The Role of Math in Engineering


A solid foundation in mathematics is essential to any engineering career. Math is used in all types of engineering, including civil, computer and mechanical engineering. Types of math common to engineering are algebra, geometry, calculus and trigonometry. According to The Whiting School of Engineering, engineers use math to "build bridges and skyscrapers, design machinery and oversee public works."

Designing Machines

  • Engineers use math to design machinery to carry out many different tasks. Geometry is used to calculate the movements needed for a machine to do its job. Algebra is used to determine the size and weight ratios for each part of the machine. Calculus is used to determine how much work a machine can do efficiently without breaking down. Civil, mechanical, industrial, aerospace and electrical engineering all use math to design machines.

Creating Structures

  • Math is used to engineer structures like bridges, skyscrapers and dams. Engineers use calculus to determine how much force a structure can tolerate in order to ensure public safety. The materials needed to build a structure are determined by algebraic formulas that take into consideration density, size, cost effectiveness and durability. Trigonometry and geometry help engineers determine the overall design and shape of a structure. Civil, industrial and environmental engineers all use math to create structures.

Analyzing Simulations

  • Part of being an engineer involves learning to solve problems using math. Engineers use math to create simulations that attempt to maximize safety, comfort, ease of use and profitability. Simulations use equations from calculus, algebra and trigonometry to predict the outcomes of different scenarios. Aerospace engineers use equations to measure how much rocket fuel would be needed to make a trip to the moon. Environmental engineers use math to simulate the effects of a flood on a community food supply. Civil engineers analyze earthquake simulations to develop safer buildings.

Developing Models

  • Making models involves determining the structure of things we cannot see or easily manipulate. Models physically represent abstract ideas. Chemical engineers use calculus to model the atomic structure of elements. Computer engineers use algebra to model electronic data within an operating system. Audio engineers use trigonometry to model sound waves. These models are used by engineers to communicate with scientists in other disciplines and illustrate concepts for clients.


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