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Engineering jobs and how they change the world

Craig Shepherd

There are several kinds of engineering jobs out there, and all of them require a different set of skills and experience. One thing that can’t be debated though, is that engineers change the world we live in every single day.

How can you change the world with an engineering job?

When we think about engineering, the first thing that probably comes to mind is building, whether it be large-scale infrastructure projects like roads and bridges, or smaller, purpose-designed buildings. But there is so much more to the field of engineering, and an incredible range of specialties you could focus on during your career. Sure, you certainly could be designing major highways, but you could also be developing something as small as a camera the size of a pill which helps doctors detect early signs of cancer.

At the heart of all things engineering is a desire to create. Engineers examine problems in the modern world and find ways to improve on existing technology or develop whole new solutions. Of course, it isn’t as simple as coming up with an idea and considering the problem solved – there are countless hours of work that goes on behind all of these incredible advancements that make our day-to-day lives better. And that, by definition, is how engineering changes our world. Let’s check out some different types of engineering jobs and how they can change our world for the better.

Manufacture change as a mechanical engineer

A mechanical engineering job could take you on an extremely broad career path. As its name suggests, mechanical engineering concentrates on the design, creation and implementation of machinery. This could range from smaller household items, the automotive industry, shipbuilding to space exploration. If it uses a machine, you could potentially be involved in it. If you consider that a career in mechanical engineering could see you working on absolutely anything with moving parts, you’re opening up a huge range of options.

While seen as almost primitive today, think about items like the wheel, windmill, pulley, and gears. These are all early examples of mechanical engineering, and our world would look a lot different without them. Having come a long way since inventing the wheel, as a mechanical engineer today you might be more likely to be working in the world of spacecraft and solar energy.

Building civilisation on Mars

Let’s take SpaceX for example. The company started by billionaire innovator Elon Musk has very real plans to not only visit Mars, but build a self-sustaining civilisation there. It may sound like science-fiction, but if you don’t believe him, he’s stumping up a whole lot of money to prove you wrong. He intends to send cargo to Mars by 2022, and follow it with an exploration crew in 2024.

Engineers at SpaceX are developing a fully reusable vehicle which Musk hopes will not only be able to orbit around Earth, but also get to the Moon and Mars, and it’s intended the revolutionary craft known as the BFR will be able to carry both cargo and people to Mars. Not only this, but Musk believes the BFR could be used for the types of travel we would normally use air travel for. By leaving Earth’s atmosphere and re-entering in another part of the world, a long-distance trip such as London to Hong Kong could take as little as 34 minutes.

In February 2018, SpaceX successfully launched their (and the world’s) most powerful rocket into space, and successfully landed it back at SpaceX headquarters. While not everything was perfect – the centre core didn’t land on their drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean as intended – this was still a massive step forward in space exploration. Oh, did we mention the rocket was carrying a Tesla Roadster, which is now in space on its way to Mars?

To find out more about mechanical engineering, check out Natalie Redmond’s story. She’s an acoustic engineer with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering and Bachelor or Laws. Natalie is a graduate who’s been working with AECOM for the last three years and offers valuable insight to anyone considering it as a career.

Saving lives as a biomedical engineer

If you have an interest in the medical field, a biomedical engineering job could be exactly what you’re looking for. This industry is essentially focussed on developing new tools, systems and technology to advance our capability to diagnose and treat medical conditions. While all types of engineering have a big impact on our world, a career in biomedical engineering could be one of the most rewarding. Imagine being able to say you were part of a team who developed a way to cure cancer? Or created instruments to help give paralysed people more mobility? This is one industry where you’re not only changing the world but changing it for those who need it most.

One notable advancement in this field includes the cochlear implant, developed by Australian company Cochlear. This has helped bring the gift of hearing to hundreds of thousands of people around the world with profound hearing loss, so gone are the days when we thought you had to move overseas to be involved in life-changing biomedical engineering achievements.

The bionic hand with a sense of touch

For recent achievements in the field of biomedical engineering, look no further than the team of international scientists in Rome who have developed the first portable bionic hand with a sense of touch. The technology has been available since 2014, however, it took three years of research and testing to make the product small enough for practical use, since the early prototype required a computer system so large that the hand itself couldn’t leave the lab.

The bionic hand uses a series of small electrodes and sensors in the fingers which send information to a computer (now small enough to wear in a backpack). The computer can then translate this information into a language the brain can understand, and send it back to the body with a different set of electrodes.

Italian woman Almerina Mascarello lost her left hand in an accident almost 25 years ago and was chosen to test out this new prototype for a period of six months. Mascarello reported the hand was a success, and gave her back a sense of touch she had missed for a quarter of a century. The hand has since been returned to the engineers for further improvements, in the hopes the technology can become readily available in the near future.

For further information about the exciting world of biomedical engineering, check out Charles Hartson’s story of his fresh start in the medical device industry at ResMed.

