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News Release

Joel Conte Named to the Eric and Johanna Reissner Chair for Structural Engineering

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Joel Conte, a professor in the Department of Structural Engineering at UC San Diego, was named to the Eric and Johanna Reissner Chair.
Photos: David Baillot

San Diego, Calif., June 1, 2020 --  Structural engineering professor Joel Conte was named to the Eric and Johanna Reissner Chair in the Department of Structural Engineering at UC San Diego.

Conte is the principal investigator for the operation and maintenance of the world’s largest outdoor shake table located at the UC San Diego Englekirk Structural Engineering Center at the University of California San Diego. The facility, which is also the second  largest shake table in the world overall,  is currently undergoing a major upgrade funded by the National Science Foundation. Once upgraded, the shake table will be able to reproduce all six components of ground motions experienced during earthquakes. Conte is the principal investigator on the $16.3 million upgrade grant. 

“We will be able to reproduce actual earthquake ground motions with the most accuracy of any large shake table in the world,” Conte said.

“This will accelerate the discovery of the knowledge engineers need to design new buildings, bridges, power plants, dams, levees, telecommunication towers, wind turbines, retaining walls, tunnels, and to retrofit older structures vulnerable to earthquakes. It will enhance the resiliency of our communities.”

After the upgrade, the facility will be able to subject the heaviest and tallest test specimens in the world to extreme earthquake forces in near real-world conditions.

In the past 15 years, seismic research carried out at UC San Diego’s outdoor shake table has led to important changes in design codes for commercial and residential structures and new insights into the seismic performance of geotechnical systems, such as foundations, bridge abutments, tunnels and retaining walls. It also has helped validate the use of innovative technologies and design methodologies to make buildings more likely to withstand earthquakes. 

Conte’s research focuses on developing computer models of civil infrastructure that can capture how these systems fail when experiencing extreme seismic forces. By combining structural mechanics and dynamics with probabilistic methods, he and his team are developing risk- and performance-based seismic assessment and design methodologies. Conte calibrates numerical models of structural systems based on measurement data. He then evaluates and validates these models on experimental or field data. These models can be used to predict and diagnose damage in civil structures. Conte also researches shake table dynamics and control.

Funds from the Eric and Johanna Reissner Chair will help support Conte’s teaching and research. 

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As principal investigator for UC San Diego's shake table--the largest outdoor earthquake simulator in the world--Conte conducts research on seismic safety. The shake table is funded by the National Science Foundation. 

“Joel's work in leading the operations and upgrade of our earthquake simulator has been extremely important for the seismic safety research community,” said John McCartney, chair of the Department of Structural Engineering at UC San Diego. “This endowed chair will allow him to continue playing this key role while continuing his own teaching and research.”   

Before joining UC San Diego in 2001, Conte served as associate professor of civil engineering at UCLA and before that at Rice University. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), and the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE). He is also a member of the Chi Epson civil engineering honor society. Conte is a recipient of the Research Initiation Award from the National Science Foundation, a co-recipient of the ASCE Moisseiff Award, and a recipient of the UCSD’s Academic Senate Distinguished Teaching Award.

The Reissner chair is named in honor of Eric Reissner, who served as professor of Applied Mechanics and Engineering Sciences at UC San Diego between 1969 and 1979 before retiring, and his wife, Johanna. 

Reissner was a Guggenheim fellow and received the Timoshenko Medal in 1973, the Theodore von Karman Medal in 1964, and the ASME Medal in 1988. “Dr. Reissner is perhaps best known for the Reissner shear-deformation plate theory, which describes mathematically what happens to a flat surface when a force is applied to it. Engineers use it to analyze the external forces that act on structural surfaces like floors or the skin of airplane wings,” The New York Times wrote in Reissner’s obituary in 1996. 


Media Contacts

Ioana Patringenaru
Jacobs School of Engineering