be considered the first instances of large structure constructions. Other ancient historic civil engineering constructions include the Qanat water management system (the oldest older than 3000 years and longer than 71 km,) the Parthenon by Iktinos in Ancient Greece (447–438 BC), the Appian Way by Roman engineers (c. 312 BC), the Great Wall of China by General Meng T'ien under orders from Ch'in Emperor Shih Huang Ti (c. 220 BC) and the stupas constructed in ancient Sri Lanka like the Jetavanaramaya and the extensive irrigation works in Anuradhapura. The Romans developed civil structures throughout their empire, including especially aqueducts, insulae, harbors, bridges, dams and roads.
In the 18th century, the term civil engineering was coined to incorporate all things civilian as opposed to military engineering. The first self-proclaimed civil engineer was John Smeaton who constructed the Eddystone Lighthouse. In 1771 Smeaton and some of his colleagues formed the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, a group of leaders of the profession who met informally over dinner. Though there was evidence of some technical meetings, it was little more than a social society.
In 1818 the Institution of Civil Engineers was founded in London, and in 1820 the eminent engineer Thomas Telford became its first president. The institution received a Royal Charter in 1828, formally recognising civil engineering as a profession. Its charter defined civil engineering as:
the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man, as the means of production and of traffic in states, both for external and internal trade, as applied in the construction of roads, bridges, aqueducts, canals, river navigation and docks for internal intercourse and exchange, and in the construction of ports, harbours, moles, breakwaters and lighthouses, and in the art of navigation by artificial power for the purposes of commerce, and in the construction and application of machinery, and in the drainage of cities and towns.
The first private college to teach Civil Engineering in the United States was Norwich University founded in 1819 by Captain Alden Partridge. The first degree in Civil Engineering in the United States was awarded by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1835. The first such degree to be awarded to a woman was granted by Cornell University to Nora Stanton Blatch in 1905.
Civil engineering is the application of physical and scientific principles for solving the problems of society, and its history is intricately linked to advances in understanding of physics and mathematics throughout history. Because civil engineering is a wide ranging profession, including several separate specialized sub-disciplines, its history is linked to knowledge of structures, materials science, geography, geology, soils, hydrology, environment, mechanics and other fields.
Throughout ancient and medieval history most architectural design and construction was carried out by artisans, such as stonemasons and carpenters, rising to the role of master builder. Knowledge was retained in guilds and seldom supplanted by advances. Structures, roads and infrastructure that existed were repetitive, and increases in scale were incremental.
One of the earliest examples of a scientific approach to physical and mathematical problems applicable to civil engineering is the work of Archimedes in the 3rd century BC, including Archimedes Principle, which underpins our understanding of buoyancy, and practical solutions such as Archimedes' screw. Brahmagupta, an Indian mathematician, used arithmetic in the 7th century AD, based on Hindu-Arabic numerals, for excavation (volume) computations.
Civil engineers typically possess an academic degree with a major in civil engineering. The length of study for such a degree is usually three to five years and the completed degree is usually designated as a Bachelor of Engineering, though some universities designate the degree as a Bachelor of Science. The degree generally includes units covering physics, mathematics, project management, design and specific topics in civil engineering. Initially such topics cover most, if not all, of the sub-disciplines of civil engineering. Students then choose to specialize in one or more sub-disciplines towards the end of the degree. While an Undergraduate (BEng/BSc) Degree will normally provide successful students with industry accredited qualification, some universities offer postgraduate engineering awards (MEng/MSc) which allow students to further specialize in their particular area of interest within engineering.
In most countries, a Bachelor's degree in engineering represents the first step towards professional certification and the degree program itself is certified by a professional body. After completing a certified degree program the engineer must satisfy a range of requirements (including work experience and exam requirements) before being certified. Once certified, the engineer is designated the title of Professional Engineer (in the United States, Canada and South Africa), Chartered Engineer (in most Commonwealth countries), Chartered Professional Engineer (in Australia and New Zealand), or European Engineer (in much of the European Union). There are international engineering agreements between relevant professional bodies which are designed to allow engineers to practice across international borders.
The advantages of certification vary depending upon location. For example, in the United States and Canada "only a licensed professional engineer may prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients.". This requirement is enforced by state and provincial legislation such as Quebec's Engineers Act. In other countries such as the UK no such legislation exists. In Australia, state licensing of engineers is limited to the state of Queensland. Practically all certifying bodies maintain a code of ethics that they expect all members to abide by or risk expulsion. In this way, these organizations play an important role in maintaining ethical standards for the profession. Even in jurisdictions where certification has little or no legal bearing on work, engineers are subject to contract law. In cases where an engineer's work fails he or she may be subject to the tort of negligence and, in extreme cases, criminal charges. An engineer's work must also comply with numerous other rules and regulations such as building codes and legislation pertaining to environmental law.