Civil engineers building our world

Civil engineering jobs are highly sought after due to the vast range of employment opportunities available in the field. Civil engineers are responsible for the planning and building of the structures we use on a daily basis – things like roads, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, irrigation systems and many more. Basically, if it needs to be constructed, civil engineers are planning and designing it.

Within civil engineering there’s a host of different specialisations too, like water engineers who deal with dams, coastal erosion and the safeguards within cities like stormwater drains to prevent flooding. Construction engineers plan, design and build structures like bridges, tunnels, office buildings – usually in collaboration with geotechnical engineers who get involved whenever something is being built on land, including roads.

Tunnelling into the future

While there will be many different kinds of engineers involved in this project by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, his designs on changing the way we build and use tunnels are set to revolutionise the civil engineering industry. Musk wants to create faster, more efficient ways of creating tunnels with a view to alleviating traffic congestion and making it possible for people to travel across densely populated areas in a much quicker time.

Along with his Hyperloop plans, which is a series of underground tunnels designed for quick passenger transport, Musk’s plan to increase the speed of tunnel building would allow cars, goods, or Hyperloop pods to be lowered from street level, down into a tunnel with a much smaller diameter, and be transported on an electric skate which would be fully autonomous and have the capability of travelling at around 200 kph. Musk says this system would have zero emissions and therefore be a much safer, cleaner way forward than something like flying cars.

The Boring Company has already been trying out better drilling techniques underneath Musk’s SpaceX headquarters in Los Angeles, and has been given approval to start digging a 3.2km test tunnel 13.4 metres underneath public areas of Hawthorne, just outside of Los Angeles.

There are very few limits to what you can achieve in civil engineering. Check out Jithmi De Silva’s description of her first steps in the field as part of a John Holland design team.

Creating the future as an electrical engineer

In the rapidly advancing technological age we live in, to say there’s a lot of opportunities in the field of electrical engineering would be an understatement. Electricity has been researched and experimented with since the 1700s, and arguably the most well-known accomplishment in the field of electrical engineering is Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. We’ve come a long way since then though, and this ever-expanding industry is an exciting one to be a part of.

From constructing small appliances to designing whole power grids for cities, there’s a lot you can accomplish in this field. The device you’re reading this article on is the result of electrical engineering, as are most of the systems required to effectively explore the outer reaches of space.

Conversations around the world

In current electrical engineering developments, tech company Timekettle is set to launch an innovative new product in 2019 called the WT2 Translator. The product will allow users to speak to each other in different languages and have the conversation translated straight away.

The WT2 uses a pair of earpieces, not much larger than normal earbuds you might listen to music through. They pair up instantly, and you can use a smartphone app to choose a language to have translated. While the technology isn’t perfect yet, for example, users have to wait for a few seconds after someone has finished speaking before the translation takes place and there are obvious restrictions with how willing a total stranger would be to share your earpieces, the technology is still impressive.

The WT2 does give users the option of using your smartphone’s microphone to pick up another person’s words and deliver them back to you in your chosen language, so it can still be used for quick tasks like asking someone directions when you’re travelling.

In many ways, electrical engineering paves the way to the technology of our future, so if you want to be a part of that, take a look at this story from Ali Walsh who is a Substation Engineer with SA Power Networks.

Safety first for chemical engineers

This won’t come as a surprise, but a chemical engineering job will see you working with, yes, you guessed it – chemicals. We’re not just talking about cleaning products and fertilizer here though. A chemical engineer could be working on advancements in all sorts of material production such as plastics, fabrics, and even the mass production of pharmaceutical drugs.

The world relies heavily on chemical engineers, as their skills and knowledge play a part in manufacturing not only all of the processed foods we eat, but also everything from toothpaste to petroleum refining. It isn’t just about working with known chemicals either, as a job in chemical engineering could see you developing improved ways to harness power or deal with pollution control and other environmental issues.

The giant battery

One engineering feat we’ve seen occur on Australian soil directly relates to one of those career paths - harnessing power. On 1 December 2017, Tesla (yes, it’s Elon Musk again) launched the world’s largest lithium-ion battery which was built at the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia.

The battery is able to store energy and release it in a fraction of a second if required. Tesla’s lithium-ion achievement isn’t designed to supply the entire state with power but rather acts as a safeguard when things go wrong elsewhere. A year after its launch, information suggests the battery has been a success, helping to reduce power costs in some areas by limiting the reliance on South Australian energy providers to source power from other states in the event of faults.

If chemical engineering sounds like your thing, check out Roanne Maxwell’s story describing how she became a chemical engineer at Orica, and be inspired!

So as you can see, pretty much everything you use, consume, drive on or travel in has been influenced in some way by an engineer. In terms of changing the world we live in, there may be no more active career you could pursue. If you’ve got an aptitude for subjects like physics, mathematics, chemistry and biology, and you also have an interest in problem-solving and creating, engineering may just be perfect for you.