Structural analysis is the determination of the effects of loads on physical structures and their components. Structures subject to this type of analysis include all that must withstand loads, such as buildings, bridges, vehicles, machinery, furniture, attire, soil strata, prostheses and biological tissue. Structural analysis incorporates the fields of applied mechanics, materials science and applied mathematics to compute a structure’s deformations, internal forces, stresses, support reactions, accelerations, and stability. The results of the analysis are used to verify a structure’s fitness for use, often saving physical tests. Structural analysis is thus a key part of the engineering design of structures.
Every part of a building is subject to the effects of outside forces—gravity, wind, earthquakes, and temperature changes, to name a few. Throughout history, people have constructed buildings that have withstood these forces over a long period of time, primarily using rules of thumb derived from their own experiences and those of their predecessors. In recent centuries, the scientific and industrial revolutions introduced analytical approaches that allowed designers to go beyond empirical limitations and predict the behavior of building systems and components that existed only in their imaginations. This gave rise to the formalization and specialization of the modern engineering profession, which in turn led to more accurate and cost-effective designs. Today the individual responsible for ensuring that buildings will remain standing while carrying out their intended functions is the structural engineer.