Structural engineering is a specialized branch of civil engineering that entails analyzing and designing structures -- things like buildings, bridges and even concert stages.
Engineering is a big discipline that involves a systematic approach to designing solutions to problems experienced in the real world. There are many different fields of engineering, like mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering and systems engineering. And within these categories there are various subcategories-- and structural engineering is a subcategory of civil engineering.
Ever wonder how tall buildings can withstand windy days, or why bridges don't collapse when large trucks drive over them? The answer is structural engineering. Structural engineers use physics and math to design and analyze the sturdiness of structures, things like bridges, buildings, concert stages, and even roller coasters. Don't get me wrong. Designing any one of these things can involve multiple types of engineering, but it's structural engineering that's responsible for making sure that that structure won't collapse or fall over. You see, a structure must be able to handle the forces or loads that it's likely to experience. Take a skyscraper, for example. It not only has to support itself, but also all the people and furniture inside the building, and then external factors, like wind, snow, or an earthquake.
The materials and geometry that make up a structure influence how it may respond to those forces. Different materials have different properties, like strength, weight, and flammability, that can influence a structure's sturdiness. For example, steel is generally stronger, and weighs more than wood, and different geometric shapes work better for different purposes. For example, a square or rectangular base can typically hold more weight than a triangular base. Structural engineers perform calculations to determine the best materials and shapes to use in order to build a study structure. The next time you find yourself at the top of a roller coaster, you can thank structural engineers for doing their part to make sure it's nice and sturdy.