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Bridges can help engineers spread the word about what they do

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What is civil engineering? Don’t worry, this isn’t a prelude to a philosophical discussion. It is one of the Google searches that drives the greatest volume of traffic to ICE’s website.

This tells us two things. Firstly, the ICE needs to do a better job at explaining itself to the public – or why else all the searching? But more importantly it tells us there is an audience out there who want to hear from us. 

Taking this opportunity matters for a range of reasons. We have the perennial task of attracting the next generation into the profession. We need to maintain public support for our projects. And we need to be more willing to celebrate what we do and the difference it makes to people’s lives.   

We use our insight to construct a physical object – taking it out of the lab into the real world. We deal with the uncertainties of weather and human behaviour

This month’s New Civil Engineer focuses one of the best ways of answering the “what is civil engineering?” question.  We can all point at a bridge and say “making that happen”.  

But bridge engineering also describes the sheer range of what we do and how engineering throws up opportunities for people with very different dispositions and skillsets.  

Civil engineering shares much with pure science. An engineer working on a bridge will define a problem, develop and test hypotheses, analyse the data and draw a conclusion. But then we go further.  We use our insight to construct a physical object – taking it out of the lab into the real world. We deal with the uncertainties of weather and human behaviour. This is hugely exciting.

A bridge design must of course be structurally sound. It has to fulfill a purpose of moving people from A to B, boosting economies and connecting communities.

Bridges are beautiful

But it can also be beautiful. From Clifton Suspension Bridge to ICE Gold Medal winner Robin Sham’s second Penang Bridge, the best bridges define their locations and generate pride in communities they serve. 

Civil Engineering creates huge political, business and logistical challenges. All of the projects covered in this issue will have involved engineers convincing politicians they have the right solutions, bringing on board funders and managing an enterprise of hundreds, if not thousands of workers.

So if a child is a science genius, an artist or an aspirant business tycoon we have something to offer them.

This all contributed to the choice of Bridge Engineering for the first exhibition in our new Infrastructure Learning Hub opening in October. The hub will sit within ICE HQ’s refurbished library and host a series of exhibitions, backed by lots of online content for users around the world.  

At the centre of the first exhibition will be a world record. With the help of Robin Sham, WSP and software firm Cemar, we will be constructing the world’s longest Lego bridge. This will be a spectacular and inspiring sight and draw young and old to the ICE. Once we have captured their attention we will tell them a story that demonstrates everything talked about in this column. We’ll show how Lego as a building material compares to concrete, wood or steel. We’ll show how the designers have ensured structural integrity.  

The Infrastructure Learning Hub is an exciting step forward. Our eight founding partners have made it possible and we are committed to working across the industry to showcase the best of our profession and how we shape the world. If you think you can help, do get in touch. 

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