Posts Tagged: Constantin Christopoulos

Disaster-proof: Major CivMin lab upgrade lets engineers design structures that can better withstand earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis

Funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will be used to acquire an adjustable,
multi-dimensional loading module and other equipment for the Structural Testing Facility


A new adjustable multi-dimensional (AMD) loading system will soon be added to U of T Engineering’s Structural Testing Facility. (Image: Myron Zhong)

An upgraded facility at U of T Engineering — one that is unique in the world — will let engineers test next-generation infrastructure designed to be resilient in the face of natural disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes.

A grant announced today from CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 will fund a suite of new tools and equipment to be housed within U of T Engineering’s existing Structural Testing Facility. They will be used to design everything from elevated highways to high-rise residential buildings to nuclear power plants, including replacements for legacy structures across North America.

“Much of our infrastructure is decades old and needs to be replaced,” says Professor Constantin Christopoulos (CivMin), the project leader and Canada Research Chair in Seismic Resilience of Infrastructure.

“The scientific and engineering communities, along with governments and the private sector, are becoming increasingly aware of the inherent vulnerability of our infrastructure. We also need to design new structures to address new pressures, such as a rapidly growing Canadian population, and more frequent extreme weather scenarios due to a changing climate.”

The centrepiece of this new development is the world’s first fully movable, adjustable multidirectional, large-scale and large-capacity loading frame.

“This unique piece of equipment will allow structural elements and structural systems to be tested under more realistic loading conditions,” says Christopoulos. “We’ll be able to better simulate the complex effects of extreme loading events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis.”

The adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module will be capable of applying up to a total of 2,000 tonnes of force in six translational and rotational directions for specimens of up to eight metres tall and thirty metres long.

The project will also include new state-of-the-art sensing equipment and the redesign of 500 square metres of lab space. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.

To make full use of it, Christopoulos will be working with a large team of experts from within and beyond U of T Engineering. Project partners include U of T Engineering professors Oh-Sung KwonEvan BentzOya Mercan and Jeffrey Packer (all CivMin). This team is also collaborating with a team of structural engineering and large-scale testing experts at other leading North American facilities to develop, commission and use this unique equipment. Collaborating institutions include:

  • Western University’s WindEEE and Boundary Layer Wind Tunnels
  • University of British Columbia
  • University of Sherbrooke
  • Polytechnique Montreal
  • University of Illinois

Once completed, the new facility will be used for research by 10 professors from U of T and their national and international collaborators. It is also expected that it will allow for dozens of unique graduate student research projects and industry tests every year once it is fully operational.

Together this team will be able to carry out a technique known as “distributed hybrid simulations.” This means that full-scale portions of real structures — such as concrete pillars or steel beams — will be tested simultaneously in each of these labs across North America.

By integrating all of these physical tests into a single numerical model, they can use the experimental feedback of each of the large-scale elements to more realistically simulate the response of the entire infrastructure system to extreme loading conditions. The data from the physical experiments will be integrated in real-time with models run using high-performance computers and the UT-SIM integration platform.

“This facility will enhance our capabilities not only here at U of T, and across Canada, but will position Canadian engineers as global leaders in the area of structural resilience” says Christopoulos. “It is a critical step toward designing the resilient cities of the future.”

By Tyler Irving

This article originally published on Engineering News

Trio of PhD candidates win international honours in video thesis competition

Video thesis competition winners CivE PhD candidates (L to R) Moniruzzaman Moni, Pedram Mortazavi and Xuguang Wang.

Three PhD candidates from the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering (CivMin) at the University of Toronto have won honours for their video thesis entries in an international competition.

Moniruzzaman Moni, Pedram Mortazavi and Xuguang Wang, all civil engineering PhD candidates, won three out of the 10 honours awarded for the “3-minute Thesis” video competition held by Multihazard Engineering Collaboratory on Hybrid Simulation (MECHS). MECHS, funded by the National Science Foundation in the U.S., made the announcement with a full list of categories and winning videos online.

All three U of T winners have Professor Oh-Sung Kwon as a supervisor, with Mortazavi having co-supervisors Professors Constantin Christopoulos and Kwon.

