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Aspasia "Sissy" Nikolaou (Fed)

Group Leader

Dr. Sissy Nikolaou serves as the Earthquake Engineering Group Leader for the Materials and Structural Systems Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). She has over 25 years of global consulting experience involving critical facilities, infrastructure projects and high-rise buildings.  Her consulting work is comprised of performance and resilience-based design, soil-structure interaction, seismic and geo-hazard analysis, multi-hazard risk assessments, and development of emergency and action preparedness plans. Nikolaou earned her 5-year Civil Engineering Diploma from the National Technical University of Athens in Greece on Structural Engineering, and her M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University at Buffalo in NY with focus on Earthquake and Geotechnical Engineering. She has served as Director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI), Applied Technology Council (ATC), and is an advisory member of the NSF-funded Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance (GEER) Association. She is currently a Governor and Treasurer of the Geo-Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE-GI), where she holds the Fellow status, and is member of the Executive Committee of the Infrastructure Resilience Division (ASCE-IRD). She enjoys developing and teaching graduate classes in Manhattan College where she serves as an Adjunct Professor. Her recognitions include receiving the Prakash Prize for Excellence, the WSP Technical Fellow of Earthquake Engineering distinction, and a Board Certification by the Academy of the Geo-Professionals (AGP).

In her adopted hometown of New York City (NYC), Dr. Nikolaou has provided technical leadership and management of numerous projects, including the Second Avenue Subway, new Tappan Zee (M. Cuomo) Bridge, JFK/LGA Airport Facilities and AirTrain, One World Trade Center, Queensboro and RFK bridges, and USTA, Citi Field and Yankee Stadia. In the Washington, D.C.- Maryland - Virginia (DMV) metropolitan area, she was involved with the foundation design of Woodrow Wilson Bridge and Convention Center and led the seismic risk assessment and action plan for the NIH headquarters. Nationally, she has worked on major dam rehabilitation and water/power plants, critical facilities and high-security data centers, and transportation systems such as the High-Speed Rail in California. She managed and technically led the World Trade Center resilience upgrade study to address post-Hurricane Sandy below ground corrosion effects and the FHWA post-hazard response and resilience framework for highway infrastructure systems. Globally, she has worked for large projects across Latin America, Europe, East Asia and Oceania, and has contributed her expertise in remediation projects for US Contractors in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the design of US Embassies across the globe. A large part of her career has been devoted in innovative design of iconic high-rise buildings in Mexico City, one of the most challenging environments in the world from both geotechnical and earthquake perspectives, including the Torre Mayor Tower, the first application of performance based design in Latin America and contemporary high-performance structures such as the Torre Siqueiros – Polyforum Tower.

Nikolaou has led reconnaissance missions supported by GEER/NSF, EERI, ATC, that brought together universities, agencies, and firms, following major earthquakes and hurricanes around the world. She was part of the 9/11 Terrorist Attack and Hurricane Sandy response/recovery work, while she has played a key role in the development of new generation codes for extreme events, including development of seismic guidelines for buildings, tunnels, and bridges in the US and abroad, and, supporting as the Chair of the Seismic Committee the evolution of the NYC Building Code. She has volunteered her time and supports activities such as the Emergency Response Risk Landscape of the NYC Office of Emergency Management (NYCoEM) and Rockefeller Center’s Resilient Schools pilot project in Cali, Colombia. 

One of her passions is to support and inspire the new generation of engineers, and she is meaningfully involved with organizations that enhance the inclusion and equity of women, LGBTQIA+, BIPOC, and other underrepresented groups in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) community. Nikolaou strongly believes in bridging academia and practice through long-term collaborations which she often incorporates in her keynote and state-of-the-practice lectures. She has contributed as a technical expert in various NIST-funded projects, including the NIST-FEMA Functional Recovery Framework for Buildings and Infrastructure Report (NIST SP-1254) which was submitted in January 2021 to the U.S. Congress as the future basis for seismic-resilient design.


Created October 15, 2020, Updated May 2, 2024