Arthur Nilson, Pioneer for His Work on High Performance Concrete, Dies at Age 87

March 14, 2014

Arthur H. Nilson, P.E., M.ASCE, founding member and past chairman of ASCE’s Committee on Finite Element Analysis of Reinforced Concrete Structures, passed away at his home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on February 26, at the age of 87. Born August 27, 1926, Nilson received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, master’s degree from Cornell University, and doctorate in civil engineering from the University of California at Berkeley. For 25 years, Nilson was professor in the College of Engineering at Cornell University, where he specialized in teaching and research in the field of structural analysis and design. Five of those years he was chairman of the school’s Department of Structural Engineering. Nilson was the author of over 40 technical papers, as well as 2 books, Design of Concrete Structures and Design of Prestressed Concrete. His textbooks were considered standard works in this country and abroad for many years, and were widely adopted throughout the U.S. and translated into several foreign languages. Apart from Cornell, Nilson held visiting appointments at Manchester and Salford Universities in England, and at the Politechnico de Milano in Italy. His pioneering work on high-performance concrete has been widely recognized in the engineering community. Nilson served on many professional committees for the American Concrete Institute (ACI), including building code, concrete slab construction, and structural deflections. Throughout his distinguished career, Nilson earned many honors and awards, among them the ACI Wason Medal for materials research in 1974, the ACI Wason Medal for best technical paper in both 1986 and 1987, and the ACI Structural Research Award in 1993.

  • At the moment I am reading the book “Design of Concrete Structures” on my study table. I am a Ugrad student, have neither met him nor did know him by any means but by reading his work I can only say this man was a true talent. I can only imagine how honest he would have been to his profession, a true hard worker.
    RIP Mr. Nilson

  • Guillermo Gabrielli, Dipl. Eng, Ph.D., P.Eng.

    I am so saddened by this news. Professor Arthur H. Nilson was one of the greatest professors I had in my life! I learned so much from him. He was such an excellent teacher. He would cover so much material in one hour! His classes were superb, his book is still outstanding, his exams were difficult because he would give us only the class time. I will always remember my first exam because my knowledge of English was not good enough and he wrote “right answer to the wrong question.” When I went to Cornell University, coming from Argentina, I was already a professional engineer with 3 years of experience in the design of concrete structures, I still learned so much from him. I took every grad course he taught at Cornell Univ. I had good knowledge of the German school of design in concrete structures; he taught me the American approach to concrete design. I’ve tried many times to contact him through email. I only wanted to tell him in life how important he was as a teacher in my formation as a structural engineer. Mrs. Linda Nilson, I wish you to send you my belated condolences.
    Guillermo Gabrielli

  • Linda,
    I was thinking about you and Art and decided to search out Art’s name. I didn’t expect to find an obituary. Please accept my condolences and Walter’s. We were fortunate to cross paths with you and Art so long ago. How fortunate you were to share each other’s lives for 36 years.

  • Dear David,

    I want you to know Professor Nilson treasured every moment he spent with each of his students. It’s not surprising that he had everyone pay attention to their written grammar. His homeroom teacher in high School was John Warriner, the author along with Francis Griffith, of the book titled, English Grammar and Composition. Professor Nilson had a lot of respect for him and his work.

    Thank you for your thoughtful tribute. He was indeed a kind and thoughtful man to everyone who knew him. I speak from experience. He was my husband for thirty six years. I enjoyed watching his attention to detail in everything he did and his students were no exception.
    He would delighted in knowing that he made a difference!

    Linda Nilson

    • I’m sorry to hear about that , I remember him as a great strong healthy man who enjoyed sailing and spending time with his family . I’m sorry Linda, I hope you are doing good.

  • David Goodyear, PE SE NAE

    What a great professor and a wonderful person. Generations of students (including this one) owe a lot to Professor Nilson. He was the only engineering professor that I studied under who graded grammar on engineering exams…he knew what we would need to know in the working world. He was a true engineer, making difficult problems seem simple to solve. He will be missed, but not forgotten.

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