Departmental faculty provide novel solutions for structures that optimize, overcome uncertainty, and provide resilience and extreme efficiency under a variety of hazards. The program’s key strengths include earthquake engineering, fire engineering, stochastic mechanics and structural reliability, optimization, and cold-formed steel structures.
Drawing on expertise in the mechanics of materials and systems programs within civil engineering, faculty collaborate on a number of grand challenges.


Ben Schafer’s research emphasizes the role of efficient large-scale structures in energy systems and infrastructure. He focuses on extremely lightweight terrestrial structures, while also exploring a variety of health-related problems where structural stability plays an important role.

Thomas Gernay’s research team develops computational models for assessing the response of materials and structures under extreme thermal environments. His focus on designing structures to better withstand the effects of temperature variation, recognizes the prevalence of fire as a compounding issue for most major natural and human-made disasters. His work attempts to increase structural resilience to fire through both experimental studies and computational studies that leverage his widely-adopted structural fire analysis code SAFIR.

James Guest’s research focuses on generating new structural and material concepts that leverage new materials and manufacturing technologies to the fullest, enabling lightweight and multifunctional capabilities not yet realized in modern systems.

Michael Shields and Lori Graham-Brady’s research develops strategies and stochastic simulation tools to allow representation of extreme events that have significant impact on urban resilience and to account for the uncertain conditions faced by civil structures and systems throughout their lifetimes.

Lori Graham-Brady’s research on the mechanical behavior of materials with random microstructure has been applied to composites, metal alloys, and advanced ceramics that serve as the primary materials in military applications.

Focal Areas

A wide variety of faculty have opportunities in this area, including multi-hazard performance-based design, development of novel fuse elements for structural components, extending performance-based design principles to new materials, smart structures, and more. Applications include buildings and bridges as well as the broader infrastructure (pipes, towers, etc.) and span from the material scale to the city/regional scale as well as from theory (e.g. in control algorithms) to practice (e.g. in new building specifications).

A distinguishing feature of the work conducted in the structures program is the degree to which probabilistic methods and uncertainty are embraced in all of the research: from optimization of structural topology to advanced analysis for steel structures. The central role of uncertainty analysis and quantification, as well as reliability, runs throughout the training and research.

The department’s research interests include performance based design of structures in fire, computational modeling of novel materials under high temperatures, uncertainty quantification, resilience assessment of communities against fire and fire following earthquakes, and more. Applications include all types of buildings and infrastructure systems and combine analytical, modeling and experimental approaches. The research outputs span from new theoretical models to the advancement of numerical software solutions and performance based design specifications.

Optimal design of structures has long been an important consideration, but the emergence of multi-physics tools to simulate structural performance along with multi-objective goals to improve both structural (across all hazards) and energy performance to create more sustainable structures has led to increased needs in this area. Research in the program is largely focused on topology optimization and other free-form design techniques.

The Thin-walled Structures Group provides one of the world’s most comprehensive research experiences in the development, behavior, and design of cold-formed steel structures. Research in this area has led to far-reaching changes in the design of these efficient, but complex, stability-critical structures.