The Panama Canal: How It Was Built and Why It Matters

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Duration 01:07:32

Northwestern University

Joseph L. Schofer is Professor Emeritus of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern University. A Fellow of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Dr. Schofer currently chairs the Standing Committee on Data for Decision Making for the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, & Medicine. He also chaired the Congressionally mandated TRB consensus study on Investing in Transportation Resilience: A Framework for Informed Choices. Since 2009, Dr. Schofer has hosted “The Infrastructure Show,” a monthly podcast on which he interviews infrastructure experts.



The Panama Canal – which some say is the 8th Wonder of the World – is one of the greatest engineering achievements of the modern era; one which changed the pattern of global logistics forever. In this course, we will use archival materials to explore how the Canal was built: the challenges that were faced and how they were overcome from the perspectives of design, construction, and management.  We will describe advances in technologies and leadership strategies that transformed an isolated, disease-ridden rain forest into a modern transportation link that–after 108 years–continues to function, substantially unchanged, as one of the busiest transportations links in the world. We will trace the history of the Canal through the implementation of the new, post-Panamax locks opened in 2016. Understanding the keys to the original canal will reveal useful principles that apply to the megaprojects of today.




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Mary Lou Gerstle

Panama Canal

Very interesting talk. I like this technical approach to this topic.

2 years ago
Ann Whaley

The Panama Canal….

Very interesting. Now I want to be on a ship that goes THROUGH the Panama Canal!!

2 years ago
Richard Noel

Excellent !

I thoroughly enjoyed this presentation … Even at 67, and having learned about various aspects of the Panama Canal beginning in grammar school as well as via watching documentaries over the years, I learned a great deal through this presentation from a historical perspective. Thank-you ! One area I didn’t hear addressed is the impact on wildlife, particularly where Gatun Lake and the flooding arm that extends up the Chagres River is concerned. I’m doubting that environmental impact was a “thing” back then but, Is there any data on the impact to wildlife as a result of building the canal ?

2 years ago
Todd Areson

The Engineering and Challenges in Building the Panama Canal

Prof. Shofer presents a thorough picture from an engineering point-of-view of the decision-making involved in whether to build a sea-level or lock canal, which he follows with the key elements addressed and the challenges overcome to build the lock-canal itself. His archival documentation of the design, construction, and management of the Canal as an engineering feat is clear and easily understood.

2 years ago

A must-watch!

Interesting combination of medicine, engineering and history. Thank you!

1 year ago
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