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Engineering Failures?

Type of Engineering involved: Chemical

Everyone worries about failure, but we can always learn from it. When engineers talk about failure they're not usually talking about failing a test. They are probably talking about what happens when something they have made doesn't work. Engineering failure can mean that a computer program doesn't work, but it could also mean that a bridge collapses or a power plant shuts down or a satellite spins out of its orbit. Engineering failures may not happen often, but when they do there is often a loss of life, and it always costs a lot of money. Engineers study failures so that they know what went wrong and avoid doing the same thing.

Sometimes failures aren't that bad - especially during research. A few useful things wouldn’t exist if someone hadn't failed at something else first!

  • Spence Silver, the chemical engineer who made the glue on Post-It Notes, was trying to make strong glue for tape. He thought he had failed until one of the other engineers in the lab realized what this new glue was good for!
  • The problem was just the opposite for Leo Baeckeland. He was trying to find a man-made substitute for varnish (which protects wooden furniture and floors), but what he made was too tough. He made the substance even tougher and ended up developing one of the world's first plastics!
  • Another chemical engineer, James Wright, was trying to make a rubber substitute out of silicon. What he ended up with was way too gooey and bouncy to be used for anything practical, so he put it aside. Five years later, someone else put the bouncy goo in an egg and sold it as "Silly Putty"!

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