Engineering at Nebraska, Spring 2008
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Alumni Profile

Steel or Concrete

How one chooses his or her career interests is always an intriguing question. For Jim Jirsa, '60 CIVE, of Austin, Texas, the choice actually was a question, posed to him as a new graduate student at the University of Illinois: "Steel or concrete?"

Jirsa didn't really have a preference concerning the engineering specialty, so his adviser marked "concrete," and the rest, as they say, is history. Jirsa is a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas-Austin, where he is a well-known expert in earthquake engineering and reinforced concrete structures.

Among his many honors and achievements, Jirsa was one of four alumni invited back to UNL's city campus in November 2007 for Masters Week, organized by the Nebraska Alumni Association. He met with students, visited classes in Lincoln and Omaha, and attended a Masters banquet and the football game versus the University of Kansas.

While at UNL, Jirsa also received several other honors. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the Department of Civil Engineering, as well as a Chapter Honor Member of Chi Epsilon. As an undergraduate student, he was a founding member undergraduate student, he was a founding member of UNL's chapter of the national civil engineering honor society.

Jirsa's research centers on the performance of buildings and major structures under extreme conditions such as earthquakes or highly corrosive environments. There are 10 faculty involved in the research center, along with approximately 80 students working on projects. The facility is housed in a building that was actually an old magnesium factory located about seven miles from the main campus. The building has a large overhead crane that's ideal for structural testing.

He and his coworkers have completed large-scale testing of structures for the Texas Department of Transportation, as well as working with facilities in Japan and other international locations.

Throughout the years, numerous changes in materials for higher strength concrete and steel, along with more efficient construction procedures, have aided in the effort to create structures that withstand massive forces, Jirsa said.

Construction procedures have also become more Construction procedures have also become more Construction procedures have also become more efficient and faster, he noted. He works to provide new information to industry leaders concerning these procedures and the use of new materials. Corrosion protection is another area in which they concentrate. While he notes that it is "difficult to duplicate corrosion as it occurs in the field," it is possible to do lab tests and then evaluate those solutions on different bridge structures.

In his 36th year at Texas, Jirsa is still active in the classroom as well, teaching both undergraduate and graduate courses. He served as chair of the department for five years, but said his research dwindled some and he missed the student interaction.

"I enjoy working with the students immensely," he said. "It's very satisfying to see ‘the lights go on' when they learn something new, and exciting to see former students you worked with go on to great things in their careers."

As for Nebraska, he's quick to note that he was here before the days of Bob Devaney and the long-standing football dynasty, but does remember a satisfying win against Oklahoma his junior year.

by J.S. Engebretson, M.A. '05