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Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life

Explore the workings of the fascinating buildings, devices, and public utilities that we use almost every minute of the day, in this course taught by an award-winning professor.
Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 274.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A 'dummy's guide to engineering' I know almost nothing about engineering, mechanics, etc., but this course does a SUPERB job of breaking the 'complex' down. The Professor is outstanding and I enjoy his demonstration models.
Date published: 2024-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wish I'd seen this 40 years ago This course helped me understand the systems that make my everyday life possible. It was fascinating, well presented, and the prof used fantastic visuals that enhanced understanding. Well worth watching. Wish it could be available in every high school so graduates could grasp the ordinary world around them.
Date published: 2024-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredibly illuminating course Everyday Engineering is one of the best of the Great Courses that I have watched, for multiple reasons. 1) The subject matter is compelling and is eye opening to both the complexity and sometimes the simplicity of the many systems and products that we regularly use but might otherwise take for granted. 2) It is unusual to find someone like Stephen Ressler who has both extensive knowledge to be shared and such tremendous communication skills. 3) The models, graphics, and other visual aids were plentiful and well designed. They really enhanced the understanding of the material. 4) Hope is provided for the future if for no other reason than a recognition of the number of times that real brilliance has been applied over many decades to help mankind have a raised standard of living. 5) There is balance in the discussion between positive and negative impacts of technology along with suggestions for future paths. I did not absorb all that this course has to offer but hope to watch it again after diverting to other Great Courses offerings. It would be wonderful to have two or four lecture updates every five to ten years to capture new engineering developments.
Date published: 2024-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Always a pleasure to take Dr. Ressler's courses. All of Dr. Ressler's courses are interesting, and they will help you understand the everyday world around you. He makes complex principles easy to understand.
Date published: 2023-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very, VERY well done. I wasn’t sure whether to put this review here or at Prof. Ressler’s course on “Understanding the World's Greatest Structures”. I’ve completed that one, and I’m only about a quarter through this one. But it was my thorough enjoyment of that course that led me to purchase this one, and the things I liked about each of them are basically the same. Prof. Ressler is an engaging, knowledgable and warm lecturer, as one would expect from the Great Courses, and like the more recent courses, he speaks directly to the camera rather than to some fictional audience, or the camera operator. It’s recorded in the usual studio, not produced like a PBS special as some of the newer courses are. The thing that most impressed to me is Prof. Kessler’s use of static and computer graphics, as well as animations, but especially his use of tabletop models. These allow him to not just describe the principles he’s discussing, but demonstrate them: “See, this is how this works.” I found this extremely valuable. In “Structures”, he can show how things like arches and trusses actually support loads, compare the qualities of various materials, and show how the various structural components interact. He’ll demonstrate the various kinds of bridges by attaching weights to the models so you can actually see how the parts of the bridge react to traffic and environmental stress. He’ll even stand on something to show how strong it is, or how it will fail if not constructed properly. There’s some math, but nothing particularly advanced; when some, say, calculus is involved, he glosses over it and jumps straight to the result, appropriately omitting the details of the calculation. In “Everyday Engineering” he does the same thing regarding (so far) how a house is built, the judgments about where a house or development is sited, and how dams and aqueducts are constructed; he even manages to make the subject of code standards interesting, which is quite the accomplishment, I would say. I expect there will be more of this in the rest of the course. He reminds me of a physics teacher I had in college, who was also so engaging that his lectures were standing room only. I would not be surprised if Prof. Ressler’s classes are similarly popular. Not only am I learning about things that I’d never thought about before, but I’m having honest-to-goodness fun doing to. I’ll never look at a bridge or a dam or a building the same way again; that qualifies it as a success, I’d say. I highly recommend both of these courses. One last note (not a complaint), the person who recorded the music under the opening titles was clearly influenced by Slash of Guns ’n’ Roses. It sounds a lot like the opening of “Sweet Child of Mine”.
Date published: 2023-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful I have watched two of Prof. Ressler's courses, and I am finally getting around to posting a review. He is far and away one of the best teachers at the Great Courses. This course is fascinating and thorough, yet accessible. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2023-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Secrets of everyday life revealed! Watching this as a family - covers many topics we adults learned about in college but in an understandable way that is engaging for the whole family. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2023-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A remarkably gifted teacher! Thius is the third Ressler course I have experienced, and I am genuinely amazed at the guy's ability to explain things. Everyday engineering does not sound very interesting, but Ressler makes it fascinating. His secret weapon is his low-key approach: he sneaks up on you with a beautiful description of a mundane topic. Thank you General Ressler for devoting your time to these courses for the benefit of all who attend!
Date published: 2023-01-28
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Get a field guide to the engineering marvels of the everyday world all around you. Discover the remarkable technologies that enable our way of life-masterpieces of engineering that have been so beautifully integrated into the fabric of modern civilization that we often take them for granted. Explore the workings of the fascinating buildings, devices, and public utilities that we use almost every minute of the day.


