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    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  Jan 20, 2018
Rensselaer Catalog 2015-2016 [Archived Catalog]

Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Department Head: Chris Letchford

Associate Head Academic Affairs:  Michael O’Rourke

Department Home Page:

Civil and environmental engineers are responsible for providing the world’s constructed facilities and the infrastructure on which modern civilization depends. These facilities can be large and complex and require that the engineer be broadly trained and able to deal with the latest technologies.  Both civil and environmental engineers work to ensure that the impact of these facilities on the environment is considered and minimized.

Civil and environmental engineers focus on the analysis, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of physical systems both large and small. To ensure the proper construction and care of these complex systems and environments, Rensselaer civil and environmental engineers develop a full range of skills in design, analysis, fabrication, communication, management, and teamwork. The current rebuilding of the world’s roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, and other physical facilities has heightened society’s awareness of the profession and given it added prominence. The growing panoply of sensors, instrumentation, intelligent facilities, and new materials is also highlighting the high-tech character of the discipline, creating new educational challenges and redefining the skill set that civil and environmental engineers need to succeed.

At Rensselaer, civil engineering has a long and distinguished history. In 1835, the Institute became the first U.S. school to issue a civil engineering degree. Among its graduates are William Gurley (1839) and Lewis E. Gurley (1845) partners in W&LE Gurley, Troy, N.Y., one of the first manufacturers of precision surveying instruments. Other world-renowned Rensselaer civil engineering graduates include:

  • Francis Collingwood, Jr. (1855), honored by civil engineering’s Collingwood Prize
  • Washington Roebling (1857), builder of the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Seijiro Hirai (1878), a president of the Imperial Railways, Japan
  • George Ferris (1881), designer of the Ferris wheel
  • Frank C. (1880) and Kenneth H. Osborn (1908), founders Osborn Engineering and designers of major-league, municipal, and collegiate stadiums producing many major league baseball stadiums, including  Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, which celebrated its centenary in 2012 and is the last surviving example of Osborn era of sports stadia
  • Milton Brumer (1923), construction manager for the Verrazano Narrows Bridge
  • Werner Ammann (1928), former partner, Ammann and Whitney
  • Clay Bedford, Sr. (1925), general supervisor of the construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams
  • Ralph Peck (1934), co-author with Karl Terzaghi of the internationally-known book Soil Mechanics in Engineering Practice
  • James Mitchell (1951), international soils mechanics expert.

Today, Rensselaer civil and environmental engineers continue to be found at all levels in both private and public sectors throughout the world.

A long-standing tradition at Rensselaer is educational programs in environmental problem solving. An early contribution to this field was the water analysis work of William Pitt Mason (1874), the pioneer of such activities in the U.S. in the late 1800s. Edward J. Kilcawley, a Rensselaer civil engineering professor who introduced environmental engineering as an option in the mid-1940s and as a degree program in the mid-1950s, contributed visionary environmental engineering concepts.

In addition to those in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, there are faculty members with teaching and research interests in environmental problem solving in the Departments of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Mathematical Sciences.

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Earthquake Engineering (Civil)
Rensselaer’s earthquake engineering research program is concerned with seismic analysis and design methodologies that mitigate the negative impact of earthquakes on buildings, bridges, and pipelines (water, sewer, gas, and oil). It also focuses on analytical relationships that support decision-making and advance the state of the art in design codes, a key to future sustainability and durability. In these areas, Rensselaer’s earthquake engineering research is among the best in the world. The Institute has a major geotechnical centrifuge facility and a 1 g shaking table for structural system testing. The geotechnical centrifuge facility, fourth largest in the U.S. and among the 20 largest in the world, has in-flight 2-D shaking and robotic capabilities. Both the centrifuge and the shaking table are the major experimental components of CEES (Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation), a School of Engineering Interdisciplinary Research Center (see Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation). CEES is one of the 15 experimental nodes of NEES (Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation), an NSF Collaboratory initiative aimed at revolutionizing earthquake engineering research in the United States.

Structural Engineering (Civil)
Design and analysis of bridges, buildings, and other large-scale facilities; material selection and specification; structural technology selection; dynamic and static structural modeling and analysis; environmental loads on structures, including:  snow, wind, and earthquakes.

Geotechnical Engineering (Civil)
Behavior of soils and foundations under cyclic and dynamic loads; design methods to accommodate natural and man-made vibrations; geostochastics; soil dynamics, stability of earth slopes, structures, and dams, geoenvironmental engineering, landfill design, groundwater and groundwater contaminant transport, geotechnical centrifuge modeling, blasting, and disaster recovery.

Transportation Engineering (Civil)
This area of research includes design, analysis, maintenance, and operation of transportation systems and facilities; intelligent transportation systems, especially highway networks, goods distribution systems, and transit systems; real-time, multiobjective network management and control, including route guidance and dynamic traffic assignment; signal control systems; network management strategies; multiobjective routing and scheduling; and logistics decision making under uncertainty.

