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ENGR: 2110 Summer 2016

Failure is Always an Option


In 2003, after the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while reentering the Earths atmosphere, civil engineer
Henry Petroski wrote a short essay for The New York Times. His goal was to explain to the general public how
engineers factor into their work the reality of failure. He explained, The design of any device, machine or
system is fraught with failure. Indeed, the way engineers achieve success in their designs is by imagining how
they might fail (Petroski, 2003).
Like Petroski, you have been invited to write a guest article for The New York Times about the significance of
learning the principles of statics. Writing for a general audience, you will explain how a specific structure or
system failed for instance, was it a design flaw involving insufficient consideration of moments, loads, and
forces? Was it a lack of redundant safety mechanisms in the event of structural failure? Was it preventable?
What steps could have been taken before it failed?
What You Need To Do
(1) Choose a structure (building, bridge, dam, etc.) whose failure can be used to explain basic statics concepts
to a general audience. To jumpstart your paper, here is a short list of well-documented failures you may
choose one of these to write about or find one on your own:

Hartford Civic Center, 1978 Sewol Ferry, 2014


Oakland Bay Bridge, 1989 Sampoong Superstore, 1995
Autoroute 19 de la Concorde Overpass, 2006 Falls View Bridge, 1938
Sando Arch Bridge, 1939 St. Francis Dam, 1928
Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building, 1995 Peace River Bridge, 1957
Ashtabula Bridge, 1876 Antelope Valley Freeway, 1971 and 1994
LAmbiance Plaza, 1987 Quebec Bridge, 1907
Charles de Gaulle Airport, 2004 Kemper Arena, 1979
Banqiao Reservoir Dam, 1975 Schoharie Creek Bridge, 1987

(2) Write a short article (1000 to 1250 words) for readers who lack your technical expertise but are curious
about how engineers strive to prevent failures. You should:

Explain for a non-engineering audience why/how your structure failed: incorporate your knowledge of
the statics concepts you have been learning about in class, like loads, forces, moments, etc.
Discuss the ethical failure(s) that led to the structural collapse.
In light of your research and your reading of the Petroski article, reflect on the broader ethical
implications of this disaster. What responsibilities do engineers face in the design and maintenance of
structures?
Include at least one figure (with citation and caption) to enhance your discussion.
Your essay should combine an analysis of the structural failure with a discussion of the ethical
situation engineers faced either before, during and/or after the disaster. Answer this question:
Where do we go from here?
(3) You must cite at least three credible sources (one source can be Petroski) and include a References page
in APA format; do not cite Wikipedia its anonymously written articles lack credibility.

Continued on back
Format Guidelines
Title page: Center and double-space. Include a line for each of the following: Full title of the essay, your
name, course name and section number, professors name, and due date.

Your paper should be double-spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman font, 1 inch margins on all sides. Add page
numbers to your document.
For APA guidelines (in-text citations and References page), consult the Purdue Online Writing Lab:
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Required Reading and Other Helpful Resources


The following documents (including this assignment) can be found on the Hanson Centers Course Support
page: http://www.engineering.uiowa.edu/hctc/hanson-center-technical-communication/course-support
1. The Henry Petroski article. Note: you must read this to complete the assignment.
2. A slideshow with additional information about the assignment.
3. A case study of the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse. This covers both the structural and ethical reasons
for the failure. It is a good example of the types of issues you will need to discuss in your own article.
4. Model essays from previous Statics classes.
5. Engineering Case Studies Online: A useful database with resources about many structural failures.
6. A link to the National Society of Professional Engineers Code of Ethics.
7. The rubric that will be used to grade your paper. This will provide you with specific information about
what the graders will look for in your writing.

DUE DATE:
submit your essay
to ICON by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 17