Stephen Mahin leads new NSF center for computational modeling

Featured Faculty: Stephen A. Mahin

Stephen MahinStephen Mahin, Byron L. and Elvira E. Nishkian Professor of Structural Engineering, will lead a new center for computational modeling and simulation of the effects of natural hazards on the built environment. The new center is called SimCenter.

Supported by a five-year, $10.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the SimCenter is part of the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NHERI), a distributed, multi-user national facility that will provide natural hazards engineers with access to research infrastructure.

In addition to the SimCenter, NHERI includes:

  • a Network Coordination Office (NCO),
  • a Cyberinfrastructure facility (CI), and
  • Experimental facilities for earthquake and wind hazards engineering research, including a post-disaster, rapid response research (RAPID) facility.

NHERI has the broad goal of supporting research that will improve the resilience and sustainability of civil infrastructure, such as buildings and other structures, underground structures, levees, and critical lifelines, against the natural hazards of earthquakes, tsunami, and windstorms in order to minimize loss of life, damage, and economic loss.

"SimCenter's goal is to provide the natural hazards engineering research and education community with access to next-generation computational modeling and simulation software tools, user support, and educational materials," says Mahin, "All are needed to advance the nation’s capability to simulate the impact of natural hazards on structures, lifelines, and communities."

"In addition, the new center will enable leaders to make more informed decisions about the need for and effectiveness of potential mitigation strategies."

The SimCenter will provide modeling and simulation tools using a new open-source framework that:

  • addresses various natural hazards, such as windstorms, storm surge, tsunami, and earthquakes;
  • tackles complex, scientific questions of concern to disciplines involved in natural hazards research, including earth sciences, geotechnical and structural engineering, architecture, urban planning, risk management, social sciences, public policy, and finance;
  • utilizes machine learning to facilitate and improve modeling and simulation using data obtained from experimental tests, field investigations, and previous simulations;
  • quantifies uncertainties associated with the simulation results obtained;
  • utilizes high-performance parallel computing, data assimilation, and related capabilities to easily combine software applications into workflows of unprecedented sophistication and complexity;
  • extends and refines software tools for carrying out performance-based engineering evaluations and supporting decisions that enhance the resilience of communities susceptible to multiple natural hazards; and
  • utilizes existing applications that already provide many of the components required for the complex computational workflows.

“The new NHERI SimCenter will provide a cloud-based ecosystem for diverse multidisciplinary groups to work collaboratively on solutions to complex problems in natural hazard engineering without regards to their local resources and geographic proximity,” explains Mahin.

In tandem with the framework and applications being developed, in-person and online educational programs will be created within a new Virtual Community of Practice to provide an online meeting place for researchers and practitioners to exchange ideas, provide feedback, and share best practices, insights, and innovations for modeling and simulation of natural hazards engineering.

The SimCenter will also offer workshops and a graduate student research traineeship program. It will host two students as part of the NCO’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

"SimCenter welcomes the contributions and participation of all those interested in the application of computational simulation to improving the resilience of structures and communities to natural hazards," says Mahin.

Principal Investigator Mahin is joined by co-PIs Greg Deierlein (Stanford University), Laura Lowes (University of Washington), Ahsan Kareem (University of Notre Dame), and Camille Crittenden (UCB/CITRIS and the Banatao Institute).

More than 35 other affiliated faculty, staff, postdocs, and students from more than 12 major research universities from around the US will actively contribute to the SimCenter’s activities.

Published 06/02/2017