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Success and Failure in Engineering: A Paradoxical Relationship

October 24, 2014 @ 8:00 pm - 9:30 pm


Success and Failure in Engineering: A Paradoxical Relationship
Dr. Henry Petroski, Duke University
Friday, October 24, 2014 @ 8 p.m.
Tickets – $7

Engineering is about making and doing things that have not been done before. To be successful, it is essential that engineers properly anticipate how things can fail, and design accordingly. Case studies of past failures thus provide invaluable information for the design of future successes. Conversely, designs based on the extrapolation of successful experience alone can lead to failure. This paradox will be explored in the context of historical case studies, including the design of ocean liners and also of suspension bridges, which from the 1850s through the 1930s evolved from John Roebling’s enormous successes, culminating in the Brooklyn Bridge to structures that oscillated in the wind and, in the case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, twisted itself apart and collapsed in 1940. Lessons learned from these cases and others can be generalized to apply across a broad spectrum of engineering structures and systems. They also help explain why failures continue to occur, even as technology advances.

HENRY PETROSKI is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University. He has written broadly on the topics of design, success and failure, and the history of engineering and technology. His latest book, The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship, looks critically at one man’s approach to design and construction and celebrates his unique achievement.

Tickets for this lecture are available on line here.

For more information visit Fermi Lecture Series.



October 24, 2014
8:00 pm - 9:30 pm


Fermilab, Wilson Hall
Road a-1
Batavia, IL 60510 United States
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