Beginning in 1979, Dr. Saiidi has been a leader in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering
1986 - 1994
Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley
2003 - 2009
Director, Undergraduate Research
Fulbright Scholar, University of Buenos Aires
2014 - 2019
Co-Director, University Transportation Center on Accelerated Bridge Construction
2010 - Present
Director, Center for Advanced Technology in Bridges & Infrastructure
1988 - Present
When Foundation Professor M. “Saiid” Saiidi was a boy, a powerful earthquake hit near his home in Iran. Houses were reduced to rubble, and the fear of aftershocks was strong enough that he and his neighbors chose to sleep out in the open that night, for fear that their homes might topple. This seminal experience led Saiidi to a career dedicated to increasing the safety and stability of buildings and bridges. Over the course of his career, his curiosity and drive led him to the United States and, eventually, the University of Nevada, Reno in 1979.
“Nevada is a pioneer land, and I wanted to be part of history here. I wanted to make this place stand out,” he said. “As an assistant professor, I had a lot of freedom and a lot of support, from the department chair up. It was very empowering.”
Forty-one years later, as he prepares to teach his last class, Professor Saiidi has helped bring the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to the world stage. Through 148 grants totaling $30 million, more than 500 publications, and the mentorship of 157 students, he has, indeed, made Nevada stand out.
On the strength of the research performed by Dr. Saiidi and his colleagues, the University of Nevada, Reno’s program on bridge earthquake engineering is considered one of the best in the world. Saiidi’s contribution to this reputation is undeniable, but when he speaks about the growth of the department, he takes a step back.
“When you want to develop the reputation of your program, there are four factors you have to get right: Faculty, facilities, institutional support, and high-quality students,” he said. “Little by little, over the years, we worked on all four of these. We brought in top-notch people and helped them succeed. As I retire, I see the momentum continuing and accelerating. It is very fulfilling.”
In his lifelong quest to improve bridge construction and performance, Saiidi has found that having a comprehensive knowledge of his field is only the starting point for true innovation.
“What you are looking for when you approach a problem in your field is the gaps in knowledge — what don’t we know, what aren’t we doing that we could be doing?” Saiidi said. “For me, finding the solutions for these knowledge gaps often comes from looking into other fields, looking at other materials, techniques, and ideas they have implemented and seeing if they could be adapted to the construction of bridges that retain their integrity even after earthquakes.”
This is how Saiidi decided to utilize material — nickel-titanium — that is commonly used in consumer products, like eyeglass frames, as a primary component in his pioneering bridge-making techniques.
“Bridges built with a modified concrete — using a combination of polyvinyl fibers — and with nickel-titanium bars instead of steel bars will not only survive an earthquake, but they will still be usable afterward,” Saiidi said. “We have proven that in the Shake Lab.”
In 2017, the FHA and the Washington Department of Transportation chose to implement his findings in the construction of a bridge on State Route 99. When it opened to traffic last February, the bridge was recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) as a Top 5 project of the year.
“Engineers are problem solvers,” Saiidi said. “We want to do research that is on the cutting edge but that has practical application. With the Seattle bridge, I spent twenty years doing research on nickel-titanium materials that no one had looked at in this field. With the opening of the bridge, we took an idea from A to Z.”
148 Grants totaling $30,457,120
UI Distinguished Alumni Award
University Established Innovator
University Outstanding Researcher
Regents Researcher Award
ASUN Advisor of the Year
PCI Journal Robert J. Lyman Award
National Academy of Engineering of Mexico Inductee
SMA/ECC SR-99 Bridge Honored as Top 5 by ASCE
Dr. Saiidi was honored by American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) at the April 10, 2019 Outstanding Projects and Leaders (OPAL) event for his work on the SR-99 bridge in Seattle. Featured innovations include Dr. Saiidi’s revolutionary use of flexible concrete compounds and memory-retaining nickel-titanium that enable the bridge to withstand 7.5-magnitude earthquakes. “For this project to be selected as a top candidate is indeed a great honor because the competitors are usually civil engineering mega projects of extraordinary magnitude and design from all around the world,” Saiidi said. "The SR-99 Off-Ramp bridge looks ordinary. What made it stand out is the SMA (shape memory alloys) and another innovative concrete that we used in the bridge."
Professor Saiidi mentored 157 University students
“Our students are the cream of the crop. I have a lot of respect for them. We have so much intellectual exchange, and inevitably, things other than research come up in our discussions. They are almost like my children, and I cherish the connections I have with them.”
Perhaps even more than when he speaks about his own research, when Saiidi talks about his students, the pride he feels is clear.
