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Engineering is the use of physics to design buildings, vehicles, or infrastructure.  We’ll examine real world engineering projects, and see how these techniques may be extended to proposed mega-engineering projects.


  • Ask questions that arise from examining models or a theory, to clarify and/or seek additional information and relationships.
  • Ask questions to clarify and refine a model, an explanation, or an engineering problem.
  • Evaluate a question to determine if it is testable and relevant.
  • Ask and/or evaluate questions that challenge the premise(s) of an argument, the interpretation of a data set, or the suitability of the design

Science and engineering practices: NSTA National Science Teacher Association

Next Generation Science Standards Appendix F: Science and Engineering Practices


Using forces

Introduction: When engineers design a building, they have to consider all of the forces on every element in the structure. Doesn’t matter if they are designing a building, airplane, overpass or tunnel – it all comes down to using Newton’s laws of physics & forces. In this activity, we’ll use an app to study the effect of changing: Forces, Loads, Materials and Shapes, on a structure.


  1. Forces: Forces act on big structures in many ways. Click on one of the actions to explore the forces at work and to see real-life examples. Squeezing, stretching. bending, sliding, twisting
  2. Loads: Forces that act on structures are called loads. All structures must withstand loads or they’ll fall apart. In order to build a structure, you need to know what kinds of external forces will affect it. Weight of structure, weight of objects (live load), soft soil, temperature, earthquakes, wind, vibration
  3. Materials: What you build a structure out of is just as important as how you build it: Different materials have vastly different properties. Click on a material to find out more about it, and put it to the test. Wood, plastic, aluminum, brick, concrete, reinforced concrete, cast iron, steel
  4. Shapes: The shape of a support affects its ability to resist loads.The shape comparisons here depend upon the following conditions: each shape is of equivalent thickness, the joints are hinged, and the live load is applied downward to the structure at a single point at its top and center.

App: “Building Big: Forces Lab” PBS

Building Big PBS app



In the late 19th century, as America’s teeming cities grew increasingly congested, the time had come to replace the nostalgic horse-drawn trolleys with a faster, cleaner, safer, and more efficient form of transportation. Ultimately, it was Boston — a city of so many firsts — that overcame a litany of engineering challenges, the greed-driven interests of businessmen, and the great fears of its citizenry to construct America’s first subway. Based in part on Doug Most’s acclaimed non-fiction book of the same name, The Race Underground tells the dramatic story of an invention that changed the lives of millions.

Introduction: The Race Underground

Main page: The Race Underground

Slide Show: The Race underground Boston in the early 1900’s

Video: The Race Underground, Chapter 1: Building Boston’s Subways



Engineering An Empire
Engineering an Empire

Our related article on Extreme Engineering.

External resources

Walkinator app, by Bryce Summer. Biomechanical evolution.

Learning Standards

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework
HS-PS2-1. Analyze data to support the claim that Newton’s second law of motion is a mathematical model describing change in motion (the acceleration) of objects when acted on by a net force.

HS-PS2-10(MA). Use free-body force diagrams, algebraic expressions, and Newton’s laws of motion to predict changes to velocity and acceleration for an object moving in one dimension in various situations

2016 High School Technology/Engineering

HS-ETS1-1. Analyze a major global challenge to specify a design problem that can be improved. Determine necessary qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions, including any requirements set by society.

HS-ETS1-2. Break a complex real-world problem into smaller, more manageable problems that each can be solved using scientific and engineering principles.

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, aesthetics, and maintenance, as well as social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

HS-ETS1-4. Use a computer simulation to model the impact of a proposed solution to a complex real-world problem that has numerous criteria and constraints on the interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.

HS-ETS1-5(MA). Plan a prototype or design solution using orthographic projections and isometric drawings, using proper scales and proportions.

HS-ETS1-6(MA). Document and present solutions that include specifications, performance results, successes and remaining issues, and limitations.


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