Mehdi "Saiid" Saiidi, Foundation Professor of civil and environmental engineering in the University of Nevada, Reno's College of Engineering, is leading something of a revolution in the field of bridge engineering. Over his career that has spanned three decades, innovation has been a constant and Saiidi has remained at the forefront of earthquake engineering for bridges.
In recognition of his pioneering research, Saiidi has been named the recipient of the University's 2016 Established Innovator Award.
For years, bridges in seismically active zones have been designed with the primary goal of saving lives in the event of an earthquake. As a result, bridges were designed to withstand collapse but were generally unusable after an earthquake, hampering rescue and recovery efforts by taking out key transportation infrastructure. Using innovative materials such as nickel titanium and rubber, reinforced polymers, Saiidi designed a bridge that tests have shown can withstand severe shaking and still be usable.
"This effort was a major departure from research and practice in bridge engineering, which has been completely focused for over a century on regular concrete and steel with all their drawbacks," Ahmad Itani, professor and chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering, said.
With funding from the Federal Highway Administration's Innovative Bridge Research and Deployment program, Saiidi's research results are being implemented in a showcase-bridge under construction in downtown Seattle and slated for completion in 2016. The project is receiving considerable attention from the construction industry around the world.
"This is not a little bridge somewhere in a back-road or rural area where no one sees it. This is downtown, very visible," Saiidi said a 2015 interview for Nevada Engineering magazine.
Saiidi is pleased and surprised at how quickly new materials have been embraced in the engineering community. "I'm glad we have those kind of engineers," he said. "Let's talk about how we can break loose from the same old and do something different and exciting."
"Dr. Saiidi inspires his colleagues and students to explore bold, new solutions," Mridul Gautam, vice president of research and innovation, said.
Saiidi's affiliations and recognitions are numerous and include receiving the University of Nevada, Reno Outstanding Researcher Award in 2000, the Outstanding Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2003, the Nevada Board of Regents Researcher Award in 2003, the College of Engineering's Lemelson Award for Innovative Research in 2004 and, acknowledging his dedication to students, the Advisor of Year Award from the Associated Students at the University of Nevada in 2004. Saiidi is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a Fellow of the American Concrete Institute. He has published more than 400 articles and reports and presented research in 26 countries, many as a keynote speaker.
A number of agencies have supported Saiidi's continued research including the National Science Foundation, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation and the Department of Transportation in the states of California, Nevada and Washington.
"Dr. Saiidi sets the mark for the level of excellence to which the College of Engineering aspires," Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering, said. "His research is original and innovative and has made a seminal contribution to seismic safety around the globe."
Saiidi joined the University in 1979. He earned doctoral and master's degrees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree at Tehran University in Iran.
Saiidi will be presented the Established Innovator Award at the University's annual Honor the Best program May 10, 2016.
Note: Kirstin Swagman contributed to this story.