Careers in Science: Civil Engineering and 9/11

According to Wikipedia Civil Engineering is a discipline that deals with the design construction and maintainance of structures like bridges, roads,  canals dams and buildings.

The World Trade Centre consisted of 7 buildings on a 16 acre Plaza in lower Manhattan. 19 terrorists hijacked four aircraft on the morning of September 11 2001. The hijackers crashed two planes the Trade Centre towers which collapsed within 2 hours. A third aircraft crashed into the Pentagon building in Arlington,Virginia and the last one nose dived into a field near Shanksville in Pensylvania.

Just why the “twin towers” collapsed has been the subject of various conspiracy theories:

  • controlled demolition rather than structural weakening due to fire
  • the Pentagon was hit by a missile
  • the hijacked planes were replaced by planes carrying explosives

Eight years on and even after thorough scientific investigation the myths continue to grow in sophistication. Apparently nano-thermite particles (ask any 6th form chemist about factors controlling reaction rates and what highly exothermic means) have been found in the rubble of Ground Zero by a Danish professor. Nano-thermite is a highly reactive compound used by the US Department of Defence. It is also used to lainch rockets.

Auckland Harbour BridgeBelow Auckland Harbour BridgeCivil engineers are skilled in the use of science and mathematics to build structures that don’t fall over. The Auckland Harbour Bridge needed extra capacity hence the addition of nippon clipons in 1965. The two-lane box girder sections added on each side of the bridge doubled the traffic lanes to eight. Structures must be  maintained and cracks discovered in 1987 and cracks/material fatigue found  in 2006 could not be ignored. Generally engineers get it right and we trust their safety margins. Currently vehicles are restricted to weights of 13 tonnes or less after further concerns that a traffic jam stopping flow on the bridge could cause the clip-ons to unclip.

Similarly we don’t expect the sky tower to blow over in high winds although the revolving restaurant at the top is sometimes closed in storms as the swaying motion causes soup to slurp over diners’ bowls. Swaying is good as far as engineers are concerned. The alternative, snapping to release strain is not a popular choice!

Civil engineers can use science and mathematics skills to determine the likely causes when buildings and other structures do fail catostrophically.

Purdue University worked with the American Society of Civil Engineers to produce an analysysis of the most likely chain of events leading to the collapse of the twin towers eight years ago. This involved thorough mathematical and computer modelling of the forces involved using the original building blueprints. Data defining the properties of the construction materials were also fed into the calculations.

Structural weakening due to fire is the only credible scientific theory explaining the collapse of the twin towers.

Civil Engineering at the Univerity of Auckland:

Civil Engineering is a four year course requiring good seventh form grades.

from the student handbook:

  • to gain admission to University of Auckland you must gain the university Entrance Standard and be selected into a programme.
  • You will be allocated a ranked score based on your best credits at level 3 or higher.
  • A maximum of 5 approved subjects weighted by the level of achievement attained in each set of credits.
  • If you achieve fewer than 80 credits at level 3 the ranking will be based on those credits you have achieved over a maximum of 5 approved subjects at level 3 weighted by the level of achievement.
  • The approved subjects are determined by NZQA and are available at
  • You are are strongly advised to take achievemnt standards as preparation for University study.
  • The guaranteed admission score for BE(Hons) in 2009 is 240 with a minimum of 18 credits at Level 3 in Maths with calculus and Physics.
  • The rank score is calculated by awarding 4 point for Excellence, 3 for Merit and 2 for Achieved for up up to 24 credits in each approved subect at level 3 over the last two years.
  • The maximum possible score is 320

NOTE……NOTE…….. The importance of mathematics in the study of science at University

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