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Getting Started with Engineering


SO YOU WANT TO GET STARTED WITH ENGINEERING! Engineers are people who design and invent new products and processes. They improve life by building solutions to problems in the natural world. They use tools and technologies in their daily work. And they team up on projects with scientists, government officials, and business people.

Many grand challenges await you in the world of engineering: making better use of solar energy; creating new types of transportation; securing cyberspace; designing better medicines; providing the world with clean drinking water; applying the function of the brain to computers; inventing new ways to teach people; and improving virtual reality. It’s never too early to start, so roll up your sleeves and get ready to work as a junior engineer!


Engineering is a hands-on field. When you work in engineering, you will use your body as much as you use your brain. In this book, you have opportunities to do both! Sometimes you'll use your eyes and your fingers to work in a small, careful way. An example is using a needle and thread to sew a wearable electronic circuit with LED lights and a battery onto a baseball cap. Other times, you'll use your lungs, legs, and arms to work in a big, athletic way. An example is blowing up balloons to serve as air bags on a Mars lander, and then running up the stairs and hurling the lander off the second floor to (what I hope is) a soft landing on the planetary surface below.

But you'll also use your brain quite a bit. You'll do some online research to learn about engineering projects that have been done before — and how they succeeded or failed. You'll use computer simulations to tinker with a product or a process to learn how it operates. In this way, you can try different ways of building or different ways of conducting a process — before you do them in the real world. You'll brainstorm and draw design plans in your design notebook and then write down how those plans perform and how you can improve them.

Here’s what you need to do the projects in this book:

If you’re reading this as an ebook, you can click web addresses, such as, to visit that website.

Every project follows the Engineering Design Cycle, or Engineering Cycle. This process is different from the Scientific Method, which you probably learned in school. I explain the Engineering Cycle in Project 1.

My design sketches are meant to spark your imagination. Your engineering designs may look very much the same or very different from my designs. Your ideas are valuable and I want you to have faith in them. Brainstorm, invent, and build!

Finally, every project wraps up with a section called the Iron Triangle of Engineering. This section helps you think about what real engineers consider when doing that type of project.


Every junior engineer has to start somewhere. When I wrote this book, I assumed that you can


As you read through the projects in this book, you’ll see two icons. The icons point out different things:

warning This icon marks potential problems or dangers.

tip This icon marks helpful information or guidance.


Whether you view yourself as a future engineer or you just love to tinker and learn new things, your exploration of the projects in this book is a great first step towards fun and rewarding work. Good luck as you enter the world of engineering!



WELCOME TO ENGINEERING! You are beginning an adventure that explores the fun and rewarding field of engineering. Because engineering is not a class most kids see on their school schedules, we’ll start with a crash course in Engineering 101.


Engineering is work that uses science, math, and technology to create products and processes. The mission of engineering work is to help humanity and our world. Many times, the goal is to solve an urgent problem, such as building a bridge or setting up a communications network after a disaster. Sometimes, the goal of engineering is to help other living creatures, such as developing prosthetic (artificial) legs for a dog born with missing or malformed limbs. Other times, the goal of engineering is to make a process work better and faster, such as scheduling the gates that airplanes use in an airport.


Courtesy of 3D Systems


Engineers work in all types of settings, all over the world. Sometimes engineers work inside, using a computer to design a product. Sometimes they work outside, using special construction equipment to build a structure. Sometimes they work alone, but most of the time engineers work in teams.


Courtesy of Hugo Infante/Government of Chile