CivMin Professor Oh-Sung Kwon

CivMin Professor Constantin Christopoulos

One of the main research interests of Professor Kwon’s research group is on the development and application of hybrid simulation methods where diverse experimental specimens and numerical models are integrated to accurately simulate responses of structures subjected to extreme loads. As part of the research program, the research group has developed the UT-SIM (Simulations for Structural Resilience​) framework through which various numerical and/or experimental tools can be seamlessly integrated.

In the early development, the main focus of the framework was to simulate structures subjected to earthquake excitation. In the past five years Prof. Kwon’s research group has expanded the framework such that structures subjected to fire or wind loads can be simulated. Some of the work is performed within the Department’s large indoor Structures Lab, which enables full-scale testing of building components.

CivE PhD candidate Moniruzzaman Moni‘s entry, titled “Real-time aeroelastic hybrid simulation of a base pivoting model building in a wind tunnel,” was selected from a large pool of entries as a winner in the “Creativity” category.

CivE PhD candidate Pedram Mortazavi‘s entry, titled “Four-Element Hybrid Simulations on a Steel Structure with Cast Steel Yielding Connectors,” was selected as a winner in the “Novelty” category. Mortazavi’s work is in collaboration with Cast Connex.

Mortazavi has been honoured with awards before, and was just last fall awarded the G. J. Jackson Fellowship Award from the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction at the Canadian Steel Conference and awarded the Donald Jamieson Fellowship from the Canadian Society of Civil Engineering at the CSCE annual conference,


CivE PhD candidate Xuguang Wang‘s entry, titled “Development and Applications of Hybrid Simulation Method for Fire Testing, was selected as a winner in the “Technical” category.

While having three out of 10 winners of the competition from Professor Kwon’s group is impressive, he also had a hand a fourth winner’s work. A winner from Seoul National University in Korea is co-supervised by Prof. Kwon for his work on aeroelastic hybrid simulation of a bridge deck.


By Phill Snel

CivMin PhD student wins international earthquake competition

Myron Chiyun Zhong, a CivE PhD candidate, holds the award for the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center’s Blind Prediction Contest after a ceremony at the University of California, Berkeley the evening of Thursday, January 16 2020. Zhong, along with supervisor Prof. Constantin Christopoulos, submitted the most accurate prediction for an earthquake model based on shake table results. PHOTO: Courtesy Myron Chiyun Zhong


A University of Toronto PhD candidate in civil engineering has won an international competition for predicting the results of an earthquake. Myron Chiyun Zhong (CivE 1T7, PhD Candidate), along with supervisor Prof. Constantin Christopoulos, won first place in the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research (PEER) Center’s Blind Prediction Contest at a ceremony held at the University of California, Berkeley the evening of Thursday, January 16 2020.


Zhong submitted the most accurate prediction for an earthquake model based on shake table results. The contest parameters are described as “a blind prediction contest to predict the maximum bi-directional seismic response of a four-column rocking podium structure excited by artificially generated ground motions applied by a shaking table.”


Some 13 teams, with contestants from 10 different countries, participated in the 2019 PEER Blind Prediction Competition. Testing was completed using a shake table at the University of Bristol in the U.K.


“This blind prediction contest is related to my PhD research here, so it was good to put it to this test,” remarked Zhong. “Working with Professor Christopoulos we’re trying to develop and validate a novel self-centering structural system that can be applied to high-rise structures, and potentially many other different types of structures, to protect from damage caused by severe wind or earthquake events.”


Prof. Khalid Mosalam, Director of PEER Center and a civil engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley said, “Blind prediction competitions provide great opportunities to evaluate and improve the current analytical modelling and simulation capabilities of the structural engineering profession, including means for uncertainty quantification. This year’s competition was particularly challenging for the contestants in that they needed to predict the results of 200 shaking table tests, requiring a reasonable amount of simulation time. Despite this challenge, some of the teams had predictions quite close to the shaking table test results.”


Asked about the work being done at U of T, with respect to structural engineering and seismic resiliency, Zhong remarked, “We’re pretty impressive, I think!”


Phill Snel

EQUITY ACCESSIBILITY DIVERSITY INCLUSION – What role do engineers play: Faculty perspectives

We asked some faculty members to weigh in on how engineers and academics help to make the world a more equitable, diverse, inclusive and accessible place.



