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Civil engineering legend John Fisher honored, retiring

Throughout his 45-year career, John W. Fisher has never let latitude, longitude, altitude or bureaucracy deter his pursuit of the art of structural engineering.

Around the world, Fisher has knelt next to crumbled buildings and atop collapsed bridges to examine the critical connections that gave way.

At Lehigh, he has conducted experiments on the largest equipment in North America to evaluate new materials and structural prototypes.

On the lecture circuit and before congressional committees, Fisher has warned America’s leaders: Either take the preventive medicine of research and development and fix the nation’s infrastructure, or pay the steeper costs of failure and the lawsuits that inevitably follow.

Fisher, the Joseph T. Stuart Professor of civil engineering at Lehigh, has won nearly every medal and distinction in his field, and has examined most of the major failures of steel structures in America in the last four decades. He and other Lehigh researchers pinpointed a popular weld metal as the cause of many failures during the 1994 Northridge-Los Angeles Earthquake.

More recently, Fisher served on a panel of national experts that investigated the collapse of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, and prepared a report for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 16-17, experts from around the world, including many of Fisher’s former students and colleagues, will assemble at Lehigh to celebrate Fisher’s unprecedented contributions to bridge engineering and structural connections.

The John W. Fisher Tribute and Symposium will honor Fisher as he formally retires as a professor and as the founder and former director of Lehigh’s ATLSS (Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems) Engineering Research Center.

Sessions on Friday afternoon (Aug. 16) will discuss Fisher’s work with fatigue and fracture, especially in bridges, steel structures, and composite structures. On Saturday morning (Aug. 17) the subject will shift to bolted connections and large-scale experimental research, including experiments performed at Lehigh on prototype double-hulled ships for the U.S. Navy.

Alan W. Pense, provost emeritus at Lehigh, who accompanied Fisher on many of his fact-finding missions and post-mortems, will give a brief summary of Fisher’s career on Friday at 1 p.m. in the Perella Auditorium of the Rauch Business Center. Pense has promised not to spare his trademark "host and roast" wit as he offers glimpses of Fisher from his early days as an assistant bridge research engineer for the AASHO Road Test facility in Ottawa, Illinois.

Beneath one photo of Fisher balanced precariously on top of a cracked bridge, Pense has written, "John Fisher, the Fearless, working in places you do not want to go. This [bridge] is typical of his ‘go where you have to’ attitude. Unfortunately, he wanted you to follow."

Jean-Claude Badoux ’65 Ph.D., president of the Swiss Network for Innovation in Lausanne and former president of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), will give the banquet speech on Saturday evening in the dining room of Iacocca Hall.

Other notables who will talk include:

Chitoshi Miki, professor of civil engineering and director of the Research Center for Urban Infrastructures at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Robert A.P. Sweeney, a consultant with Modjeski and Masters Consulting Engineers in Montreal.
Manfred A. Hirt, director of the Institute for Steel Structures at EPFL.

Ivan M. Viest of IMV Consulting in Bethlehem.

Nicholas Zettlemoyer ’76 Ph.D., structural engineering adviser of ExxonMobil Upstream Research Co.’s offshore division in Houston.

Theodore V. Galambos ’59 Ph.D., professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota.

Geoffrey L. Kulak ’67 Ph.D., professor of civil engineering at the University of Alberta.

Robert J. Dexter, associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota and a former ATLSS research engineer.
Raymond H.R. Tide, a senior consultant with Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc. in Illinois.

Karl H. Frank, the Phil M. Ferguson Centennial Teaching Fellow in Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
Dennis Mertz, associate professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware, who holds three degrees from Lehigh.

Lehigh faculty who will give presentations include Richard Sause, ATLSS director and professor of civil engineering; James M. Ricles, professor of civil engineering; Stephen P. Pessiki, associate professor of civil engineering; Ben T. Yen, professor of civil engineering; Robert J. Connor, ATLSS research scientist; and John E. Bower, ATLSS deputy director.

Three of the most significant awards Fisher has won came recently.

In 1999, he joined a distinguished company that includes Herbert Hoover, Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, when he received the John Fritz Medal, which is given annually by representatives of five of the world’s premiere engineering societies.

Also in 1999, Fisher was named by ENR Magazine, the leading journal in the construction industry, as one of the "Top 125 People" of the 125 years since ENR’s founding.

Of Fisher, the magazine wrote, "After helping to conduct post-mortems on nearly every major failure of a steel structure, from the Hartford Civic Center to the Mianus River Bridge, Fisher campaigned for research to advance technology and prevent failures. Fisher’s research has advanced the knowledge of fatigue and brittle fractures of steel."

In 2000, Fisher received the Roy W. Crum Award, for outstanding achievement in transportation research, from the Transportation Research Board (TRB). He was cited for "outstanding contributions to bridge engineering and research…His pioneering work on detection and repair of fatigue cracking in steel bridges has advanced the art of bridge engineering, and his research and guidance on fatigue and fracture resistance have informed standard bridge design codes in the United States and abroad."

by Kurt Pfitzer
kap4@lehigh.edu>

Posted on Friday, August 23, 2002

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