A graduate student at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering has been honored by being selected by the American Society of Civil Engineers for the 2020 O.H. Ammann Research Fellowship.
Livia Mello, a UH graduate student and doctoral candidate in Civil Engineering, was awarded the fellowship to continue her work in studying progressive building collapse.
“In my doctoral research, I am developing a computational model for time-dependent progressive collapse of reinforced concrete [RC] buildings,” she wrote in her personal statement for fellowship. “The model aims to predict time-to-failure of RC building structures once it is initially damaged due to abnormal loading. The goal is to gain new understanding of collapse mechanisms of RC buildings, consequently contributing to advancements in performance-based structural design and to safer rescue guidelines in the aftermath of events that have resulted in partial collapse.”
Mello earned her Master's degree from the University of Houston, and her Bachelor's in Civil Engineering from the Federal University of Viçosa in Brazil. She first got interested in the profession because of her family.
“My father was involved in the construction industry early on in his professional career,” she said. “He was a handyman and a tinkerer, and I was his helper. So from an early age, I learned about small home repairs and improvements in general. When the time came to apply for college, at first I was leaning towards getting an architecture degree. But my artistic side was outweighed by my abilities in mathematics and physics, so I applied for a civil engineering degree instead.”
The opportunity to work on her dissertation came through a collaboration between Dr. Roberto Ballarini, the Thomas and Laura Hsu Professor and Department Chairman at UH, and Dr. Jia-Liang Le at the University of Minnesota.
“Research in the progressive collapse of buildings has been going on since the early 1960s,” Mello said. “But only recently there has been an increase in interest and research efforts toward understanding the time-dependent progressive collapse of buildings. The topic is innovative, relevant and fresh, and it is truly a great opportunity to make a major contribution and a long-lasting impact on the structural engineering industry.”
While she is open to a future career in academia, Mello also stressed that she views the collaboration between academic organization and businesses to be an important one. She hopes to strengthen that relationship in whatever line of work she ends up in.
“I am a true believer that education and knowledge are the main components for our development as individuals and, consequently, as a society,” she said. “Fellowships like the one I received send a strong message on the importance of investing and supporting education and research.”