Research & Innovation

Bridging the Gap in Civil Infrastructure Monitoring: Kaijian Liu and Yi Bao Receive $694K National Science Foundation Grant

Researchers at Stevens and the University of Illinois are revolutionizing our ability to predict and detect damage to the systems that keep society functioning

The National Academy for Engineering has identified the improvement of aging and deteriorating U.S. civil structures — such as roads, bridges, dams, tunnels and power plants — as one of this century’s biggest challenges.

Kaijian Liu and Yi Bao, both assistant professors in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, are tackling that challenge head-on. Along with research partners Nora El-Gohary and Vikram S. Adve of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they are developing systems to improve the monitoring of these essential elements of daily life.

Professional headshot photo of Kaijian LiuKaijian Liu; Assistant Professor; Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering

The National Science Foundation Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS) program recently awarded the Stevens portion of the team a $693,989 grant for the three-year project, “Mutualistic Cyber-Physical Interaction for Self-Adaptive Multi-Damage Monitoring of Civil Infrastructure.” The financial distribution of the grant is split between Stevens and the University of Illinois, totaling $1,199,988.

While methods exist to check civil infrastructure for issues, monitoring for all potential damage types — such as corrosion, cracking, separation and scaling — can be cost-prohibitive. The team aspires to uncover new knowledge to develop a system that can intelligently leverage a single sensor to monitor multiple classes of internal and surface infrastructure damages.

Inspired by how species help each other in nature  — through a relationship called mutualism — the researchers imagine a monitoring system that can predict damage and adjust their sensing methods accordingly, just as organisms adapt to their environment. This system would use local and cloud computing to analyze data and understand signals better, forming a playbook that illustrates damage indicators and their progression.

Professional headshot photo of Yi BaoYi Bao; Assistant Professor; Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering

“In the same way that a dense sensory nerve system covers every inch of the human body,” explained Bao, the co-principal investigator, “we want to use a multi-functional fiber optic sensor that can measure multiple types of damage at once to provide detailed data on infrastructure damages. This playbook could be applied not only to the same structure but also to different structures.”

Liu, the lead investigator, refers to this concept as mutualistic Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS), where cyber damage prediction and physical sensing work together, constantly and automatically improving and adjusting to changes.

"The goal is to predict different types of damage in terms of what, when, where and how they'll happen, as well as how they'll spread over space and time," explained Liu. “We envision a monitoring system r that can adjust and optimize its settings as needed to predict and detect multiple types of damage, and even provide feedback on whether predicted damages actually occur."

This feedback would help update the damage prediction models, improving their accuracy and performance.

Liu and Bao are also using the grant to advance the understanding of CPS through K-12 outreach efforts, undergraduate and graduate student training programs, and development workshops for industry professionals.

By transforming the ways cyber-physical systems are conceived, built and managed, this project holds the exciting promise of creating safer and more sustainable civil infrastructure — driving economic growth, maintaining the competitiveness of American workers, bolstering U.S. security and improving the well-being of citizens who use this critical infrastructure every day.

Learn more about academic programs and research in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering: