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Obituary: Michael "Mike" Gaus, 1928-2012

Michael “Mike” GausIt is with great sadness that we report the passing of our dear colleague and friend Michael “Mike” Gaus, a well known advocate of earthquake engineering. He passed away on January 3, 2012 in Seattle.

Born December 2, 1928 in Chicago Illinois, Mike received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1954. While pursuing his Ph.D., also at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he worked at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, where he assisted in the design of the Air Force Academy dining hall, one of the first projects to use a digital computer (the ILIAC) for structural design. After receiving his Ph.D. in 1959, he became an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University at State College in the Department of Engineering Mechanics. He then worked for the summer of 1961 at Boeing, where he developed a love of Seattle.

Mike then worked for nearly 30 years at the National Science Foundation. As a Program Director in the Engineering Mechanics Program (1961-1970) and the Earthquake Engineering & Natural Hazards Program (1963-1971), Mike supported the establishment and operation of the Wind Engineering Research Council (WERC), which began at Northwestern University in 1966. Under the NSF grants, WERC fulfilled a valuable function in promoting technology transfer of new wind engineering knowledge developed through research programs. WERC became the American Association for Wind Engineering in 1995.

Also during this time, Mike was instrumental in creating the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, which was founded in 1969 by Lynn S. Beedle at Lehigh University through funding from NSF. The Council began as a collaboration between ASCE and the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering (IABSE), and was an international effort to evaluate and coordinate significant tall building research. It grew from its engineering orientation to include architecture, planning, construction, natural hazards, economics, and other social sciences in its goal to teach others throughout the world how to best design tall buildings. The organization continues today with headquarters at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.

While Program Director of the Natural Hazards Research, Applied Science and Research Applications Directorate (1978-1982) and later as Program Director, Structural Mechanics Program (1982-1985), Mike began to promote the idea of a national earthquake engineering research center. He took the lead in championing the “Center Approach” in earthquake engineering research, and gained NSF approval to open a national competition to create what became the National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (NCEER). Established in 1986, NCEER, headquartered at the State University of New York at Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo), comprised a consortium of researchers and industry partners from numerous disciplines and institutions throughout the United States who joined together to mitigate the damage and destruction caused by earthquakes. A decade later, two more earthquake engineering centers were formed, the Pacific Earthquake Engineering and Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Mid-America Earthquake Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One notable achievement of the Centers that Mike was most proud of was the inclusion of social science research and perspectives into traditional engineering solutions.

After a sabbatical year in 1989, he left NSF and began a second career as a Research Professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at the University at Buffalo. From 1990-2000, he continued to mentor graduate students while conducting research and teaching in construction management and use of new technologies such as computer-aided design and GIS in mitigation of natural hazards. He trained and mentored generations of students and faculty, who are now leading professionals in many universities and industry both in the U.S. and throughout the world. His many students remember him fondly as a talented and thoughtful teacher.

Mike married Dorothy Shipley White on October 5, 1963. His daughter Linda was born in 1965, and his daughter Jennifer was born in 1966. In 1965, he designed and built the family home in Potomac, Maryland. With typical engineering aplomb, he sketched on a napkin a square flat-roofed house, and went on to the build the same. Mike and Dorothy built a second house in Amherst, New York.

After retiring from UB in 2000, Mike and Dorothy moved to Williamsburg, Virginia to find a warmer climate. In December of 2010 Mike and Dorothy moved to Seattle to be closer to their daughter Jennifer, and to return to Seattle. In addition to his wife and daughters, Mike is survived by four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday January 28, 2012, from 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM. The family has arranged a three-hour cruise aboard the M/V Fremont on Lake Washington to celebrate Mike’s life and honor his wish that we enjoy “good food and music” and scatter his ashes there. The point of departure will be the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union, Seattle. For details, please contact Jenny Gaus (

Mike requested that contributions in his memory be directed to the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering at UB. Information is as follows: