How are sustainability and engineering related?

How are sustainability and engineering related?

“I have interests in both sustainability and engineering. What should I do to prepare for college?” This question is a common dilemma for students passionate about addressing environmental issues through practical solutions. Fortunately, there are several paths you can pursue to merge these interests effectively. In this article, let us take a look at how sustainability and engineering relate to each other and what high school students can do to succeed in this field.

How are sustainability and engineering related to each other?

There are several types of engineering that incorporate sustainability principles and focus on addressing environmental and social challenges.

Civil Engineering
Civil engineers, who play a critical role in designing and constructing infrastructure systems like buildings, bridges, roads, and water supply networks, can significantly impact sustainability through the design and construction of sustainable infrastructure. Those with a focus on sustainability integrate principles of sustainable design and construction practices to minimize resource consumption, reduce environmental impact, and enhance resilience to climate change. They work on sustainability and engineering projects that include green buildings, sustainable urban planning, and the development of public transport systems that reduce dependency on fossil fuels.

Mechanical Engineering
Mechanical engineers contribute significantly to sustainability by developing technologies and systems aimed at improving energy efficiency, reducing emissions, and minimizing environmental impact. They innovate in the field of energy-efficient machinery and systems, designing energy-efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems, renewable energy devices, and green manufacturing processes. By designing and developing systems that use less energy, reduce emissions, and incorporate renewable energy sources, mechanical engineers play a crucial role in promoting sustainability and minimizing resource consumption.

Renewable Energy Engineering
Renewable energy engineers specialize in the development and application of renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, aiming to increase the efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of these systems. They design, develop, and optimize renewable energy systems like solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, wind turbines, biomass facilities, and geothermal power plants. By focusing on improving the performance of renewable energy technologies, they play a crucial role in accelerating the transition to clean energy sources and promoting sustainability and engineering.

Water Resources Engineering
Water resources engineers play a pivotal role in sustainability and engineering by focusing on managing and conserving water resources efficiently. They design and implement various systems for sustainable water management, including water supply systems, wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater management solutions, and irrigation systems. By ensuring access to clean water, protecting water quality, and mitigating the impacts of floods and droughts, water engineers contribute significantly to sustainability efforts. Their expertise lies in designing systems for the sustainable management and use of water resources, thus addressing critical environmental challenges and promoting long-term resource conservation.

Ecological Engineering
Ecological engineering is defined as the design of sustainable ecosystems that integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both. It’s a field that aims to solve environmental problems by incorporating ecosystems fueled by natural energies such as sunlight into the design. This can include the restoration of past systems and the creation of new, sustainable ecosystems. Ecological engineering is an extension of ecology and is considered a new paradigm for engineers and ecologists, offering innovative solutions to environmental challenges.

What should I study in high school to major in Sustainable Engineering?

High school students aiming to pursue sustainability and engineering should establish a solid academic base in science and math. This entails enrolling in courses like algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus to cultivate vital problem-solving abilities. Delving into sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics is crucial for gaining an understanding of environmental processes and engineering fundamentals. Taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses in these areas can offer intensive preparation for college studies and may lead to college credit.

To further enhance their readiness for a career in sustainability engineering, students should engage in research projects or independent studies related to the field, participate in environmental clubs or volunteer activities, and seek internships or summer programs in engineering or sustainability for practical experience. Developing technical skills, particularly in engineering software like CAD, along with communication and leadership abilities, is also important for future success in this field.

Sustainability and engineering research projects

Ocean Cleanup Devices:

Developing devices like a floating bin that can remove significant amounts of plastic waste from the ocean, such as 90,000 plastic bags each year.

Skills needed: professionals are tasked with designing devices that are robust enough to endure the harsh conditions of the ocean while effectively collecting waste. This requires a deep understanding of marine ecosystems, which is where environmental science comes into play, providing insight into the complexities of marine life and the detrimental impact of plastic pollution. Project management is also a critical skill, as it involves the careful coordination of deploying and operating these cleanup devices.

Safer Cooking Stoves:

Designing and developing cooking stoves for the developing world that are safer and more efficient, reducing health risks and environmental impact.

Skills needed: the focus is on designing and constructing stoves that are not only efficient in their fuel use but also safe for the users. This task requires a sensitivity to cultural awareness, as the design must take into account the unique needs and practices of the communities that will utilize the stoves. A deep understanding of sustainability is also crucial, ensuring that the stoves contribute positively to the environment by being eco-friendly and sustainable. Additionally, a comprehensive knowledge of health and safety is imperative, particularly regarding the health risks associated with traditional cooking methods.

Smog Vacuum Cleaner

This project involves creating a device that cleans air pollution and converts the pollutants into jewelry, addressing both environmental and economic aspects.

Skills needed: This process begins with the conceptualization of a device that can not only clean the air but also turn the pollutants into something beneficial. Technical engineering skills are then employed to bring this idea to life, requiring a deep understanding of air filtration systems and the ability to design and prototype the device effectively. Environmental science plays a crucial role in this endeavor, as it provides the necessary knowledge about air pollution and its detrimental effects on health and the environment. Finally, material science is leveraged to transform the captured pollutants into a tangible product, such as jewelry, creating a full cycle of sustainability and innovation.

Universities that offer sustainability and engineering majors

University of California, Berkeley: The school has a major in Environmental Engineering that emphasizes sustainability principles and practices.

Stanford University: The school has an Energy Science and Engineering program within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, focusing on sustainable design and renewable energy.

Georgia Institute of Technology: The school has a Civil and Environmental Engineering, focusing on renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore: Offers a Bachelor of Engineering in Aerospace Engineering with a Second Major in Sustainability, as well as a Bachelor of Engineering in Environmental Engineering with a Second Major in Sustainability.

High school students with a passion for sustainability and engineering have a bright future ahead. The intersection of these fields is fertile ground for innovation and progress. By preparing in high school with relevant courses and extracurricular activities, students can enter college well-equipped to tackle the challenges of sustainable engineering. The journey from high school to college is an opportunity to build a strong foundation in both theory and practical skills.

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