Connor receives honorary doctorate recognizing his many achievements
By Debbie Levey
Civil & Environmental Engineering
For pioneering work on topics including computational mechanics, motion-based design and control systems for structures, Professor Jerome Connor received an honorary doctorate degree on April 29 from the Department of Civil Engineering at the Aristotle University of Thessoloniki, Greece. Connor’s former student, Professor Demos Angelides, chairman of the university’s Department of Civil Engineering, emphasized Connor’s 35-year relationship with Aristotle University. His “pioneering mind, scientific contribution, and integrity and honesty [have made] him a model and an example for the younger generation,” said Angelides.
In more than five decades with the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Connor has guided and mentored students using technology that went from the slide rule of yesteryear to the laptop of today. But no matter how students solve problems, “they have to understand basic concepts to know what is garbage and what makes sense,” said Connor. “Students still need guidance, and I try to help them use computational systems in an effective way.”
Connor started as a TA for department head John Wilbur in a structural systems class in the 1950s, then worked with Professor Charles Norris before joining the U.S. Army Applied Mechanics Group in Watertown. He returned to MIT in 1962 to join the faculty amid major changes introduced by Charlie Miller, the department head from 1962 to 1969.
“Miller convinced IBM to help fund the development of ICES (Integrated Civil Engineering Systems), a tremendously visionary computer system that dealt with many different functions for structural, hydraulics and other problems,” said Connor. “It was spearheaded by the younger faculty who really built the system. Bob Logcher and I developed many of the programs around 1966 to 1968, along with Dan Roos, Richard de Neufville and many students.” ICES used the COGO (Coordinate Geometry) language and STRUDL (Structural Design Language). More than 40 years later, STRUDL remains a working program now maintained and updated by Georgia Tech. Some state transportation departments continue to use COGO to plan road layouts.
Moving from roads to more elusive water currents, Connor joined Keith Stolzenbach ’66, S.M. ’68, Ph.D. ’71 to develop finite element modeling of circulation problems in Massachusetts Bay. Their programs — CAFE (Circulation Analysis Finite Element), TEA (Tidal Embayment Analysis) and DISPER (Dispersion Analysis) — are still used to determine where ocean currents will carry sewage or other substances around the complicated geometry of the harbor.
Since the early 1990s, Connor has concentrated on structural engineering and high performance structures, striving to improve buildings, bridges, etc. by using better materials, design and layouts. A Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) track on high-performance structures began in the mid-1990s and attracts about 20 students a year, with Connor as head. Beginning with a weekend retreat, each M.Eng. class always bonds closely during the intense nine-month program. At graduation every year, Connor invites students and families to celebrate at his summer home on Cape Cod. Not only do they stay in touch with each other, the graduates also provide valuable job leads.
“If their company needs people, they’ll phone me. Even in the current economic situation, all of the 2009 M.Eng. grads found jobs,” he noted proudly.
Having reorganized his course, Computer-Based Structural Analysis, Connor described it as “a completely modern treatment to structural analysis, recognizing that the computer does most of the work,” he said. “However, students still have to understand basic concepts. They also need to do some simple computations to check sophisticated computer analyses: are they putting in the right information, and how do they know that correct information comes out?”
Due to increasing awareness of climate change and fluctuating energy prices, future engineers will spend more time creating sustainable structures. To prepare them for making complex decisions, Connor teaches a sustainability class with Eric Adams and John Oschendorf. Using software for lifecycle analysis, students learn to calculate the resource demands and pollutants emitted by a structure from creation to demolition. They consider how materials are manufactured and transported, construction methods, energy demands during the structure’s lifetime, and eventual removal and recycling.
Connor has written or edited 12 books on topics including finite element techniques, behavior of offshore structures, intelligent design, structural engineering and motion-based design. Among his MIT awards are the Effective Teaching Award, the Frank Perkins Award for guiding and mentoring graduate students and the Samuel M. Seegal Prize for inspiring students to pursue and achieve excellence.