UAB wins recruiting battle for highway safety expert

Dean Sicking, developer of auto-racing SAFER barriers, to bring lab and research to UAB Nov. 1.

Dean Sicking, Ph.D., one of the developers of the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers that are used on NASCAR and IRL racetrack walls around the world, will be named associate vice president of product development and professor in the School of Engineering at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Oct. 3, 2012.

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UNL Communications

Sicking says although he is best known for the SAFER barriers, his work at UAB will expand upon his 32 years of highway safety research. “Based on work I’ve done in the past we estimate that we have saved 1,000 lives per year on U.S. highways and I want to double that number in the next 10 years,” says Sicking. “My focus is on saving lives. You do that by developing safety products that are better than the ones on the road now and that will be my objective at UAB.”

“Dean Sicking is an internationally respected authority on highway safety research whose work has saved countless lives,” says Richard Marchase, Ph.D., interim president of UAB. “He literally wrote the industry standards that the National Cooperative Highway Research Program set for safety performance evaluation — just one instance of his expertise and leadership in this field — and we are thrilled to have him join our team.”

Sicking admits UAB was not on his radar when he started looking for a new school after two decades at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But that was before he was recruited like a five-star quarterback — in a state that knows how to recruit impact players. When he visited Birmingham, Sicking met with George Barber, owner of Barber Motorsports Park, which hosts the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Barber gave him the recruiting pitch of a lifetime: On the spot, Barber offered Sicking his own space at the internationally known track so he can conduct safety research.

“His generosity allows us a great space to do dynamic component testing and that will give us the information we need to design an overall system that will ultimately protect families on the highways,” says Sicking. “After meeting Barber, people from Alabama Power and some others from the area auto plants I recognized that this kind of synergy between a university and industry is really unique and I want to be a part of that collaboration.”

Sicking earned a bachelor of science degree from Texas A&M University in 1980. He immediately went to work doing research on highway safety at the Texas Transportation Institute. He spent the next 12 years working full-time, raising a family and taking one class at a time to earn his doctoral degree in civil engineering in 1992. He has spent the last 20 years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Sicking will be formally introduced at the second annual Alabama Launchpad Innovation & Entrepreneurship Conference on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, where he is speaking about SAFER barriers. Alabama Launchpad is a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama Foundation. Sicking’s first official day at UAB is Nov. 1, 2012.

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