Bryan Karney 

Engineers practice their trade is characterized by an almost overwhelming diversity and variety. Indeed, it has been said with considerable accuracy that no two hydroelectric projects are ever really the same. Such a statement of variation is surely also valid about most infrastructure projects and about every city within which civil engineers design buildings, conceive transportation networks and build water handling systems.
Thus, why would we as civil engineers expect things to be any different when considering the people for whom the acts and achievements of engineering are directed and intended to benefit? People too are remarkably diverse, characterized by an almost unfathomable variation of characteristics, skills, interests, tendencies and backgrounds. As successful engineering demands that the engineer attend, account for, and in some sense celebrate the variations of the natural system, and of the materials we employ, so too we should strive within our professional practice to account for – to deeply and profoundly embed – our understanding of the human dimension into our professional designs and actions.
Aldo Leopold was an articulate writer, thoughtful educator, influential conservationist and an outdoor enthusiast. One of his best known ideas – his so-called “land ethic” – calls for a synergistic and caring relationship between people and nature. In Leopold’s Sand County Almanac he makes a profound and often quoted statement: “To save every cog and wheel is the first precaution of the intelligent tinkerer.” This is certainly true of watches and machines – and makes the point profoundly for each species within the ecological systems that Leopold had in mind. But this principle is surely true also for the other domain in which engineers work – that in human society we should keep as many voices and perspectives as we can at the table where they can be attended to and thoughtfully considered.
But there is perhaps another aspect of the engineering background that is essential to bear in mind. Enzo Levi, in his painstaking history of our human understanding of water science, said of the hydraulician that they must entice water “to agree to our will, respecting its own at the same time”. That is, that water engineering – and indeed all engineering – must ultimately be a kind of “negotiation” between human desires and wishes and nature’s response. No human decree, no amount of wishful thinking, will stop water from being water nor steel or concrete from having real limits on their elasticity and strength. Indeed, I firmly believe that one of the greatest merits of an engineering education is the instilled and deep knowledge that the physical world truly exists and exercises hard constraints on human aspirations and designs. We don’t just create and elaborate our designs after a conversation with a client, or even as a creative act arising from human aspirations alone, but from an active consideration of what the laws and properties of what matter and energy make possible.
But if we do our jobs well – with diligence, and care, and with an understanding of the human and natural worlds – we perhaps have more capacity and responsibility than many to change the world. As we can mar it by our worse acts, supressing its characteristics and its diversity, so too we are capable of enriching the world and improving the lives and experience of many people. May we be the kind of engineers whose actions and design both protect and enhance the world we precariously inhabit even as we seek to improve the lives and experiences of that remarkable variety of people we seek to serve.

Equal access to safe, affordable and resilient housing around the world is possible

