Earthquake and structural engineering involves the analysis and design of structures that support or resist loads. These loads may be ‘service’ loads such as traffic loads on a bridge or contents and furniture loads in a building. Or they may be ‘extreme’ loads such as wind, flood, and earthquake. At the University of Nevada, Reno, structural engineering is a speciality within civil engineering.
Structural engineers typically design buildings, bridges, and industrial plant. They may also be involved in the design of non-structural components in buildings such as piping systems, as well as machinery, medical equipment, and vehicles, or any item where structural integrity is required to ensure functionality and safety. Structural engineers are required to satisfy codes and standards set by local, state and federal agencies and ensure, for example, that bridges do not collapse in earthquakes or buildings do not sway in the wind causing discomfort to the occupants.
The theory of structural engineering is based upon physical laws and empirical knowledge of the structural performance and material behavior. Structural engineers work with a relatively small number of basic elements (beams, columns, footings and piles) and materials (steel, concrete and wood) to build up structural systems that can be very complex. Structural engineers are responsible for creative and efficient use of funds to satisfy public expectations of safe and functional structures that are also aesthetically pleasing.
Structural Engineering Program
Earthquake Engineering is the major focus of the Structures Program at the University of Nevada, Reno – to improve the resilience of the built environment to large earthquakes. A feature of this program is the ability to simulate earthquake effects at large-scale. For this purpose a state-of-the-art laboratory has been developed with four, independent, high-payload shake tables. This laboratory is one of fifteen in the NSF-supported George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). It is perhaps the only laboratory in the U.S. with four, high-capacity tables capable of modeling, for example, the spatial variation in earthquake ground motion and studying this effect on spatially-linear structural systems.
Another distinguishing feature of this program is its focus on the performance of highway bridges. Today the program has a national and international reputation for state-of-the-art research in bridge engineering and the performance of bridges in earthquakes. Sponsors of this effort include the National Science Foundation, California Department of Transportation, Nevada Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.
M.S. and Ph.D. graduate students are involved in almost every project. A growing trend is the involvement of senior undergraduate students in these projects, many of whom have gone on to study for an M.S. or Ph.D. degree.
Emerging trends in the field include use of new materials (such as shape-memory alloys), the performance of nonstructural systems in buildings (such as piping systems), and modeling complex systems under extreme events (such as highway networks). Projects are underway in each of these areas.
Established in 1984, the Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research (CCEER) is an important component of the Structural Engineering Program. It coordinates education and research activities and publishes a series of technical reports in earthquake engineering.
Other Program activities include:
- offering short courses in topics such as ‘steel bridge design’ and ‘seismic retrofitting of highway bridges’
- participating in code development for the design of bridges and buildings
- consulting to the structural engineering profession in areas of expertise
- offering a service-to-industry program to industries and practicing professionals for qualification testing and development of new products
- hosting high school visits to the structures laboratory, and
- organizing a week-long summer camp in earthquake engineering for 8-10th grade students.
Six academic faculty, two research faculty, and one emeritus faculty comprise the Structural Engineering Group.
Ian Buckle (Academic Faculty)
Dr Buckle is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and director of the Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research. He has previously served as Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), University of Auckland, New Zealand, and as Deputy Director of the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, University at Buffalo, New York (now the Multidisciplinary Center for Extreme Events Research). Dr. Buckle is also the director of the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory at Reno, which houses a multiple shake table facility, one of the fifteen Equipment Sites established in 2004 by the National Science Foundation in the George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). Dr. Buckle’s research interests include the seismic performance of bridges and buildings; design and retrofit criteria for highway bridges; earthquake protective systems for bridges; resilience of highway systems subject to earthquakes; large-scale and field testing of bridges; design and performance of bridges for differential temperature and live load impact, and nonlinear analysis of structures subject to dynamic loads. He has conducted short courses in bridge engineering, seismic retrofitting, and the seismic isolation of highway bridges. He is the lead author of the seismic provisions in the AASHTO LFRD Bridge Specifications and the FHWA Seismic Retrofitting Manual for Highway Structures. Dr. Buckle is Chair of the TRB Committee on the Seismic Design and Performance of Bridges, Vice-Chairman of the Caltrans Seismic Advisory Board, and a member of the Board of Directors of ANCER, CUREE, NEES Consortium, and the Nevada Earthquake Safety Council.
