Aleksander S. Vesic Distinguished Professor Emeritus
Henry Petroski received his bachelor's degree from Manhattan College and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before coming to Duke in 1980, he had taught at the University of Illinois and the University of Texas at Austin and was a group leader at Argonne National Laboratory, where he was responsible for research and development efforts in fracture mechanics. He is a professional engineer registered in Texas, and a chartered engineer registered in Ireland. At Duke, he has a secondary appointment as a professor of history. From 2004 through 2012 he held a Presidential appointment as a member of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.
Professor Petroski's current research activity focuses on the interrelationship between success and failure in design. He also has a strong interest in the nature of invention and in the history of technology. His research has been sponsored by the Corps of Engineers, the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and other organizations. He has published, in addition to nineteen books and hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, and trade journals, over seventy-five refereed journal articles in such places as International Journal of Fracture, Engineering Fracture Mechanics, Journal of Applied Mechanics, Structural Safety, and Research in Engineering Design.
Professor Petroski is author of the book, To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (1985), and is the writer and presenter of the 1987 BBC-television documentary, "To Engineer Is Human," which has been broadcast on PBS. He is also the author of The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (1990), The Evolution of Useful Things (1992), Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering (1994), Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and The Spanning of America (1995), Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing (1996), Remaking the World: Adventures in Engineering (1997), The Book on the Bookshelf (1999), Paperboy: Confessions of a Future engineer (2002), Small Things Considered: Why There Is No Perfect Design (2003), Pushing the Limits: New Adventures in Engineering (2004), Success through Failure: The Paradox of Design (2006), The Toothpick: Technology and Culture (2007), The Essential Engineer: Why Science Alone Will Not Solve Our Global Problems (2010), An Engineer's Alphabet: Gleanings from the Softer Side of a Profession (2011), To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure (2012), The House with Sixteen Handmade Doors: A Tale of Architectural Choice and Craftsmanship (2014), and The Road Taken: The History and Future of America's Infrastructure (2016). He writes the engineering column for American Scientist and a column on the profession for ASEE Prism. He also lectures widely and is interviewed frequently on radio and television.
Among his honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship (1990-1991); honorary degrees from Clarkson University (1990), Trinity College (1997), Valparaiso University (1999), Manhattan College (2003), Missouri University of Science and Technology (2011), and McGill University (2016); the Ralph Coats Roe Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (1991), the Civil Engineering History and Heritage Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers (1993), the Washington Award from the Western Society of Engineers (2006), the John P. McGovern Award for Science from the Cosmos Club Foundation (2014), among others. He is the recipient of a Centennial Award as an Outstanding Engineering Graduate of Manhattan College (1992) and an Alumni Award for Distinguished Service from the College of Engineering of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (1994). Professor Petroski is a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineers of Ireland, and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering.
Appointments and Affiliations
- Aleksander S. Vesic Distinguished Professor Emeritus
- Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering
- Office Location: 133 Engineering Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
- Office Phone: (919) 660-5203
- Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ph.D. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1968
- M.S. University of Illinois, 1964
- B.S.M.E. Manhattan College, 1963
Structural engineering; design; interrelationship between success and failure in design; nature of invention; history of engineering and technology.
