Structural Engineering

Applied in: Winter 2013

University Offers: Imperial College, Warwick, Durham, Bristol

During my Duke of Edinburgh Gold trip to Wales, I saw a real dam for the first time in my life. Amazed by its grandness, I couldn't help but wonder what made such a giant structure stand there, holding back tons of water without collapsing. A book called "Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down" (by J.E. Gordon) that I had read earlier came alive in a flash, revealing the physics behind it all.

I was fascinated by the idea of the thrust line in the dam's base and explored this idea further in an A-level research essay "Physics behind the Gothic Cathedral", which later won a school award. I was struck by the varied ways in which engineers solved the problem of constructing tall yet stable structures. For example, they built the dam into a tapering shape and added heavy pinnacles on top of the cathedral's wall, both in order to reduce the eccentricity of the thrust line. The fusing of visual appeal and practicality, along with scientific theory, is why engineering particularly enthrals me. More than any other disciplines, it offers the chance to use fundamental physics ideas in a creative and problem-solving context. Inspired by Gordon's book, I have started to pay more attention to the structures I see in daily life. From arched windows and buttressed pillars to ribbed vaults, school buildings that dates back to the eleventh century no longer appear simply as breath-taking architecture but also structural museums full of masterpieces. When walking around London, different types of bridges across the Thames always capture my eye. Tower Bridge, the Millennium footbridge and all other kinds, cable-stayed, cantilevered and arched, are all live illustrations of knowledge.

Apart from the obvious engineering questions, I have wondered and explored how economics and aesthetics play their parts as well. I have also put my passion for engineering into practice. Over the summer of 2012, I interned in laboratory of the Quality Control Bureau in China, where I investigated the "Charpy Pendulum Impact Test". Applying the law of conservation of energy to a real life situation in which I tested the energy needed to fracture metallic materials was both fun and rewarding. I spent the following summer holiday in a gear manufacturing company, during which I obtained enormous insight into the real world of engineers - from material selection, structure design and production supervision to quality testing. The creativity and complexity involved in the job further fuelled my ambition and affirmed my decision to study engineering at university.

My studies both in China and the UK have taught me different approaches to learn mathematics and science, and encouraged me to explore the subjects further on my own. I finished reading "Engineering Mathematics" (by K.A. Stroud) in my spare time, and would often be delighted when I worked out a question that had stumped me for a while!

"Making things happen" might be another way of describing engineering, requiring not only academic study but also the initiative and drive to work with others to achieve objectives. I participated in a student-led project constructing a bike using only wood and glue. The teamwork involved impressed me by the power of effective communication to combine ideas. At the same time, my English has improved significantly through these daily interactions with classmates. I organised a charity fundraising campaign for African children during my AS year, and have spent a week on school's PHAB residential project, caring for physically and mentally challenged adults. Being a sporty and enthusiastic girl, I was chosen as the captain of my school cheerleading team and have led the team to win gold at the National Cheerleading Competition.

I look forward to the further study of engineering at university, where I hope to gain insights from experts in the field and be offered the opportunity to discuss these with similarly minded students - and I hope to give back as much as I receive.

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