Bruce Douglas (Emeritus Faculty)
Dr. Douglas retired in 1999 as emeritus professor in Civil Engineering .His research interests include the seismic performance of bridges and buildings, development of full-scale testing techniques (such as quick-release field testing), and the development of shake table testing for large-scale bridge components. Dr. Douglas was the founding director of both the Center for Civil Engineering Earthquake Research and the Bridge Structures Laboratory (now the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory). In addition he served as chair of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1976 – 1984. Dr. Douglas received the UNR Foundation Professorship Award in 1984, and the UNR Outstanding Researcher Award in 1985.
Sherif Elfass (Research Faculty)
Dr. Elfass is a research assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and NEES Site Operations Manager in the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory. This laboratory is one of 15 facilities nation-wide that comprise the NSF-sponsored George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). Dr. Elfass is the principal point-of-contact for the NEES Site at UNR and his responsibilities include day-to-day operation of the NEES facility including telepresence and data management services. His research interests range from improving the bearing capacity of drilled shafts using post-grouting methods, to the application of information technologies to advance experimental simulation in the laboratory and field.
Ahmad Itani (Academic Faculty)
Dr. Itani is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His research interests include: earthquake resistant design of steel structures; development of large-scale structural testing techniques; behavior of structural systems under dynamic and impact loading; and seismic evaluation and rehabilitation of structural systems and nonstructural components. He is member of several ASCE and invitational AISI technical committees. He was member of Caltrans seismic evaluation task force for the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. He has published over 150 research articles and reports and has presented his research findings in national and international conferences. Dr. Itani established the bridge engineering courses and the advanced structural steel design course at UNR. He is a Fellow of ASCE.
Patrick Laplace (Research Faculty)
Dr. Laplace is a research assistant professor and Technical Services Manager in the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory. This laboratory is one of 15 facilities nation-wide that comprise the NSF-sponsored George E. Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES). Dr. Laplace’s responsibilities include laboratory development, project execution, and laboratory management. His research interests range from the performance of reinforced concrete structures under extreme earthquake loads, to the design and operation of high-performance servo-controlled testing systems. In 2007 he received the ‘Best Experimental Site Innovation’ Award from the NEES Consortium for extending the boundaries of large-scale experimental simulation.
Emmanuel (Manos) Maragakis (Academic Faculty)
Dr. Maragakis is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His research interests include: earthquake response of buildings and bridges; computer simulation; full-scale field and laboratory experimental studies on highway bridges and their components; dynamic and earthquake response of railway bridges; fatigue analysis of railway bridge connections; underground piping systems; earthquake response of non-structural components. Dr. Maragakis is the Principal Investigator of an NSF-funded NEESR Grand Challenge Award on the seismic performance of nonstructural systems. This five-year project involves collaborative experimental and analytical research with partners in 10 other universities and institutions. Dr. Maragakis served as chair of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1994 – 2008, and as Interim Dean of the College in 2008-09. He received a UNR Foundation Professorship in 2005, and is the Immediate Past Chair of the TRB Committee on the Seismic Design and Performance of Bridges.
Gokhan Pekcan (Academic Faculty)
Dr. Pekcan is an assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering. He has previously served as the Interim Program Officer for Transportation Research at MCEER (Multidisciplinary Center for Extreme Events Research, formerly the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research). During the establishment of the NEES Equipment Site at UNR, Dr. Pekcan was the Site and Project Manager and oversaw the development of the telepresence functions and related infrastructure for remote participation and research collaboration. Moreover, he served as the Project Manager and Task Team Leader for the NEES System Integrator (National Center for Supercomputing Applications, NCSA) in the development of early data and metadata models for earthquake engineering. His research interests include theoretical study and experimental aspects of earthquake engineering focusing on earthquake hazard mitigation by passive supplementary energy dissipating systems; experimental and analytical studies of seismic performance, design and retrofit of buildings and bridges. Dr. Pekcan is a member of the TRB Committee on the Seismic Design and Performance of Bridges.
