Engineering failures seem to be dominating the news lately: the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, Southwest's failing jet fuselages, BP's Gulf Oil Spill. Why do engineering failures occur? Are they necessary? What can we do to reduce the chance of a serious engineering failure?
The discussion will explore the relationships between engineering and
society starting with these Henri Petroski quotes:
"In fact, no artifact or sytem that any engineer designs or analyzes can function independent of a larger social system, and the best designers and analysts are those who are constantly aware of the interrelationships of all things." "Because engineering is so inextricably involved with society and its goals, the practice of engineering is a very social endeavor" "An idea that unifies all of engineering is the concept of failure." This suggests that engineering failures are social problems. So what is the role of society in addressing and preventing serious engineering failures? The discussion will explore the role of engineering in society in light of failures with the aluminum beverage can, the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, oil spills, failures in jet fuselages, and nuclear accidents.
Participants are invited to read Henri Petroski's book of case studies "Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing" which we will use to illustrate elements of engineering practice with a focus on its intersections with society.
Petroski's Vanderbilt University lecture "The Paradox of Design:
Success through Failure" is also relevant (although the sound quality
is marginal): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzMZr2OA0IU
Please bring other stories of engineering failures to further illustrate the interrelationships between society and the practice of building the infrastructure upon which civilization is built. And, as always, bring your questions and curiosity.