engineering fundamentals

Fundamentals of Engineering – Module #1

basic engineering fundamentals

Legos…building blocks…engineering?

Let’s start with the basics.  I could use a little refreshing on the subject as it has been a few years, ahem, since I looked at this stuff.  Since we are still in the early stages of the site it would probably be better to write out these training modules in some sort of order.  As they increase, then you can hop around and read about what you like.

For this post, let’s just focus on some engineering fundamentals.  These are important because the things we may do in our building engineering or HVAC technician jobs are based upon these fundamentals and principles.  A plumber as well as a homeowner both need to understand fluid flow.  An electrician, mechanic, and again, homeowner all kind of need to understand electricity.

Before we get into specific mechanical or electrical systems, we need to understand the foundations of engineering, the building blocks, laws, definitions, and principles.

Engineering Fundamentals

What is the definition of engineering?

  • the art or science of making practical application of the knowledge of pure sciences, as in physics or chemistry.

How does this apply to us?

  • The forces of physics and the laws of nature can be seen in every piece of machinery. Through these forces and laws of physics, the machinery is able to produce work.

What is work?

  • From wiki:  in physics, a force is said to do work when it acts on a body, and there is a displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force.

You ready?  Now that we have those out of the way, let’s get started.  This may seem basic but if we get one person here that doesn’t already have this knowledge, it’s not so basic.  So in our definition of work just above, it mentions a body.  What makes up this body, what composes it?

Strong bonding.

Strong bonding.


There are several basic particles within all substances.  People used to think that substances were made up of just that material.  For example, aluminum was just that, aluminum and nothing else.

Matter is defined as anything that occupies space and has weight.  Examples of matter are air, water, tools…  Matter can be found in any of the following 3 states (it may have changed by now): solid, liquid, or gas.

Elements and Compounds

An element is a substance that cannot be reduced to a simpler substance by chemical means.  Examples of elements with which you are in every day contact are iron, copper, oxygen.  Think the periodic table.  Currently there are 118 known elements.

All the different substances we know about are composed of one or more of these elements.  When two or more elements are chemically combined, it is called a compund.  A compound is a chemical combination of elements that can be separated by chemical means.  Examples of compounds are water (hydrogen and oxygen,) and salt (sodium and chlorine.)

A mixture is a combination of elements and compounds, not chemically combined, that can be separated by physical means.  One example of a mixture is air, which is made up of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and small amounts of rare gases.


A molecule is a chemical combination of two or more atoms.  In a compound, the molecule is the smallest part that has all the characteristics of the compound.

Let’s take water.  Depending on the temperature, it may exist as a liquid (water), a solid (ice), or a gas (steam).  Regardless of the temperature, it will still have the same composition.  If we start with a quantity of water, divide this and pour out one half, and continue this process enough times, we will end up with a quantity of water that cannot be further divided without ceasing to be water. This quantity is called a molecule of water.

Smaller still – Atoms

basics fundamentals of engineering

An atom

Molecules are made up of smaller particles called atoms.  An atom is the smallest particle of an element that retains the characteristics of that element. The atom of one element, however, differs from the atoms of all other elements.  Since over 100 elements are known, there must be over 100 different atoms, or a different atom for each element.  Just as thousands of words are made by different letter combinations, different materials are made by the chemical combinations of the atoms.

Any particle that is a chemical combination of two or more atoms is called a molecule.  The oxygen molecule has two atoms of oxygen, and the hydrogen molecule has two atoms of hydrogen.  Sugar, on the other hand, is a compound.  It is composed of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.  These atoms are combined into sugar molecules.  Since the sugar molecules can be broken down by chemical means into smaller and simpler units, we cannot have sugar atoms.

Atoms of each element are made up of electrons, protons, and, in some cases, neutrons, which are collectively called subatomic particles.  Furthermore, the electrons, protons, and neutrons of one element are identical to those of any other element.  The reason there are different elements is that the number and arrangement of electrons and protons within the atom are different for the different elements.

The electron is considered to be a small negative charge of electricity.  The proton has a positive charge of electricity equal and opposite to the charge of the electron.  The electron and proton each have the same quantity of charge, although the mass of the proton is about 1837 times that of the electron.

In some atoms, a neutral particle exists called a neutron.  The neutron is a mass about equal to that of a proton, but it has no electrical charge.  The protons and neutrons form a heavy nucleus with a positive charge, around which very light electrons revolve.

Elements are classified numerically according to the complexity of their atoms.  The atomic number of an atom is determined by the number of protons in its nucleus.   In a neutral state, an atom contains an equal number of protons and electrons. Therefore, an atom of hydrogen, which contains one proton and one electron, has an atomic number of 1; and helium, with two protons and two electrons, has an atomic number of 2. The complexity of atomic structure increases with the number of protons and electrons.


In this post we covered some engineering fundamentals.  It is important that we start with the foundation of engineering and physics by covering the foundations of engineering and physics lol.  We discussed what engineering technically is – the application of the knowledge of the pure sciences, pretty much to get work done.

We covered the very first stepping stones as well – matter, elements and compounds, molecules, and atoms.

It is upon these that the rest of physics, engineering, and the pure sciences, are built.  Without understanding the stuff above, trying to grasp concepts later on may be difficult.  Physics is built upon laws and all of the pieces that compose physics must adhere to these laws, even the molecules and atoms.

Think you’re ready to try the quiz?  Click here for the module #1 fundamentals of engineering quiz.

Want to read module 2?  Next, we go over Mr. Isaac Newton and his mindblowing laws.