The Humboldt Network—For the Non-Academic

As a practicing engineer, my professional life is global. Every project I am involved with can only be achieved with engagement from people around the world. The ideas that form the scientific foundation of the work we do is ageless and developed with input from every corner of our collective human understanding. The material we use to build is sourced from many different countries. The engineers, contractors, and laborers who realize the new constructions, repairs, or responses similarly hail from everywhere—and very seldomly from the same place.

Similarly, as an engineer that responds to catastrophes, I see every day that gravity is non-negotiable. Science is the basis for all the things we take for granted. We take for granted that our buildings withstand storms and protect us from the elements every day. The I-35W Bridge collapse in Minneapolis a decade ago was so shocking because we have done such a good job of managing risk and building a robust infrastructure. The ever-delayed infrastructure work notwithstanding, major bridge collapses are almost unthinkable.

So during this time, when it feels like we are restarting, we must work to reinforce and recapture the concept of facts, rigorous experimentation, and robust predictions of the future. 

Gravity goes down everywhere on earth—and on other planets the appropriate pull of gravity can be quantified. We are all in this together. There are constants and laws of physics and chemistry that are reliable. I enjoy standing on these hard spots and reaching toward new findings and new developments—and often this kind of reach works better when I am holding the hand of someone across the Atlantic. In the most mundane example, when we have a new challenge, we often look to European codes or others to find a solution to a problem that we did not know we had. We are constantly learning from one another how to make construction safer, more sustainable, and more robust by learning from and collaborating with our partners overseas.

As the daughter of Germanic literature professors, I appreciate that innovating without context feels soulless. Where the scientists and engineers may give us a how, the humanities give us the why. Knowing why we are working together, the common values and vision that we are all working toward more understanding, peace, safety, beauty, and community helps us focus, evaluate, and ultimately achieve technical outcomes and inventions that are not just novel but fundamentally make society better.

I am involved in the Humboldt Network because I am so grateful to be able to have interactions with people like you—thoughtful experts who welcome viewpoints outside their own. I look forward to the conversations to come.

Elisabeth Malsch, AFAvH Board member