The Department of Engineering Systems and Environment’s Devin Harris, a professor of civil engineering, and collaborators from UVA Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and UVA’s School of Education and Human Development have received a new award for $300,000 under the National Science Foundation’s Early-Concept Grants for Exploratory Research Program.

The project, “Adaptive Digital Twinning: An Immersive Visualization Framework for Structural Cyber-Physical Systems,” aims to explore the power of artificial intelligence in the formation of digital twins for large-scale structural systems. Co-principal investigators on the project are assistant professor of computer science Brad Campbell, who holds a secondary appointment in electrical and computer engineering; assistant professor of computer science (teaching track) Panagiotis Apostolellis; and Jennifer Chiu, an associate professor of education. Harris and Campbell are members of UVA Engineering’s Link Lab, a multidisciplinary center for research in cyber-physical systems.

The team’s research will address the need to preserve existing, often aging, physical infrastructure systems on which society relies for essential needs – such as transportation, energy, water and sanitation, and communication – while modernizing these systems to serve as the smart and agile cyber-physical systems we need to meet demands of the future.

The NSF program funding the project, which is known by its acronym EAGER, is designed for untested but potentially transformative research approaches.


Infrastructure systems in the United States include a diverse series of assets, systems and networks that are vital to the nation’s economy, security and integrity. Members of every community, ranging from individual families to global corporations, rely on these infrastructure systems to thrive and maintain a high quality of life. This infrastructure is complex, interdependent, interconnected and diverse, encompassing the water that we drink, the power that we use, the transportation services that move us and the communication systems that connect us. Many of these infrastructure systems that serve society today were built during the second industrial age, and in many cases are in a state of disrepair with decreasing resources to preserve them. While we have continued to improve design approaches and implement more sustainable preservation strategies, modern infrastructure systems still follow many of the historical approaches used in their early development and have not been modernized. As societal dependence on technology continues to grow, the underlying physical infrastructure systems must be preserved, but also modernized to ensure that these systems are equipped to serve as the smart and agile cyber-physical systems (CPS) the future demands. This project will explore a high-risk/high-reward approach to modernizing infrastructure systems using artificial intelligence-informed digital twins. The digital twinning of an infrastructure system will form a collaborative feedback loop between the measurable data of the physical world and simulated processes in the virtual world, providing a domain-specific adaptation of the broader CPS framework necessary to inform decision-making.

Applied to the domain of large-scale structural systems, this project will test the hypothesis that immersive engagement using a digital twin representation of these structural systems will enable participants to observe, interact and contextualize the complex behavior mechanisms associated with these systems in their operational environment. To test the hypothesis, the research design will explore a series of technology innovations including the formulation of artificial intelligence models to emulate both simulation-based results and experiment-based measurements. Leveraging these technology innovations, we will be able to 1) understand to what extent can artificial intelligence formulated models effectively emulate the complex mechanical behaviors of simulation and experimentation of large-scale structural system; 2) evaluate to what extent does the development of artificial intelligence formulated models enable the real-time, bi-directional interaction between simulation and experimentation required of a digital twin; and 3) characterize how the deployment of artificial intelligence formulated models within an immersive environment allow end users to observe and characterize operational states of an in-service structural system. Success of this work will be realized through the fusion of experimental and numerical descriptions of these complex cyber physical systems and the creation of novel processes necessary to overcome the knowledge gap that exists between the theoretical descriptions of behavior and real-life structural response, forming a foundation for real-time decision-making for structural systems in their operational environments. Results from this project will be disseminated to the broader research community through refereed journals, conference proceedings, and student dissertations.

UVA Faculty

Devin K. Harris, an associate professor of civil engineering; assistant professor of computer science Brad Campbell, who holds a secondary appointment in electrical and computer engineering; assistant professor of computer science (teaching track) Panagiotis Apostolellis; and Jennifer Chiu, an associate professor of education.