“Our students are the cream of the crop. They are professionals. I have a lot of respect for them,” Saiidi said. “We have so much intellectual exchange, and inevitably, things other than research come up in our discussions. They are almost like my children, and I cherish the connections I have with them.”
As a tangible manifestation of the connection he has with his students, in 2012, Saiidi began presenting each of his Ph.D. and M.S. students, past and present, with an original painting he made for each. For his Ph.D. students, the scenes and places represented are from his native Iran, while his M.S. students receive paintings depicting the United States.
The impact he has had on his students is manifest. Claudia Pulido ’01 Ph.D. said Dr. Saiidi “made an indelible mark in my personality and in how I appraoch my mentees.” Ashkan Vosooghi ’10 Ph.D. said he wished he could get another Ph.D. with Dr. Saiidi, and Ali Mehrsoroush ’14 Ph.D., when hearing about his retirement, said, “I owe you many of my life advancements and achievements forever and would like to thank you from bottom of my heart.”
Ahmed Akl ’15 Ph.D. summed it up nicely: “It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you.”
Notes of Gratitude
A thank you message from Alireza Mohebbi
Prof. Saiidi, you are everything one could look for in a good mentor. You inspired me to grow professionally and personally. Working with you has been a pleasure and a memorable experience. Thanks for being an amazing mentor and a great role model for me. I will forever be grateful for your guidance and kindness.
Alireza Mohebbi, Ph.D., A.M. ASCE National Research Council Research Associate Bridge Engineering Research Group FHWA-Turner Fairbank Highway Research Center
"Thank you for everything you have done for me, for your teaching and mentorship. You made an indelible mark in my personality and in how I approach my tasks/career/peers/mentees."
"I never forget the time I spent at UNR during my Ph.D. and Postdoc studies under your supervision.... I learned a lot from you way beyond school materials. I wish I could get another Ph.D. with you!"
"I want to congratulate you on your successes and your four decades of dedication to UNR and the field of structural engineering.... UNR today stands as a giant in seismic and structural research and education and a lot of that is because of your vision, innovation, and contribution. Your leadership and long term planning and strategy at UNR has been phenomenal and instrumental to get UNR to where we are today. On the personal front, I am forever grateful to have you as a mentor and your encouragement and wisdom have been a guiding light for me and my career. I remember what you said, ”America is a brand new country!”. This is very true and opportunities are abound as I did take full advantages of that. I am proud and honored of being a student of yours."
"You have shown me how to grow to a version of myself that I can be proud of. please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your guidance and support."
"Thank you for believing in me and giving me an opportunity that not only shaped my career but also changed my life. I will be forever grateful for your mentorship and support. You have inspired me to do work I can feel proud of and to develop and challenge myself and others around me to strive for excellence."
"It has been an honor and a pleasure working with you."
José Miguel Benjumea Royero
"I had the chance to work alongside you during nearly 10% of your time at UNR. During that period, your attitudes allowed me to confirm that success does not come free or randomly; instead, it emanates by irrigating your work with passion and sacrifice. I will always admire that. As you told me once, the best way that I can honor you is by excelling in my work here in Colombia."
"Knowing you and working with you was a wonderful and lifetime journey. I have learned so much from you at both personal and professional levels, and I hope to pass on to the next generation."
"I owe you many of my life advancements and achievements forever and would like to thank you from bottom of my heart for all of these."
Are you one of Dr. Saiidi's students?
Please share your thoughts on the legacy of Dr. Saiidi by emailing Curtis Vickers. If you have a photo of yourself with the painting he gave you, please share it as well.
Yang Jiang, Dr. Saiidi's first Ph.D. student
"Even though his direct mentorship and financial support for those five years happened long time ago, I still experience so much gratitude for what he has selflessly given me and for what he has taught me. I am doing my best to carry on his high standards through my work and by providing mentorship to many young engineers."
To continue to support the students and faculty at the University, Dr. Saiidi and his wife, Sohila, have established the M. Saiid & Sohila Saiidi Endowed Professorship“My wife, Sohila, and I moved to Reno to start my academic career at UNR, while she continued her civil engineering education. Even though I received many offers over the years from top ranked universities, we chose to stay because of the support of the University and the potential to substantially improve the program. Nevada is still a pioneer land in our opinion. Sohila returned to school and pursued a graduate degree later to enhance her career while working. Now 41 years later, we believe that the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department is on a very steep, upward trajectory, and we would like to help energize this move upon my retirement. Our donation will help attract and retain faculty members who share our wish to move the University toward being one of the best schools serving Nevada and the nation.” (Photo: Dr. Saiidi and his wife, Sohila, with their daughter-in-law, Carina, and their sons, Dustin (left) and Uptin.)
Would you like to contribute to Dr. Saiidi's legacy?