Engineering is about making and doing things that have not been done before. Case studies of past failures provide invaluable information for the design of future successes. Conversely, designs based on the extrapolation of successful experience alone can lead to failure.
Henry Petroski of Duke University will explore this paradox in a talk titled "Success and Failure in Engineering: A Paradoxical Relationship." The talk, which is part of the Fermilab Lecture Series, takes place on Friday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. in Ramsey Auditorium. Tickets are $7.
In his lecture, Petroski will look at historical case studies, including the design of ocean liners and suspension bridges, which from the 1850s through the 1930s evolved from John Roebling’s enormous successes, culminating in the Brooklyn Bridge, to structures that swayed in the wind and, in the case of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, twisted 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.
Petroski has written more than 15 books on engineering, including his latest, The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. In addition, he has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. Petroski writes regular columns for American Scientist and ASEE Prism.