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The Future Starts Now

Today’s civil and environmental engineers are doing things that couldn’t have been imagined a generation ago. To prepare the CEE leaders of the future, CEE at Illinois is modernizing its curriculum and its facilities, and embarking on an ambitious hiring plan that aims to increase the faculty to more than 60 by 2019. In the latest round of hiring, CEE welcomed six new outstanding teachers and researchers, featured below. They join our world-class faculty in taking on the greatest challenges society has to offer, now and into the future. 

 


 

Shelly Zhang
X. Shelly Zhang

Xiaojia Shelly Zhang

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING
SOCIETAL RISK MANAGEMENT

Ph.D. Georgia Tech
M.S. University of Illinois 
B.S. University of llinois 

What are your research interests?
Topology optimization is a technique for generating optimal shapes of structures.  My research focuses on exploring topology optimization and additive manufacturing to develop resilient, smart, sustainable and innovative engineering infrastructures and materials for applications at diff future of engineering and eventually the future of our lives. We do need to reinvent and redefine CEE for the well-being of humanity.

What drew you to Illinois?
Personal and cultural aspect: U of I is my Alma mater — I obtained my undergrad and master’s degrees both from U of I. It feels like a dream come true to come back to my home department and to start my professional career here.
Top excellence in scholarship: U of I is a unique place that aggregates top experts in so many research frontiers. Moreover, the university is filled with excellent students and equipped with state-of-the-art facilities. It is a visionary place with unlimited opportunities for research and collaborative efforts.

What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?
I hope to utilize topology optimization to help designers do better bridges and buildings, and to use novel materials and metamaterials that can contribute toward a sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?
Because they can make a more significant impact in the world and experience the results of their work. For instance, they can help design the infrastructure of the future, which will accommodate autonomous and emission-free vehicles. They can also contribute to improving our air quality, which can lead to a better and more sustainable environment. 

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?

  • Automation of design and manufacturing
  • Data-driven modeling and engineering designs
  • Smart and adaptive structures
  • Next-generation materials with multi-functionality

My research will focus on the integration of topology optimization, machine learning, and advanced additive manufacturing, which can offer a promising avenue to achieve these exciting innovations and developments.

Anything else to add?
I feel that I made the right career choice. I am at the right place at the right time. 


Tugce Baser
Tugce Baser

Tugce Baser

GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEERING
ENERGY-WATER-ENVIRONMENT SUSTAINABILITY

Ph.D. Univ. of California San Diego
M.Sc. Bozok University
B.Sc. Cukurova University
 
What are your research interests? 
Geotechnical engineers are required in nearly every infrastructure project, therefore research in “designing for sustainable and renewable” can have significant impacts on our society’s economy, environmental impact, and energy portfolio. My fundamental research focuses on how coupled relationships of thermo-hydro-mechanical processes play a role in geotechnical systems to provide sustainable energy solutions.

What drew you to the CEE field?
I am from Adana, the fifth biggest city of Turkey, where I spent most of my life. When I was 13 years old, Adana was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale. I remember how my family and I, as well as all others in the neighborhood, felt scared and unsafe, so we spent nights outside on the streets. The experts were on TV explaining how it happened and why it happened. Although strike-slip fault mechanism did not really make any sense to a 13-year-old, the consequences struck me. The earthquake killed at least 145 people and left 1,500 people wounded and many thousands homeless in Adana and Ceyhan. That unfortunate event led to a realization of the role of civil and environmental engineers in the public’s health and safety. 
 
What drew you to Illinois?
The quality, strength and diversity of the faculty, students and facilities. In addition to those, University of Illinois has its richest history in especially geotechnical engineering. This department was a home to my heroes such as Karl Terzaghi and Ralph Peck, so I cannot think a better institution to serve and help maintain its leadership in civil and environmental engineering.

What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?
Finding sustainable, renewable geotechnical and geo-energy solutions to prevent climate change while providing society’s needs.

