February 02, 2010

Author Henry Petroski to Give
Case Western Reserve University's 2010 Distinguished Lecture


What do the Cavs have to do with Case Western Reserve University's 2010 Distinguished Lecture by renowned author and engineer Henry Petroski? From the hoops to LeBron James' shoes, basketball evolved into a high-powered sport from James Naismith's game idea for two peach baskets and a soccer ball.

Basketball is among topics Petroski tackles from an engineer's perspective on the design of products and ideas. Petroski will address these issues during his free public talk, "Engineering and Civilization: Bridges, Infrastructure and Sources of Success and Failure," on Wednesday, March 24, at 5:30 p.m. in Severance Hall, 11001 Euclid Ave.

"Desire, not the necessity, is the mother of invention,'' Petroski said in the opening of his book, "Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design." It's the drive for something better or newer than what's available, he adds.

Even long-term success can lead to failure. It has happened with bridge failures, which appear nearly every 30 years. He's also found that other products, such as the literary novel, fall into the 30-year cycle.

"Following models of success, without a historical context, more often than not, can lead to failure," Petronski stated.

Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and professor of history at Duke University, has written 15 books. Among his works are "The Pencil," "The Toothpick" and "The Evolution of Useful Things" and his memoir "Paperboy."

Unanticipated failures can result even with highly tested, reliable products, he said, especially when used in creative ways. Petroski illustrates in "Success through Failure" this concept with an example from personal experience. He used a flexible Band-Aid to mark a spot on his rug that needed cleaning. Easily removed from human skin, the Band-Aid nearly had the sticking power of Super Glue on his rug.

Arthur Heuer, Case Western Reserve University Kyocera Professor of Materials in the Case School of Engineering and a member of the CWRU Distinguished Lecture Committee, said Petroski can relate to the lay public or technologically trained professionals.

"Henry Petroski has an unusual ability to make the beauty and creativity involved in the fabrication of humble objects, such as the ordinary pencil and paper clip, and impressive engineering structures essential to society, such as massive bridges, transparent to his readers," Heuer says.

Beyond enlightening audiences with his witty talks and engaging books, Petroski is a licensed professional engineer in Texas, a chartered engineer in Ireland, a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers where he chairs the History and Heritage Committee, and a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineers, Ireland.

His honors include the Washington Award from the Western Society of Engineers, the History and Heritage Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Ralph Coats Roe Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

For reservations and free tickets, call the Severance Hall Box Office at 216-231-1111. Go online for more information.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, February 2, 2010 01:10 PM | News Topics: Events, Lectures/Speakers, news

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.