Monthly Archives: August 2015

NASA workshop strengthens community, application of satellite data

NASA observations from satellites, or earth observing (EO) systems, show the potential for profound impact on society. Early flood warning systems, for example, have issued alerts eight days in advance in Bangladesh, where floodwaters kill hundreds of people and affect millions annually. With so much remote sensing data and prolific science output emerging from satellite EO missions, how can this information be quickly converted to practical decision-making products for end users?

Organized by Faisal Hossain, associate professor of hydrology and hydrodynamics, CEE hosted the NASA decadal survey workshop, Globalizing Societal Application of Scientific Research and Observations from Remote Sensing: The Path Forward, June 23 – 25 to address this question and outline a path toward global capacity building. Experts from the applied sciences community and international stakeholder agencies came together to discuss capacity building using EO systems, debating the infrastructure required to move across the “valley of death” from science and research to societal application.


Image courtesy of USAID. Click for larger view.

As one of the only universities to address the data deluge of the coming decade, CEE is providing nationally visible leadership on global capacity building through satellite data for worldwide benefit. The workshop looked at themes of public health and air quality, disaster management, ecological forecasting, water resources, and agricultural management to identify recommendations and inform NASA’s upcoming decadal survey. For Hossain, the discussions on disaster management stood out in light of the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. While NASA’s response and collaboration with other agencies was deemed a success, it is not a disaster relief agency, Hossain explained, and the expense to respond to such events is large. Questions arose on how to establish a sustainable response and when another agency might take on the responsibility.

From the end user perspective, Naveed Iqbal, assistant director at the Pakistan Council for Research on Water Resources (PCRWR) spoke on groundwater management challenges in Pakistan. A PhD student at Quaid-I-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, Iqbal joined Hossain’s Sustainability, Satellites, Water and Environment (SASWE) Research Group in May for a six month capacity building program. Working with Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite data at the UW, Iqbal aims to streamline and automate groundwater level measurements for a quicker system with fewer demands on human manpower and finances.

Ultimately, Iqbal explained, “we can calibrate our satellite based application research with ground observations and make future projections, and we can actually make ourselves in a better position to advise more confidently.” With frequent flooding a growing issue in Pakistan, the application data will demonstrate the impacts of floods and the behavior of groundwater systems, said Iqbal, and could aid the agricultural department in formulating policies and management strategies.

Several students from Hossain’s SASWE Research Group attended the workshop. For Xiaodong Chen, CEE PhD student, a key takeaway was that “we can make better use of the currently available data.” It is important to inform the public about the wealth of observed data from satellites, Chen explained, and to use this data toward solutions in developing countries.

Over the course of the workshop, Hossain saw scientists and end users come together in a way that is promising both now and for the next generation of students. “The voice of global capacity building is being strengthened,” said Hossain.

New Faculty Spotlight: Meet Paolo Calvi

Paolo Calvi joined the CEE department as assistant professor in structural engineering, beginning this September. Calvi obtained his PhD from the University of Toronto in June 2015 and comes most recently from the University at Buffalo, SUNY where he was a postdoctoral researcher.

The University of Washington’s reputation for teaching and research drew Calvi to Seattle, as well as the strength and collaborative nature of CEE faculty. In the structures area, the “faculty is a great mix of individuals that are world class experts in their respective research areas and UW is therefore a great place to be for a young assistant professor,” said Calvi. “I looked at UW as a place where I could get a chance to grow both personally and professionally and where I could give a significant contribution with my research.”

Calvi’s research focuses on the reduction of the risk of structural systems, considering all aspects of hazard, vulnerability and exposure while concentrating on understanding the response of existing structures. His research will include existing reinforced and prestressed concrete bridge structures involving the development of analytical models and tools, which can be used to assess the health of bridge structures that present cracks on their surface. Calvi will also work toward the development of a new base isolation device that exploits sliding surfaces characterized by variable friction, which can be used to enhance the seismic performance of buildings and other types of structures.

For Calvi, his field presents many developments and challenges that excite him. “One thing that I find particularly interesting is that structural engineers are at a stage where they need to face the complicated challenge of dealing with a very large number of existing structures that are reaching, all at the same time, the end of their design life,” said Calvi. “In this context, the resources available to retrofit or replace structures in need are absolutely insufficient. This calls for competent engineers who need to be able to understand and predict the behavior of all those structures and plan adequate strengthening interventions.”

In his free time, Calvi enjoys being active, including activities like windsurfing and playing sports, and plans to run the Seattle marathon in November. He also enjoys spending time with his fiancée, Chiara, and one and a half year old daughter, Bianca.

UW strikes it big at Big Beam competition

Two UW CEE teams entered the Prestressed Concrete Institute, or PCI, Big Beam competition this year, and one team (Wai Lok Chung, Kok Wong, Si Kei Ngan, Yousif Alshaba and Givens Lam) placed 4th overall, with a first place victory in the Best Report category.  The other team (Jorden Cox, Hyung Kim, Bryan Lee and Alec Yeutter) placed 12th overall. Congratulations!

The Big Beam competition entails designing, building and testing a prestressed concrete beam. The beam has to carry specified loads at “service” conditions, under which it must not crack, and at “strength” conditions, under which it must not fail. A points system is used to evaluate the design, with positive points for meeting the loading criteria, innovation, report quality, etc. and negative points that represent costs such as materials. The design with the highest number of points wins. Teams from all over the US compete.


In the interests of safety, PCI requires that the beam be cast by the local precast concrete producer associated with the team, but encourages the team members themselves to be involved in fabricating the reinforcement. Concrete Technology Corporation in Tacoma (CTC) was the team’s producer member and provided invaluable support all along the way.  The two teams fabricated most of the reinforcement (and learned a lot in so doing), helped to install the reinforcement at CTC’s plant and were present during the prestressing and casting operations, and then tested the beams in the Structural Research Lab at UW. Each team in the competition tests its own beam locally, because the beams are too big and heavy to transport to a central site. The PCI producer member is present to make sure that the competition rules are adhered to.

Initially, the students worked as a single group, but soon two different design concepts started to emerge and the group split into two separate teams. One pursued an I-shaped beam, and the other a T-shape, with the I-shape ultimately performing better. The teams face a time disadvantage compared to those from most other universities in that we are on a quarter system, and so start later in the year but must meet the common deadline. They also need to complete most of the design before the start of winter quarter, when the prestressed concrete course is given, so they have to learn the subject as they go. That makes their efforts especially impressive.


Kok (Lardo) Wong shared that his team’s 240 total man hours added up to a great learning opportunity.

“The big beam contest was a valuable experience for our team to design, to build a long concrete beam and to see it failed,” said Wong. “Thank you so much for professor Stanton, Matthew Sisley, Travis Thonstad, and concrete tech’s full support to make all this happen.”

John Stanton, structural engineering and mechanics professor, acted as faculty advisor to the two teams. Travis Thonstad and Matthew Sisley, members of last year’s team and now graduate students, also provided important guidance, especially as Prof Stanton was away on sabbatical leave for part of the time. Thanks also to Austin Maue from CTC, who provided important input on design and fabrication, and made all the arrangements for fabrication and shipping and to CTC for their support.