Branches of Engineering

From the 18th century onwards all types of engineers, other than military engineers, were known as civil engineers. This definition was still valid in the early years of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Britain, whose royal charter granted in 1828 described civil engineering as '...being the art of conducting the great sources of power in Nature for the use and convenience of Man'. Professor Warren was trained as a civil engineer in the modern sense, but was able to conduct courses in Mining Engineering and in Mechanical Engineering, in addition to his own area of expertise. The increase in specialisation has reduced the scope of the title civil engineer, although it is still the largest branch of the profession in Australia.

Aeronautical Engineering

The number of aeronautical engineers in Australia is small and the employment situation can be drastically affected by changes in internal policies or external conditions. The flow of projects to the manufacturing industry is intermittent at present and this is being reflected in a steady, though restricted, demand for new graduates.

The operations field also provides opportunities since, as aircraft become more complex, the requirements of the operators for professional engineers tend to increase. Openings exist with Ansett Airlines, QANTAS et. al and the RAAF. The work includes performance analysis of engine and airframe, structural analysis and the forecasting of future requirements. Many challenging problems arise on the operational side and, as some of these are peculiar to Australia, original thinking is required. Opportunities are not confined to the operators; in particular, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority employs many aeronautical engineers to investigate the air-worthiness and performance of all aircraft operating in Australia.

Research and development work has been centred on the Aeronautical and Maritime Research Laboratories and the Defence Scientific and Technology Organisation (DSTO). There is some recruitment of new staff. In addition, the extensive basic training which aeronautical engineers receive in fluid, and solid mechanics along with computer skills places them in a position to take advantage of the research and development openings that occur in many fields outside of aeronautics.

Chemical Engineering

Chemical engineering is concerned with industrial processes in which material in bulk undergoes changes in its physical or chemical nature. Chemical engineers design, construct, operate and manage these processes and in this they are guided by economic and environmental considerations.

Industries employing chemical engineers are generally referred to as the process industries: examples of these are the large complexes at Botany in New South Wales and Altona in Victoria, and the petroleum refineries in all mainland States; other examples are the minerals processing industries that refine Australian ores such as bauxite, nickel sulphides and rutile to produce aluminium, nickel and titanium. In addition there are the traditional metallurgical industries, steel, copper, zinc, lead, etc., as well as general processing industries producing paper, cement, plastics, paints, glass, pharmaceuticals, alcohol and foodstuffs. Allied process operations are those involving waste disposal, pollution abatement, power production and nuclear technology.

Chemical engineering studies are based on chemistry, mathematics and physics and the first two are taken to some depth. The chemical engineer must learn something of the language and principles of mechanical, electrical, and civil engineering, and of administration, and industrial relations.

Each student completes a common core of courses, fundamental to the study of chemical engineering, and also takes a number of elective courses, chosen according to his or her particular field of interest from course options listed later. Three of these introduce students to some important industries in the process field.

  • Minerals Engineering.
    For students who are interested in gaining some familiarity with the minerals processing industries.
  • Biochemical Engineering.
    For those interested in biochemical methods of pollution control or in any of the biochemical industries such as pharmaceuticals, fermentation or food and dairy processing.
  • Reservoir Engineering.
    These courses deal with the properties and behaviour of petroleum and natural gas reservoirs, and the strategies used in their development.

Regardless of the option chosen, the graduate will be a fully qualified chemical engineer, well prepared for a career in any of the process industries.

The Department has a number of active overseas exchange programs. The exchanges, with the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, and the Ecole Nationale Superieure D'Ingenieurs de Genie Chimique in Toulouse, see five or six of our final year students completing their degrees at one of these Institutions each year, with similar numbers of their students finishing their courses in Sydney. There is also an exchange program with Iowa State University which allows one or two of our students to spend their third year there. Each of these exchange schemes includes Industrial Experience in the host country. Some financial assistance is available to approved students.

The majority of chemical engineering graduates enter industry, taking up positions in plant operation, supervision, and eventually management. Others will be engaged in plant design, construction, and commissioning work either for a large process company or one of the specialist construction firms.

There is also scope for research and development work with industry or government organisations.

Chemical engineers are also recruited by many of the larger companies for technical service and sales. Graduates may also be able to obtain positions overseas either directly or through Australian companies with overseas associations.

