Structural Engineering is a branch within the field of engineering that deals with analyzing the actual design of a variety of structures that support or even resist loads. Structural engineering is a specialty within the civil engineering field, but it can also be studied outright without a civil engineering background.
Structural engineers usually are involved in designing buildings and other structures, but they can also help design machines, medical devices, vehicles or other items that need to have structural strength in order to operate properly and remain safe. These engineers must ensure that the designs will be safe based on predictable forces. The structures need to be serviceable and perform in a way that does not lead to discomfort as well.
There are many structural engineering theories and they are all based on empirical knowledge as well as physical laws. They also rely on the performance of a variety of materials and geometries. Engineers generally design simply structural elements in order to predict what complex structural systems would do in certain situations. They can also creatively use funds to achieve their goals within a certain budget limit.
Entry-level professional structural engineers might design individual structures within a major structure. They might look at the columns, beams, or floors within a building, for example. The more advanced and experienced engineers would then look at the entire structure for the design integrity. Engineers in this field often specialize in particular types of structures like bridges, buildings, pipelines, special mechanical structures like cars, ships, or even aircrafts.
Structural engineering has existed since humans started building structures, though the field has become more defined and formal over the years. Once the architectural field came onto the scene, engineers rose up from the profession to specialize in the structural side. In the past, the architect was also the structural engineer and was know as a master builder. Once specialized knowledge of structural integrity came onto the scene, people began to branch out into the field of structural engineering alone.
Today, structural engineers have to understand static and dynamic loads within a structure as well as the complexity of any modern structure. These professionals sometimes have to be very creative in order to ensure that any structure they work on will support the loads that they might have to carry. Engineers of this nature have to have a 4 or 5-year undergraduate degree as well as 3 years of professional practice before they are a full structural engineer. They can also be licensed and accredited by some of the regulatory bodies depending on their location and the requirements in that area. Engineers can be structural, civil, or even both depending on their field of study.