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In general, civil engineering is concerned with the overall interface of human created fixed projects with the greater world. General civil engineers work closely with surveyors and specialized civil engineers to fit and serve fixed projects within their given site, community and terrain by designing grading, drainage, pavement, water supply, sewer service, electric and communications supply, and land divisions. General engineers spend much of their time visiting project sites, developing community consensus, and preparing construction plans. General civil engineering is also referred to as site engineering, a branch of civil engineering that primarily focuses on converting a tract of land from one usage to another. Civil engineers typically apply the principles of geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, environmental engineering, transportation engineering and construction engineering to residential, commercial, industrial and public works projects of all sizes and levels of construction.
One of the major aspects of Civil engineering is materials science. Material engineering deals with ceramics such as concrete, mix asphalt concrete, strong metals such as aluminum and steel, and polymers such as polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) and carbon fibers.
Materials engineering also consists of protection and prevention like paints and finishes. Alloying is another aspect of materials engineering, combining two types of metals to produce a stronger metal. It incorporates elements of applied physics and chemistry. With significant media attention focused on nanoscience and nanotechnology in recent years, materials science has been propelled to the forefront at many universities. It is also an important part of forensic engineering and failure analysis. Materials science also deals with fundamental properties and characteristics of materials.
Coastal engineering is concerned with managing coastal areas. In some jurisdictions the terms sea defense and coastal protection are used to mean, respectively, defense against flooding and erosion. The term coastal defense is the more traditional term, but coastal management has become more popular as the field has expanded to include techniques that allow erosion to claim land.
Construction engineering involves planning and execution of the designs from transportation, site development, hydraulic, environmental, structural and geotechnical engineers. As construction firms tend to have higher business risk than other types of civil engineering firms, many construction engineers tend to take on a role that is more business-like in nature: drafting and reviewing contracts, evaluating logistical operations, and closely monitoring prices of necessary supplies.
Earthquake engineering covers ability of various structures to withstand hazardous earthquake exposures at the sites of their particular location.
Environmental engineering deals with the treatment of chemical, biological, and/or thermal waste, the purification of water and air, and the remediation of contaminated sites, due to prior waste disposal or accidental contamination. Among the topics covered by environmental engineering are pollutant transport, water purification, waste water treatment, air pollution, solid waste treatment and hazardous waste management. Environmental engineers can be involved with pollution reduction, green engineering, and industrial ecology. Environmental engineering also deals with the gathering of information on the environmental consequences of proposed actions and the assessment of effects of proposed actions for the purpose of assisting society and policy makers in the decision making process.
Environmental engineering is the contemporary term for sanitary engineering, though sanitary engineering traditionally had not included much of the hazardous waste management and environmental remediation work covered by the term environmental engineering. Some other terms in use are public health engineering and environmental health engineering.
Geotechnical engineering is an area of civil engineering concerned with the rock and soil that support civil engineering systems. Knowledge from the fields of geology, material science and testing, mechanics, and hydraulics are applied by geotechnical engineers to safely and economically design foundations, retaining walls, and similar structures. Environmental concerns in relation to groundwater and waste disposal have spawned a new area of study called geoenvironmental engineering where biology and chemistry are important.
Some of the unique difficulties of geotechnical engineering are the result of the variability and properties of soil. Boundary conditions are often well defined in other branches of civil engineering, but with soil, clearly defining these conditions can be impossible. The material properties and behavior of soil are also difficult to predict due to the variability of soil and limited investigation. This contrasts with the relatively well defined material properties of steel and concrete used in other areas of civil engineering. Soil mechanics, which describes the behavior of soil, is also complicated because soils exhibit nonlinear (stress-dependent) strength, stiffness, and dilatancy (volume change associated with application of shear stress).
Water resources engineering is concerned with the collection and management of water (as a natural resource). As a discipline it therefore combines hydrology, environmental science, meteorology, geology, conservation, and resource management. This area of civil engineering relates to the prediction and management of both the quality and the quantity of water in both underground (aquifers) and above ground (lakes, rivers, and streams) resources. Water resource engineers analyze and model very small to very large areas of the earth to predict the amount and content of water as it flows into, through, or out of a facility. Although the actual design of the facility may be left to other engineers.
Hydraulic engineering is concerned with the flow and conveyance of fluids, principally water. This area of civil engineering is intimately related to the design of pipelines, water supply network, drainage facilities (including bridges, dams, channels, culverts, levees, storm sewers), and canals. Hydraulic engineers design these facilities using the concepts of fluid pressure, fluid statics, fluid dynamics, and hydraulics, among others.
