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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

UC Davis professors elected to National Academy of Engineering

Dr. Niemeier, left; Dr. Boulanger, right (COURTESY)

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering professors honored

Professors Ross Boulanger and Deb Niemeier have been elected as members of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Membership to the NAE is one of the highest professional honors awarded to engineers. The NAE honors those who have made outstanding contributions in the fields of engineering and technology.

Boulanger and Niemeier will be formally inducted in a ceremony in Washington D.C. in October. Thirteen current or retired faculty from UC Davis are members of the NAE. 84 new members and 22 foreign members, including nine other UC researchers, were also announced as elected individuals on Feb. 8.  

In an official NAE press release, Boulanger was recognized for “contributions to geotechnical earthquake engineering and the development of procedures for evaluating seismic behavior of soil-structure systems.” Niemeier was recognized “for developing groundbreaking tools to characterize the impact of transportation emissions on air quality and environmental justice.”

According to its official website, the NAE was founded in 1964 as a nonprofit to provide engineering leadership in service of the nation. Its mission is to advance well being by promoting engineering professions and using its members’ expertise to advise the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology. It is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine established by Congress.

New members are elected by current NAE members. The process of choosing members to elect takes almost an entire year. Nominations are called between February and May and then confidential peer committee reviews take place. The final list of nominations are voted on by all members in January of the following year and results are announced to the public in February.

Boulanger and Niemeier both work in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis. Niemeier is former department chair.

“This is a first for our College of Engineering to have two faculty members elected to the NAE in the same year,” said Jennifer Sinclair Curtis, the dean of the College of Engineering. “We are thrilled for Professors Boulanger and Niemeier and proud of their outstanding career accomplishments. They exemplify the exceptional quality of faculty throughout our college.”

Niemeier is founding director of the Sustainable Design Academy of UC Davis and the former director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at UC Davis. She has served on a few panels for the NAE as well its Energy Systems and Environments Board.

“For me, it is a huge honor and I’m really grateful for all of the support that has been given to me by my colleagues and friends and the campus more generally,” Niemeier said via email. “It is also recognition of the incredible students who have worked in my lab and then gone on to be themselves exceptional engineers and scholars.”

Niemeier believes the NAE is important for the recognition of work that has been done by engineers all over the country and world.

“It is recognition that engineers can address social and environmental equities and do it in a way that helps to bring positive change,” Niemeier said.

Niemeier combined her knowledge in transportation with new knowledge in vehicle combustion and emissions to start working on ways of better estimating vehicle emissions. Previously, there were no methods for scaling emissions from vehicle tailpipes to estimate emissions loads at regional or airshed levels. These measurements are key inputs to estimate primary and secondary pollutant concentrations. If estimates are too low, there will not be enough emissions control technologies in policies, which could jeopardize health and the environment. If estimates are too high, too much control could result in economic inefficiencies.

“Students and I developed new algorithms for estimating vehicle emissions and new scaling techniques that allowed public agencies to better incorporate air pollutants into decision-making,” Niemeier said. “We helped write new regulatory guidance for EPA to help protect the public health and ensure that agencies practiced state of the art methods.”

Boulanger is director of the UC Davis Center for Geotechnical Modeling. His work revolves around studying how soil and structures such as buildings, bridges and dams respond to earthquakes.

“To find that people who I admire deeply would elect me into the academy is very humbling and very satisfying,” Boulanger said.

The NAE has various committees that make reports to government organizations and agencies. Boulanger believes that the independent advice the academies provide to the government is valuable.

“Those reports can be excellent summaries of where a profession has gotten to or current status of an issue that is important to the country,” Boulanger said. “They become good reference materials for researchers in the broader community and students. A lot of the products they produce are very useful.”  

Boulanger has not served on any committees with the NAE. His service activities have been through other organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), the United States Society on Dams and the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engineering. The EERI is a prominent society for dealing with multidisciplinary aspects of earthquake engineering and working toward better practices in reducing hazards. The Society on Dams deals with the environmental, flooding and water management aspects involving the official regulation of dams. Boulanger enjoys his work with the International Society, where he heads an earthquake research committee.

 

Written by: Jayashri Padmanabhan — campus@theaggie.org

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