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Duke University’s Henry Petroski to speak at Vanderbilt

Mar. 23, 2006, 12:06 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Henry Petroski, the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and a professor of history at Duke University, will speak on “The Paradox of Design: Success through Failure” on Wednesday, April 12, at Vanderbilt University in the final presentation of the 2005-06 Chancellor’s Lecture Series.

Petroski’s lecture will begin at 6 p.m. in Benton Chapel, with a 5 p.m. reception preceding the lecture. Both events are free and open to the public, but seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-seated basis.

Parking is available in Wesley Place Garage, located on the corner of 21st Avenue South and Scarritt Place. Benton Chapel is located at 411 21st Ave. S.

Petroski is the author of a dozen books on design and the history of engineering and technology. His newest book, Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design, is being published by Princeton University Press.

In addition to books and technical articles in journals, Petroski has written several articles and essays for newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and he writes columns regularly for American Scientist and ASEE Prism. He also lectures frequently to both technical and general audiences in the United States and abroad, and has been interviewed extensively on radio and television.

Petroski received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Manhattan College in 1963 and his master’s in theoretical and applied mechanics in 1964 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his Ph.D. in theoretical and applied mechanics from Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1968.

Before moving to Duke in 1980, Petroski was a member of the University of Texas at Austin faculty and on the staff of Argonne National Laboratory in DuPage County, Ill., where he was responsible for research and development efforts in fracture mechanics. A registered professional engineer and also a chartered engineer, he received a presidential appointment in 2004 to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

Petroski has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Humanities Center. In February, he was given the 2006 intersociety Washington Award by the Western Society of Engineers. Among Petroski’s other honors are the Ralph Coats Roe Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Civil Engineering History and Heritage Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers, whose history and heritage committee he currently chairs.

Petroski is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the American Society for Engineering Education. He also is an honorary member of the Moles and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.

The Chancellor’s Lecture Series serves to bring to Vanderbilt and the wider Nashville community intellectuals who are shaping the world today. For more information about the Chancellor’s Lecture Series, visit

Media contact: Todd Vessel, (615) 322-NEWS