Contstantin Christopoulos 

Many natural disasters happen in developing countries whose populations can include the world’s poorest people. These people live in slums and improvised housing, and are further marginalized when a disaster like an earthquake happens. In addition to the loss of life, these people usually lose all of their property and ability to access a livelihood, and are affected to the point where they may not recover for decades after such a devastating event.
Our research group is working with the Centre for Global Engineering (CGEN) to examine shelter for the most disadvantaged populations around the globe. We ask ourselves, “If we have all of this sophisticated engineering knowledge and capabilities, is it possible to solve some of the problems in developing areas and provide workable solutions that are going to actually have an impact on the lives of millions of people?”
One significant barrier to building resilient housing in the developing world is cost. High-end, sophisticated systems, which require skilled technicians and engineers, to design, build and install, are not viable solutions for the millions of people who live in the poorest conditions. So we need to look to the idea of “frugalizing” technologies if we really want to impact the lives of these people.
The concept of frugalization is to look at the fundamentals of a really good idea, which has been developed as a high-end solution, go back and say, “Okay, if I had to redevelop this and take advantage of the physics behind this idea, but implement it in a way that it can be done at extremely low cost, and in a construction environment whose engineering, inspection and quality control practices are not as sophisticated as our own, how would I go about reinventing this technology?”
So, one of these technologies we’re focusing on, for earthquake-resilient mass-housing projects, is seismic isolation. Isolation consists of adding a very flexible layer between the structure and the ground such that the effects of ground shaking is not transferred to the structure, thus protecting it.
Our solution is actually a very simple one. Instead of highly-engineered seismic isolation bearings that grace the column-bases of bridges, buildings and other resilient, critical infrastructure, we are investigating the use of a thin, flat, polymer pad, with very low friction – think along the lines of Teflon – installed at the base of each structural post. The pad, a few millimeters thick and about the area of a square foot, isolates the structural elements of the building when the ground is shaking, rendering the building, not only safe to re-enter, but also safe to re-occupy and use immediately after an earthquake.
While we are still testing different materials, the cost is only as high as C$10 per pad, or roughly C$2,000 for a typical 10-20-storey apartment building. The simple solution is also prescriptive, requiring installers to have minimal training and expertise in the technology. It would only be one additional step, or layer, added to the building process, which we hope will be easy to adopt by local contractors.
Our goal is not to disrupt the entire local construction industry or to impose a solution, which will not work with existing practices and building designs. So what we’ve done is work with IC-Impacts (the India-Canada Centre for Innovative Multidisciplinary Partnerships to Accelerate Community Transformation and Sustainability) to develop a seismic solution that integrates seamlessly with the construction industry in India. To this end, we had visitors from India help us define buildings as they are constructed in India, so we know our solution would work with standard buildings there. Doctoral candidate Farbod Pakpour is completing his PhD on this challenging project and has travelled multiple times to India to investigate local construction practices and interact with researchers at the Bombay Institute of Technology, one of India’s leading engineering schools.
For now, India is an ideal partner country to develop this technology because the government is building vast numbers of subsidized housing to accommodate the millions of people who live in slums, and hundreds of millions more who are expected to move to the cities in the coming decades. While India is the focus right now, the technology we are developing has the potential for widespread use, whether in other developing countries or even in Canada where seismic isolation has only been applied in a handful of structures.
Ultimately, whether abroad or at home, everyone has the right to housing. We, as engineers with the necessary ability, knowledge and skills, can develop and implement technologies that will ensure the safety and security of millions of people.



Marianne Hatzopoulou

“We hold the evidence,“ says Associate Professor Marianne Hatzopoulou. “I think one of the roles civil and mineral engineers have in this world is to inform policy decisions. As professors, or researchers, we have a duty to play a role in decision making about how cities evolve, how infrastructure decisions are made, what we build in our cities, what gets priority and what should be funded.”
Hatzopoulou believes the role of engineers has evolved to a more all-encompassing and responsible one beyond the already complex task of building something durable and structurally sound. “The face of civil and mineral engineering is changing a lot.
The new reality holds more than engineering skills. “What they don’t realize is there’s also a lot of politics that come into play. How do you make your voice heard? Clearly, equity and diversity are not the only driving decisions in this world – people are not winning political campaigns only on equity and diversity. But how do make sure these things have a voice around the table?”
“Now you look at our Department, as an example of that, some of us are looking at the health impacts of environmental damage. We’re looking at new technologies in transportation, new intelligence, and new ways of optimizing traffic. The questions that the world is asking have become so complex that single dimension approaches to solve these problems are no longer possible. So civil engineering inherently has to become more diverse in terms of the things we look at. “
“There are different ways in which we define accessibility. In transportation, accessibility represents the opportunities and jobs as well as services, like health care and leisure, that people can access. The kinds of opportunities people can access based on where they live in a city, defines the city and it is certainly one of the primary responsibilities of an engineer to design urban environments that promote accessibility.”
“We are able to provide evidence to support these decisions. We have tools, we have models, we have data, we have insights that truly can shape what kind of policy directions our government should be taking, what kind of regulations we should be enforcing, and which ones are going to help steer us, towards more sustainable, equitable, accessible, and diverse cities and societies.”
Engineers have more than an opinion, since it is backed up by research. “Everyone else can have a voice, but our voice is also supported by tools and numbers that are credible, and which reflect research that we have been doing for years,” she says. “And making sure our evidence is there.”




