Structural Engineering

Aerospace Biological Civil Geotechnical Mechanical

Letter from the Chair

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The Department of Structural Engineering at the University of California San Diego continues to be a leader in research and education related to all aspects of structural engineering, including civil structures, geotechnical engineering, structural health monitoring, computational mechanics, and aerospace structures. Our research plays a critical role in ensuring the safety and sustainability of the built environment and transportation means. Our Department reflects the interdisciplinary nature of structural engineering by bringing together civil, mechanical, and aerospace engineers to solve challenging problems at the forefront of research and practice. We provide an open, inclusive, diverse, and welcoming environment for our students, researchers, staff, faculty, and visitors to achieve their best and fulfill their professional goals, and we continue to actively recruit the best and most diverse faculty, staff and students.

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 and also provide the building block for future PhD studies, and can be completed within three to four quarters. The Department also partners with local companies for BS and MS students to pursue internships providing practical experiences for students. These internships help our Department maintain strong relationships with practicing engineers and major employers. 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 leaders in academia, engineering consulting, industry, and government laboratories.   

The research summarized in our Department’s latest Research Highlights emphasizes both theory and experimentation and 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 and enhanced geothermal systems for renewable 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 and visualization 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 artificial intelligence and data science in structural engineering, the use of digital twins, convergent systems engineering, visualization at different time rates and spatial scales, structural optimization, additive manufacturing, new sensors, smart materials, micromechanics, fluid-structure interaction, and multi-scale biomechanics. Our remarkable faculty members have received numerous awards and accolades, many hold highly respected positions within their professional societies, and are dedicated to mentoring their graduate students.

The experimental, computational, and visualization facilities in our Department are major assets that we continuously develop. The Structural and Materials Engineering (SME) Building, where the department is located, has well-equipped teaching and small-scale research laboratories for geomechanics, advanced composite materials, aviation safety, structural health monitoring and non-destructive evaluation, and computer visualization. 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. The strong-walls, actuators, and shake table in the Powell Laboratories are used daily to test full-scale transportation and geotechnical structures. The Caltrans Seismic Response Modification Device (SRMD) is another unique facility capable of real-time 6-DOF dynamic characterizations of full-scale bearing devices and dampers. The UCSD geotechnical centrifuge is a 50 g-ton machine used for physical modeling of geotechnical systems under realistic self-weight and earthquake loading and has recently been used to test the pullout capacity of thermal suction caissons for offshore floating structures. 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. The shaking table is currently undergoing a $20 million upgrade project sponsored by NSF with matching from UCSD to simulate 6 degree of freedom motions that will be complete in 2021. ESEC has unique large-scale experimental setups for field testing of non-destructive evaluation methods that detect defects in train rails, soil pits to test full-scale foundations, and a facility to test geothermal energy storage. 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 the structural, geotechnical, aerospace, and materials engineering fields. 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. 

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 next Departmental Research Showcase that is being planned for in 2021; 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


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