Structural Engineering Research

Structural Engineering

Engineering Stronger, Safer, and More Sustainable Structures

Research in Structural Engineering emphasizes both theoretical and practical aspects, including computer-aided engineering, structural dynamics, and earthquake and wind engineering analysis and design. Structural engineers at the University of Utah focus on performance-based design and investigate the behavior of structures made from reinforced and prestressed concrete, structural steel, timber, and composites.

Research Areas

Earthquake & Wind
Advanced Structural

Testing mass timber framing inside an actuator in High Bay Structures Lab

State-of-the-Art Structures Lab

In the Layton Engineering Building, our Structures Lab is home to state-of-the-art equipment, including one giant actuator that stretches from the hangar-like ceiling to beneath the concrete floor. It can simulate the effects of seismic activity — with forces up to a 7.0 magnitude earthquake — on whatever is placed inside by vigorously rocking it back and forth in its gigantic rectangular shape. The research conducted in the lab contributes to improving the durability of structures (building, bridges, highways) and the development of more sustainable structural systems.

Recent News

Leading the Way in Advanced Structural Sensing

Dr. Peter Zhu and his team are currently working on finding the internal defects of railroad tracks, stress levels of tracks and the most effective and efficient way to manage tracks. They recently developed and deployed a polarized infrared camera-based prototype system on a UTA TRAX train. The system performed rail track condition assessment and diagnostics, providing reliable damage detection and diagnosis for timber and concrete sleepers with an inspection speed of up to 35 mph.

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Dr. Zhu tests his technology on UTA TRAX

The Sustainable Future of Seismically-Sound (and Sustainable) Structures

A recent Ph.D. graduate in Structural Engineering, Emily Williamson’s research focused on developing a mass timber buckling restrained braced frame, which can be used in buildings located in seismic regions. These buildings are more sustainable and are manufactured at a lower energy intensity than materials like concrete and steel. Additionally, mass timber buildings offer building envelopes that significantly reduce energy consumption and are inherently fire-resistant.

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Research Spotlight

Dr. Chris Pantiledes

Strengthening Sustainable Structures: Earthquake-Proofing Mass Timber Buildings

Wood, our oldest building material, is experiencing a revival — one that can even withstand earthquakes. And our very own Dr. Pantelides is at this the helm of its revival.

The deceptively simple piece of lumber is an example of mass timber technology, a category of “engineered wood product” set to revolutionize the construction industry— and that Pantelides has spent the last seven years studying and developing.

Investigative Engineering — Behind the Collapse Sequence of the World Trade Center's Twin Towers

Drawing upon the principles of structural mechanics and utilizing the FEMA’s Building Performance Summary, Dr. Schmucker combined his more than 30 years of investigative engineering and teaching to aid students in understanding the “domino” effects that led to the collapses.

“In investigative engineering, we don’t usually have smoking guns,” noted Dr. Schmucker, acknowledging the scarcity of definitive data left in the aftermath of the catastrophic attacks. He emphasized that investigative engineering relies on informed speculation, where a synthesis of available information and sound engineering principles is crucial.

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