Professor Ian Burgess

Professor of Structural Engineering

Department of Civil and Structural Engineering
Sir Frederick Mappin Building
Mappin Street, Sheffield, S1 3JD

Telephone: +44 (0) 114 222 5060
Fax: +44 (0) 114 222 5793

Room: F111b




My research aims to prevent building collapse in the event of fire.

Professor ian burgess


Ian Burgess gained his first degree at the University of Cambridge, and his doctorate at University College London. His doctoral research work focused on the general stability theory of one-way buckling systems. During a two-year NRC fellowship at McMaster University in Canada he became interested in dynamic instability phenomena, and worked in the general theory of flutter instability in aero-elastic systems. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1980 to work in the Department.

Ian’s research uses computer modelling and full-scale model experimentation, aiming to understand the complex interactions that take place within steel-framed structures in the event of fire. By understanding the causes of building collapse, he can advise on design, optimise fire protection to slow down failure, avoid disproportionate collapse, and consequently, help to protect lives.

Vulcan, our fire engineering research group’s software, models the way buildings react to fire and is capable of non-linear modelling of 3-dimensional composite buildings as temperature distributions develop through the cross-sections of both beam-columns and slabs. It is used in performance-based design of fire protection strategies by leading UK consultants, and allows construction companies to optimise their use of fire protection, reduce their spend on steel and create more robust buildings. The software was the winner of two British Computer Society national awards in 2005. placing the UK at the forefront of fire protection.

In the mid-1980s Ian began an enduring collaboration with Professor Roger Plank (retired Head of the School of Architecture at the University) in developing numerical techniques for modelling the behaviour of steel and composite elements in fire. A finite element approach developed progressively from 1990 as the emphasis gradually shifted from members in isolation towards the performance of whole steel and composite framed building structures and sub-frames. The main thrust of the research remains in numerical modelling, but some very successful experimental work has been done at Sheffield in developing a component approach to connection modelling for fire conditions. The most important current theme of the research group, after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, concerns the robustness of connections in fire and the avoidance of progressive collapse of buildings in fire. The research has been funded mainly by the EPSRC, but has also attracted funding both from industry and other government agencies.

Ian has been heavily involved in teaching across the whole range of Structures courses at all levels, with extended excursions into CAD, survey field courses and computer programming. He has been an active participant in a series of projects, within the University as well as in national and European consortia, to make the teaching of structural steel design more exciting, relevant and effective.

Ian was Head of the Department from 2005 to 2009. Outside the University he was a Water-Polo player for 40 years, but has now accepted that he will have to find something else to stave off senility. He is also an eternally optimistic fan of Sheffield United.

Selected Publications

Journal articles