Awards, Honors, and Distinctions
- Honorary Doctor of Science. McGill University. 2016
- John P. McGovern Award for Science. Cosmos Club Foundation. 2014
- Honorary Doctor of Engineering. Missouri University of Science and Technology. 2011
- Distinguished Member. American Society of Civil Engineers. 2008
- Fellow. American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 2006
- Member. American Philosophical Society. 2006
- Washington Award. Western Society of Engineers. 2006
- Fellow. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 2003
- Honorary Doctor of Pedagogy. Manhattan College. 2003
- Fellow. Institution of Engineers of Ireland. 2000
- Honorary Doctor of Science. Valparaiso University. 1999
- Eminent Speaker, Structural College. Institution of Engineers, Australia. 1998
- Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.). 1997
- Member. National Academy of Engineering. 1997
- Civil Engineering History and Heritage Award. American Society of Civil Engineers. 1993
- Ralph Coats Roe Medal. American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 1991
- Fellowship. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 1990
- Honorary Doctor of Science. Clarkson University. 1990
- Fellow. National Humanities Center. 1987
- EGR 89S: First-Year Seminar
- EGR 120L: Introduction to Structural Engineering
In the News
- Infrastructure Plan Could Make Up for Lost Years, But Still Won't Meet Country's Needs (Apr 2, 2021)
- Henry Petroski: Let's Talk Potholes! (Oct 21, 2020 | Pratt School of Engineering)
- Luxury toothpicks are due for a comeback and this Toronto company is making that happen (Aug 2, 2017 | National Post)
- Why Cities Aren’t Ready for the Driverless Car (Apr 29, 2016 | from the Wall Street Journal)
- Henry Petroski: Why cities aren’t ready for the driverless car (Apr 25, 2016 | The Wall Street Journal)
- Book discussion on Henry Petroski’s ‘The Road Taken’ (Apr 7, 2016 | C-SPAN2)
- Book Review: Getting there (Mar 24, 2016 | The New York Times)
- A conversation with author Henry Petroski about America's infrastructure (Mar 23, 2016 | WUNC)
- Henry Petroski: Beware America's crumbling roads and bridges (Mar 16, 2016 | The Washington Post)
- Henry Petroski: The future of U.S. infrastructure (Feb 25, 2016 | KERA-Dallas)
- Book Review: The bridge to somewhere (Feb 25, 2016 | The Wall Street Journal)
- Henry Petroski: ‘The Road Taken’ (Feb 17, 2016 | NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show”)
- New Book Takes Stock of America's Roads and Bridges (Feb 16, 2016)
- Review of Henry Petroski’s book: The freeway that looked like the future in 1940? Now, not so much (Feb 12, 2016 | Los Angeles Times)
- Henry Petroski: Let states finance and maintain roads and bridges (Nov 24, 2015 | The New York Times)
- Henry Petroski: How foul weather and physics can turn a crane into a tragedy (Sep 16, 2015 | Wired)
- How to Fix America’s Crumbling Bridges (Nov 19, 2014 | The Conversation)
- Henry Petroski: They don't make 'em like they used to (Jun 27, 2014 | The New York Times)
- They Don’t Make ’Em Like They Used To (Jun 27, 2014 | the New York Times)
- Henry Petroski: Coaxing a history from board and beam (Jun 5, 2014 | The New York Times)
- Henry Petroski: The history of a handmade house in Maine (Jun 2, 2014 | News & Observer)
- Petroski, H, Crossing the valley of death, Mechanical Engineering, vol 139 no. 12 (2017), pp. 26-29 [10.1115/1.2017-dec-1] [abs].
- Petroski, HJ; Yamada, H, FRACTURE EXPERIMENTS WITH CRACKED AND EMBRITTLED HEXCAN SECTIONS., Transactions of the International Conference on Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology, vol E (2017) [abs].
- Glazik, JL; Petroski, HJ, DYNAMIC RESPONSE OF CRACKED HEXAGONAL SUBASSEMBLY DUCTS., Transactions of the International Conference on Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology, vol E (2017) [abs].
- Petroski, HJ, EFFECTS OF CRACKS ON THE RESPONSE OF SHELL STRUCTURES., Transactions of the International Conference on Structural Mechanics in Reactor Technology, vol E (2017) [abs].
- Petroski, HJ; Glazik, JL; Achenbach, JD, STRESS-INTENSITY FACTORS FOR IRRADIATION-EMBRITTLED HEXAGONAL SUBASSEMBLY DUCTS., Struct Anal of React Fuel Elem, vol D (2017) [abs].