What can a EE learn from statics?

Recently, I received an insightful question from an electrical engineering (EE) student who is taking my statics course as a technical elective. Every semester, most of my class is comprised of 2nd year mechanics-based engineering students (civil, structural, mechanical, aerospace, biomechanical, nuclear, materials-science, etc.) … and about 5-6 senior EE’s who are picking this up as a final elective before graduating. He basically asked:

“What can I get out of your statics course as a double-E?”

I’ve since spent some time thinking about this. Here are three lines of thought where a basic understanding of statics can benefit a non-mechanics based engineer.

(a) In your career, you will interact with structural engineers. This is especially true if you are involved at all with power generation, in which you will be regularly collaborating with structural engineers in the design of power plants and transmission systems. An understanding of statics will help a few ways. You will know some of the primary lingo that your structural counterparts will use. You will understand that your (often heavy) electrical devices will generate complex distributions of axial force, shear, and moments that the structural engineers will have to accommodate. The structural engineers will enjoy working with you if you can carry on an intelligent conversation with them about these things. (Ahem, architects!)

(b) Many different aspects of the physical world are described by the same underlying mathematical and scientific concepts. That’s a fancy way of saying that different fields of engineering deal with different problems but often approach and solve them the same way. These corollaries will become apparent when approached with intellectual curiosity. For instance, you will begin to notice that the idea of a force-couple resultant in statics is not so different from a Thévenin or Norton equivalent circuit. Thus, forcing your mind to engage in a new subject area can, in a way, strengthen your understanding of your primary speciality.

(c) You live in a civilization that has been engineered based on mechanics. A working knowledge of statics (and deformable bodies) will help you understand some basic things like how reinforced concrete or various bridge types work, why famous structural failures occurred, why your neighbor’s backyard deck is so shaky, and why you and ten other people shouldn’t jump in sync on an elevator. In other words, you may start to see the infrastructure surrounding you in a whole new fascinating light.