Kim Presnail

The 50th Anniversary of an amazing engineering achievement, Apollo 11, recently brought to mind a side bar story of J. Morgan. A Life magazine photo recorded the Cape Canaveral control room on launch day. It included Morgan, an instrumentation controller sitting at a console. In addition to the astronauts making history that day, JoAnn Morgan made history too. Wearing a “navy dress amid a sea of white shirts and skinny ties”, she was the only woman in the Control Room.
I was recently reminded by Marta Escedi, that our graduating class of 7T6 had 99 students – but only four were woman. Thankfully, we have come a long way since then. In the graduating class of CIV1T9 over 35 per cent of the graduates were woman. These changes have occurred as people’s attitudes have changed. These changes in attitude have been helped along by people like Dean Emerita Cristina who sought to actively encourage woman in engineering. During her tenure from 2006 to 2019, the number of women faculty members almost tripled and the percentage of women in First Year Engineering rose to an all-time high of 40 per cent. Thanks to her determination, and the determination of many others, woman are continuing to break barriers that should never have been there, and their numbers are growing. Although there still is a lot more work to be done, there is hope for true inclusiveness.
With the rise of women in engineering, societal and ultimately family attitudes are changing. Behind each engineering student, whether male or female, you will very often find a very supportive family dedicated to seeing that the next generation succeed. There may have been a time when a women were discouraged from entering engineering. However, as more and more women rise to positions of prominence and influence in the profession, long-standing attitudes are changing.
I was recently challenged by a young engineer who told me the board of directors that I had been on was “an old boys club”! Really? In the face of such a prejudicial allegation, I didn’t know how to reply so I remained silent. After all I was ‘an old man’ and when I served on the board, there was only one woman. So I must be guilty?
I did a little soul searching and I began questioning my own attitudes. I had never kept score before, but I decided to count the number of woman who had worked with me doing graduate work. I had worked with them not because they were women, but because they were bright, hard-working and I thought that I could help them with their studies. Well, the total came to 11. All are very successful in their career pursuits and all, including two professors, are in positions where they can inspire others to follow in their footsteps. So, yes, we have a lot of work to do, but people’s attitudes are changing. When I consider these women emissaries, hope springs.




Amer Shalaby

“We evaluate any civil engineering project on the triple bottom line, if you will,” says Professor Amer Shalaby in answering what has changed for engineers. “Now we see engineering actions have implications on the environment, on the economy and also on social fabric… and social equities.”
Whereas it was previously enough to build a structure to function properly, and to last, it now falls to engineers to consider much more in terms of cost, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sustainability, etc. Now, added to that list, is inclusiveness, diversity and accessibility.
Shalaby, who specializes in transportation, expands on the TBL (or 3BL), “Transportation, for example, is responsible for one-quarter to one-third of the greenhouse gas emissions. So we need to make sure, environmentally speaking, when we plan our transportation network, we evaluate the impact on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This is just one example pertaining to the environment. To the economy, obviously, transportation as well really plays a big role on the economy.”
“The third one, as I said, the social equity impacts have been traditionally either qualitatively assessed or once they are assessed qualitatively, they’ve been sort of superficial or not really catching all the impacts. And we play a big role really, as civil engineers. We need to be able to capture those impacts, and try to minimize them.”
While a great deal of effort goes into planning for the bulk of public transit commuters at rush hour, it is often the most vulnerable who suffer the most when the main service falters. In Toronto, for example, a downtown subway line may experience a disruption to service that is compensated for with buses brought in from more remote routes. This, in effect, removes service from the lesser-served outlying areas resulting in the greater number of “richer” rush hour commuters receiving service at the expense of the disadvantaged regions.
As a concept for considering different socioeconomic needs, Shalaby elaborates, “In the field of transportation, the focus of social equity impacts is just to ensure people have equitable access to jobs, job opportunities across [large regions], but there wasn’t really any focus on what quality of service people are being provided. So people who live in richer neighborhoods might have higher quality access. So it’s not just the access, but really the quality of that access. Are buses coming on time, or not? Are they crowded, or not, for those disadvantaged communities, and so on. It’s also really trying to go beyond that, to look at what role do new technologies like shared mobility, Uber and Lyft, and so on, play. And also the future of automated technologies, what role can they play in order to fill the gaps and the social equity?”
“So with transportation projects most of the assessments in the past have been qualitative. And when they were quantitative they were a little bit sort of superficial. What we’re trying to do now, when we’re looking at those issues, is try to develop newer quantitative methods to enable transportation planners and transportation authorities to evaluate social equity impacts of transportation investments in a more quantitative manner, and also to really capture other aspects of the service, not just, you know, travel time.”
“So it’s not that it wasn’t done in the past, but it was done probably in a little bit more superficial manner,” says Shalaby.

