Full name:


Professor James M. Kelly
Date of Birth:


25 May 1935
Affiliations (at the time of the award):


Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of the Department of Civil Engineering, University of California in Berkeley


Civil and Environmental Engineering
Summary of body of work recognised by MSA:


The 2012 Mahathir Science Award is awarded to Professor James M. Kelly in recognition of his contribution to the development and application of seismic rubber bearings used for protecting buildings, bridges and other such structures against devastating impact of earthquake.
Latest Biography/Profile of Organisation: Professor James M. Kelly was born on 25 May 1935 in Hamilton, Scotland, United Kingdom. He graduated from University of Glasgow, Scotland in 1956 in Civil Engineering. After obtaining a masters degree in Engineering Mechanics from Brown University, Rhode Island in 1959, he completed a PhD in Civil Engineering from Stanford University, California in 1962. He started his career at the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 as an Assistant Professor. Currently, he serves as a Professor at the Graduate School of the Department of Civil Engineering, University of California in Berkeley.

Professor Kelly is known as the father of base isolation in the United States. He is also known for pioneering the development of seismic isolation and energy dissipation techniques. He spent more than 30 years at University of California, Berkeley where he led the research of many graduate students in simulating and analyzing the effects of using base isolation systems to mitigate structural damage during episodes of strong ground shaking. His work includes dislocation mechanics, dynamic plasticity, impact and wave propagation.

In 1971, he developed the first energy-dissipating device that was used in earthquake resistant structures. Since then, he has led the way in experimental investigations of elastomeric seismic isolation bearings by conducting many pioneering studies of seismically isolated structures and structures with energy dissipators. Professor Kelly started the development of seismic rubber bearing technology in the 1970’s. He began to work with the Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre (TARRC) which was the world’s renowned R&D centre on rubber on a joint project to evaluate the potential for natural rubber bearings to isolate buildings and bridges from damaging earthquakes. His work culminated in the use of high damping rubber bearing, the world’s first, developed by TARRC for the Law and Justice Centre building in San Bernadino, California in 1985.

Seismic rubber bearing technology offers important advantages over conventional protection methods because it reduces the earthquake forces transmitted into the structure. Thus, unlike the conventional strengthening method, it protects not only the structure itself but also the contents and secondary structural features. This technology ensures that critical structures such as hospitals, telecommunication centers, bridges and nuclear reactors is protected and will continue functioning after a major earthquake. The most notable impact of such technology was during the 1994 Northridge and 1995 Kobe devastating earthquakes. All buildings on rubber bearings performed very well during the disaster. This instigated the Japanese to install seismic rubber bearing in almost all newly-built bridges in Japan. Existing bridges were gradually retrofitted with rubber bearings.

Currently this technology is being used in more than 10,000 structures in earthquake and natural hazard-prone countries such as China, Japan, Indonesia, Iran, India, the United States, Taiwan, Italy, Armenia, Turkey and New Zealand. Many countries have now recognised this technology. Among the projects are the 24km 2nd Penang Bridge in Malaysia, 20-storey office block and 14-storey hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia.