Ethics in Engineering: Stories About Epic Engineering Fails

Ethics in Engineering: Stories About Epic Engineering Fails


Discover the impacts of engineering failures as you uncover historical cases and the key factors that led to disastrous results.

Duration : 4 weeks

Weekly study : 2 hours

100% onlineLearn at your own pace


Explore unique case studies in engineering ethics

On this four-week course, you’ll examine different historical case studies and understand how they led to classic engineering failures.

Though each case is unique and has a distinct context, they all share common themes; a backstory, a disastrous event, a post-event with ramifications, and outcomes.

For each case, you’ll watch and hear video lectures and explore foundational literature. You’ll also have the opportunity to discuss the case in detail and check your knowledge through quizzes and reflections on your understanding of the case. This format will help you develop a working knowledge of ethical foundations.

Delve into several case studies, including the VW emissions scandal

You’ll examine four case studies; the VW emissions scandal, the failure of the Denver airport baggage system, the fatal case of the Therac 25 radiation machine, and the software failure of the Ariane 5 rocket launch.

With each case, you’ll identify key aspects that led to the engineering failures and discuss the outcomes of the failures.

You’ll also explore the significance of each case and how they led to corrective actions.

Develop your knowledge of engineering alongside experts in the industry

The course will help you reflect on engineering as a design discipline and its impact on humans.

You’ll be guided by Dr David Chesney, an expert in both industry and academics with 20 years of experience at General Motors Corporation and 20 years working at the University of Michigan. Dr. Chesney’s background is in Mechanical Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Computer Science and he is the Toby Teorey Collegiate Lecturer in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan College of Engineering.


  • Week 1

    The Volkswagen (VW) Emissions Scandal 

  • Week 2

    The Denver International Airport (DIA) Baggage Handling System 

  • Week 3

    The Therac‌ ‌25‌ ‌Radiation‌ ‌Machine‌ ‌Malfunction‌ ‌ ‌ 

  • Week 4

    The Ariane 5 Rocket Launch Disaster

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to…

  • Describe multiple historical cases of classic engineering failures
  • Identify key aspects that led to these classic engineering failures
  • Discuss the causes and the outcomes of these classic engineering failures
  • Reflect on the significance of these cases of classic engineering failures, with respect to corresponding applications of corrective actions
  • Develop a working knowledge of ethical foundations
  • Reflect on the utility of engineering as a design discipline and on its impact on humans

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in the underlying causes of engineering failures.

It will be particularly useful for engineering students and professionals, although no prior experience is required.

Who developed the course?

University of Michigan


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