Throughout his career, state officials, politicians and builders regularly sought his advice on how to create and maintain earthquake-resistant structures because of his pioneering studies involving the inelastic behavior and seismic response of reinforced concrete and steel materials.
After the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Popov said the unexpected failure of so many steel-frame structures indicated that California building codes should be tightened. He advised requiring thicker steel columns and beams and more stringent inspection of welds to make California buildings more like Japanese buildings, which, he said, are designed to resist greater earthquake forces.
After completing high school in two years, Popov earned his undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley in 1933 and his masters from MIT in 1934. He then studied at CalTech but left the institution before completing his Ph.D. to become a practicing engineer from 1937 to 1945. He earned his doctorate in civil engineering and applied mechanics from Stanford in 1946.
Popov, who taught and did research at UC Berkeley from 1946 until shortly before his death in 2001 at the age of 88, provided the experimental and theoretical underpinnings for advances that helped solve buckling problems in the trans-Alaska pipeline.
His work also contributed to stronger structural shells, including those of airplane hangars and NASA's Houston environmental chamber. In addition, he was the leading researcher on what is called eccentrically braced framing to reduce sway from earthquakes or wind in high-rise buildings a technique first used in the mid-1970s on the Embarcadero Four office tower in San Francisco.
Popov wrote numerous articles and textbooks, including Mechanics of Materials, first printed in 1952, and his most recent, Engineering Mechanics of Solids in 1990. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1976 and collected several awards for his teaching and research, including the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute's Housner Medal in 1999.
Popov's many honors also included election to the National Academy of Engineering, the campus's Distinguished Teaching Award, the ASCE Normal Medal, the Berkeley Citation, and a Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award. In 1977, Popov's colleagues, in cooperation with the National Science Foundation, organized a conference in honor of his 30 years of teaching.