Three CEE assistant professors receive CAREER awards

5/21/2018 10:25:54 AM

Above, left to right: Rafael Tinoco, Ahmed Elbanna and Hadi Meidani


By Celeste Arbogast

Three CEE assistant professors have been awarded National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER awards – Ahmed Elbanna, Hadi Meidani and Rafael Tinoco. Administered under the Faculty Early Career Development Program, CAREER awards are the NSF’s most prestigious form of support and recognition for junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

The fundamental physics behind earthquakes

Ahmed Elbanna
Ahmed Elbanna
CEE Assistant Professor Ahmed Elbanna has been awarded a CAREER award to study the physics behind earthquakes with an eye toward more accurate predictive models.

Earthquakes and landslides begin and propagate because of dynamical instabilities related to fundamental physics – the friction, fracture, heating, dilation and compaction of fluid-filled granular materials and rocks in the subsurface subjected to extreme geophysical conditions, Elbanna says. Still, the multi-scale mechanics of fluid-infiltrated fault zones is not yet fully understood using the current modeling and experimental techniques, he says.

“The objective of this CAREER project is to develop a plan to advance frontiers in earthquake source physics using an interdisciplinary research and educational approach,” Elbanna says.

The study will integrate novel theoretical tools from material science, mechanics and computation to efficiently model a variety of fault zone instabilities coupled with long-range dynamic stress transfer. The educational component will “nurture a class of students and researchers who are intrinsically motivated in working on problems bridging geoscience and engineering,” Elbanna says.

Elbanna joined the faculty in 2013. His research focuses on problems in theoretical and applied mechanics of solids, in the presence and absence of pore fluids, with special emphasis on fracture, deformation and wave propagation. 

Smart infrastructure models

Hadi Meidani
Hadi Meidani
CEE Assistant Professor Hadi Meidani’s CAREER award is to develop faster, more accurate methods for modeling smart infrastructure systems.

The size and complexity of infrastructure systems have traditionally made them cumbersome to model, but advances in computing and sensing technologies have opened up new possibilities, Meidani said. His project aims to streamline the modeling of infrastructure systems so that the complex responses and inherent uncertainties of these large systems can be accurately predicted. One facet of his work involves the incorporation of stochastic simulations and predictive analytics that enable optimal management of future smart cities.

“The main challenge that still prevents stochastic simulations from being widely used for civil infrastructure systems is their high computational cost due to large size of infrastructure networks,” Meidani said.

Meidani’s CAREER project will develop faster uncertainty quantification (UQ) methodologies that can reduce simulation time and are particularly tailored for infrastructure networks. The analysis and optimization of smart infrastructures for autonomous vehicles as well as interdependent transportation-energy systems under the integration of electric vehicles will be considered.

“Healthy and optimal operation of infrastructure systems has immediate implication on the well-being of society,” Meidani said.

Meidani joined the faculty in CEE at Illinois in 2014. His primary research areas include uncertainty quantification, probabilistic machine learning, optimization and control under uncertainty, and predictive analytics for smart urban systems.

Aquatic ecosystems

Rafael Tinoco
Rafael Tinoco
CEE Assistant Professor Rafael O. Tinoco’s CAREER project is to study and quantify the effects of aquatic ecosystems in gas transfer processes in natural waters, from the water-sediment interface to the water surface.

“Understanding such processes, from substrate to surface, will allow us to develop process-based models for management and restoration of wetlands, estuaries and vegetated coastal areas,” Tinoco said. “Our findings will also help in the modeling of global greenhouse gases changes in natural waters.”

The award will allow Tinoco's group to conduct an ambitious experimental series, using acoustic sensors and high-speed cameras to implement state of the art hydroacoustics and quantitative imaging techniques at multiple scales. The unique laboratory facilities on campus, including the Large Oscillatory Water-Sediment Tunnel at the Ven Te Chow Hydrosystems Laboratory, one of the largest of its kind in the world, and the Large Ecohydraulics Racetrack Flume at the new Ecohydraulics and Ecomorphodynamics Laboratory at CEE’s Rantoul, Ill., facility, will allow the team to reproduce and study realistic scenarios representative of both rivers and coastal areas.

Tinoco joined the faculty in CEE at Illinois in 2015. His research focuses on the interactions between hydrodynamics and aquatic ecosystems. His research group employs state of the art experimental techniques coupled with high-resolution numerical modeling to solve fundamental questions about physical and biological processes on Ecohydraulics and Ecomorphodynamics.

“Understanding such complex phenomena allow us to develop solutions to environmental problems, such as stream restoration and coastal protection, with the objective to maximize both ecosystem health and the services provided by those ecosystems,” he said.