Mehdi (Saiid) Saiidi (Academic Faculty)
Dr. Saiidi is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, a division of the Office of Vice President for Research. As director, Dr. Saiidi is responsible for promoting and facilitating undergraduate research in all colleges at UNR. He served as the Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering from 1986 to 1994. An active researcher with multiple, externally-funded grants in earthquake engineering, he is the Principal Investigator of an NSF-funded NEESR Small Group Award on the seismic behavior of bridges using innovative materials. This 4-year project involves collaborative research with four other universities.
Dr. Saiidi was the founding chairman of ACI Committee 341, Earthquake Resistant Concrete Bridges. He has also served as subcommittee chair of several other ACI-ASCE committees. As the Director of Office of Undergraduate Research he is also the leader of an NSF grant to support undergraduate research at Nevada universities. Dr. Saiidi’s research interests include: earthquake engineering of reinforced concrete bridges and other structures; large-scale testing and analysis of structural members and systems; fiber-reinforced polymers in earthquake-resistant structures; and shape-memory alloys in earthquake-resistant structures. He has published more than 350 research articles and reports, and has presented his research in 25 countries. He was the recipient of the UNR Foundation Professorship Award in 1997, the UNR Outstanding Researcher Award in 2000, Nevada Regents Researcher Award in 2003, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Outstanding Alumnus Award in 2003, and the Lemelson Innovation Award in 2004. He is a Fellow of ASCE and ACI.
David Sanders (Academic Faculty)
Dr. Sanders is a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. His research areas include the behavior and design of concrete structures with emphasis in bridges and connections. He has been active in advanced construction methods and materials, such as unbonded concrete columns, precast concrete construction, fiber reinforced concrete and high strength concrete. Dr. Sanders has been involved in the seismic evaluation, design, retrofitting and repair of prestressed concrete structures. He has also studied system as well as component behavior, using both cyclic testing and shake-table techniques.
Dr. Sanders is the Co-Principal Investigator for the NEES Equipment Site at UNR, sponsored by NSF and housed within the Large-Scale Structures Laboratory. He is the Chair of the Technical Activities Committee within the American Concrete Institute (ACI), past chair of the ACI-ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) Committee 445, Shear and Torsion, and past chair of ACI Committee 341, Earthquake Resistant Concrete Bridges. Dr. Sanders is also a member of ACI 318E, Shear and Torsion, a subcommittee to the building code committee of ACI. Notable technical accomplishments include receiving an NSF-funded NEESR Small Group Award as a PI, two awards from Iowa State University: Professional Progress in Engineering Award (2006) and an Outstanding Young Alumnus (2000), and being elected an ACI Fellow.
The major thrust of the research activity over the past decade has focused on the seismic performance of highway bridges. The result of this effort has been an improved understanding of how bridges behave during strong shaking and the identification of technologies and methodologies to improve this performance. Examples include new models for nonlinear column behavior under biaxial moment, shear and axial load, new materials for plastic hinge zones in columns, fiber wraps for strengthening existing columns, FRP restrainers to prevent unseating at hinge seats, shear link energy dissipators for long-span bridges, ductile end-cross-frames for steel bridge superstructures, and improved elastomeric isolators. For a detailed description of some of these projects go to http://nees.unr.edu/projects/projects.html.
The findings from these projects are published in the archival literature, conference papers, the CCEER Technical Report Series, and student dissertations. In addition, many of these findings have been included in recent updates to the FHWA Retrofit Manual for Highway Structures, and the AASHTO LRFD Seismic Design Specifications for Bridges.
Findings from other research projects such as piping systems and other non-structural components , are expected to appear in the codes and standards that govern, for example, hospital safety, but these efforts are still in their infancy compared to the bridge work.
In evaluating a student's application to the structural engineering graduate program, the structural engineering faculty will consider all aspects of the student's credentials. This includes academic performance in their respective past programs, scores on entrance examinations (GRE and TOEFL, if applicable), references, and the applicant's stated goals.
Financial aid available to students ranges from full or partial Teaching or Research Assistantships. Most graduate students are supported by assistantships. Awards are made on the basis of scholarship and promise for outstanding achievement. The applicant's grade point average, GRE scores and letters of recommendation are the primary means used for selecting new students to receive financial aid.
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Structural Engineering Program
University of Nevada, Reno/0258
Reno, NV 89557-0258
Phone: (775) 784-6937
Fax: (775) 784-1390