Roberto Ballarini, Ph.D., P.E., F.EMI, Dist.M.ASCE, the Thomas and Laura Hsu Professor and chair at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Houston, has been honored with inclusion by ASCE in its 2021 class of Distinguished Members.
The honor is given for Ballarini’s advancement of fracture mechanics–based design of concrete structures and pioneering of structural and material testing at micrometer and nanometer scales; also for providing leadership in the civil engineering profession and mentoring numerous successful engineering students.
Ballarini’s passion to serve has long been recognized among researchers and innovative educators in the general area of solid/structural mechanics and structural engineering across a broad range of scales. He has made seminal contributions to the mechanics of fracture at multiple scales of structures. His research on steel-to-concrete anchorage contributed to the fracture mechanics–based design formulas in the ACI and RILEM codes and paved the way for incorporating additional fracture mechanics–informed design guidelines for concrete structures, including ACI’s recent adaptation of size effects in shear.
Ballarini’s paper on reverse engineering of the shells of mollusks is considered a classic and an inspiration for much of the current research in bioinspired design of composite structures and their fabrication using additive manufacturing. He was at the vanguard of the use and global adoption of microelectromechanical systems as platforms for structural testing.
In aeronautical structures, he and his students spearheaded the use of discrete crack propagation–based design of high-speed bearing used in aeronautical engines. By using state-of-the-art FEM-based crack propagation modeling, Ballarini demonstrated the transition between two types of failure and thus provided a mechanistic approach to design against catastrophic failure. This work was nominated as best structures paper of the year at the NASA-Lewis Research Center in the early 1990s.
Ballarini was head of the department of civil engineering at the University of Minnesota before his current appointment, where he and his students helped determine what caused the collapse of the I35W bridge across the Mississippi River. Prior to this, he was a professor of mechanical, aerospace, and other areas of engineering at such schools as Case Western Reserve University and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.
His invited visits and sabbaticals include Tongji University, Dalian Maritime University, and University of Pisa. He has had 120-plus refereed articles published in prestigious journals, including Science and Nature. The New York Times Science Times, American Scientist, and other major outlets have featured his research results.
Although his main interest is characterizing the mechanics of fatigue and fracture, his multidisciplinary research has been applied to problems in civil, mechanical, and aeronautical engineering, electromechanical systems, materials science, biological tissues, and prosthetic design, and has been funded by NSF, DARPA, NIH, and others.
Ballarini is a fellow and past-president of ASCE’s Engineering Mechanics Institute. In 2019 he was given the Society’s Raymond D. Mindlin Medal for Outstanding Research Contributions in Applied Solid Mechanics.