Stephen Ressler

In over two decades as a teacher, I've never experienced anything quite like commitment of The Great Courses to rigor in the course development process and uncompromising production quality in the studio.


United States Military Academy, West Point

Stephen Ressler is a Professor Emeritus from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he taught for 21 years. He holds an MS and PhD in Civil Engineering from Lehigh University and is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. He served in a variety of military engineering assignments in the United States, Europe, and Central Asia. He has focused his scholarly and professional work on engineering education and has won numerous national awards for engineering education and service.

By This Professor

Understanding the World's Greatest Structures
Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life
Understanding Greek and Roman Technology
Epic Engineering Failures and the Lessons They Teach
Do-It-Yourself Engineering
Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life


Engineering and Technology in Your World

01: Engineering and Technology in Your World

Start the course by considering how engineering and technology influence your daily life-not just high-tech devices but also ordinary machines, buildings, and infrastructure that most people take for granted. In this lecture series you will learn to notice and understand these overlooked marvels....

31 min
Your House as an Engineered System

02: Your House as an Engineered System

In the first of four lectures on your house as a technological system, review the eight engineered subsystems that go into modern dwellings. Then discover the miracle of building codes, which ensure that every new house is safe, constructible, and reasonably economical without involving an engineer in each design....

28 min
Three Structural Systems for Load Bearing

03: Three Structural Systems for Load Bearing

Examine one of the most important aspects of modern building codes: the design of a house for structural load carrying. Focus on two of the three major approaches to this crucial function: bearing wall construction and heavy timber frame construction. Both have been used for thousands of years....

33 min
Platform-Framed Housing Construction

04: Platform-Framed Housing Construction

Turn to the third major technique for building a house: platform-framed construction, which is a flexible arrangement of lightweight modular floor platforms, wall panels, and roof trusses. This efficient approach has been widely used in the U.S. for over a century....

35 min
The Building Envelope

05: The Building Envelope

Now that your house is framed, it needs a building envelope that can shed rainwater and melting snow, and also keep precipitation from entering through the foundation. Learn about the five integrated layers of protection: shingles and cladding, drainage plane, insulation, vapor barrier, and drywall....

29 min
Site Design and Storm Runoff

06: Site Design and Storm Runoff

What happens to the precipitation that falls on your house, your lot, and your neighbors' properties? Study the problem of site design, focusing on how storm runoff is directed away from homes and returned to a natural watercourse, without causing flooding along the way....

29 min
Dam, Reservoir, and Aqueduct Design

07: Dam, Reservoir, and Aqueduct Design

Now consider the water that you want in your house-for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Examine the technologies that collect water from a watershed and transport it to a municipality. Explore different designs for dams, and marvel at the Catskill Aqueduct that carries fresh water to New York City....

33 min
Water Treatment and Distribution

08: Water Treatment and Distribution

Learn how raw water from nature is treated to make it safe for drinking. Then trace the distribution system that supplies water under pressure to users. Professor Ressler demonstrates two crucial technologies in this system: the flocculation chamber and the water tower....

29 min
Wastewater Disposal and Treatment

09: Wastewater Disposal and Treatment

What happens to the 150 gallons of water that the average person uses and then sends down the drain each day? Delve into wastewater disposal and treatment. Among the details you investigate are the S-shaped trap in a waste pipe and that most ingenious of plumbing fixtures: the toilet....

