Magazine article ASEE Prism

Failure for a Living

Magazine article ASEE Prism

Failure for a Living

Article excerpt

Engineer Lisa Shusto makes her living from failure. A managing engineer specializing in structural and geotechnical engineering at Exponent (formerly Failure Analysis Associates) in Menlo Park, California, since 1983, she divides her time between looking for Ways to make buildings fall down and flying around the world to sites where buildings have already tumbled so she can figure out what went wrong.

Shusto loves her job and the intellectual challenges it brings. "Failure analysis is the Sherlock Holmes work of engineering-figuring out what went wrong is exciting and fascinating," she says. "I get to interact with clients instead of sitting in an office or a think tank."

She says her colleagues at Exponent have similar enthusiasm for their work, and there is no "typical day" in the office. On any given day a failure analysis engineer might work on data analysis or a field investigation, write reports for clients, meet with lawyers, prepare exhibits, or testify as an expert witless, she explains.

For example, Exponent worked with several agencies and companies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, investigating the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Exponent experts on structural engineering, chemistry, thermal science, instrumentation and testing, and injury analysis provided plans to stabilize the building for search and rescue operations; assessed injury and damage patterns; tested the explosive properties of the fertilizer used in the bomb; evaluated design guidelines for other government buildings as a precaution against similar attacks; and even provided information used in prosecuting the bombers. …

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