Research Project: When Technology Fails

Advances in technology have produced spectacular successes as well as spectacular failures. In some cases, the failures were immediate and dramatic; in other cases the consequences took years to come to light. In most instances, cultural values and practices contributed to the problem. Thus societies typically respond in some way to a technological disaster—to justify it, to correct the problems, or to create new technological solutions. Often such failures can even be considered part of the learning curve in developing and applying new technologies. Your assignment is to investigate an incident of technological failure and write a three to four page paper discussing your research.


How to proceed:

Select one topic from the list below. If you would like to research a topic of your own choosing, please confirm this with the instructor. All students should email the instructor with their topic no later than March 16. Then, prepare an essay of three to four pages according to the following guidelines:

In your paper you should:

1. Describe the incident itself and detail what occurred. Be sure to include specific information concerning such aspects as where and when the incident occurred and identifying any important individuals or groups involved.

2. Describe what caused the failure. Be as specific as possible. In some cases, the catastrophe may have been the result of human abuse of technology. In other cases, there may have been a design flaw, a manufacturing defect or simple human error. Many times a combination of factors may have been involved.

3. What was learned from the event? What were the consequences? Often technological failures lead to specific changes in technology and processes. For example, design changes may result, new laws may be

enacted or certain products and practices may be banned.

4. What social, cultural, historical or other factors may have contributed to the disaster? Were there attitudes that led to a disregard of the rights of people affected? Were there underlying social or cultural issues that need to be considered?

5. Sources: Note that using a source requires that you draw information from that source and that you cite the source accordingly in the body of your essay. Simply listing a source in your bibliography is not sufficient and will be penalized. If you have any questions at all about using sources or the following requirements, please contact the instructor.

                a. Books: You will be required to cite at least one book as a source for your project. Books in electronic format are acceptable. You may access electronic books through the GTC Library’s eBook Collection, which is under the Databases link on the GTC Library’s website ( Online books through such sources as Google Books are also acceptable if cited as such.

                b. Articles: Full-text journal and magazine articles can be searched and accessed under the Databases link at the GTC Library’s website mentioned above. The databases are an excellent source of reliable, academically appropriate information.

                c. Websites: You may use websites for your research. However, Wikipedia is not an acceptable source for your project. While you may consult Wikipedia for general information, it should not be used—or cited—as a source. Note that websites under the .gov and .edu domains are always preferable to sites under the .com domain.

                d. Bibliography/list of sources: a list of sources used in your research must be provided at the end of your essay. For citing your sources, MLA format is acceptable.


Format and Additional Points:

                · The paper is to be typed and double-spaced; a cover page is not required and, if included, should not be counted toward the total pages. Standard fonts such as Arial, Times New Roman or Calibri should be used in 10- to 12-point sizes. (That is, 24-point Jokerman would not be a good idea.)

                · Academic essays require proper attention to spelling and grammar. Pervasive spelling and grammatical errors will result in a reduced grade.

                · Plagiarism is a serious academic violation and any instances will be penalized accordingly. Students are expected to know what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it. Generally speaking, you must quote and cite your source for any passages taken directly from another’s work. You must also cite the source for any argument that is not your own or for any information that is not common knowledge. If you have any questions about this matter, please contact me or consult one of the Writing Centers.



 · Again, the essay must conclude with a bibliography listing the sources used.

                · For citing the sources in the body of your paper and for your bibliography, either MLA or Chicago format will be acceptable.

                · The essay should be submitted as an attachment through the Assignments module.


Research Topics*:

                        · Dow Chemical Accident at Bhopal India

                        · Deep Water Horizon oil spill

                        · Thalidomide

                        · Chernobyl

                        · Stuxnet

                        · Boeing 787 Dreamliner

                        · Columbia Space Shuttle

                        · Mars Climate Orbiter

                        · Air France 447 crash

                        · Donora’s Killer Smog of 1948

                        · London’s Killer Smog of 1952

                        · Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

                        · Exxon Valdez

                        · Port Chicago Explosion

                        · Love Canal

                · Iroquois Theater Fire (Chicago, 1903)

                · Eschede Train Disaster (1998)


*If you want to research another topic, you must get the instructor’s approval.

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