30 min
Fossil Fuels: Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas

10: Fossil Fuels: Coal, Oil, and Natural Gas

Coal, oil, and natural gas power the vast majority of electrical generating plants in use today. Learn how fossil fuels are extracted from the earth and how new technologies such as longwall mining and fracking have revolutionized the industry. Also examine some of the environmental drawbacks of these endeavors....

30 min
Power Generation from Coal

11: Power Generation from Coal

Focus on the dominant source of electricity in the U.S. today: coal. Begin by reviewing concepts from thermodynamics that explain how power plants work. Then follow the processes that turn a hopper full of coal into abundant electrical power, extracting the maximum amount of energy along the way....

31 min
Oil, Gas, and Nuclear Power

12: Oil, Gas, and Nuclear Power

Probe the tradeoffs of oil, natural gas, and nuclear fission for generating electrical power. For example, natural gas is plentiful and flexible, but it involves fracking and produces carbon dioxide emissions. By contrast, nuclear power produces essentially zero emissions but poses potentially catastrophic safety risks....

30 min
Renewable Sources of Electricity

13: Renewable Sources of Electricity

Survey the three most important sources of renewable energy: hydropower, wind power, and solar power. Look at the inner workings of hydroelectric dams, wind turbines, solar-thermal power stations, and photovoltaic arrays to see how each takes a renewable energy source and converts it into electricity....

32 min
Electrical Power Transmission: The Grid

14: Electrical Power Transmission: The Grid

Study the technological marvel called the grid-the system that transmits electricity from its point of generation to users. Learn why electrical transmission lines come in threes, why AC power is used instead of DC, and the reason transmission voltages are so high....

34 min
Electrical Power Distribution

15: Electrical Power Distribution

Trace the distribution of electrical power from a substation to your home. Begin with the transformer, discovering how this crucial device functions. By the end of this lecture, you will be able to read a utility pole like a book, analyzing the different services attached to these ubiquitous structures....

30 min
Everyday Thermodynamics: Refrigeration

16: Everyday Thermodynamics: Refrigeration

Unravel the secret of refrigeration by focusing on the connection between heat, temperature, work, and energy. Then see how these thermodynamic concepts apply to the vapor-compression cycle in your refrigerator or air conditioner. Discover that a heat pump operates the same way....

31 min
Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning

17: Heating, Ventilating, and Air-Conditioning

Explore heating, ventilating, and air conditioning-known as HVAC. Begin by learning how thermostats regulate temperature. Then review how heat transfer takes place, and investigate the pros and cons of heating with a furnace, boiler, and heat pump. See how air conditioning integrates into each of these systems....

30 min
Home Energy Efficiency

18: Home Energy Efficiency

Delve into the green building movement, which promotes structures that use natural resources more efficiently while reducing environmental impact. Focus on minimizing energy consumption through a well-insulated, airtight building envelope; energy-efficient windows and doors; and energy-efficient HVAC systems and appliances....

33 min
Passive Solar and Net-Zero-Energy Homes

19: Passive Solar and Net-Zero-Energy Homes

How much energy can you save with a properly designed house? Would you believe all of it? Trace the trend in passive solar and net-zero-energy homes that are engineered to stay comfortable year-round by exploiting sunlight in winter and shielding against it in summer, with minimal operating costs....

32 min
The Plain Old Telephone Service

20: The Plain Old Telephone Service

Begin the first of four lectures on telecommunications technology by tracking the landline telephone system, known in the trade as "plain old telephone service." Follow the pair of copper wires from your landline phone to the multi-pair cables strung from power poles to the all-important local exchange and beyond....

30 min
The Global Telecommunications Network

21: The Global Telecommunications Network

Investigate the beauty and complexity of the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Optimized for transmission of the human voice, it comprises a vast array of conventional phone lines, fiber-optic cables, microwave links, and other media. Trace its evolution to the remarkable system in use today....

31 min
Cellular Phone Technology

22: Cellular Phone Technology

Why is cell phone service sometimes so unpredictable? Get inside the cellular network to learn how clever engineering makes a surprisingly large number of two-way conversations possible over a very narrow broadcast spectrum. Also see how the system leads to dead spots, dropped calls, and other familiar cell phone hassles....

30 min
Satellites and Satellite Communications

23: Satellites and Satellite Communications

Take wireless communications to a higher level: space. First master the rudiments of rockets, orbits, and satellite operations. Then focus on commercial satellite services such as television, radio, Internet, telephone, and navigation. Calculate the ideal orbit for communications satellites, and investigate the workings of the Global Positioning System....

