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Life Centered Design – A Paradigm For Engineering In The 21 St Century

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Ethics & HSS in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.866.1 - 9.866.10



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Paper Authors

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Andrew Lau

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3261

Life-centered Design – A Paradigm for Engineering in the 21st Century

Andrew S. Lau The Pennsylvania State University


The engineering field, particularly engineering education, is in need of a new paradigm. We need a vision of engineering that encompasses traditional technical competence with the enlarged scope of social responsibility and ecological awareness. There have been significant developments in this direction, including the concept of sustainability, the latest engineering accreditation outcomes, ethics canons in some engineering disciplines, the field of industrial ecology, and the concept of biomimicry. Yet it is unlikely that incremental curricular changes can provide for engineers that are broadly educated, socially responsible, and ecologically grounded. This paper presents a vision for a new paradigm for engineering, starting with sustainability but going beyond it to emphasize improving the world. This vision is captured with this foundational ethic: Engineers shall hold paramount the improvement of both human life and the larger community of life, for present and future generations. This paper develops this life-centered engineering vision by reviewing recent developments and their potential to transform engineering education and engineering practice.


Does engineering need a new paradigm? What is the current engineering paradigm? What are the founding principles of our current paradigm? What’s the new paradigm look like and what does it mean for education?

The answer to the first question is clearly yes, as I will show through a description of this new world view that more correctly models the modern world. The new world view I present applies to all engineers, even though it is certainly not accepted yet by most engineers. This paper, then, presents an alternative lens through which to understand the world and see the route that we must take.

Engineers’ Current World View We see our role as problem solvers and believe that nearly all problems can be solved, typically by breaking the problem down into smaller pieces. We also tend to see the world as black and white, that if people understood the “facts” of the situation, only one answer is possible. Similarly, we base most of our decisions on analysis of these facts, tending to neglect factors that cannot be readily quantified. We have faith in economics to guide our designs. It is not our job to decide what should be made; we are responsible for getting it made in an economical way.

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Lau, A. (2004, June), Life Centered Design – A Paradigm For Engineering In The 21 St Century Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13851

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