Chester P. Siess
Educator, researcher, engineer
By William J. Hall, John D. Haltiwanger, and Narbey Khachaturian
Chester P. Siess was born on July 23, 1916, in Alexandria, Louisiana. He earned his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Louisiana State University in 1936 and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Civil (structural) Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1939 and 1948, respectively. He entered the engineering profession during the Depression as a survey party chief in the Rural Road Inventory Program of the Louisiana Highway Commission, and while there also organized a soil testing laboratory within the commission. In 1937 he began his graduate studies at the University of Illinois working as a Special Research Assistant in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. In June 1939 he joined Dr. Ralph B. Peck in the Chicago Subway Soils Laboratory. When that work was completed in April 1941, Siess assumed a short-term position in the New York Central Railroad Bridge Office in Chicago.
Siess returned to the University of Illinois in September 1941 as a Special Research Associate in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, and in 1945 was promoted to Special Research Assistant Professor. In 1949 he transferred to the Department of Civil Engineering as a Research Assistant Professor where he participated in the programs of the Structural Engineering Laboratory, specializing in concrete research. He proceeded through the ranks, becoming Professor of Civil Engineering in 1955 and serving as Head of the department from 1973 to 1978, at which time he retired and was appointed Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering.
Siess' contributions to the profession came about through tireless efforts in his research studies and his instruction of more than 1,100 students (including 35 doctoral students), many of whom contributed greatly to the advancement of our knowledge in concrete. His intensive educational and research activity centered on the development of modern codes and standards; his published work was directed to practical applications for improving our understanding of the behavior of reinforced and prestressed concrete elements in bridges and buildings. All of these activities contributed to improvement of the bases upon which our structures are more safely and economically designed and constructed.
Further exemplifying his contributions to the profession was his extensive participation in technical societies, particularly the American Concrete Institute (ACI) for which he served as President (1974-75). He was a member of ACI for more than 50 years and was a long-time member and chairman of Committee 318 which is responsible for the "Building Code Requirements for Structural Concrete." His contributions to the 318 Committee were far more than the sum of his many years of labor. During his tenure as a professor at UIUC, he conducted research that provided the basis for much of the thinking behind the building codes for reinforced and prestressed concrete. During this era of great design and construction difficulties in concrete structures, Siess' work made the industry ultimately realize the sensitivity of shear to moment in reinforced concrete elements; this was a landmark contribution to structural engineering.
Siess chaired ACI committees on research, bond, slabs, and fatigue in concrete. He also served in a consultant capacity on ACI Committee 349 (Concrete Nuclear Structures), and as a member of ACI Committee 359 (Joint ACE-ASCE Concrete Components for Nuclear Reactors). As a consequence of this outstanding record of accomplishments, he was appointed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to serve on its Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS – a national Statutory Committee), a position he held from 1968 until 1992, serving as chairman in 1972. He was tied for length of service on this committee with only one other individual.
Among his numerous awards and honors are the following: American Concrete Institute Wason medal (1949, jointly with N.M. Newmark), Turner Medal (1964), the R.C. Reese Award (1956 and again in 1970, the latter jointly with J.O. Jirsa and M.A. Sozen), and Honorary Membership (1969); Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute Award (1956); American Society of Civil Engineers Research Prize (1956), Ernest E. Howard Award (1968), and Honorary Membership (1978). He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering (1967), was a Charter Member of Louisiana State University Engineering Hall of Distinction (1979), and received the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Distinguished Service Award (1987). His scholarly works included some 15 monographs, 42 journal articles, and 29 conference proceedings papers.
In 1994 Siess was chosen to be the 51st National Honor Member of Chi Epsilon, the Civil Engineering Honor Society. The Chester and Helen Siess Endowed Professorship in Civil and Environmental Engineering was established in 2001.
Chester P. Siess passed away on January 14, 2004. He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen, in 1997, and is survived by their daughter Judith Ann Siess of Cleveland, Ohio.