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Professor wins national grant for engineering research

Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 07:02


Courtesy Kelvin Ma / Tufts University

Babak Moaveni, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, received a grant from the National Science Foundation.


The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently awarded Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Babak Moaveni a $400,000 grant to pursue his research on the durability of public structures such as buildings and bridges.

The grant is part of the NSF’s Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program, which funds assistant professors with promising research, according to the NSF website. The NSF is a major source of funding for academcs throughout the country, funding approximately 20 percent of federally sponsored research at colleges and universities.

Kurt Pennell, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, emphasized the significance of the grant.

“It is one of the most prestigious awards for young faculty,” he said.

Bobbie Mixon, an NSF spokesperson, explained that evaluation boards specific to each discipline review the project proposals. Approximately 11,000 winners are selected from a pool of about 40,000 proposals submitted each year, according to the NSF website.

“Each directorate has different things that they look for,” Mixon told the Daily. “Being dedicated to the engineering discipline is one of those things.”

Moaveni believes that his research was chosen because of the growing importance of monitoring infrastructure in the United States. U.S. infrastructure has a lifespan of around 50 years, he said, adding that many buildings are already over 60 years old.

Structural health monitoring is crucial to public safety as U.S. buildings and bridges age, Moaveni said.

“I’m like a physician of buildings, so I put [in] sensors, I measure their pulse and temperature and [check] how do they feel,” he said.

Moaveni plans to develop a way to analyze a public structure and determine its level of health at any point in time. His research centers on creating a model that will allow people to predict how a structure would react to damage, as well as to evaluate the safety of a structure after damage.

“Basically, the idea of this CAREER proposal is to do both damage diagnosis and prognosis by fitting a non-linear model to the data of the real structure,” he said. 

Much of the research leading up to securing this grant made use of Tufts’ Dowling Hall footbridge, according to Moaveni. He performed several experiments on the bridge, such as applying cement blocks to determine how it reacts to excess weight.

The research plan also includes an educational component, Moaveni said. He hopes to expand the Student Teacher Outreach Mentorship Program (STOMP) at Tufts, where undergraduates go into middle school classrooms and engage the students in math and physics activities.

Moaveni aims to use LEGO engineering to introduce structural health monitoring to kids at a young age during STOMP and the summer camp run by Tufts’ Center for Engineering Education and Outreach.

“I want to raise the awareness in younger kids, to let them know this is an exciting field of research and there is need, so go study in that area, please,” he said.

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