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  Jul 24, 2017
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Rensselaer Catalog 2008-2009 [Archived Catalog]

Civil and Environmental Engineering

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Department Head: Jose Holguin-Veras (Acting)

Associate Head Academic Affairs:  Michael O’Rourke

Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies (Civil and Environmental Programs): Simeon Komisar

Coordinator of Graduate Studies (Civil Program): Tarek Abdoun

Coordinator of Graduate Studies (Environmental Program): James (Chip) Kilduff

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.

Civil and environmental engineers focus on the analysis, design, construction, maintenance, and operation of large-scale physical systems. 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
  • 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

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 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 and Innovation 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 twenty 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.

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 the development of automated finite element modeling techniques, adaptive analysis procedures, development of adaptive multiscale solution techniques, qualification and modeling of engineering idealizations for analysis and design, design systems using knowledge-base techniques, prototype systems for applications including discrete crack propagation, forging simulations, multiple-scale modeling of composite materials and electronic packages, and unsteady aerodynamics.

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, and environmental chemistry of PAHs.

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.

Waste Treatment (Environmental)

Studies focus on aerobic and anaerobic biological treatment reactors for municipal and industrial wastes; high strength anaerobic waste treatment in fluidized bed bioreactors with energy recovery, nutrient removal systems, hazardous waste treatment reactors, biofilters.

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.

Environmental Systems (Environmental)

Under investigation are adaptive optimal control of treatment reactors, molecular modeling in environmental chemistry, and structure activity relationships.

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 a decade 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 (Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation), a School of Engineering Interdisciplinary Research Center (see Center for Earthquake Engineering Simulation).

The Rensselaer 1 g seismic shaking table, located in 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.

A major upgrade in lab equipment and space for environmental engineering research and teaching has occurred through the establishment of the Keck Water Quality Laboratory, the National Science Foundation Environmental Colloid and Particle Laboratory, and the refurbishment of the Environmental Engineering Teaching Laboratory suite. Analytical equipment in these labs provides the capability for analysis and investigation of a wide variety of industrial processes, treatment processes, and polluted environments. This equipment gives students experience and expertise in treatability and toxicity studies, design and operation of bench-scale treatment systems, and investigation of a wide range of environmental quality parameters. The fate of specific compounds in the environment and in treatment processes can be analyzed by UV-VIS spectrophotometry, high pressure liquid chromatography, gas-liquid and gas chromatography with a number of specific and sensitive detectors, including electron capture, flame ionization, thermal conductivity, and mass spectral. Metals analyses by atomic absorption spectrophotometry and elemental analyses are also available. A complete suite of water quality monitoring equipment, field sampling systems, and geographical information system tools are available. Computational capabilities are widely accessible not only throughout the campus, but also in research laboratories, as well.

Faculty *


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

Dvorak, G.J.—Ph.D. (Brown University); mechanics of solids, composite materials and structures, fracture and fatigue.

Fish, J.—Ph.D. (Northwestern University); computational mechanics, finite element methods, micromechanics, mathematical modeling.

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

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

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

Kilduff, J.—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.

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

Symans, M.—Ph.D. (State University of New York 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

Cusatis, Gianluca —Ph.D. (Politecnico di Milano); computational and applied mechanics, hetero-geneous materials, reinforced concrete structures, multi-hazard structural analysis.

Ukkusuri, Satish—Ph.D. (University of Texas, Austin); transportation network modeling, stochastic optimization, traffic operations, transportation safety and security.

Montoya, Lupita—Ph.D. (Stanford University); indoor air quality, biological aerosols, health effects of aerosols, human exposure to air pollutants, environmental justice.

Clinical Associate Professor

Komisar, S.J.—Ph.D. (University of Washington); wastewater treatment, biological processes, solid waste management.

Adjunct Faculty (Civil Program)

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

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

Kenneally, D.—B.S. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); highway engineering.

O’Malley, D.—M.S. (Central Missouri State University); traffic engineering.

Griggs, F.—D.E. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); structural engineering.

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

Westhuis, T.—B.S. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); highway engineering.

Adjunct Faculty (Environmental Program)

Esler, J. —P.E., B.S. (Manhattan College); industrial waste treatment.

Hetling, L.—P.E., Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); water resources.

Young, K.—J.D. (Harvard Law School); environmental law.

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 2008 Board of Trustees meeting.

Minor Programs

The department offers minors in both civil and environmental engineering.

Graduate Programs

Graduate programs leading to the M.Eng., M.S., and Ph.D. are available in both curricula. The selection of a graduate program and degree is based on student interest, area of graduate concentration, and satisfaction of prerequisites as indicated below.

Doctoral Programs

Advanced study and research are conducted under the guidance of an adviser. Usually 45 to 60 course credits beyond the bachelor’s degree are required in addition to the residence and thesis requirements. Each doctoral candidate must have at least 90 credits (course work plus thesis/project) beyond the bachelor’s degree. Environmental candidates are required to submit a draft of a journal article prior to graduation.

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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