3° with Tarek Abdoun

by Michael Mullaney on August 24, 2009

Tarek Abdoun and his wife, Nevin

We asked Tarek Abdoun, the Iovino ’73 Professor in Civil Engineering at Rensselaer, about his research:

Your research involves geotechnical engineering and earthquakes. How did you first become interested in these topics?
During my final year in college, my city – Cairo, Egypt – was hit by an earthquake which caused a lot of devastation. I volunteered to help assess the damage caused by the earthquake. After seeing firsthand how earthquakes can be so destructive I decided to dedicate my research efforts to improving the resilience of our infrastructure against natural hazards.

Will science ever allow us to predict or prevent earthquakes?
Prediction might be difficult in the near future but our goal is to minimize the fatalities and economical losses caused by earthquakes

You were heavily involved in researching how and why some of the New Orleans levees failed during Hurricane Katrina. That must have been a huge challenge, given the sobering situation in New Orleans and the impact that your findings could have on the future of levee design standards. Was it a stressful time for you?
It was very stressful but the research team had a great sense of responsibility which kept us going until we identified the possible causes for the levee failures.

What is a centrifuge? Why do we have one at Rensselaer, and how is it used?
It’s an advanced research tool that allows small-scale modeling of civil infrastructures – like bridges, dams, tunnels, etc. The centrifuge facility is similar to wind tunnels in that it provides a low cost and effective method for testing small scale models of actual structures.

In addition to being a professor, you also graduated from Rensselaer. What has changed here since the time when you were a student?
RPI continues to invest in bringing the most advanced technology to campus so there is always new and interesting opportunities for our students and faculty.

I noticed that you received your undergraduate degree from Cairo University. I’ve always wanted to visit Egypt – tell me a little bit about living there.
Cairo is very beautiful city which never sleeps. My family and I usually spend our summer vacation there every year. Egypt has a great history and excellent food as well as some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I hope I can meet you there one day and show around.

Outside of the lab and the classroom, what do you like to do for fun?
I like outdoor activates as well as playing sports.