PhD candidate receives award at Canadian Steel Conference

Designed to fail: an elegant solution to save buildings during earthquakes

Civ PhD Candidate Pedram Mortazavi, MASc, P.Eng, poses with a cast steel link in the Structures Lab at the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering in Toronto. His thesis is titled: Cast Steel Replaceable Link Elements in Steel Eccentric Braced Frame (EBF), and is designed to allow a specific piece of a building structure fail in an earthquake so as to allow the structure to remain intact. The sacrificial piece is designed to be standardized and replaceable afterwards.
PHOTO: Phill Snel, Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering/ U of T

Pedram Mortazavi, a CivE PhD candidate in structural engineering under the supervision of Professors Constantin Christopoulos and Oh-Sung Kwon, is championing work to mitigate earthquake damage to buildings with a focus on at-risk areas of the world. In recognition of his work in this area, Mortazavi will receive the G.J. Jackson Fellowship Award from the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction on Tuesday, October  1 at a ceremony in Montreal.

Earthquakes occur suddenly, and usually without warning. When they occur near populated areas, it typically leaves a trail of devastation in its wake, including lost lives and unsafe buildings. Every event results in renewed concerns about widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure in earthquake-prone zones, leading researchers to develop solutions that will help the structures in these communities be more resilient to the shocks of an earthquake.

Mortazavi’s thesis, Experimental Validation and Performance Assessment of Cast-Steel Replaceable Links in Steel Eccentrically Braced Frames (EBFs), sounds complex, but is elegant in its simplicity. In essence, the solution to save buildings from catastrophic failure is to assign pre-determined pieces of the building’s structure that are designed to be sacrificed. Using steel castings for seismic applications, an area that has been pioneered for the past 15 years at the University of Toronto, allows for the sacrificial piece to encompass the optimal stiffness, strength and ductility properties to adequately protect the structure from the severe loading effects of earthquakes.

It might seem counter-intuitive to design for failure, but by designing a specific portion of a structure to absorb all the deformations of an earthquake, it allows for the building to remain structurally viable. And, according to the plan, the designated piece(s) can be replaced after they are damaged by an earthquake.

Mortazavi neatly sums up the project: “What we’re doing in the project is to develop an off-the-shelf product by using all the advantages offered by steel castings that will not only improve the performance of the structure in the event of an earthquake, or any extreme events, but would also ease the construction process significantly. Imagine instead of doing a detailed design and having to make a custom element, you can simply order it from a catalogue.”

ILLUSTRATION: Cast steel links as energy dissipative elements in mid-rise steel eccentrically braced frames

ILLUSTRATION: Cast steel links as energy dissipative elements in mid-rise steel eccentrically braced frames

“The portion of the beam that is between the braces acts as a fuse. So when an earthquake happens, you have very large forces generated in the building and transferred to the ground through the building. If that happens properly, the building won’t collapse or deform too much past the point of being repairable. If, however, the structure deforms too much, it could sustain significant structural damage, and at this point, it may be easier to completely demolish the building,” he said.

Alumni Carlos de Oliveira (CivE MASc 2006) and Michael Gray (CivE 0T5, PhD 2012) figure prominently in the project too. “Based on their research as students, they founded Cast Connex, an industry-leading company in the area of cast steel. I’m working very closely with Dr. Gray, which is interesting, because he’s also a former recipient of the G.J. Jackson Fellowship (CISC) and the Donald Jameson Fellowship (CSCE), both awards I received this year,” said Mortazavi. Mortazavi is also working closely on his project with Justin Binder (CivE MASc 2015) who leads the new products development team at Cast Connex.

