Research

Geotechnical engineers today face new challenges that cannot be solved by traditional approaches alone. Examples range from geologic hazards under evolving climate conditions, to emerging geo-technologies for energy and the environment. To address these challenges, we must develop unprecedented capabilities for understanding and predicting how geotechnical and geological systems would respond to engineering and natural activities in the coming years. 

With this motivation in mind, we seek to better understand, model, simulate, and predict the behavior of geotechnical and geological systems under complex structural and environmental loads. Our interests span efficient prediction of ongoing problems in geotechnical engineering, to high-fidelity simulation for advancing emerging subsurface technologies. The cornerstone areas of our research are summarized below.

 

Mechanics of Geomaterials

Geomechanics – the study of how geomaterials (soils and rocks) respond to forces and displacements – is a continuously challenging research area. Major reasons include that the stress–strain–strength behavior of a geomaterial can be markedly nonlinear, anisotropic, and pressure-dependent, and that many geomaterials are highly heterogeneous with respect to the composition and microstructure. Our research in this direction aims at improving the fundamental understanding and predictive modeling of complex geomechanical processes – e.g. large deformation, plasticity, damage, and fracture. Currently, we focus on mathematical modeling of natural and engineered geomaterials that differ significantly from laboratory materials in terms of internal structures and external conditions.

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Multiphysics Processes in Porous Media

The deformation of porous geomaterials often strongly interacts with other physical phenomena such as fluid flow, heat transfer, and chemical reaction. This coupling of multiphysics now gives rise to a number of critical problems in the built environment. Examples range from rainfall-induced geohazards and long-term damage in infrastructure, to unconventional energy and its environmental impact. Still, the multiphysics processes in these problems are extremely difficult to quantify, let alone predict. We develop and apply theoretical and computational approaches to better address coupled thermo-hydro-mechanical-chemical processes across length and time scales. Particular emphasis is placed on theoretically rigorous, yet computationally efficient, approaches to tightly coupled modeling of multiphysics phenomena.

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Computational Methods for Multiphysics and Mutiscale Problems

Computer simulation is now an integral part of geotechnical engineering research and practice alike. Oftentimes, however, it is very challenging to simulate the problem of interest with sufficient accuracy and efficiency. This is particularly true when the problem entails coupled multiphysics (e.g. thermo-hydro-mechanical-chemical processes) at multiple scales. To tackle this challenge, we seek to develop and advance numerical methods for multiphysics and multiscale problems in geomechanics. Special attention is paid to methods for more accurate and/or efficient simulation of coupled solid deformation–fluid flow in porous materials. A recurring goal of our research in this direction is to maximize the efficiency of numerical analysis for achieving the desired accuracy.

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