Historically, there were only two types of engineers: military and civil. Although they shared many of the skills required to be successful, the ultimate goals of each type of engineering were very different. While military engineers designed and constructed those things that aided in the waging of war, such as fortifications, weapons, and siege engines, civil engineers planned and constructed those things that were expected to improve the lives of the public, such as roads, bridges, public buildings and water distribution systems.

As the centuries have passed, the areas of responsibility of the engineer have grown. Now, civil engineering is only one in a wide variety of topics from which an engineer can choose. Nautical design, mechanics, mining, chemistry, electricity, computer systems, and aerospace design are just a few of the other topics.

Civil engineers continue to plan, design, construct, and maintain public works, but the range of projects that the term “public works” encompasses has also grown with time. The areas of specialization that civil engineers can choose from can be divided into six general categories: structural, transportation, geotechnical, hydrotechnical, environmental, and municipal engineering. Through the interaction of Chemical Engineering principles and Civil Engineering practice, Environmental Engineering has evolved into a discipline by itself at the undergraduate and graduate level.

Structural Engineering

The structural engineer designs and analyses structures such as buildings and bridges.

When designing, the engineer is concerned with providing a safe, reliable structure that performs well the intended function of the structure, is economical to build and maintain, and is aesthetically pleasing.

When analyzing a structure that is either planned or already built, the engineer is concerned mainly with the determination of the strength and durability of the structure under different conditions, and the reaction of the structure to those conditions.


The CN Tower, Ontario: The tallest freestanding structure in the world rises above downtown Toronto to a height of 1,815 feet.


Transportation Engineering

The transportation engineer plans and designs transportation systems and facilities. Some of the areas of specialization are: traffic flow and traffic impact studies, either on land, in the air, or on water; the planning and design of airports, harbours, highways, subways, and railroads; and the design and construction of public transit systems.


The Canadian Pacific Railroad, Alberta: The train winds its way along a river, on its way to climb the Rocky Mountains.

Hydrotechnical Engineering

Hydrotechnical engineers are concerned with the analysis of water and other fluids, with flow characteristics, and with the design of machines and structures for fluid containment, control and distribution. Some examples of the projects that hydrotechnical engineers would participate in are: water distribution systems, sedimentation lagoons, ports and harbours, dams, and irrigation and canal systems.

Geotechnical Engineering

Geotechnical engineers apply civil engineering technology to soils and rocks. Some different aspects of geotechnical engineering are: soil and rock mechanics, which are the analysis of the properties and behaviour of soils and rocks so that they can be used as engineering materials to be built upon or built with; foundation engineering, which uses knowledge of soil mechanics, geology and structural engineering to design and construct foundations for engineering structures; and rock engineering which applies rock mechanics and structural engineering to design underground structures, such as tunnels and mines, and some surface structures, such as dam foundations carried to bedrock, and stabilized rock slopes.


La Grande Hydroelectric Project, Quebec: Blasted from the ancient rock of the Canadian Shield, 37.5-foot-high penstock tunnels feed La Grande Dam 2’s turbines.


Municipal Engineering

Municipal engineers deal with the engineering tasks required by municipal or local governments. These include: water treatment and distribution, sewage collection and treatment, solid waste disposal, repairs and maintenance of municipal roads and bridges, and snow removal planning. The responsibilities of municipal engineers are wide and varied. This requires that they must have a good understanding of the science and engineering of many different areas within civil engineering.

As can be seen, civil engineering encompasses a wide variety of topics. A civil engineer must have a general knowledge of all these areas because any specific area touches many others. The choice of specializations within civil engineering is practically limitless. Within each category described above, there are many interesting topics. Civil engineers are employed in all levels of government, in consulting and contracting firms, and in the supply industries. They are not only in positions that require wide technical knowledge, but they can often have high levels of managerial and administrative responsibility. Civil engineering continues to remain an important field in our increasingly technical world.

Fire Safety Engineering

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering of Carleton University offers, starting September 2001, a unique opportunity for graduate studies at both Masters and Ph.D. levels in the area of Fire Safety Engineering. This is a growth area with excellent employment opportunities in Canada and the United States.

Fire Safety Engineering is a relatively new discipline. The need for qualified fire protection engineers in Canada and around the word has increased exponentially during the last decade, however there are very few Universities that offer comprehensive set of courses focusing in Fire Safety Engineering. To fill this gap Carleton University with support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Forintek Canada Corporation established an Industrial Research Chair on Fire Safety Engineering within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The Chair has a research program that addresses Canada’s need for the development of computer models and other tools to predict the fire-safety performance of buildings and the need for highly qualified personnel.


Fire Safety Engineering Curriculum

The curriculum comprises the following six core courses that have been selected to cover critical areas of fire safety engineering and to provide the students with the necessary knowledge to effectively function in a performance based code environment.

Fundamentals of Fire Protection Engineering
This course provides an introduction and analysis of the fire problem, including social, economic and environmental issues, as well as a description of the fire safety regulatory system and the governing building codes and standards. It covers areas including the fire safety system, active fire protection systems; detection, suppression, smoke management and explosions. It also includes a description of the fire safety design process in a both a prescriptive and a performance-based code environment.

Fire Modelling
This course provides a broad introduction to fire modelling and its role in fire safety engineering. It describes modelling techniques used in Fire Safety Engineering including, event and fault trees analysis, probabilistic and stochastic models, as well as two-zone and Computational Fluid Dynamic models. The basic concepts of fire hazard and fire risk analysis are also described, as well as the application of models in fire hazard and risk analysis.

Fire Dynamics I
Fire Dynamics I deals with the fundamentals of combustion including material and energy balances, chemical thermodynamics, kinetics, premixed and diffusive burning. It also covers advanced topics in the theory of combustion, flame propagation, and efficiency of combustion as well as the physico-chemical properties of combustible material. The basic chemistry and physics of fire are introduced. These basic concepts are coupled with the fundamentals of heat and mass transfer to develop a sound knowledge of fire processes. This basic background provides a foundation for understanding fire growth and severity in buildings and for understanding how buildings and components of buildings react under fire conditions.

Fire Dynamics II
Covers fire dynamics from ignition through heat transfer to growth and spread of fires and their suppression and important governing factors such as containment and its role in the dynamics of fires and explosions. Fire Dynamics II builds on the basic concepts presented in Fire Dynamics I. The interactions among the fundamental fire processes introduced in Fire Dynamics I and the basic features of a building are investigated. The course aims to develop a sound understanding of fire growth and fire severity in buildings. Particular emphasis is placed on the reaction of buildings and building components to exposure by fire. This basic background provides a foundation for beginning the process of designing a fire safe building.

People in Fires
The course will review work of the founders in the field of human behaviour in fire. Students will be introduced to the basic notions of perception, cognition, information processing, decision- making and problem solving.  Behavioural concepts such as panic, commitment, affiliation, familiarity and role will be discussed. Issues related to the timing of escape including the delay in response and people movement will be reviewed. Techniques for data gathering on human behaviour in fire will be introduced.

Fire Resistance
This course covers the behaviour of materials and structures at elevated temperatures; fire- resistance tests; fire-resistance ratings; building code requirements; real-world fires. It also describes techniques used for assessing the fire resistance of steel, concrete and wood building assemblies.