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Considering mechanical engineering

  1. Jun 11, 2007 #1
    I'm currently a physics major, thinking of either double majoring or just taking a few classes in mech eng. I haven't taken any engineering courses before. Which of these would be best for me to take to see whether mechanical engineering is right for me or not:
    computer-aided drafting
    dynamics of particles and rigid bodies
    elementary fluid dynamics
    engineering thermodynamics
    math methods for engineers
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2007 #2
    which one are you interested? math methods for engineers is useless i think though, just applied DE and linear algebra.
  4. Jun 11, 2007 #3
    I guess statics, dynamics, and thermodynamics look the most interesting. So I should probably take at least 1 of those next fall?
  5. Jun 11, 2007 #4
    Mechanical Engineering is very broad and undergraduate courses cover many areas so you can know which one you want to pursue later on (you have to know something about everything but specialize in one/two fields as a Mechanical Engineer). From the courses you listed I would say take dynamics since it applies to many areas (statics does too but you will probably be bored with the class if you're a physics major). Make sure that statics isn't a pre-requisite for dynamics, because it might be. Thermo, Fluids, and CAD are too specific and you won't get a feel for Mechanical Engineering by taking those classes (they will give you a very narrow view). Dynamics is much more fundamental and applicable to many areas. Also, I would think that those classes might have statics and dynamics as pre-requisites (except maybe for Thermo). I also wouldn't take math methods for engineers, dynamics will tell you much more about the field than math methods.
  6. Jun 11, 2007 #5
    another vote for dynamics
  7. Jun 11, 2007 #6
    statics -its a very very basic course (actually the first one you take, but interesting).

    dynamics of particles and rigid bodies - good course (need to take statics first though).

    elementary fluid dynamics - good course (but need to take statics and dynamics first, and thermodynamics)

    engineering thermodynamics - good course no pre-reqs that I can think of.

    math methods for engineers - worthless
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2007
  8. Jun 12, 2007 #7

    Isn't math the most important subject in the freshman year. In Belgium, engineers have very heavy calculus and algebra courses in the first year of college. I am sure this must be the same in the US, no ?

  9. Jun 12, 2007 #8
    Of course math is important. I'm not exactly sure what "math methods for engineers" but I assume its a simple course that teaches basic techniques commonly used by engineers (aka: not even worth you time). I'm a sophomore in ASE and so far iv taken CAL 1,2,3, and I can look forward to Differential Equations, and Vector Calculus.

    The engineering school at the University of Texas doesn't even offer it as far as I know.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2007
  10. Jun 12, 2007 #9
    dynamics has statics as a prereq. but fluid dynamics and thermo don't.
  11. Jun 12, 2007 #10
    I would not take fluid dynamics without a solid background in statics and dynamics. Also, you need to know thermo before fluids. How are you going to study fluid flow without knowing anything about fluids and fluid properties (This is what thermodynamics covers)?

    Id say take the thermo if you want a taste of whats to come. It will be more interesting that statics or dynamics, which will probably be stuff you have seen already in physics just new applications of it.

    To Marlon Brando:

    math methods for engineers is a sophmore course, and its basically learning how to do math in Matlab. Its a great skill to have, but its not mechanical engineering.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2007
  12. Jun 13, 2007 #11
    True, although I think he can do with only statics.

    Thermo is definitely not needed to take an introductory course in fluid dynamics. All he needs is statics, calculus, and some differential equations (depending on how advanced the class gets).

    Thermo will give him a taste for whats to come only if he ends up specializing in the heat transfer/power fields in Mechanical Engineering. I don't know if he'll find it more interesting than statics or dynamics (many people don't), but I believe either statics or dynamics will be better to show him what mechanical engineering is about. If he really wants to get a broad view of many fields, he would have to take all the classes he listed. However, if he's only taking one, I think dynamics should be it.