Civil Engineering

The title Civil Engineer is given to one who invents, contrives, designs and constructs for the benefit of the community. Civil engineering covers a wide range including the conception, design, construction and maintenance of those more permanent structures and services such as roads, railways, bridges, buildings, tunnels, airfields, water supply and sewerage systems, dams, pipelines, river improvements, harbours and irrigation systems. In the broader sense civil engineers are charged with the task of producing structures and systems that give the greatest amenity for the funds expended. They have therefore to optimise their schemes in terms of technological performance, impact upon the environment and the financial resources available.

Civil engineers find employment in government authorities whose concern is the design, construction and maintenance of public services, with consultants whose main interest is the design of civil engineering works, with contractors who carry out the construction work, and in civil engineering industries which manufacture and supply materials, plant and equipment.

In the first and second years of the course, the student is given a grounding in mathematics and the sciences with an introduction to structural theory, design, construction, and the properties of materials.

In the second and third years, basic courses are given in structures, soil mechanics, surveying, hydraulics, structural design, construction, materials and practice of civil engineering.

In the fourth year, the elective courses are offered with an additional course which requires the preparation of a thesis. A major segment of final year studies are options in structures, fluid mechanics, engineering management and geomechanics.

As civil engineering is a practical profession, attention is given to this aspect throughout the course. Full use is made of the laboratories with students carrying out experiments to obtain a better understanding of behaviour under practical conditions. There is extensive use of computers in design and other exercises. During the vacation between the senior and senior advanced years, every student must obtain practical experience in a civil engineering field and must submit a satisfactory report on this experience. Seminars are also held and visits to works in progress are made as opportunities arise. Students are encouraged to take a close interest in current research and investigations.

Electrical and Information Engineering

Electrical and Information engineers are primarily concerned with development and manufacture of components and systems which utilise electrical, magnetic and optical phenomena. This wide and expanding discipline of electrical engineering may be conveniently divided in several ways. The title 'electronics engineering' is often used to differentiate the areas associated with electronic devices, such as computers and digital systems and communications, from those associated with electrical energy conversion and control systems. An alternative is to identify communications, computers, digital systems, and signal and image processing as 'information systems engineering'.


With its roots in science, electrical engineering is frequently to be found at the forefront of many new and exciting fields, such as neural computing and superconductivity. Indeed the frontiers of knowledge in all branches of electrical engineering continue to advance very rapidly with new devices, techniques and systems continually appearing. For example, developments in materials technology and solid state physics led to the invention of transistors in the 1940's. The subsequent miniaturisation of transistors in integrated circuits (microelectronics) has led to computer and electronic communication systems of great reliability and information processing power which underpin the 'information technology revolution' of the 1980s. Transistors are also available as high power semiconductors capable of switching and controlling powers exceeding 1MW.

Their initial education and training must provide electrical engineers with the background and confidence to exploit and contribute to these rapid developments. The undergraduate program concentrates initially on the fundamental mathematics and physics which provide the models for electrical engineering circuits and devices, and information and system concepts. The first two years of the course also include computer science and introduce the main areas of electrical engineering as described earlier. The last two years of the course concentrate on developing the principles and practice of the main areas of electrical engineering. The course has a high laboratory and project content in all years. One important additional theme developed in all years of the course is that of design, communication skills and engineering management.

There are two patterns of study in the final two years. In the 'general' electrical engineering program students study courses in all branches of the discipline: electrical energy conversion, control systems, electronics, digital systems and communications. There is an opportunity to take advanced courses in these areas. Students taking the 'information systems engineering' program in their final two years concentrate on more advanced material in digital systems and computer engineering, and do not take the electrical energy conversion, or more advanced control systems courses. Both programs offer students the chance to take interdisciplinary electives such as biomedical engineering.

A very wide range of professional opportunities is open to graduates of electrical engineering. They may join organisations concerned with telecommunications or electrical power generation and distribution, such as Telstra and Pacific Power. They may join one of the manufacturers of electronics, communications and control devices and systems, such as AWA, Alcatel Australia and Leeds and Northrup. Others may enter the computer industry, join CSIRO or undertake further study. Like electrical engineering itself, the possibilities are almost limitless.

Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering

Mechanical Engineering is a very broad branch of professional engineering and mechanical engineers are found in almost every type of engineering activity. They are involved in power generation, transportation systems for land, sea and air, pollution control, environmental protection and, biomedical engineering. They are found in a wide range of industries which manufacture machinery and consumer goods and offer research and technical services.

Mechanical engineers design machinery, engines, vehicles, agricultural and mining equipment, ships and household appliances. They are managers who run production lines, power stations and steel mills.
They design and maintain coal conveyer systems, building services, oil and gas pipelines and port loading facilities. The great diversity of applications for mechanical engineers means they are much sought after in both commercial and industrial fields.

