It’s fitting that incoming Assistant Professor Brett Maurer’s career endeavors are high-reaching. During his youth, he was fascinated with tall buildings, even memorizing statistics about the tallest buildings around the world. This early interest in structures led him to pursue a career path where he is now focused on a different aspect of buildings: making them more resilient.
Maurer joins the CEE department’s geotechnical group in January 2017. His decision to join UW CEE was based on the combination of exceptional students, renowned faculty, collaboration and “aura of growth and excitement.”
“These are the elements of success that all faculty search for,” Maurer said. “But most importantly, I felt at home with my future colleagues.”
Maurer earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University in Blacksburg, Virginia. His master’s and bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering are from Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. During his undergraduate studies, Maurer became interested in geotechnical research after learning about the critical issues the field addresses.
“A series of mentors introduced me to diverse and impactful problems in geotechnical engineering, sparking a new passion,” Maurer said. “Through these relationships I came to discover not only the type of engineer I wanted to be, but also the kind of person I wanted to become.”
Maurer’s research focuses on geotechnical earthquake engineering, with the goal of reducing the impacts of earthquakes on civil infrastructure, human life and the environment. To achieve this, he researches soil liquefaction, which causes soil to behave like a liquid during earthquakes. With recent earthquakes illuminating significant shortcomings in existing buildings, roadways and other city structures, Maurer is working to develop a framework to encourage more informed decision-making around assessing and mitigating liquefaction hazards in particular.
“It’s an area of research in which more energy has been spent on response prediction than on prediction of the physical damage to infrastructure,” Maurer said. “Each is important, but building smarter, more resilient infrastructure should be the ultimate goal.”
Maurer is also performing forensic analyses of liquefaction induced by past earthquakes. There are many regions, including Seattle, where large earthquakes previously occurred, but few details have been uncovered. Studying past earthquakes can expose important information such as magnitude, recurrence-rate and the location of fault ruptures.
“By performing forensic analyses of liquefaction induced by ancient earthquakes, I hope to decode some of the seismic enigmas that persist in the U.S. and elsewhere,” Maurer said.
Maurer is “thrilled” to be moving to Seattle, He is especially drawn to the diversity of the Puget Sound region, with cities, rainforests and the Cascade Range all in close proximity. When he’s not busy working, Maurer enjoys traveling, photography and sports. His spare time typically involves a trail, kayak, or bike, with his camera in tow.
Maurer is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the 2016 Norman Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers. For two consecutive years, in 2014 and 2015, he won the Best Graduate Student Presentation from the Seismological Society of America Eastern Section.