Civil Engineering’s Man of Steel

    Structural engineering professor Robert Driver awarded prestigious Killam professorship.

    By Michael Brown on December 30, 2017

    (Edmonton) Structural engineering professor Robert Driver has leveraged his experience working in the steel construction industry to create one of the world’s leading research programs for developing new tools and procedures that shape North America’s steel industry.

    However, it’s Driver’s work building a bridge from the classroom to the steel industry that will be the Killam Professor’s legacy.

    “As far as the students are concerned, because I am able to bring real-world experience to the classroom, I think the students see that I am considering the practical side,” said Driver. “I introduce the idea that things aren’t always exactly the way you have designed them, or what they designed can be impossible to build although it might look good on paper.”

    Driver’s six years working as a structural engineer also helped him bring the construction industry deeper into the academic enterprise. As director of the CISC Centre for Steel Structures Education and Research and chair the CSA committee for the standard design of steel structure, Driver is focused on imagining and transforming the future of the industry through partnerships.

    “Right now, we have eight companies that take part in helping us look at better ways of educating students to become structural engineers,” he said. “We also want input from industry into what kind of research would have the most impact in the construction industry and help the steel construction industry stay competitive.”

    To that end, University of Alberta students and the industry engineers are in contact on a regular basis.

    “We’ve created a community where you don’t just get together to do a one-off project, instead we’re always together, and that has worked out of really well.”

    Over the years, the work conducted by Driver’s 55 or so graduate students has ended up in codes and standards around the world for how we design steel structures. This includes numerous projects that advance methods for connecting structural steel elements and systems for resisting forces such as those arising from earthquakes.

    “We literally build components of structures and we test them under forces in the lab. It is actually a fun and interesting place to work,” said Driver of the IF Morrison Structural Engineering Lab, which among other things, houses a 10-tonne crane. “You build something and then you break it then you measure deformations and this is what informs the research to try and figure out the way we do things now and how we do things better.”

    Driver joins Thomas Chacko (Earth and atmospheric sciences), Janice Cooke (biological sciences), Leluo Guan (agricultural, food and nutritional science), Simon Landhäusser (renewable resources), Julie Rak (English and film studies) and Hassan Safouhi (Campus Saint-Jean) as the UAlberta’s Killam Annual Professors. Established in July 199, the awards are granted to faculty members based on the quality of their scholarly activities such as teaching, research, publications, creative activities, presented papers, and supervision of graduate students.