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Other Which Branch of Civil Engineering is Math Heavy?

  1. Mar 10, 2017 #1
    I was wondering, which sub discipline of Civil Engineering in structures is math heavy? By heavy math, I mean something along the line of analysis of DE, integrals, differentials etc... not just basic arithmetic / statics.

    The highest level of maths I completed include Calculus 3 ( which dealt with triple integrals, surface integrals, vectors), Differential Equations , linear algebra statistics and probability - and these courses were where I had the most fun ( along with structural analysis and hydraulics ) .

    Thank you
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2017 #2
    I guess I'll chime in here. I have designed roads, bridges, various large scale site projects and various large scale buildings. I've done large scale industrial projects involving high temperature physics. In the 30 years of my practice I've only had to use partial differential equations once. Never used calculus for anything. Never used Differential Equations for anything, Never used linear algebra for anything. A typical practicing engineer does not use theoretical math to execute most everyday type designs (roads, bridges, sites, buildings, industrial). The reason for this is we don't want our structures to fall down. It great to see you enjoy math, but, in all of your math classes have you every got an integral wrong? Missed the solution to a differential equation on a test? Calculated the hydraulics of a system incorrectly? The math that most practicing engineers use is math that has been "boiled down" to simplest possible form from the theoretical math. We don't care about impressing everyone with our math skills, we care about safety. Period. We care about safety, Period. We care about safety, Period. Safety first then cost. If we had to solve differential equations every time we designed something it would take forever and many more structures would simply collapse because, while D.E. is fun and cool to study in school, it's not practical to design that way.
    Make no mistake, I've had dozens of courses on theoretical math and physics courses (Yes, I do actually mean dozens) and really enjoy them as much as the next "student" but what you will find when you are out of school, it's not about math... the math trains your brain to think rationally and methodically but most likely you'll never use it out of college. I suppose there may be some careers paths leading to "theoretical engineering" , but "practical engineering" rarely includes the higher maths.
  4. Mar 11, 2017 #3
    @Vector1962 Thank you for the reply.

    Does design basically boils down to following code regulations and pulling values from tables?

    And in your opinion, if practical application does not use any heavy math, what part of the job is the hardest?
  5. Mar 12, 2017 #4
    Many years ago (when I was still an undergraduate), I had an opportunity to talk to the chief engineer of the Texas Highway Dept. I asked him how often he used calculus. He simply laughed and said, "never."

    I think that this is pretty typical for folks who deal with structures. Their primary objective is to follow the applicable codes, and that rarely ever requires anything more involved than a table lookup. For such folks, the math is school is for understanding, but almost never applied in practice.

    This is not the case with mechanical engineers designing things like machinery structures. They often resort to fairly elaborate math, particularly in the form of finite elements (FEA).
  6. Mar 12, 2017 #5
    Geodesy is extremely math heavy as you put it. Many schools do not have a program in geodesy, but the schools usually put geodesy in civil engineering
  7. Mar 13, 2017 #6
    @DrD is essentially correct. We use FEA on a routine basis to design buildings, plates and shells however, it's all done in FEA software. Most buildings are linear elements with multiple nodes. Which is certainly not hard, all you do is enter the data and click "run". You will most certainly get exposed to FEA in college but the practical application of almost everything you do will be in the computer via software.

    I will restate that the math you take you will most likely not use. As I look back, the math that you learn is primarily to train your thought process, "how to approach solving problems".

    The hardest stuff is the stress of meeting deadlines and the thoughts of "did I miss a load". I'm sure you've seen bridges, balconies or other structures collapse in the news. I'm 100% sure these guys were all good engineers but made a mistake somewhere; missed a load or load path... There are no "answers" in the back of the book to rely on when you get out of school. There is only checking, checking, checking right up to the day the equipment, supports or other is installed.

    Most of your texts provide you with "how to solve problems" flow chart. The very last step in that process is to check your work. My students are usually so happy to get an answer they simply either move on to the next problem or look in the back of the book only to find the answer is wrong. The very best advice I can give you at this point is go thru your solutions, thoroughly, before looking in the back. Make sure you have not made "stupid" mistakes first. Correct those, then check the back. your homework is not a race or speed competition, it's about developing a process that works consistently to get the right answer. Checking your work for "stupid stuff" goes a long, long way.
  8. Mar 13, 2017 #7

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    The thing about FEA is that some people pver-rely on it. I had an engineer ask me "why is this force negative?" The answer was "because the object is starting to topple". (To be fair, it was stable in each of two positions - but unstable when transitioning between them)
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