Computational Mechanics (Civil)
Studies involve modeling and simulation of engineering systems for analysis and design, computational micromechanics and multiple-scale modeling, automated finite element and discrete element modeling techniques, system identification and inverse problems, and adaptive analysis procedures and design systems using knowledge-base techniques.

Pollutant Fate and Transport (Environmental)
Research areas are assessment of pathogen loading and transport in water supplies and treatment systems, fate of hydrophobic organics in sediment, environmental chemistry of PAHs, molecular modeling in environmental chemistry, and structure activity relationships.

Water Treatment (Environmental)
Researchers investigate the influence of natural organic matter properties and water chemistry on the formation of disinfection byproducts, understanding fouling mechanisms in the use of membrane processes in water treatment, membrane modifications for water treatment, adsorption processes and hybrid processes for removal of DBP precursors.

Site Remediation and Bioremediation (Environmental)
Research areas include combined advanced oxidation and biological treatment for sediment and soil slurry systems, in-situ degradation of chlorinated organics in groundwater, and solid phase treatment reactors for soils, slurries, and municipal solid wastes.

Research Facilities
Rensselaer’s centrifuge was commissioned in 1989 and began conducting physical model simulations of soil and soil structure systems subjected to in-flight earthquake shaking in 1991. In over two decades of successful operation, the facility has published results of some 500 earthquake-related model simulations, served as the basis for many M.S. and Ph.D. theses at Rensselaer, and contributed to Institute faculty and student research as well as that of dozens of visiting scholars and outside users from around the world. Recently the centrifuge facility was upgraded to a 150 g-ton overall capacity and enhanced with Web-based teleobservation and teleoperation wireless sensors, as part of its integration into NEES (Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation), a national NSF-supported Collaboratory. Two modern telecontrol and teleconference rooms located close to the centrifuge facilitate collaboration and real-time experiments with the rest of NEES through a high-speed Internet connection. The geotechnical centrifuge is currently a main part of CEES, a School of Engineering Interdisciplinary Research Center.

The Rensselaer 1 g seismic shaking table, located in the Structural Dynamics and Earthquake Engineering Laboratory (SDEEL), part of the Jonsson Engineering Center High Bay Laboratory, is utilized to evaluate the behavior of scale-model structures subjected to dynamic loading. The shaking table, 1.6 m x 2.6 m in plan, is driven by a servo-controlled hydraulic actuator and is capable of reproducing a variety of input motions, including random motion for system identification testing and historical earthquake records for seismic testing. A variety of dynamic measurement sensors are available in the laboratory along with a spectrum analyzer and data acquisition system to process and record the measured signals.

Environmental Engineering students and faculty have access to the Environmental Engineering laboratories, and the W.M. Keck Foundation Water Quality Laboratory, both located in the Materials Research Center building. Facilities are also available in other laboratories on campus, such as the Rensselaer Biotechnology Center. The Environmental Engineering laboratories include the NSF-MRI Colloid and Particle Characterization Laboratory, offering a Brookhaven BI-90 differential light scattering instrument for nanoparticle characteization, a Coulter Multisizer II particle counter with a range of apertures for analysis of particles over a size range of 0.3 to over 100 microns, and a Quantachrome Autosorb-1A-MP gas adsorption analyzer with a 1-torr pressure transducer and multi-gas capabilities, to characterize particle surface area and porosity.  Other major analytical equipment available in the Environmental Engineering laboratories includes UV-visible spectrophotometers;Hewlett Packard gas chromatographs with FID, TCD, and ECD detection; a Shimadzu A17 GC with FID and ECD detectors; a Hewlett-Packard 1100 high performance liquid chromatograph with a quaternary pump, an on-line degasser, an autosampler, a temperature-controlled column station, and with UV, fluorescence, and electrochemical detection; a Shimadzu HPLC with UV detector and an autosampler; a Shimadzu TOC-5000 low-level organic carbon analyzer. The department recently constructed a microbiology lab that is fully equipped with instruments and facilities needed to enrich, isolate, cultivate and analyze aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms that are important contributors to environmental biogeochemical processes. 

Faculty *


Abdoun, T.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); geotechnical engineering, geotechnical centrifuge modeling, earthquake engineering.

Baveye, P.Ph.D. (University of California, Riverside); water resources, soil and water engineering.

Dobry, R.—Sc.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); geotechnical engineering, soil dynamics, earthquake engineering, seismic analysis.

Gorby, Y.Ph.D. (University of New Hampshire); microbiology, geomicrobiology, electromicrobiology, and bioremediation.

Holguín-Veras, J.—P.E., Ph.D. (The University of Texas at Austin); intelligent transportation networks, intermodal transportation, transportation planning and modeling, transportation economics.

Letchford, C.—P.E., C.P. Eng., D. Phil. (Oxford University); wind engineering, bluff body aerodynamics,  structural dynamics.

O’Rourke, M.J.—P.E., Ph.D. (Northwestern University); structures, lifeline earthquake engineering, snow loading on structures.

