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In memoriam: Prof. Le-Wu Lu, civil engineer

Le-Wu Lu's research helped improve the performance of structures during earthquakes.

Le-Wu Lu, who gained international renown for his research into the strength and behavior of building structures during a Lehigh career that spanned six decades, died July 27 at the age of 81.

Lu, the Bruce G. Johnston Professor emeritus of structural engineering, received eight major awards, published more than 250 journal articles and conference papers, and supervised or co-supervised 24 Ph.D. students during his academic career.

He also served as chair of the department of civil and environmental engineering and as an investigator for Lehigh’s Chinese Bridge Project.

“I’ve known Lu since our undergraduate years in Taiwan,” said Ben Yen, professor emeritus of structural engineering. “During the long years we were together, I knew him as a friendly, calm man who set a good example for others.

“Lu and I studied different structures, but the core issues of structural stability and load-carrying strength of structural components drew our primary attention, as well as that of many of our co-workers, students and colleagues in and outside of the university.”

“Dr. Lu was actively engaged in teaching, research, and academic administration throughout his career at Lehigh,” said John W. Fisher, the Joseph T. Stuart Professor emeritus of civil engineering.

“His areas of research were very broad and concentrated on two types of structures: buildings and ships. Much of his work has contributed to design provisions for seismic-resistant structures around the world.”

Distinguished researcher, international scholar

Throughout his research and teaching career, Lu’s expertise helped expand Lehigh’s global reputation for structural engineering. He is best known for his extensive studies on the seismic response of steel building structures, precast concrete structures, innovative structural systems, composite steel-concrete structures, structural connections, and the repair and retrofit of structures.

Research by Lu and his Lehigh colleagues has been cited thousands of times, according to Google Scholar, and continues to inform codes and specifications, design recommendations, and the work of practicing engineers and professional organizations.

Lu’s history with Lehigh began in 1955 when he was a graduate student at Iowa College (now Iowa State University) and one of his structural engineering professors, Cornelius “Cornie” Hulsbos attended a conference on plastic design at Lehigh.

Hulsbos, who went on to serve as a professor of civil engineering at Lehigh from 1960 to 1965, gave Lu some advice that Lu recalled in an interview in 2012. “He told me there were new facilities and good people at Lehigh, and I should go there.”

Lu came to Lehigh in 1957, switched his emphasis from geotechnical to structural engineering, and earned his Ph.D. in 1960. He joined the Lehigh faculty in 1961 and rose to the rank of full professor in 1969.

From 1994 to 1998, Lu chaired the department of civil and environmental engineering. In 1999 he was awarded the first Bruce G. Johnston Endowed Professorship, which he held until his retirement in 2004.

He also received the following awards and honors:

  • The Leon S. Moisseiff Award for excellence in a paper published by the American Society of Civil Engineers, in 1967.
  • A Senior Fulbright-Hays Lectureship as a member of an exchange program with the Moscow Civil Engineering Institute, in 1975.
  • An honorary professorship from the Harbin Architecture and Civil Engineering Institute, China, in 1980.
  • An honorary consultancy from the Central Research Institute for Building and Construction, China, in 1993.
  • An honorary consultancy from the National Research Center for Industrial Building Diagnosis and Rehabilitation, China, in 1993.
  • A lifetime achievement award from the Asia-Pacific Network of Centers of Earthquake Engineering Research (ANCER), in 2004.
Lu belonged to a number of professional engineering societies, including the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and the International Association for Structural Safety and Reliability. He held administrative positions on committees at many of these organizations.

He was also a member of the original Joint Committee on Tall Buildings, which later became the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. He was particularly proud of serving on the organizing committee that brought the Council's first International Conference on Tall Buildings to Lehigh in 1972.

At Lehigh, Lu taught many courses in structural analysis, design, and dynamics, as well as in probability and statistics and research methods. In 2001 he received the Eleanor and Joseph F. Libsch Award for distinction in research.

Active well into his retirement, Lu served as one of six principal investigators for Lehigh’s Chinese Bridge Project, where he helped teach two courses on modern Chinese fiction, a hobby of his. He also helped the Lehigh Library Materials Center organize a donation of more than 2,000 Chinese books.

Lu is survived by his wife, Dorothy Lu; a daughter, Julia; a son, Paul; and one grandchild.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, at Packer Memorial Church. A reception in Fritz Lab will follow the service. Those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP by Sept. 5.

Story by Shelley Drozd

Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014

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