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Mechanics, Materials and Structures

Challenges for Today's Civil Engineers

Civil Engineers create the infrastructure that brings clean water to our homes and enables transportation of goods and people by road and rail. They provide shelters that can withstand extreme loads, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, to keep us safe. At their best, they fill the public space with structures of beauty and utility. They operate on such a grand scale that their style can define an era, their scope can affect the climate, and their skill can protect the lives of multitudes. 

Civil engineers must take the lead in confronting new societal challenges, including increasing population densities, limited water supplies, limited natural resources, climate change (e.g., rising sea levels and extreme weather), ageing infrastructure, increase in load demands (intense and heavy traffic), and natural and man-made hazards (e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, terrorist acts). These challenges amplify the risk and threaten not only to degrade or destroy our public infrastructure, but also to impose societally disruptive consequences. Clearly, the next generation of civil engineers faces a vast array of complex technological and societal challenges. 

The research conducted by the Mechanics, Materials, and Structures (MMS) group addresses the pressing challenges that mankind is facing in the 21st century. Two subjects form the main axes of MMS research: (1) Resilient Urban Infrastructure and (2) Engineering and the Arts. Together, this work serves as the catalyst for the deployment of systems, infrastructure, and materials in society that will ultimately foster a cohesive economic and socio-political global environment.

Resilient Urban Infrastructure

A panel of diverse international experts, convened by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (NAE), proposed several Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st Century. Among those challenges were two that are central to the mission of MMS: “Restore and Improve the Urban Infrastructure” and “Develop Carbon Sequestration Methods”. Resilience of the urban infrastructure - buildings, bridges, and lifelines - cannot be achieved without consideration of the impact that construction and maintenance of structures have on the environment (e.g., consumption of resources, CO2 emissions, heat generation), energy resources (embodied and consumed in fabrication of materials, and erection, operation, and maintenance of structures), plus the earth systems that support the infrastructure, which are also a means of storing captured CO2

Specific research thrusts that are being developed by MMS faculty are addressing the global challenges of urban infrastructure while maintaining an aesthetic sensitivity to design. They are engineering a more reliable and sustainable future by specifically addressing the following 21st century challenges

(1) GLOBAL WARMING: Hazard prediction, effects and mitigation, e.g., tropical cyclone climatology and hazard, CO2 sequestration, inflatable dams for storm surge protection, and post-event evaluation of structures. Reduction of CO2 emissions via low-CO2 concrete and energy-efficient architecture.

(2) INCREASE in URBAN POPULATION WORLD-WIDE: Hazard risk assessment of structures and communities following extreme events such astropical cyclones, earthquakes, fire following earthquake. Infrastructure design considering increased populations and fewer resources through structural optimization techniques, form finding, sustainable concrete. Smart cities via self-centering frames after earthquakes, deployable and adaptive systems, real-time assessment of structural performance.

(3) AGING and FAILING EXISTING INFRASTRUCTURE: Extending infrastructure life span through structural health monitoring. Monitoring, analysis, and preservation of historic structures. Durable construction materials.

Engineering and the Arts

The solutions to modern Civil Engineering challenges can be elegant, as well as effective. There is more than one solution to an engineering problem, and the best solution will intersect the realm of art. Our MMS program is uniquely positioned as we are part of a prominent liberal art university and have strong ties to the humanities. We strongly support the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) philosophy initiated by Rhode Island School of Design, which states that the innovations needed to solve 21st century challenges are firmly based on engineering principles but must be seamlessly interwoven with Art and Design.  

Engineering and the Arts is therefore another central research focus of MMS. Specifically, the work in this area can be described by the following categories:

(1) HISTORIC STRUCTURES: Preservation through structural health monitoring, structural rehabilitations, documentation and archive (preserving and growing an archive of resources on significant structures), historical analysis within the context of engineering design.

(2) CONSERVATION – MATERIALS: Climate change enhances the threat to monuments and public art. Basic materials research permits protection and remediation.

(3) RATIONAL FORMS: Form-finding and structural optimization – transforming engineering design for a future-oriented built environment.

(4) STRUCTURAL ART: Design lessons through the best examples. Efficient, economical, and elegant structures.

News: Tenure-track employment opportunity

The Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University invites applications for a tenure track appointment at the assistant professor level in the Mechanics, Materials and Structures (MMS) program of the Department, with a preferred start date of September 1, 2015. Click here for details. The successful candidate will have a PhD, experience in the field of civil engineering, and a proven record of innovation and creativity in conducting quantitative research addressing important and emerging topics within the broad scope of computational mechanics as applied to the grand challenge of urban infrastructure resilience, which is defined above. Examples include complex multi-phase processes in structures and soil (geosystems); multi-scale prediction of the physical, social, and economic impacts of aging infrastructure; structural response of critical infrastructure systems subjected to extreme-loading events in urban regions; structural and physicochemical properties of construction materials and their impact on the environment; innovative, resilient-and-sustainability-oriented structural design approaches; damage propagation and structural response of damaged structures. The ideal candidate has expertise in a broad range of numerical techniques with the ability to orient them towards new challenges and enjoys collaborating with colleagues on a variety of problems.