Shephard, M.S.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); computational mechanics, parallel processing, adaptive finite element techniques, automatic mesh generation.

Wallace, W.A.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); decision support systems, the process of modeling, environmental management, disaster management.

Zimmie, T.F.—P.E., Ph.D. (University of Connecticut); geoenvironmental engineering, geotechnical engineering, groundwater hydrology, flow through porous media, landfills, centrifuge modeling, geosynthetics.

Associate Professors

Ban, X.Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); traffic simulation and network modeling.

Kilduff, J.—P.E., Ph.D. (University of Michigan); physicochemical processes, separations and recovery processes in water and wastewater treatment, effects of adsorption and mass-transfer on pollutant fate and transport in natural systems, membrane processes for water quality control.

Mistur, M.—M.S.(Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); architecture, building systems.

Nyman, M.C.—Ph.D. (Purdue University); fate and transport of hydrophobic organic contaminants in natural systems, environmental chemistry.

Symans, M.—Ph.D. (University at Buffalo); structural dynamics, earthquake engineering, seismic isolation and energy dissipation systems, structural vibration control.

Zeghal, M.—Ph.D. (Princeton University); soil dynamics and geotechnical earthquake engineering, computational geomechanics, geotechnical system identification and seismic response monitoring, damage diagnosis and nondestructive evaluation, and seismic risk analyses.

Assistant Professors

Alnaggar, M.—Ph.D. (Northwestern University); computational and applied mechanics; concrete constititutive modeling; infrastrcture resilience.

Bennett, V.Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); geotechnical engineering and instrumentation.

Uchida, S.—Ph.D. (University of Cambridge); geotechnical numerical analysis; computational geomechanics; thermo-hydro-mechanical behavior of soils; constitutive modeling of solids; soil structure interactions, and soil dynamics.

Wang, X.—P.E., Ph.D. (The University of Texas at Austin); transportation engineering.

Professor of Practice

Reilly, J.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); transportation systems.

Adjunct Faculty

Dall, J.—P.E., M.S. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); structural engineering.

Dolmetsch, J.P.E., B.S. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); wastewater design.

Floess, C.—P.E., Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); geotechnical engineering.

Kanonik, M.P.E., B.S. (The Pennsylvania State University); steel design.

Emeritus Faculty

Clesceri, N.L.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); advanced waste treatment, environmentally sound manufacturing, sediment decontamination.

Feeser, L.J.—P.E., Ph.D. (Carnegie Mellon University); structures, computer applications and computer graphics, computer-aided design, structural optimization.

* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2015 Board of Trustees meeting.

Undergraduate Programs

Outcomes of the Undergraduate Curricula
Students who successfully complete the program in Civil Engineering or Environmental Engineering will be able to demonstrate:

  • an ability to apply knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering.
  • an ability to design and conduct experiments, as well as to analyze and interpret data.
  • an ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints such as economic, environmental, social, political, ethical, health and safety, manufacturability, and sustainability.
  • an ability to function on multi-disciplinary teams.
  • an ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems.
  • an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.
  • an ability to communicate effectively.
  • the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental and societal context.
  • a recognition of the need for, and an ability to engage in lifelong learning.
  • a knowledge of contemporary issues.
  • an ability to use techniques, skills, and modern engineering tools necessary for engineering practice.


Objectives of the Undergraduate Program in Civil Engineering

The Civil and Environmental Engineering programs are each designed to prepare students for continued learning and successful careers in industry, government, academia, and consulting. Within a few years of graduation, graduates of the Bachelor of Science program in civil engineering are expected to:

  • contribute to the body of knowledge in Civil Engineering as professionals engaged in problem-solving, design, discovery, and responsible application of technology.
  • further develop leadership skills by accepting increasing levels of responsibility in engineering practice, communicating in professional and civic forums, and progressing toward professional licensure.
  • continue to develop both professionally and personally through graduate study, participation in professional societies, continuing education, and community service.

Objectives of the Undergraduate Program in Environmental Engineering

Graduates of the Bachelor of Science program in Environmental Engineering will be expected to:

  • contribute to the body of knowledge in Environmental Engineering as professionals engaged in problem-solving, design, discovery, and responsible application of technology.
  • further develop leadership skills by accepting increasing levels of responsibility in engineering practice, communicating in professional and civic forums, and progressing toward professional licensure.
  • continue to develop both professionally and personally through graduate study, participation in professional societies, continuing education, and community service.

The Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering degree programs at Rensselaer are each independently accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET,

Graduate Programs

Graduate programs leading to the M.Eng., M.S., and Ph.D. are available in both curricula and Transportation Engineering. The selection of a graduate program and degree is based on student interest, area of graduate concentration, and satisfaction of prerequisites as indicated below. Office of Graduate Education requirements in relation to minimum grades (B average) and maximum number of credits at the 4000 level (15 credit hours.) apply.

Minor Programs

The department offers minors in both civil and environmental engineering.

Course Descriptions

Courses directly related to all Civil and Environmental Engineering curricula are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the department codes CIVL and ENVE.

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