Maria Q. Feng | Revolutionizing the Sustainability of Civil Infrastructure

Maria Q. Feng
Maria Q. Feng
Renwick Professor of Civil Engineering

Even buildings, bridges, and roads can’t avoid the aging process. Engineers continue to seek innovative, cost-effective, and high-tech solutions to monitor, maintain, and repair our deteriorating infrastructure.

Maria Q. Feng, Renwick Professor of Civil Engineering, is an expert in safety and sustainability of civil infrastructure systems. Feng has developed a way to monitor a bridge’s health and reliability remotely in real-time using sophisticated imaging technology and sensors to collect data, without even having access to the bridge. “This sensor technology can potentially revolutionize the way we maintain infrastructure systems,” says Feng.

Feng, whose research thrives on interdisciplinary collaborations, developed a robust imaging processing algorithm with computer science colleagues that gives a basic, low-cost video camera the ability to capture images of a bridge or structure remotely while simultaneously measuring their vibrations. The device, she explains, can accurately measure the vibration of the structure by targeting an existing surface feature (such as a rivet) and, from the measurements, engineers can tell bridge owners the structural health condition. The data analytics can help officials prioritize which bridges and/or highways need work or repair more urgently than others.

“We are focusing on two technical challenges: the first is to accurately measure dynamic displacement, often less than a few millimeters, from far away in an optically noisy field environment, and the second is to diagnose structural integrity based on the measurement,” Feng says.

Feng has pioneered the development of novel fiber optic and vision-based sensors, microwave imaging technology, wind/earthquake/blast protective systems, as well as vibration-based system identification algorithms for health diagnostics of buildings and bridges. Her sensor technology is already monitoring five bridges in California, including the Vincent Thomas Bridge, a critical long suspension bridge that links Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor to the freeway network.

In addition to her ongoing work in the design of sensors and infrastructure monitoring systems, Feng is currently working on a U.S. Department of Defense project to develop novel protective gear that would safeguard soldiers against blast impact. Still in the early stages of development, Feng is designing a “smart” helmet for soldiers that could automatically activate as soon as it senses an explosion; actually, even slightly before the arrival of the shockwave.

A background in mechanical engineering and robotics constantly fuels Feng’s interest in inventing products that make it easier and cheaper to monitor, assess, and analyze infrastructures, military equipment, and early response and damage control. At Columbia Engineering, she directs the Sensing, Monitoring, and Robotics Technology (SMaRT) Lab. Prior to joining the School, Feng was Chancellor’s Professor at University of California, Irvine, and founding director of the Center for Advanced Monitoring and Damage Inspection. A fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Feng has received numerous national and international awards in recognition of her work, including a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the ASCE’s Collingwood Prize and Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize, and the Alfred Noble Prize, which is given jointly by the ASCE and other professional societies.

BS, Southeast University, 1982; MS, University of Electro-Communications, 1987; PhD, University of Tokyo, 1992

-by Melanie A. Farmer

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