Support Provided ByLearn More

Looking Back, Moving Forward

ByTom MillerThe Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Click here for Emily’s profile.

Emily Whiting uses the latest cutting-edge technology to replicate the engineering techniques of very old buildings (like Gothic cathedrals) so that modern-day architects can build better, more efficient buildings.

Support Provided ByLearn More
Looking Back, Moving Forward-emily_flip_book_168.jpg
If you know how it would fall, you can make it stand.

I get time-travel whiplash just thinking about it.

Emily, though, gets no whiplash at all. To her, it makes perfect sense to study buildings, like the cathedrals, that have stood the test of time and are as magnificent—and structurally sound—as ever:

“I think that I have an appreciation for these methods in both engineering and art that have been around for ages—for hundreds and hundreds of years. And so maybe going back to these more primitive methods, it’s going back to where these initial pursuits first came from.”

Emily uses the principles behind these “primitive methods” in the virtual building models she creates for architects on her computer. An arch here…some stone there…and you’re working with fewer materials and you have a building that won’t collapse—or even buckle—anytime in the next century (or eight). Taking the best of the past—and using it to help create the buildings of the future—that’s the goal of Emily’s work.

And making these connections—bringing together things that others might never connect—is what drives Emily all the time:

“I think at the core, what I love about what I do is that it brings together so many different aspects of myself. You know, the art, the science. And I think essentially it’s this pairing of the form and the function. There’s this sort of elegant relationship between structural principles, and if you follow those structural principles in creating forms in a building, you’re going to get something that also looks beautiful. There’s an elegance in the mathematics [of the engineering] and it comes out as an elegance in the appearance of the design as well.”

Art. Science. Form. Function. Past. Present.

If Emily builds it, we will come.

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.