Renowned Engineer, Author to Speak at UA

Dr. Henry Petroski

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Dr. Henry Petroski, professor, author and a leading expert on engineering failures throughout history, will visit The University of Alabama campus Nov. 7, capping his visit with a public lecture in the Ferguson Center.

His visit and lecture are presented by the directors of the College of Engineering’s research centers.

Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University. He is a registered professional engineer and expert in failure analysis.

His latest book, “To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure,” was published earlier this year and reviewed and discussed in the national media. The work continues a theme from other books he’s published, such as “Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design” in 2006 and “To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design” in 1992.

At Duke, he has a secondary appointment as a professor of history, and he has also written and researched the nature of invention and in the history of technology

His lecture, titled “Success and Failure in Engineering: A Paradoxical Relationship,” will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Ferguson Center Theater. The lecture is free and open to the public, but a ticket is needed. Tickets can be ordered and printed at

Dr. Charles L. Karr, dean of the College of Engineering, said engineers create systems that, ultimately, stop functioning if an acceptable level of performance is breached. Learning about failure, even catastrophic, unintended failure, is necessary to design systems that work properly and safely, he said.

“The study of engineering failures allows modern engineers to learn what to do – and sometimes more importantly what not to do – in order to decrease the chances of failure,” Karr said. “Dr. Petroski is a world leader in this field, and we are thrilled to have him on campus.”

Before his public speech in the evening, Petroski will guest lecture an engineering class, meet with leadership from the College of Engineering and the UA department of history as well as eat lunch with several engineering students.

Besides failure analysis, Petroski has published many titles that detail the industrial design history of common, everyday objects such as pencils, paper clips and silverware. He is a frequent lecturer and a columnist for the magazines American Scientist and Prism.

Petroski is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. He is also a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,900 students and more than 110 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz and Truman scholars.


Adam Jones, engineering public relations, 205/348-6444,