Pioneering Civil Engineering Professor Masanobu Shinozuka Dies at 87

Nov 08 2018 | Photo Credit: Jane Nisselson

Former civil engineering and engineering mechanics Professor Masanobu Shinozuka PhD’60 died in California on November 5, 2018, at the age of 87. He was a pioneer in the development of the new fields of stochastic mechanics, structural safety and reliability, uncertainty quantification, and risk assessment and management methodologies. In particular, he introduced, established, and promoted the use of Monte Carlo simulation techniques in engineering mechanics and civil engineering.

Shinozuka was also a world-renowned expert in earthquake and wind engineering, and design of structures resistant to natural and human-induced disasters. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 1978 for his work in random vibrations and related applications to the safety and reliability of structures. He made innumerable additional contributions to many areas of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, including risk assessment of lifeline networks, socioeconomic impact of natural disasters, smart infrastructure systems, remote monitoring and control, and nondestructive evaluation of structural safety.

“A giant in mechanics, a pioneer in stochastic mechanics and Monte Carlo simulation, a true and loyal friend, and the best advisor and mentor someone could ever dream of having. It's extremely difficult to grasp that he is not with us anymore,” said George Deodatis, Santiago and Roberta Calatrava Family Professor in Civil Engineering and chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.

Born in Tokyo on December 23, 1930, Shinozuka received his BS in 1953 and his MS in 1955, both in civil engineering, from Kyoto University. He came to the United States and earned his PhD in civil engineering and engineering mechanics at Columbia Engineering, working under the direction of Alfred Freudenthal, who taught at the School from 1949 to 1969. Shinozuka taught in the department for thirty years, from 1958 to 1988, and was eventually given the title of Renwick Professor. He joined the faculty at Princeton University as Sollenberger Professor, and left in 1995 to become the Fred Champion Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Southern California. From 2001 to 2013, he was a distinguished professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California, Irvine. He returned to Columbia Engineering as professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics in 2013 and taught until 2016.

In addition to his election to the NAE, Shinozuka won many other honors and awards. In 2014, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) established a medal in recognition of his many contributions to the field. The Masanobu Shinozuka Medal honors an individual for outstanding research contributions in stochastic mechanics, reliability and risk and simulation. Other major awards include the 1978 Alfred Freudenthal Medal from ASCE’s Engineering Mechanics Institute (EMI), and the prestigious Theodore von Karman Medal from ASCE’s EMI, in 1994. He also received the Egleston Award for Distinguished Engineering Achievement from Columbia in 2004.

Shinozuka served as director of NSF’s National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research, president of the International Association for Structural Safety and Reliability, and president of the Engineering Mechanics Division of ASCE. He was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, and a distinguished member of ASCE.