What is Computational Engineering - A Brief Overview

June 16, 2022

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kitware/2293740417
My main degree is in Mechanical Engineering, but I am often asked questions about my MSc studies in Computational Engineering in particular. Some examples are:
  • "Oh, so your MSc was in Computer Science?"
  • "What's the difference between your MSc and Computer Engineering? Is it not the same?"
  • "Have you moved away from engineering to Computer Science now?"
These questions reveal a slight misunderstanding of these fields and the connection to Computational Engineering, and so I think that a simple explanation of Computational Engineering is warranted, especially for those that might be interested in a related career.

So, what is Computational Engineering?

Computational Engineering deals with the development and application of computational models and simulations to solve complex physical problems arising in engineering. It involves applying advanced computational methods and analysis and often involves high-performance computing (HPC).

Here some nice descriptions of the differences between computer science, computer engineering and computational engineering [1]:
  • A Computer Scientist explores the science and theory of how computers work, formulating algorithms and designing programming languages
  • A Computer Engineer takes the foundation of electrical engineering and applies it specifically to computers, focusing on the design of hardware and software components
  • A Computational Engineer uses computers and devises algorithms to solve mathematical models for complex systems, simulates behaviours and analyses simulation output
Computational Engineering has a foundation of fundamental engineering and science coupled with advanced knowledge of mathematics, algorithms and computer languages. Computational models can be developed for multiple engineering disciplines (aerospace, mechanical, civil, chemical, etc,) and fields (energy, biology and medicine, environmental, etc.) meaning that there is great scope for both academic and industrial careers.

My own Computational Engineering experience coming from a Mechanical Engineering background has primarily involved computational fluid dynamics (CFD), computational solid mechanics and computational biofluids (both in my MSc and PhD). The subjects that I studied during my MSc were:
  • Computational Fluid Dynamics
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Numerical Methods for ODEs and PDEs
  • Engineering Systems Simulation
  • Advanced Dynamics with Applied Computer Modelling
  • Computer Graphics and Modelling
  • Computer Aided Engineering & Design
  • Algorithms & Data Structures
  • Database Systems
  • Java Programming
I have greatly benefitted from my MSc in Computational Engineering, strongly evident during my Mechanical Engineering PhD work on developing a CFD software package for blood simulation. I find that it naturally compliments my base Mechanical Engineering degree by building on base subjects like fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and mechanics and applying the learned principles to computational models and simulations.

An understanding of how to use computers to solve engineering problems effectively along with a knowledge of programming are increasingly sought after skills. If any of the above appeals to you, I would highly recommend looking into Computational Engineering further (and Mechanical Engineering is a great base)!


[1] https://www.ae.utexas.edu/undergraduate/computational-undergrad-program/what-is-computational-engineering

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