    Math Methods for Engineers could be any one of: linear algebra, differential equations, numerical analysis, or a combination of them. Matlab doesn't have to be involved, but it would be beneficial if it is. Although this class probably doesn't have any pre-requisites except for maybe some math, I think taking fluid dynamics before taking this will make him appreciate the class more. This class will just give him a sense of the tools used, but won't give him a sense of the problems Mechanical Engineers have to solve every day.
    Mechanical Engineering is essentially about making devices/machines to achieve a certain task, or trying to make those machines better/more efficient. Mechanical Engineers don't usually spend their time coming up with a faster algorithm to, for example, solve a system of n equations and n unknowns. Mathematicians and maybe computer scientists usually do this work. However, Mechanical Engineers are limited by what the Mathematicians give them (i.e. CFD, FEA, Matlab software). These are only tools and not what Mechanical Engineering is about.
  13. Jun 13, 2007 #12


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    I didn't have an applications type of math class as an undergrad. The last class I had that they titled "Advanced Engineering Math" was essentially a rehash of all of the calculus classes but with imaginary numbers (IIRC). I was the only ME in the class. It wasn't until grad school that I had a class similar to what you guys are describing. It was basically theory and solving PDEs in Mathematica for the wave and heat equations, vibrational modes and some refreshers on eigenvalues, DEs, etc... Those two classes were tough but they were good and very applicable.

    I think my pre-req for fluids was statics and mechanics of materials. Their thinking was that one needed to have an understanding of what a 3D element was and how stresses were applied to it. Thermo had no engineering pre-reqs IIRC.
  14. Jun 13, 2007 #13
    I seriously doubt statics alone is enough to jump into fluids.

    Again, I disagree. Thermodynamics uses the Bernoulli Equation, properties of gases (enthalpy, specific heats, etc, that are critical for the Mach Number). How are you going to do the mach number when you dont know what Cp and Cv are? How are you going to use the bernoulli equation with enthalphy when you dont know what that is?

    Its hard to say. Hell have to take thermo, fluids, heat transfer, all related studies. Then again, he will also have to take statics, dynamics, mechanics of materials, material science. Again all related, but different from the first set. So it depends on what he likes most. I had a really good thermo professor, so I am bisaed.

    Not at my school. Those classes would be called: algebra, differential equations, numerical analysis (taught in the math department). Different schools might have different terminology.

    We have matlab integrated (I think) into every math course engineers have to take, and most engineering courses.

    But, hes not trying to see what Math is, im sure he already knows as much if not more math than an ME will. He wants to see ME material, math methods wont show him that.

    Side- Physics wiz, are you a ME or PHY?
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2007
  15. Jun 13, 2007 #14
    I realize that, but he doesn't have to take a whole thermodynamics class to know what those things mean. They can just be looked up and generally understood, because in fluid dynamics the emphasis is on the dynamics of moving fluids, not on these properties. I imagine they would probably be a given in problems.

    At my school, there's a required ME class that was all about linear algebra, numerical analysis, and numerical solutions of differential equations. This class was only taught in the ME department and all homeworks were done in Matlab. I imagine this might be similar to math methods for engineers.

    We used it engineering classes where we needed to do programming, but never used it for a math class. The reason I said Matlab doesn't have to be involved is because some classes use C, C++, or even Excel instead (especially in the math department). I don't know how his school is.

    I graduated in May with BSME and will go to GA Tech in the Fall to get my MSME (maybe a PhD later, but that's unknown).
  16. Jun 13, 2007 #15
    A student with a good background of physics can go to any engineering branch if he/she wants. The problem is which branch is better for a future job. And the job includes mainly two types here: researcher and engineer.

    Why not make a go to civil engineering(for a better engineer future) or materials science(including biomaterials)[for a better research future]?
  17. Jun 13, 2007 #16
    How are you going to learn about compressible flow without thermodynamics?

    Cool what area, materials, smart structures, controls?
  18. Jun 13, 2007 #17
    Fred, LTU now requires MEs to take a numerical methods course and EEs must take an advanced computer applications course.
  19. Jun 13, 2007 #18
    I don't remember doing anything with compressible fluids in the introductory fluids class I took. He should talk to his advisor or look at the catalog to see the pre-requisites for the classes.