Students have the opportunity to complete the Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering in one of two different strandsMechanical and Mechatronics. All students complete a common first year and select either the Mechanical or Mechatronics strand prior to commencing second year.

Mechatronics combines mechanical engineering, electronics and computing. It is the enabling technology of computer-automated manufacturing through the use of robots and automated machine tools. Mechatronics may be concerned with individual machines such as robots, or manufacturing systems automated in their entirety.

Mechatronic engineers use computers and other digital systems to control industrial processes. They bring electronic, materials and mechanical sciences together to create a diverse range of products. These range from everyday products such as cameras, washing machines, photocopiers and anti-lock car brakes, to miniaturised substitutes for human organs and to powerful and precise computer-controlled machine tools used in manufacturing.

The first two years of undergraduate study in mechanical and mechatronic engineering provide students with an introduction to engineering science, design and manufacturing methods, management, computing and electronics, so that by the end of the intermediate year, a broad field has been covered.

In third year, mechanical engineering students study in more depth the hardware, materials and manufacturing processes which are at the heart of mechanical engineering. In addition to this, mechatronics students study topics such as control, digital systems and computer technology, electronics and electrical machines. Three months' practical training in industry follows third year for all students.

The final year of mechanical and mechatronic engineering allows students to develop the professional skills that they will need after graduation. Emphasis is placed on using engineering science, up-to-date technologies and professional tools to solve practical problems. Specialisation in the final year is encouraged. Areas of specialisation include: management, thermofluids, environmental engineering, computational fluid dynamics, design, rheology, advanced materials, orthopaedic/biomedical engineering and mechatronics.

Project Engineering and Management (Civil)

Recent years have seen the dawn of a new era in both the national and international scene. On the one hand there is a perceptible trend to 'globalisation' of engineering and construction businesses. On the other, engineer-constructors and project managers are required to act as forerunners in the export drive.

The onset of the twenty-first century will demand managers with technical skills to act as entrepreneurs. The competitive market forces in the construction and engineering industries will require engineers and contractors to seek alternative ways to secure business, remain viable and experience sustained growth. This demand translates into a need for a class of engineer who can synthesise projects, analyse their impacts and act as the catalyst in their implementation.

Project engineering and management embraces the 'engineering' of all types of projects, from conception and feasibility studies through to construction and commissioning, albeit at the strategic level and through multidisciplinary teamwork. The project engineer-manager is the specialist in project processes and systems, a significant role in a society becoming increasingly dependent on the creation and management of projects to solve its economic, environmental and social problems.

The degree program responds to the need for technologically competent people with financial, organisational and managerial skills to take the lead in Australia's future engineering and technological projects.

The course is virtually identical to the present Civil Engineering curriculum in the first year. In the second year, courses are introduced in such areas as engineering economics, engineering accounting as well as engineering construction. In the third and fourth years subjects such as network planning, contracts formulation and administration, human and industrial relations, operations research, cost engineering and estimating project formulation, value engineering and risk analysis are included.

In addition, up to 20% of all the courses taken will be electives. These are to encourage students to follow their own interests and aspirations, and at the same time expose them to as wide a variety of subjects as possible in order to prepare them as team leaders and communicators.

Graduates will be able to conceptualise, analyse and plan a range of technologies for construction and operation of engineering projects. As agents of advanced technology the graduates will be able to appreciate the human side of projects and processes. Their training will give them a better understanding of individual and group behaviour, organisational concepts, state-of-the-art planning, goal setting and other managerial know-how. In addition, they will possess project management skills that will encompass techniques for achieving project goals.

Money is the life blood of industry, and engineering is a subset of business and industrial activities. Project engineering graduates will find it intellectually rewarding to initiate projects and/or take part in the economic and monetary processes under which projects are created and executed. They will appreciate the world of finance and the intricate ways under which projects are initiated by the private and public sectors of the economy. They will also be competent enough to conduct economic appraisal of proposals, evaluate risks, undertake valuation and depreciation analyses, formulate feasible plans for project funding, and generally sell the proposal to others.

Graduates will have the capability to respond to most challenges in a resourceful manner, virtually from the day of graduation. They will be self-starters, communicators, adaptors, performers.

Employment opportunities for such a group is as diverse as the field of project engineering and construction management itself. As an example, the following organisations will typically find the prospective graduate a valuable asset: Construction companies, project managers, major consulting engineers, planners, government and public agencies, municipalities and shires, property developers, owners, major clients, industrial and mining corporations, management consultants, investment analysts, development and industrial banks.