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Accomplishments of CE Professor Honored With International Symposium
Erin D. McKenzie

A John and Rebecca Moores Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering, Thomas T.C. Hsu is an internationally known researcher in the field of structural engineering.

Though he has conducted research in multiple areas since 1986, Hsu has focused efforts on studying shear and torsion using his Universal Element Tester—a machine he designed and built using funding from the National Science Foundation.

Work with the 16-foot tall, 40-ton instrument has produced for the world, a science-based, unified theory of concrete structures that can explain and predict their behavior under the impact of a variety of complex forces that are both natural and man-made. It’s enabled engineers across the country the ability to design concrete buildings and infrastructure not only more economically, but safer.

“Dr. Hsu fundamentally advanced the theoretical basis and practical application of reinforced concrete, the world’s predominant construction material,” said Y.L. Mo, a UH professor of civil and environmental engineering who now serves as director of the laboratory Hsu founded on campus. “He solved the century-old problems of shear and torsion in reinforced concrete based on the principles of equilibrium, strain compatibility and constitutive laws of materials.”

This month, the American Concrete Institute (ACI) as well as the American Association of Civil Engineers (ASCE) jointly honored his contributions to the field of structural engineering with a symposium in New Orleans, La. Nov. 8-10. The four-part symposium titled, “Thomas T.C. Hsu Symposium on Shear and Torsion in Concrete Structures” included 32 presentations from researchers around the world.

Each shared their own research related to shear and torsion, which has been heavily influenced by the accomplishments of Hsu.

“I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with somebody as distinguished as professor Hsu,” said Ashraf Ayoub associate professor of civil engineering, who presented three papers with other researchers on his own studies related to the field. “I learned from him the art of solving challenging engineering problems by looking at the root causes and examining all the details.”

Hsu’s Universal Element Tester is one of just two machines like it in the world. The other machine is housed at the University of Toronto in Canada. The main difference between the two, Hsu said, is that his is equipped with a server control system that allows researchers to better manage the cyclic loading of elements of steel-reinforced concrete. This has allowed him and his team to develop a mathematical model that can assist engineers in determining the best way to design concrete structures to more safely handle not only earthquakes, but also hurricanes and man-made disasters. In addition, some of his findings have been incorporated into ACI building codes, which guide the building industry in the country and elsewhere.

Hsu earned his bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering at China’s Harbin Institute of Technology and both his master’s and doctoral degrees in structural engineering at Cornell University. He joined UH in 1980 as chairman of the department of civil and environmental engineering. Here he established the Structural Research Laboratory, which was later named after him. In 2005 he and his wife, Laura Ling Hsu, established the Thomas and Laura Hsu Professorship in Engineering.

Hsu’s newest book, co-authored by Mo, is titled Unified Theory of Concrete Structures. It is scheduled to be out in April 2010 and offers an integrated science-based theory encompassing what’s been learned about the four actions—shear, bending, torsion and axial load—on concrete structures in the Thomas Hsu Structural Research Laboratory since beginning his career at UH.

Houston Mayor Bill White recognized these accomplishments, which earned him the honor of an international symposium, by naming Nov. 8 Dr. Thomas T.C. Hsu Day in the city.

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