The Engineering of Ancient Roman Architecture is Focus of Talk

December 04, 2008

Renato Perucchio, Ph.D.

Mechanical Engineering Professor Renato Perucchio, Ph.D., will discuss the architecture of some of the grandest structures ever built during a lecture next week at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Perucchio will discuss “Building Roma Aeterna: Birth and Development of Structural Form in Imperial Rome,” at 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12, in the Class of 1962 Auditorium at the Medical Center.

The talk is part of the “Second Friday Science Social” lecture series that usually highlights biological and biomedical research at the University of Rochester. Each year during the holidays, scientists take a break from biology and learn about a topic far afield from the usual fare. The talk is geared mainly to faculty, staff and students at the University, though the general public is welcome as well.

A native of Italy, Perucchio is an internationally recognized authority on the engineering principles upon which ancient Rome was built. He couples his broad knowledge of materials science and structural engineering with a computational tool known as finite-element analysis to understand monumental structures from Imperial Rome. These include the Great Hall of Trajan’s Market and the Frigidarium of Diocletian’s Baths – how they were built, why they were designed as they were, and the conditions that led to their deterioration or collapse.

“During the course of Roman civilization, Roman engineers developed the structural form – the combination of geometrical shapes and structural materials designed to carry loads in buildings – to levels of innovation unparalleled until the introduction of structural steel and reinforced concrete in the nineteenth century,” said Perucchio, who is also professor of Biomedical Engineering.

“Roman engineers ingeniously developed some of the most extraordinary and enduring architectural and engineering monuments ever built. We are using the computational tools of modern structural engineering to analyze how they did so,” he added.

For several years, Perucchio has offered undergraduates a look into the world of Imperial Rome as part of the University’s semester program in Arezzo, Italy, as well as through several courses available both to engineering majors and to students in such areas as history, classics, and art history. Now he and colleagues have created a new Program in Archaeology, Engineering and Architecture, offering additional courses and some degree options for University of Rochester undergraduates.

Perucchio received a doctoral degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Pisa and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from Cornell University. Since the early 1990s he has studied the biomechanics of the developing embryonic heart in collaboration with Larry A. Taber, Ph.D., a world authority in the biomechanics of heart development who is at Washington University in St. Louis.

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