Asked if the product might soon be implementable, he says, “Within five years, or so, would be my guess. We should be able to wrap up the research program within two years. But structural engineering is a discipline where taking an idea from innovation to implementation can be a lengthy process so I’m rounding up.”

For now, though, the full-scale testing of the cast steel links continues at U of T. “When it comes to testing new ideas and new systems in the lab we have to test them realistically and with the most accurate methods. That’s where Professor Kwon’s unique expertise is incredibly valuable.”

Kwon echoes their mutual respect, “Pedram is one of the best students whom I supervised so far. He is very organized and has very solid technical background. In addition, he can work well with other students, industry partners, and technical staff which make his project run smooth. I am confident that he will be an excellent researcher and/or engineer with his strong technical and people skills.”

In California, after a major earthquake in 1971 it was mandated that more than 8,000 unreinforced masonry buildings with highest risk of collapse be retrofitted. In Canada, previously-built structures are “grandfathered”, and are not always required to follow the building code. Mortazavi believes that if Canada were to adopt a system similar to that in California, “it would definitely ensure that we have a more resilient community in the event of an earthquake.”

“My research advisor, Professor Christopoulos, also says ‘Ultimately what we’d like to do is have a city where an earthquake happens, and no one is worried about it,’ You can just sit tight, for a few seconds or a minute while the earthquake comes and goes, and then the building could be quickly re-occupied without any major disruption.”

Christopoulos further emphasized Mortazavi’s capacity for producing high impact work with his project: “ Pedram’s strong academic background, real industry experience and his close collaboration with leading innovators like Gray, Binder and deOliveira makes it a real possibility that what he is now developing may one day be protecting hundreds of buildings in North America and beyond. The experience he is gaining in this challenging process, from R and D all the way to tech transfer in this project, will give him a strong basis to continue innovating and impacting our field after graduation.”


Julie Audet, Vice-Dean of Graduate Studies at U of T, had kind words in reflection of Mortazavi’s TA Teaching Excellence Award in 2018, a first for the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, “Pedram is not only a world-leading researcher in earthquake engineering, he is also an award-winning educator. I first met Pedram when I was trying to get in contact with award-winning teachers at U of T to help with training new teaching assistants in FASE. I found the recipient list for the 2018 teaching excellence award where Pedram was listed. I contacted him and he immediately accepted to organize a training session. Pedram is extremely gifted and always eager to give back to our faculty.”


So why study structural engineering?

A 2003 earthquake affecting Bam, Iran registered a magnitude of 6.6 on the Richter scale and created an indelible memory for Mortazavi, then a boy living in Tehran where his father was a structural engineer. The earthquake killed over 26,000 and injured some 30,000. He recalled thinking about the buildings, primarily mud structures that collapsed completely, “We’ve been to the moon, so why can’t we keep these buildings standing during an earthquake? What’s the problem? That was definitely a factor pushing me in the direction of my studies.”

As for why he chose Canada, the reply is immediate, “I came to Canada, because of its reputation for excellence in education and because it is one of the most welcoming nations. Probably the most.”

Mortazavi, at U of T for his PhD since 2016, is humble about the work he’s doing in the full-scale Structural Testing Facilities and gives credit to his predecessors. “It’s not just mine. Our colleagues at Cast Connex have also worked on it and research was also initiated by Professor Christopoulos and his former student. We’re just passing off the torch.”


By Phill Snel




Q: How much do the steel links weigh?
A: The smallest is around 120 kg (260lbs) and the biggest is about 275 kg (605lbs) Q: At what level do they fail? Or not snap, but simply become deformed?
A: They can sustain significantly more deformation, compared to the conventional ones. Our prediction is probably 1.5 – 2 times greater. The conventional ones fail at 0.08-0.12 radians rotations. We are expecting these to perform well up to rotations of 0.16 radians.


 Awards & notes:

  • Ontario Graduate Scholarship (2016)
  • NSERC PGSD (2017-2020)
  • John L. Kellerman Fellowship (2017) – Canadian Institute of Steel Construction (CISC)
  • TATP TA Teaching Excellence Award (2018) – Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) at the University of Toronto
  • J. Jackson Fellowship (2019) – Canadian Institute of Steel Construction Education and Research Council (CISC-ERC) CISC – 2019 G. J. Jackson Fellowship Award post
  • Donald Jamieson Fellowship (2019) – Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE)
  • Former President of the University of Toronto EERI (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute) Chapter (2017-2019)
  • He will be teaching a third-year Steel and Timber Design course (CIV312) at U of T this fall.