    I am undecided between controls/mechatronics and dynamics/robotics
  20. Jun 13, 2007 #19
    My fluid dynamics course description:
    "introductory course dealing with application of principles of mechanics to flow of compressible and incompressible fluids"

    I don't like the idea of designing bridges, buildings, etc. Also, I don't like chemistry nearly as much as physics and math, so I'm not interested in materials

    So I guess statics and thermo are the courses I should try out?
  21. Jun 13, 2007 #20
    I'll say it one last time. From your interests, I really think you should take dynamics. The only obstacle is that statics might be a pre-requisite.
    Thermo has some similarity to chemistry. In fact, I remember chemical equations in my advanced thermo class. If you don't like designing bridges then you probably won't like statics (trusses, forces in beams, etc...). However, keep in mind that if you double major in ME you will probably have to take all those classes. It sounds like our interests align (I minored in mathematics while majoring in ME) :wink:. Good luck.
  22. Jun 13, 2007 #21
    for me, statics is a prereq for dynamics. I don't mind chemistry, I just didn't like it as much as math and physics. I don't mind designing bridges, since I like the physics of torque, balancing of forces, etc. Its just that I would rather use those concepts for designing other things.

    Perhaps it'd be better if I just majored in physics, but took a few ME classes, not the ME major? But if I go into engineering as a career, will not doing the ME major be a setback?
  23. Jun 13, 2007 #22
    You can actually take statics and dynamics together if you wanted to. After taking dynamics, I didn't really use much of statics for that class, maybe towards the end of the quarter when we did plane kinetics of rigid bodies, because you need mass moments of inertia. If you really remember all the stuff from the first course in physics which is mechanics, then you should be good. This all depends if the school enforces prereqs. My school rarely enforces them.

    My intro fluids course only required physics and calculus as a prereq, but the chapter on hydrostatics really needs a some stuff from statics. From what I remember my first course in physics didn't go into great detail on static equilibrium. I took elementary fluid mechanics and intro to thermodynamics in the same quarter. I noticed alot of material overlap when we got to conservation of energy and reynolds transport theorem.
  24. Jun 13, 2007 #23
    First of all, an ME thermo course should not be anything at all similar to a chemistry course. The only time you will really get into chemistry is for Molecular mixtures and burning. The rest is dealing with Carnot Systems, Efficiency, cycles, etc.

    Also, statics and dynamics would not be bad; however, keep in mind that dynamics assumes you know all the stuff from statics. Just because you took statics in Physics I does not mean you know how to solve the problems in statics. They are more complicated, and looking through my Physics I book, the "challenge" problems in the statics section of physics I are the normal to easy problems for statics. Also, when doing force balance in statics, its the setting up of equations and solving for them that you will need in dynamics. For example, can you find the forces on blocks and angled wedges that are stacked on top of eachother? Thats not a simple statics problem for someone with only a physics I background. Also, do you know about couple moments, equivalent systems, center of mass of composite bodies, do you know what a two force, or three force member is?

    If not, you better study statics, as dynamics will assume you are familiar with these things. You can take both, but it wont make dynamics enojyable.

    If you do take statics or dynamics or both, use the book by R.C. Hibbeler. I would recomend you take statics and thermodynamics. If you like them, stick around next semester for fluids and dynamics.
  25. Jun 13, 2007 #24
    I strongly disagree with that because there is tons and tons of more applications you just dont get in physics I.

    Side- my school has very hard rules on taking pre-reqs, and for good reason.
  26. Jun 13, 2007 #25
    In that case, take statics.

    I believe taking a few ME classes while majoring in physics is more or less useless. The only benefit I can see is to expose you more to the ME field (which you can do on your own by a little bit of research). And yes, not doing the ME major be a setback if you go into engineering as a career UNLESS you major in physics then get a MS in ME. I believe it wouldn't be that hard to go from a physics undergrad to ME in grad school, but the other way around would probably be much harder. It might even be easier for you to get accepted in a graduate ME program than someone with a BSME in some cases. I know that nuclear engineering, for example, involves a lot of physics and you might just be the right person they're looking for with a BS in physics.

    If you think it's a good idea to go to grad school in engineering then taking a few engineering classes will probably help with showing your interests to the admissions people, but I'm not 100% sure.
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