Structural engineering is a specialized field of civil engineering that focuses on the design and construction of structures that are able to withstand the loads placed on them. Structural engineers must ensure that buildings, bridges, oil platforms, space satellites, airplanes, and ships are able to stand safely and function without deviations or excessive movement that may cause fatigue of structural elements, cracking or failure of fixtures, fixtures or partitions, or discomfort to occupants. In the past, the architect and the structural engineer used to be the same thing: the master builder. However, as technology has advanced and the field of structural engineering has become more specialized, some states have a separate license for structural engineers that is required to design special or high-risk structures, such as schools, hospitals, or skyscrapers.
Structural analysis courses that include structural mechanics, structural dynamics, and structural failure analysis are designed to develop fundamental analysis skills and theories for structural engineering students. Since the 1990s, specialized software has been available to assist in the design of structures with maximum precision; examples include AutoCAD, StaadPro, ETABS, Prokon, Revit Structure, Inducta RCB, etc. Practicing structural engineers are licensed as civil engineers in most states in the United States. Many students who later become structural engineers specialize in degree programs in civil, mechanical or aerospace engineering with an emphasis on structural engineering.
Entry-level structural engineers can design the individual structural elements of a structure such as beams and columns of a building. They also design other structures such as oil platforms, space satellites, airplanes and ships which are subjected to varying forces over their lifetime. Structural engineers use many problem-solving skills from basic mathematics to cutting-edge technology. Only with the development of specialized knowledge of structural theories that emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries did professional structural engineers emerge.
Structural engineers design buildings to be strong enough to withstand the loads on them (such as people and equipment) and stable against elements such as wind. Structural engineering is generally considered a specialty discipline within civil engineering but it can also be studied in its own right. Structural engineers must ensure that their designs are safe and stable for years to come so that they can be used and enjoyed by thousands or even millions of people.