Pedram Mortazavi wins 2018 TA Teaching Excellence Award

CivE PhD Candidate Pedram Mortazavi was one of just five recipients from more than 550 nominated teaching assistants from across the University of Toronto. (Photo: Keenan Dixon)

CivMin PhD Candidate Pedram Mortazavi was one of just five recipients from more than 550 nominated teaching assistants from across the University of Toronto. (Photo: Keenan Dixon)

Pedram Mortazavi (CivMin PhD candidate) has won a 2018 TA Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Toronto’s Teaching Assistant Training Program (TATP).

Mortazavi, a PhD candidate in the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, is one of just five recipients from more than 550 nominated teaching assistants (TAs) across the entire University. He has taught Steel and Timber Design and, Principals of Earthquake Engineering and Seismic Design.

“It may sound cliché, but I love teaching,” said Mortazavi. “TAs are a significant part of the student learning experience. I believe that the effect that instructors and TAs have on students goes far beyond the classroom. Beyond teaching the material, TAs play an important part as role models.”

Mortazavi was nominated by several students of Steel and Timber Design, of which he was the Head TA. Even after his courses were over, he found himself answering student requests for career and other advice.

“He learned all of our names and truly made himself available to students whenever they had a question,” said Chris Rotella (CivE Year 3), one of the students to nominate Mortazavi. “He was very invested in the success of the students and even when an email came in at 9 p.m., he was happy to answer and help us.”

Pedram Mortazavi with two of the students who nominated him for the TA Teaching Excellence Award, Andrew Lau (CivE Year 3) and Chris Rotella (CivE Year 3).  (Photo: Keenan Dixon)

Pedram Mortazavi with two of the students who nominated him for the TA Teaching Excellence Award, Andrew Lau (CivE Year 3) and Chris Rotella (CivE Year 3). (Photo: Keenan Dixon)

“He checked in to make sure we all had the information we needed in order to complete our projects,” continued Andrew Lau (CivE Year 3), another nominator. “When we couldn’t figure out part of our model, rather than just provide the solution, he went back to the foundations of CIV100 to explain how to fix the problem.”

Mortazavi credits this recognition and his success in teaching the course to its professor, Constantin Christopoulos (CivMin).

“Professor Christopoulos allowed me to contribute in a significant and meaningful way,” explains Mortazavi. “I was able to plan and run the tutorials, lecturing the class from time to time and also defining the scope for the term project. It was because of these things that I felt that much more invested in the students and the course.”

“He was constantly thinking of progressive methods and clear ways to teach the course material,” said Christopoulos. “He devised a teaching apparatus that replicates the physical behaviour of structural engineering components, which is often difficult to visualize.”

Mortazavi valued and implemented the feedback that he received from both Christopoulos and students.

“He proactively asked for advice and feedback about useful and effective teaching methods,” said Christopoulos. “As a result, Pedram has developed excellent skills for encouraging students to participate in classes and tutorials.”

Mortazavi is co-supervised by Professors Christopoulos and Oh-Sung Kwon (CivMin). His research — focused on the performance and experimental validation of cast steel link elements in eccentric braced frames — explores the idea that during an earthquake there is an element of a building that is engineered to absorb seismic energy and ensure that the remainder of the structure is undamaged, thus ensuring the safety of building occupants and first responders.

Mortazavi’s research sees him working with U of T startup CastConnex and, alumni Michael Gray (CivE PhD 1T1) and Carlos de Oliveira (CivE MASc 0T6). He is also the President of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute Chapter at the University of Toronto.

Mortazavi is the first Civil Engineering student to received the TATP Teaching Excellence Award since it was created in 2003. The award seeks to value the work of TAs who regularly inspire and challenge undergraduate students. The awards committee considers the TA’s knowledge of his or her subject area, communication skills, organizational skills, demonstrated enthusiasm, and ability to provide students with effective feedback, as well as testimonials from both students and faculty supervisors.

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