32 min
Simple Machines around the House

24: Simple Machines around the House

Nothing embodies everyday engineering like simple machines-the basic mechanical devices used for thousands of years that we rely on more than we may realize. Probe the wonders of the inclined plane, screw, wedge, lever, wheel-and-axle, and pulley, and ponder their myriad applications....

33 min
User-Centered Design

25: User-Centered Design

Using the faucet as an example, study the bewildering number of ways that hot and cold water can be delivered into a sink, reflecting the challenges of designing everyday things. Along the way, consider the principles that go into a successful design: affordances, signifiers, mapping, constraints, and feedback.

30 min
The Internal Combustion Engine

26: The Internal Combustion Engine

Begin the first of four lectures on automotive engineering by exploring that marvel of mechanical sophistication: the internal combustion engine. Professor Ressler uses homebuilt models to demonstrate the ingenious design of the four-stroke power cycle and how it works in perfect synchrony with a host of other engine sub-systems....

31 min
Torque, Power, and Transmission

27: Torque, Power, and Transmission

Trace the path of mechanical power from pistons to the engine crankshaft, then through the flywheel and clutch assembly to the transmission gearbox. Focus on the relationships between torque, rotational speed, and power, discovering the reason that transmissions require multiple gear ratios....

31 min
The Drivetrain

28: The Drivetrain

Follow the transfer of automotive power from the gearbox through the driveshaft to the differential and drive-wheels. Study working models of the universal joint and differential. Also explore the design of front-wheel drive, and peer inside an automatic transmission to expose the miracle of its smooth operation....

35 min
Suspension, Steering, and Braking

29: Suspension, Steering, and Braking

Conclude your survey of automotive engineering by studying the three systems that control a vehicle: suspension, steering, and braking. Begin with the technology that's vital to all three: your tires. Close by analyzing the antilock braking system (ABS), learning how it works and how it knows when to engage....

33 min
Highway Engineering

30: Highway Engineering

Step into the work boots of a highway engineer, tasked with designing a freeway across hilly terrain to connect two other highways. Discover that features of a safe road that you take for granted-constant-radius curves, gentle grade, sturdy construction, and a well-drained surface-require detailed planning....

31 min
Traffic Engineering

31: Traffic Engineering

Traffic engineers help to ensure the safe and efficient movement of vehicles and pedestrians within a road system. Focus on their approach to intersection design, examining the many factors that go into determining whether you're faced with a traffic signal, an overpass, a flyover ramp, or some other means of traffic control....

30 min
Everyday Bridges

32: Everyday Bridges

Find that everyday highway overpass bridges are more interesting than they appear. These ubiquitous structures deserve to be admired for their simplicity and practicality. Plunge into the principles of multi-girder spans, and learn that new construction techniques make highway bridges more efficient and elegant than ever....

35 min
Tunnel Engineering

33: Tunnel Engineering

Delve into tunnel engineering, a discipline every bit as impressive as bridge building, only less visible. Consider the challenges presented by the type of soil or rock being excavated for a tunnel, marvel at the work of mammoth tunnel boring machines, and weigh the tradeoffs between tunnels versus bridges....

30 min
The Railroad

34: The Railroad

Ride the rails to learn why rail transportation continues to thrive, two centuries after the modern railroad was introduced. Trace the origin of the standard rail gauge used in the U.S., probe the forces a locomotive must overcome to get rolling and then stop, and chart the rise of a revolutionary way of handling cargo: the intermodal container....

32 min
Solid Waste Disposal and Recycling

35: Solid Waste Disposal and Recycling

Compare the three main methods of dealing with the 700,000 tons of solid waste generated every day in the U.S.: landfill, incineration, and recycling. Explore the distinction between recycling, which is practical with many metals, and down-cycling, which is the fate of most plastics....

31 min
The Future: Engineering for Sustainability

36: The Future: Engineering for Sustainability

Look beyond recycling to the higher goal of sustainability. Then close the course by considering the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003. Caused by inadequately pruned trees and a software bug, this cascading sequence of infrastructure failures holds important lessons for the world of everyday engineering....

36 min