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Tsunami expert honored for excellence in teaching, research, and service

University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa College of Engineering Professor Ian Robertson has been selected as the inaugural Arthur N.L. Chiu Distinguished Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. The endowment is in the memory of Chiu, a legendary leader in the Hawai‘i engineering community. He began his lifelong service to the engineering community in 1953 as an instructor at UH Mānoa and went on to serve in multiple leadership positions at the university.

Robertson, recognized nationally for his contributions to tsunami design, is also a leader in Hawai‘i’s engineering community for his expertise in hazard mitigation and structural engineering solutions. Like Chiu, he is known for excellence in teaching, research, and service. 

In his 25 years at UH Mānoa, Robertson has received seven teaching awards; advised more than 85 graduate students; published more than 130 chapters, journal articles and conference proceedings; made more than 160 research presentations around the world and served on the Hawai‘i State Earthquake and Tsunami Advisory Committee and the Hawai‘i Wind Impacts Advisory Committee. Those committees advise the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency on hazard mitigation and preparedness.

“A prolific scholar, a passionate educator and a creative practicing engineer, Ian has been sought after by students and highly respected by his peers and the local community,” said College of Engineering Interim Associate Dean David T. Ma. “It is very fitting that he has received the first Chiu Distinguished Professorship.”
Robertson’s recent research has focused on tsunami loading on coastal structures, and the structural design required to resist those loads. He led a large National Science Foundation funded research project to study tsunami loading using laboratory flumes at UH and Oregon State University.

His early research focused on earthquake resistance of flat-slab reinforced concrete buildings, which are ubiquitous in Hawai‘i. He was in charge of the design and construction of a wind-borne debris cannon for testing windows, doors and exterior wall systems for hurricane blown debris. This project resulted in simplified specifications for Hawai‘i safe-rooms to resist hurricane winds and debris loads and recognition by the Hawai‘i State Civil Defense.

Robertson has also performed post-tsunami surveys of damage after the Samoa (2009), Chile (2010) and Japan (2011) tsunami. These research efforts were instrumental in the development of the first United States tsunami design provisions, which will be included in the 2018 International Building Code. He was recognized by the Engineering News Record as one of the Top 25 Newsmakers of 2016 as a result of this contribution.

He has also served as president of the Structural Engineers’ Association of Hawai‘i in 2008, and has served on numerous national technical committees.

More about the Arthur N.L. Chiu endowment

The endowment was established based on the generous donation of an anonymous College of Engineering graduate in memory of Arthur N.L. Chiu. Along with being a legendary leader in the Hawai‘i engineering community and instructor at UH Mānoa, Chiu also served as chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and associate dean for research in the graduate division. Chiu also served as president of the Hawai‘i section of American Society of Civil Engineers, and president of the Applied Technology Council. Throughout the years, Chiu received numerous awards recognizing his excellent teaching, research, and service.

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