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most fundamental needs are at the bottom of the pyramid, including water, shelter and warmth. These are closely/directly related to the projects that civil and environmental engineers are involved in. It is very exciting and rewarding to be a part of these projects to contribute to our society’s basic needs (physiological and safety). 

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?
Multi-disciplinary approaches are becoming very desirable for geotechnical engineers, and will increasingly become more important and even essential. I think the biggest development will be the adoption of holistic approaches to solve problems in the area.


Jinhui Yan
Jinhui Yan

Jinhui Yan

STRUCTURAL ENGINEERING

Ph.D. Univ. of California San Diego
M.S. Peking University
B.S. Wuhan University

What are your research interests? 
I develop high-fidelity computational methods and models to predict the dynamical response of the most complex structural systems in complicated environments.

What drew you to Illinois?
The reputation of the engineering program and the strong support from the university for junior faculty. Illinois is a world-renowned university, and the CEE department that I am joining is gaining a lot of momentum, especially in the structure-related areas. There are some really exciting opportunities in Illinois for me to develop my career. I enjoyed the campus visit, the view of a beautiful campus, and all the technical discussions with my future colleagues. At that moment, my heart was telling me that this is where I wanted to live and work. 
 
What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?
I hope the methods and techniques developed by my lab can be widely used in the world, providing meaningful guidelines for engineering design and analysis.

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?
Civil and environmental engineers are on the front lines of some of the world’s most pressing problems, building solutions and putting technology to work for the good of all. The world needs your passion for doing good — for abundant clean drinking water, for safe roads and bridges, for flood protection and reduction, and much more. 

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?
I think in the next 10 or 20 years, as computers become more and more powerful, computational science and engineering are becoming more and more important in engineering design and analysis.  


Nishant Garg
Nishant Garg

Nishant Garg

CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS

Ph.D. Aarhus University
M.S. Iowa State 
B.S. Thapar University
 
What are your research interests? 
Annual CO2 emissions from worldwide cement production alone are comparable to the yearly total CO2 emissions from all of the European Union. My research group will focus on developing and characterizing cements that are not only sustainable and environment-friendly but also result in durable infrastructure. 

What drew you to the CEE field?
I have always believed that a healthy infrastructure and clean environment is critical for a civilization. Without these, there is no history or future. The field that directly addresses these two issues is Civil and Environmental Engineering. 
 
What drew you to Illinois?
The top-ranked engineering programs, excellent and state-of-the-art experimental facilities, and an opportunity to do innovative and scholarly research were some of the factors. 

What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?
I have two major goals with my research work. First, I plan to design low-CO2, environment friendly, cementitious binders based on waste materials for which I would like to see real-world applications. My second goal is to inspire the next generation of civil engineers to employ a materials science approach to understanding cement and concrete. 

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?
Our future is dependent on the continued existence of a safe and stable climate on Earth. For mitigating the risks and dangers associated with global warming and the consequential climate change, we need more and more civil and environmental engineers. 

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?
The field of in situ concrete characterization and monitoring is likely to advance significantly in the next two decades. Handheld spectrometers will become more and more common in diagnosing and detecting issues related to concrete. 
For concrete construction, there will be many binders of many different chemistries available for different applications as opposed to the standard ordinary Portland cement that is dominant today. These will enable easier construction in challenging environments (polar caps, extraterrestrial spaces) as well as upcoming technologies like 3D printing. 
 
Anything else to add?
I am excited to be part of a historically renowned department and surrounded by many friendly intellectuals and experts. 


Lewis Lehe
Lewis Lehe

Lewis Lehe

TRANSPORTATION ENGINEERING

Ph.D. Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley
M.S. Univ. of Calif. at Berkeley
M.A. University of Leeds
B.Phil. University of Pittsburgh
 
What are your research interests? 
I research downtown congestion. That involves traffic flow theory as well as economic theories of how travelers react to prices, taxes and regulation.

What drew you to the CEE field?
Perhaps because my father is an urban planner, I’ve always been fascinated by cities. Over time I became especially attracted to transportation because it combines both physical constraints and human choices in an interesting way.

