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Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers: Civil Engineer

8 minutes

(female narrator) Engineer Ken Maschke loves living and working in the city of Chicago. From Ken's viewpoint, it's the structures that bring the city to life. Daily, he moves to the pulse of the city's vitality, or ride, or climb, even skate.

(Describer) He sits on a bench and unlaces his skates.

Just in time.

(Describer) Later, he walks into an office.

Ken is a licensed civil engineer at Thornton Tomasetti, a world-renowned engineering firm. Civil engineering is really the jack-of-all-trades of the engineering profession. It includes transportation, structures--what I do, there's geotechnical, construction, water resources. Together, it's mostly about the infrastructure that we all use and we live in.

(narrator) Civil engineering goes back to the earliest days of civilization. If anyone's responsible for building this country, it's civil engineers. Civil engineering is really a people-serving profession, especially when nature throws us a curveball. When it comes to hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, civil engineers make sure the buildings, the bridges, and the infrastructure stays operating and stays safe for people.

(narrator) Ken and his team specialize in structural engineering. Very simply put, structural engineering is making things stand up.

(Describer) Glass on a building reflects clouds, and cars cross a long bridge.

Already in my career, I've worked on a huge variety of projects. I've worked on baseball stadiums, football stadiums, practice fields. I've worked on high rises here in Chicago, and even internationally, in Denmark and in the UAE in Dubai. The architect usually gives us a pretty picture of the skin of the building. A structural engineer really looks beyond that into the guts and the bones that hold up that skin.

(narrator) The team is en route to one of Chicago's most beloved icons.

(Describer) They ride away in a taxi.

Rising from the ashes, 17 years after The Great Chicago Fire, the Rookery Building was completed in 1888.

(Describer) It's shown then and now.

(Maschke) Many times, we get involved with historic construction and trying to preserve it. At the Rookery Building, we're going in, evaluating the existing structure, and trying to come up with new ways, so that crews can keep it in top shape.

(Describer) They leave the old building, and later, Ken meets with a colleague in the office, going over a book and drawings.

(man) The walls are all masonry bearing walls, and the interior's all steel frame construction.

(narrator) In the drawings, the civil engineers see a story of imagination and innovation. Pretty cool.

(narrator) Elevators, electric lighting, plate glass windows, fireproofing-- features that define the modern skyscraper.

(Describer) He walks along a hall.

Ken has a desk, but you'll rarely find him there.

(Describer) He unrolls large sheets of paper.

Let's open up the drawings and see if we can find out what's going on. Looks like there's a step here. They have the two beams adjacent to each other. I'm betting that one of these will be too high. They could have more snow load on it.

(narrator) Then it's off to a presentation.

(Describer) Getting some pizza, he joins others in a large meeting room.

Remarkably, Ken's day has just begun.

(Describer) Later, he stands out on a sidewalk.

Ken grew up on a farm, so you'd think the big city would mean a big adjustment. But in a short time, he's developed a special connection to the city. I went into structural engineering because I wanted to show people my projects. I've worked on that building there.

(Describer) In other locations...

Here's another building I've worked on. Another one on this side of the river. We worked on the Chicago Board of Trade Building.

(Describer) In the office...

In high school, I didn't know that I wanted to be a civil engineer. I was good in math and science. But I think the best engineers are well-rounded and bring together a lot of different ideas.

(narrator) Some of Ken's projects involve routine structural maintenance. Others push structural design to the limits. Imagine putting a 50-story building on top of Union Station. That's what structural engineers do. We needed to look at all existing foundations and columns, and imagine a way to support the weight of a new structure on top of what's already there.

(Describer) It's shown in an animation.

(narrator) What most folks don't see are the design challenges that Ken has to face.

(Describer) He shows a computer model.

(Maschke) If a wind gust were to go and hit the building, this is behavior it would most likely start to move in. If it moves quickly or too much, people might get sick, then you couldn't sell top floor space.

(narrator) A city wouldn't be a city without these buildings, or without rail lines, bridges and roads, water and sewage systems-- things people count on to keep their city working. There's a lot of work involved with maintaining all of these parts of the infrastructure, and, I guess, engineers need to be more Clark Kent than Superman.

(narrator) Civil engineers don't just work with companies like Ken's. You'll also find them in municipal, state, and federal government settings, research facilities, and universities. Ken holds Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Civil Engineering. Very rarely do I work on anything alone, but together that helps us come up with the best solution to problems.

(narrator) Essentially, their job is to pave the way for the future by incorporating new materials, building techniques, and new ways to save energy.

(Describer) With another computer model...

I worked on this project with some architects, envisioning ways to use an undeveloped site in Chicago. We think the idea that we're presenting with green technology offers a way for buildings in the future to be planned and designed in order to be more sustainable in our infrastructure and in our cities.

(narrator) Green ideas like these change the ways buildings are built and renovated all over the world. There are so many other difficult questions in today's day and age, dealing with the environmental impact of the building, how to deal with the building's energy needs. Engineers can be more involved with all aspects of that. Instead of taking the skin they give us for granted, let's go back and try and engineer a better way.

(narrator) Ken sees Chicago as a living city, ever-evolving and ever in need of improvements. There's always something new to work on. It's wonderful feeling that all your hard work has paid off into something tangible.

(narrator) As he looks into the future, Ken sees no end to what he can learn and what he can do to help cities like Chicago thrive.

(Describer) He walks along the lakefront with a woman and a dog. In fast-motion, night arrives and buildings and bridges glow with lights.

(Describer) Titles: Produced by Post Modern Company for the National Science Foundation.

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Ken Maschke reveals some of the latest engineering projects taking place at Thornton Tomasetti, and what his typical day is like inside and outside the office.

Media Details

Runtime: 8 minutes

Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 1
10 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
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Episode 2
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Episode 3
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Episode 4
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Episode 5
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Episode 7
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Episode 10
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