Letter from the Chair


Chair McCartney.jpg

On behalf of the approximately 500 undergraduate students, 200 graduate students, 26 researchers, 33 staff members, and 23 faculty members in the Department of Structural Engineering at the University of California San Diego, welcome! Structural engineering plays a critical role in fulfilling the basic needs of society for safe and sustainable built environments and transportation means, and is an interdisciplinary field that provides exciting opportunities for solving problems at the forefront of research and practice.

Being the only Department of Structural Engineering in the country, we offer rich academic experiences to our students based around a rigorous set of core courses on engineering mechanics, materials engineering, engineering design, and computational analysis that lead toward upper-level focus sequences on civil structures, geotechnical engineering, structural health monitoring/nondestructive evaluation, or aerospace structures. The Department of Structural Engineering currently offers a BS degree in Structural Engineering, MS degrees in Structural Engineering, Structural Health Monitoring, and Geotechnical Engineering, and a PhD degree in Structural Engineering. The BS and PhD degrees in Structural Engineering permit specialization within the major thrust areas of the department: civil structures, geotechnical engineering, computational mechanics, aerospace structures, and structural health monitoring/nondestructive evaluation. Our MS degrees are geared toward building a solid background for careers in engineering practice or future PhD studies, and can be completed within three to four quarters. The Department is also initiating organized Co-Op and internship programs for BS and MS students leading to practical experiences for students and closer links with industry. A degree at any level from the Department of Structural Engineering is associated with a strong grasp of fundamentals honed through hands-on experimentation, numerical analyses, practical design concepts, and exposure to cutting-edge research that all form the basis for life-long learning. The top employers in our field consistently seek out our students, and many of our graduates are currently leaders in academia, engineering consulting, industry, and government laboratories.   

Our world-class faculty members have a broad spectrum of complementary specialties with training in a range of traditional disciplines, including civil engineering, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and engineering mechanics. This interdisciplinary set of backgrounds and emphasis on both theory and experimentation promotes discovery and innovation. Our research covers a range of structural materials and scales, ranging from nano- and micro-structures consisting of particle assemblies or biological structures to large-scale structures, like buildings, bridges, aircraft bodies, ship hulls, geotechnical structures, and marine and naval structures. The research of our faculty, researchers, and students has provided solutions to some of the most challenging problems in the field, including the development of new design and assessment methods to improve the earthquake resilience of buildings and civil infrastructure systems, maximizing the structural efficiency and minimizing the societal impact of a major earthquake event; advanced engineering and safety inspection methods for aircraft structures made of advanced composites; new materials and intervention methods to protect structures and human bodies against extreme loading like explosions and impacts; advanced sensing and non-destructive evaluation techniques to detect structural defects and monitor structural health; advanced computational methods to study and improve the aerodynamics of wind-turbine blades for green energy production, and to predict the response of structures to extreme load events; advanced visualization methods for the preservation of heritage structures; and the modeling of biological structures to understand the nature and help develop new treatment methods for diseases. Our research also addresses some of the emerging interdisciplinary challenges in the areas of systems engineering, structural optimization, data science, machine learning, additive manufacturing, new sensors, smart materials, micromechanics, geothermal energy recovery and storage, distributed renewable energy, and bioengineering. Our remarkable faculty members have received numerous awards and accolades, and many hold highly respected positions within their professional societies.

One of the major assets of our department are our experimental, computational, and visualization facilities. The Structural and Materials Engineering (SME) Building, where the department is located, has well-equipped teaching and research laboratories for geomechanics (soils and rocks), advanced composite materials, aviation safety, structural health monitoring and non-destructive evaluation, and computer visualization. In addition, our Department is home to the world-class Charles Lee Powell Structural Engineering Laboratories, which have unique experimental facilities to study the performance of large-scale structural systems and components under extreme loading, including earthquake, impact, and blast loads. Between the Powell Laboratories and the SME Building, the Caltrans Seismic Response Modification Device (SRMD) is another unique test facility capable of real-time 6-DOF dynamic characterizations of full-scale bearing devices and dampers. The SRMD building also houses a 50 g-ton geotechnical centrifuge used for physical modeling of geotechnical systems realistic self-weight and earthquake loadings. The Englekirk Structural Engineering Center (ESEC), located 10 miles east of the main campus, has the world’s largest outdoor shaking table for seismic testing of large-scale structures, a blast simulator, and a soil-structural interaction testing facility. In addition, ESEC has unique large-scale experimental setups for field testing of non-destructive evaluation methods that detect defects in train rails, and for field testing of underground geothermal energy storage methods. Through these facilities, students and visiting scholars have access to some of the most innovative and productive research infrastructure in the world.

The unique talents of the students, staff and faculty members in the Department of Structural Engineering along with our vast experimental facilities have been major resources to private industries and governmental agencies that have also contributed to our consistently high ranking within our field. Our research has made direct impacts on standards and practice in structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, aerospace engineering, and materials engineering. The Department is committed to pursuing excellence in research and public service and providing the best possible education and training for our students to be leaders in their profession. It provides an open, inclusive and diverse environment for the faculty, researchers, staff, and students to achieve their best and fulfill their professional goals.

Please learn more about our programs, people, facilities, and research activities by browsing through our website or by visiting us in person. We are always happy to give tours of our facilities and to give more information on our academic programs and research activities. I also encourage you to attend our research showcase that is being planned for February 2019; more details will be forthcoming. Thank you for your interest in our Department!


John S. McCartney
Professor and Department Chair
Department of Structural Engineering
UC San Diego