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Vitelmo V. Bertero
In Memoriam

Vitelmo V. Bertero

Professor of Structural Engineering, Emeritus

UC Berkeley
Professor Vitelmo Victorio Bertero, a world-renowned expert in earthquake engineering and design of structures, passed away at his Berkeley home on October 24, 2016. Professor Bertero was born in Esperanza, Argentina, in the province of Santa Fe, on May 9, 1923. After completing high school in his hometown, he enrolled in the Department of Civil Engineering at the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the National University of the Littoral in Rosario, Argentina. There he completed his undergraduate degree in 1947 after his studies were interrupted twice by military service. After a stint in professional practice he was motivated by the devastation caused by the San Juan, Argentina earthquake of 1944 to pursue advanced studies in the United States and he enrolled in the doctoral program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1953. There he advanced the state of understanding for blast-resistant structures through ingenious experimentation and careful analysis, obtaining master’s and doctor’s degrees in 1955 and 1957, respectively. After a brief postdoctoral stay at MIT he arrived at the University of California, Berkeley, as a lecturer in 1958. He advanced to associate professor in 1960, and then full professor in 1966. He retired from the university in 1991, but continued mentoring graduate students and advancing the state of the art and practice through research, consulting, and service to professional organizations until his death.

Since his arrival in Berkeley in 1958 Bertero dedicated himself to advancing the state of the art in the understanding of the response of structures to earthquakes and in developing effective means for improving the earthquake resistance of new and existing structures in zones of high seismic risk. In conjunction with colleagues in the Division of Structural Engineering and Structural Mechanics (SESM) of the Department of Civil Engineering, he developed innovative experimental methods for assessing the hysteretic behavior of structural components for steel, concrete, and steel-concrete composite structures. He was a significant force for the improvement of the experimental facilities on campus and for securing the funding and establishment of a world-class experimental facility for earthquake engineering research at Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station, which started operation in 1971 with the world’s largest existing shaking table. This experimental facility formed the core of the world-renowned Earthquake Engineering Research Center at UC Berkeley, with Bertero serving as its director from 1988 to 1990. Bertero used the shaking table to investigate the response of multistory, scaled models of steel, reinforced concrete, and steel-concrete composite structures in the framework of major U.S. – Japan research collaborations. He also conducted several major large-scale laboratory experiments that, combined with his shaking table work, propelled advances in the design of earthquake-resistant structures in many countries.

After major earthquakes, Bertero traveled tirelessly around the world to collect firsthand information of the structural damage and to conduct in-depth studies of several major structural failures, most notably the spectacular failure of the first-story columns of the Olive View Hospital in Los Angeles following the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. His investigation of the failures to bridge structures following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake earned him the 1990 Man of the Year Award by the Engineering News-Record, only the second researcher to be so honored in the 25 years of the award. His sustained efforts for improving the earthquake-resistant design of structures earned Bertero a position among the “Top 10 Seismic Engineers of the 20th Century” by the Applied Technology Council and Engineering News-Record in 2006.

An inspiring and demanding teacher, Bertero was a major contributor to the curriculum in earthquake engineering at Berkeley and developed several new courses, most notably the course on earthquake-resistant design that is now the staple of similar curricula around the world. The many workshops and short courses he offered around the world, especially in Central and Latin America, enlightened thousands of engineers with the latest developments in earthquake-resistant design and had a profound influence in the development of modern earthquake design standards in many countries. During his 33 years of teaching at Berkeley Bertero mentored many students and visitors who speak about his passion for the subject and his meticulous attention to the understanding of the physical behavior from experiments, in-field observations, and first principles of mechanics. Many former students and associates have gone on to distinguished and influential careers in governmental agencies, academia, and professional practice, and carry on his teachings about rational methods for earthquake-resistant design.

Bertero served many national and international societies during his long and distinguished career, most notably as chief technical advisor to the UNESCO Mission in Japan in 1971. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in 1999, the Argentine Academy of Engineering in 1989, and the Argentine Academy of Sciences in 1971. He held honorary professorships from many universities of Central and South America, including the National University of Rosario, University of Buenos Aires, and the University of Mendoza, in Argentina.

In addition to the Berkeley Citation in 1991, he was the recipient of the Housner Medal (1995) by the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute; the Nathan M. Newmark Medal (1991), the J. James R. Croes Medal (1989), and the Moisseiff Award (1987) by the American Society of Civil Engineers; the A. Anderson Award (1989) and Raymond C. Reese Research Award (1987) by the American Concrete Institute; the T. R. Higgins Lectureship Award (1990) by the American Institute of Steel Construction; and the First International Gold Medal Eduardo Torroja (1989) by the Building Sciences Institute of Spain.

In his retirement, Bertero organized, led, and contributed chapters to Earthquake Engineering: From Engineering Seismology to Performance-Based Engineering (2004). The book brought together many leading experts in the field, including several colleagues from Berkeley and several former students. It has become a standard reference in the subject.

Professor Emeritus Bertero is survived by his wife, Nydia A. Bertero; children, Maria Teresa Bertero-Barcelo, Edward T. Bertero, Robert C. Bertero, Mary Rita Algazalli-Sandoval, Adolfo V. Bertero, and Richard A. Bertero; 10 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Filip C. Filippou
Jack P. Moehle
Yousef Bozorgnia