What drew you to Illinois?
Its reputation and the department’s commitment to research.

What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?
I hope I can help cities strike a smarter balance among competing demands for urban roads. For example, currently, local leaders are figuring out how to regulate bikesharing, electric scooters and ride-hailing apps.

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?
CEE is a broad field to which you can bring a wide range of tools to bear on everyday problems. For example, if you like computers, you can do data science to understand traffic. If you like optimization, you can help plan bus schedules. CEE lets you do whatever you like to do, but you’ll be addressing basic problems that civilization faces.

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?
In the next ten years, cities will be able to understand and control traffic in real time, due to better sensing. In the next 20 years, we’ll probably see autonomous vehicles and widespread electric vehicles.

Anything else to add?
Whatever you wind up doing, take some time on your own every month to get better at programming.


Lei Zhao
Lei Zhao

Lei Zhao

ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING AND SCIENCE

Ph.D. Yale University
B.S. Nanjing University 
 
What are your research interests? 
My research concerns the physical and engineering processes in the Atmospheric Boundary Layer where most human activities and environmental systems are concentrated, with a particular focus on built environment. I am interested in what major climate-driven problems that cities will face in the future, and what we can do about it.

What drew you to the CEE field?
What attracted me most to this field is that in this field, one can utilize a broad range of tools (mathematical, physical, computational, observational and experimental, etc.) to tackle challenging environmental problems such as climate change, heat stress, air pollution, water scarcity and energy security, etc., and deliver practical impacts to human society.
 
What drew you to Illinois?
The very diverse student and faculty population, the collaborative and innovative atmosphere, the strong interdisciplinary goals and the global perspective.

What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?
My research aims at addressing urban challenges in the face of global climate change. The significance of my work not only resides within the increasing urgency and severity of the problem per se, but also (indeed more importantly) concerns its radiating impacts on human life, society and development in the long run. Through my work, I hope to help make future cities resilient, sustainable and enjoyable for people.

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?
Civil and environmental engineering strives to make modern human life possible and better. It not only concerns technologies, science and mathematics, but also involves/fosters high skills of communication, leadership and entrepreneurship. It is the field that enables you to deliver real benefits to human society and to make the world a better place to live.

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?
 I think in the next 10-20 years, the biophysical and biogeochemical processes in urban areas will be much better understood and modeled. New technologies, urban planning and developing choices will emerge to make the future metropolis a more sustainable, resilient and enjoyable place in the face of climate change. 


 

Shelly Zhang
Eleftheria Kontou

Eleftheria Kontou

TRANSPORTATION ENGINEERING

Ph.D. University of Florida  |  M.Sc. Virginia Tech 
B.Sc. National Technical University of Athens

What are your research interests?

My research interests lie in the fields of sustainable transportation planning, as well as transport and energy sectors interdependencies. My group will focus on modeling transportation systems to maximize societal benefits from the introduction and use of electrified and emerging services and technologies. 

What drew you to Illinois?

Its research excellence, top-tier students, and the opportunities to foster interdisciplinary collaborations.

What attracted you to the field of civil and environmental engineering?

The versatile nature of civil and environmental engineering projects that requires not only problem-solving skills but also creativity and adaptability.

What do you hope to accomplish in the world through your work?

My research group aims at contributing new models and algorithms to the transportation and energy fields, and facilitating their seamless integration. Through complex data interpretation my lab can assist with accelerating the transition to more sustainable transportation systems. I look forward to educating the civil engineering workforce of the future. 

Why should today’s high school students consider CEE?

Civil and environmental engineering ingenuity solves critical problems in building and managing infrastructure systems, contributing to economic growth. 

The next generations of civil and environmental engineers have the opportunity to work with high tech tools and use computational methods to improve quality of life for all.

Predict the future in your area of work: what exciting innovations or developments do you see happening in the next 10-20 years?

I’m excited to witness the transformation of the transportation sector, from its decarbonization with diversification of its energy source to its automation in the next 20 years. In the short run, cities will leverage real-time data for smarter transportation operations.

 

 

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