Henry Petroski

To Henry Petroski for his enhancement of public awareness and aprreciation of engineering and its impact on society through his television documentary,magazine columns, books, articles, letters, and lectures.

Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Chair, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

  • MS, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, 1964
  • PhD, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, 1968

Henry Petroski began his postdoctoral career as an assistant professor of engineering mechanics at the University of Texas at Austin in 1968. From 1975 to 1980, he led the fracture mechanics group of the Reactor Analysis and Safety Division at Argonne National Laboratory. He then moved to the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Duke University, where he has been a professor since 1987 and chair since 1991. In 1993, he was named the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering at Duke.

Henry Petroski is an outstanding academician in the conventional ways. He has made important contributions to the scientific literature of continuum mechanics, fracture mechanics, and structural dynamics, having published more than 70 articles in refereed technical journals. He is an excellent researcher, inspiring teacher, and a skilled administrator. He may be best known, however, for his role as a communicator of engineering accomplishments to the lay public. Through his splendid television documentary, radio and television interviews, magazine columns, books, articles, letters, lectures, and addresses, he has significantly enhanced public awareness and appreciation of engineering and its impact on society. The television documentary based on his book To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design was first broadcast by the BBC and then aired throughout the world, being shown in the United States on public television. His book entitled The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance earned him spots on both NBC’s Today show and CBS Nightwatch. Other book titles include Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering (1994), The Evolution of Useful Things (1992), and Beyond Engineering: Essays and Other Attempts to Figure without Equations (1986)

He belongs to several professional societies, including the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE). His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He has been a panelist for NSF; a proposal reviewer for NSF, the National Endowment of the Humanities, and other national and state agencies; and served on the editorial board of several journals.

Henry Petroski’s numerous honors and awards include the Civil Engineering History and Heritage Award of ASCE in 1993, Sigma Xi national Lecturer for 1991-93, ASME Ralph Coats Roe Medal in 1991, Guggenheim Foundation Fellow in 1990-91, honorary doctor of science degree from Clarkson University in 1990, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in 1987-88, resident fellow at the National Humanities Center in 1987-88, and an Illinois Art Council Literary Award in 1976. Since 1991, he has been writing the engineering column for the American Scientist.

Current as of 1994.