Structural engineering is concerned with the structural design and structural analysis of buildings, bridges, towers, flyovers (overpasses), tunnels, off shore structures like oil and gas fields in the sea, aerostructure and other structures. This involves identifying the loads which act upon a structure and the forces and stresses which arise within that structure due to those loads, and then designing the structure to successfully support and resist those loads. The loads can be self weight of the structures, other dead load, live loads, moving (wheel) load, wind load, earthquake load, load from temperature change etc. The structural engineer must design structures to be safe for their users and to successfully fulfill the function they are designed for (to be serviceable). Due to the nature of some loading conditions, sub-disciplines within structural engineering have emerged, including wind engineering and earthquake engineering.
Design considerations will include strength, stiffness, and stability of the structure when subjected to loads which may be static, such as furniture or self-weight, or dynamic, such as wind, seismic, crowd or vehicle loads, or transitory, such as temporary construction loads or impact. Other considerations include cost, constructability, safety, aesthetics and sustainability.
Surveying is the process by which a surveyor measures certain dimensions that generally occur on the surface of the Earth. Surveying equipment, such as levels and theodolites, are used for accurate measurement of angular deviation, horizontal, vertical and slope distances. With computerisation, electronic distance measurement (EDM), total stations, GPS surveying and laser scanning have supplemented (and to a large extent supplanted) the traditional optical instruments. This information is crucial to convert the data into a graphical representation of the Earth's surface, in the form of a map. This information is then used by civil engineers, contractors and even realtors to design from, build on, and trade, respectively. Elements of a building or structure must be correctly sized and positioned in relation to each other and to site boundaries and adjacent structures. Although surveying is a distinct profession with separate qualifications and licensing arrangements, civil engineers are trained in the basics of surveying and mapping, as well as geographic information systems. Surveyors may also lay out the routes of railways, tramway tracks, highways, roads, pipelines and streets as well as position other infrastructures, such as harbors, before construction.
In the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and most Commonwealth countries land surveying is considered to be a distinct profession. Land surveyors are not considered to be engineers, and have their own professional associations and licencing requirements. The services of a licenced land surveyor are generally required for boundary surveys (to establish the boundaries of a parcel using its legal description) and subdivision plans (a plot or map based on a survey of a parcel of land, with boundary lines drawn inside the larger parcel to indicate the creation of new boundary lines and roads), both of which are generally referred to as cadastral surveying.
Construction surveying is generally performed by specialised technicians. Unlike land surveyors, the resulting plan does not have legal status. Construction surveyors perform the following tasks:
Transportation engineering is concerned with moving people and goods efficiently, safely, and in a manner conducive to a vibrant community. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining transportation infrastructure which includes streets, canals, highways, rail systems, airports, ports, and mass transit. It includes areas such as transportation design, transportation planning, traffic engineering, some aspects of urban engineering, queueing theory, pavement engineering, Intelligent Transportation System (ITS), and infrastructure management.
Municipal engineering is concerned with municipal infrastructure. This involves specifying, designing, constructing, and maintaining streets, sidewalks, water supply networks, sewers, street lighting, municipal solid waste management and disposal, storage depots for various bulk materials used for maintenance and public works (salt, sand, etc.), public parks and bicycle paths. In the case of underground utility networks, it may also include the civil portion (conduits and access chambers) of the local distribution networks of electrical and telecommunications services. It can also include the optimizing of waste collection and bus service networks. Some of these disciplines overlap with other civil engineering specialties, however municipal engineering focuses on the coordination of these infrastructure networks and services, as they are often built simultaneously, and managed by the same municipal authority.
Forensic engineering is the investigation of materials, products, structures or components that fail or do not operate or function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property. The consequences of failure are dealt with by the law of product liability. The field also deals with retracing processes and procedures leading to accidents in operation of vehicles or machinery. The subject is applied most commonly in civil law cases, although it may be of use in criminal law cases. Generally the purpose of a Forensic engineering investigation is to locate cause or causes of failure with a view to improve performance or life of a component, or to assist a court in determining the facts of an accident. It can also involve investigation of intellectual property claims, especially patents.
Control engineering or control systems engineering is the branch of Civil Engineering discipline that applies control theory to design systems with desired behaviors. The practice uses sensors to measure the output performance of the device being controlled (often a vehicle) and those measurements can be used to give feedback to the input actuators that can make corrections toward desired performance. When a device is designed to perform without the need of human inputs for correction it is called automatic control (such as cruise control for regulating a car's speed). Multi-disciplinary in nature, control systems engineering activities focus on implementation of control systems mainly derived by mathematical modeling of systems of a diverse range.
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