Skip navigation


Author: Loretta McKinniss
Event Date: October 8, 2009
Speaker: Sarah Pfatteicher
Speaker Affiliation: University of Wisconsin
Sponsor: School of Engineering Education
Time: 3:30-4:30pm
Location: FRNY B124
Contact Name: Alice Pawley
Contact Phone: 61209
Contact Email:
Open To: Faculty, staff, students, visitors


On the second Tuesday of September 2001 the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center returned to dust, taking with them some 2700 souls. In the ensuing 8 years, hundreds of articles, videos, and lectures have attempted to construct from the wreckage an explanation for the devastation. Some have sought a spiritual explanation for the disaster. Some have explored the terrorists’ political motivations and the social conditions that helped them to grow. Still others have taken the eminently practical approach of focusing on physical explanations. Whatever their approaches, many of these explorations have been inspired by four common questions: Why did it happen? Did it have to happen? Who was responsible? What can we learn from it? These questions are not unique to engineering, nor to this particular crisis, but the nature of the attacks gave them a particularly acute form. Dr. Pfatteicher will explore how the questions being asked and answered about the collapse of the World Trade Center might help us to develop a deeper understanding of engineering more broadly and thus inform discussions about educating the engineer of 2020.
Dr. Sarah Pfatteicher is Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Programs in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Research Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Pfatteicher is also an honorary fellow of the Department of the History of Science, a member of the Science and Technology Studies Program, and an affiliate of the Gender and Women’s Studies Program at the UW-Madison. Her duties in academic affairs include overseeing the college’s curricular innovations. Her research emphasis is in engineering ethics, education, and disasters. She recently received the American Society for Engineering Education’s Olmsted Award for contributions to the liberal arts within engineering. Dr. Pfatteicher earned her bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Smith College (Northampton, Massachusetts) and master’s and doctoral degrees in the history of science (specializing in the history of engineering) from the UW-Madison