The overall aim of the civil engineering courses at Bristol is to produce graduates who have the potential to become future leaders of the profession.
In order to meet this overarching aim we we set the following more specific objectives for students on our courses.
In order to achieve these objectives you will find that we expect you to work quite hard. But we know from the experience of previous students that you will find the work both challenging and satisfying and will enable you to progress to the top levels of the Civil Engineering profession.
You will probably find the form of teaching at Bristol rather different from what you may be used to at school. Some of the classes, e.g. Maths and Professional Studies, are shared with other departments and take place in large lecture groups. However, most lectures are supported by examples classes which are more informal and for which there is ample provision of tutoring. These are the classes at which you can speak to your lecturer or an assistant on a one to one basis and you can sort out anything you do not understand. There is also group work in laboratories and design classes which allow you to interact informally with lecturers, technical staff and postgraduate assistants. Computer-assisted learning is a feature of some classes. Furthermore, use is made of guided reading, self-paced learning, and site visits.
Most courses are assessed by a combination of written examinations and coursework assignments. Design activities are assessed by coursework, written tests, project reports and some oral presentations. In your 3rd year you will produce a dissertation on your research project. In the final year students are required to present their major group design project by means of a poster exhibition in a professional format as frequently adopted in commercial practice and at technical conferences. Some students produce animated computer graphics of their work.
Some students find the subject matter of the lectures very different from what they expected that engineers needed to know. What is the Maths for? Why do you need such long equations to understand fluid mechanics? Why is it so complicated to work out the size of a steel girder? It is difficult to answer these questions all at once. Initially it is easier to simply accept that designing bridges and power stations is very complicated if you try to understand it as a whole. What we do is to break down what you need to know into small manageable pieces and help you to develop your knowledge and skills over a period of time. In fact we believe that it is more important for you to develop deep understanding and the correct way of thinking, rather than to attempt to fill up on facts.
You can find brief descriptions in the following main technical areas of civil engineering:
Whatever the branch of civil engineering, in the end something has to be built. Whether it is a suspension bridge or a dam or a motorway, it will be subjected to loading and someone has to make sure that the construction is capable of taking the stresses without cracking or collapse. This activity is structural engineering.
In order to do their work effectively structural engineers need to know the answers to a number of questions. For example:
The answers to some of these questions are quite straightforward and will be dealt with in the 1st or 2nd years. Other questions are more difficult and require more advanced courses in structural mechanics, material technology and theory of probability. And there are even some questions which structural engineers are still arguing about!
Our objective with these courses in Structural Engineering is to prepare you for the professional world where you may be involved in the design or construction of almost any type of structure. Therefore, we will concentrate on the fundamental principles of structural engineering so that in later life you can develop special knowledge in a particular field of interest.
There is quite a lot to learn in Structural Engineering, but we are dealing with rather fascinating things like space frames, cable stayed bridges, sport stadiums and earthquake resistant buildings. So it is challenging, and if you approach it with the right attitude, it is a lot of fun!
Everything that we construct is in some way attached to the ground. Ground engineering, or geotechnical engineering, requires an understanding of the mechanics of soils - which are usually mixtures of mineral, air and water - and an appreciation of the geological environment in which they have been created. It is rarely possible to specify and control the ideal properties of embankment and foundation materials and frequently difficult to know exactly what the ground conditions and behaviour will be. Ground engineering therefore calls for particularly innovative skills in designing and constructing in the face of uncertainty: Site investigation needs to be carefully planned and geotechnical performance needs to be monitored.
Examples of ground engineering are all around us:
The courses available in ground engineering at Bristol start from the mechanics of soils and an introduction to engineering geology and then develop applications of soil mechanics in broad areas of geotechnical engineering, including groundwater control, foundation design, retaining structures and slopes.
With world population growing rapidly the water resources of the world are becoming most important assets. Water is essential for human beings on a daily basis and it must also be supplied free from harmful bacteria. Domestic and industrial wastewater needs to be dealt with without contaminating either people or the environment. Water is an important means of transport in many parts of the world and a significant factor in recreation. Sometimes excessive water creates problems such as flooding and consequent damage from rivers and at the coastline. Water is also capable of being used to generate power and it has the advantage of being a renewable energy source.
All these important uses of water are the concern, principally, of civil engineers. The conception, planning, design, construction and operation of facilities to control and utilise water, though it also requires the skill of other specialists for completion, is invariably managed by civil engineers. Thus in order to be able to manage such projects effectively it is important for civil engineers to understand, for example, the basics of geology, hydrology and economics as well as the central subjects of hydraulics and water quality.
The courses available in Water Engineering in Bristol allow students to follow every aspect of the subject at least up to a fundamental level of knowledge. Courses on fluid mechanics and hydraulics are complemented by more specialist courses in hydrology, water resource development, applied hydraulics, environmental hydraulics and coastal engineering.
Is there a sea level rise problem? What size of annual flood will occur at a site? How much water will flow through a pipe? Is it possible to develop a water supply economically from this site? How can I defend against coastal erosion? How do I design a sewer system? What are the environmental consequences of this scheme? These and a thousand other questions are addressed and guidance is given on how they might be answered.
Civil Engineers play an increasingly significant role in project leadership. They therefore need to understand the context in which they are working.
They need to be able to understand and negotiate with architects, mechanical service engineers, IT specialists and a whole range of other technical experts.
Their work will interact with the environment significantly and so they need to be able to think sustainability – “do I really need an air-conditioning system or can I get passive systems to work here?”
The whole life cost of a design needs to be addressed at the start – “It may be cheap to build but can it be maintained effectively?”
Civil Engineers work in a social context – “Will this road help address social exclusion?”
Decisions on major projects are often made at political level – “Will this get me re-elected!?”
Smart Civil Engineers have a good grasp of how all these systems interact.
Various units and projects throughout the programmes prepare students for working both inside and outside their organisational systems as real professionals.