Engineering Systems and Environment Briefs

Welcome to Engineering Systems and Environment Briefs, a place to find quick notes and posts from our department faculty, students, staff and alumni.

    Department Displays Range of Excellence in Graduate Research Symposium

    March 10, 2020

    The Department of Engineering Systems and Environment hosted its annual Graduate Research Symposium on Friday, Feb. 21, with 21 students showcasing their work. The poster presentations represented the full spectrum of research taking place across the civil and systems engineering graduate research programs. The event took place in the Link Lab Arena, as part of graduate recruitment activities hosted by the department and the School of Engineering.

    This year’s “People’s Choice Award” winners were systems engineering Ph.D. students Kylie Gomes and Logan Grant, who co-presented a poster related to their work in assistant professor Sara Riggs’ lab.

    They were selected by a popular vote of all event attendees, including students, faculty, staff and guests. A panel of faculty judges awarded first place among systems engineering presenters to Gomes and Grant. Second place went to Bingxu Li, a student in Greg Gerling’s lab. Among the civil engineering presenters, Arash Tavakoli of Arsalan Heydarian’s lab won first place, and Julia Bridstrup of UVA Engineering Dean Craig Benson’s Geoenvironmental Research Group won second place.

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    Civil Engineering Alumna Named Editor-in-Chief of Highly Regarded Journal, Environmental Science & Technology

    March 06, 2020
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    Julie B. Zimmerman, who earned her degree in civil and environmental engineering at the University of Virginia, has been named editor-in-chief of Environmental Science & Technology, a publication of the American Chemical Society and a top environmental engineering journal. Zimmerman, who also held a civil engineering faculty appointment from 2005-2010 at the School of Engineering, is a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University.

    According to an announcement in Chemical & Engineering News, Zimmerman has been an associate editor of Environmental Science & Technology since 2012. Her research focuses on water treatment, environmental implications and applications of nanotechnology, and the integrated biorefinery. She is a coauthor of the textbook “Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, and Design.” She recently testified before the House Committee on Science and Technology on the Sustainable Chemistry Research and Development Act of 2019.

    Zimmerman told Chemical & Engineering News that she hopes under her leadership the journal will “become a genuine catalyst for integrated systems thinking.”

    “ ‘We are not going to save the world with the same fragmented thinking that got us into these problems and we aren’t going to solve them with fragmented solutions,’ ” Zimmerman said in the news release. “ ‘This coming generation of problem-solvers will use the interconnectedness of our systems as a pathway toward global restoration and Environmental Science & Technology will be supporting and facilitating this work every day.’ ”

    Hyunglok Kim Lands Coveted Outstanding Student Presentation Award at AGU Fall Meeting

    January 30, 2020

    Hyunglok Kim, a Ph.D. student in Engineering Systems and Environment’s civil engineering program, won the Outstanding Student Presentation Award at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting held last month in San Francisco. Kim presented his research titled “Assimilation of GPS soil moisture data from CYGNSS into land surface models.”

    Kim, who works with Professor Venkat Lakshmi, is interested in understanding the role of hydrometeorological factors — the transfer of water and energy between the land surface and lower atmosphere — on extreme weather events. Using soil moisture data collected from various satellite systems and quantitative methods called land surface models, he is attempting to describe the processes that control Earth’s hydrologic cycle. However, sun-synchronous satellite coverage is limited across both time and space because the satellite passes over any given point on Earth at the same solar time each day, leaving gaps in the data.

    Kim is seeking to solve the problem using Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System data, which, when integrated into the land surface models, has shown promise in reducing errors in soil moisture estimates.

    The prestigious student presentation awards promote, recognize and reward undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. students for quality research in the geophysical sciences. According to, the top 2% to 5% of presenters in each section earn an Outstanding Student Presentation Award.

    Kim works with Professor Venkat Lakshmi. Last year, Kim was selected for NASA’s first class of Future Investigators in NASA Earth and Space Science and Technology. His research proposal was one of only 59 accepted for the new Future Investigators program in the earth science funding division.


    Civil Engineering Ph.D. Candidate Earns Travel Grant to Research Symposium on Nondestructive Evaluation

    January 22, 2020

    Mehrdad Shafiei Dizaji has received a Student Travel Grant to attend the 2020 American Society for Nondestructive Testing ASNT Research Symposium in Williamsburg this spring. The symposium is one of the premier platforms for exchanging information on groundbreaking, trending and emerging research, technology transfer and engineering practices in the field of nondestructive evaluation (NDE).

    Dizaji is a fifth-year student working on his Ph.D. in civil engineering in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. He also is a researcher in associate professor Devin Harris’ Mobile Laboratory for Rapid Evaluation of Transportation Infrastructure.

    Chen Lab Group Members Present at Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting

    January 22, 2020

    Assistant professor T. Donna Chen and a group of civil engineering Ph.D. students in her lab attended the 99th Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, held Jan. 12-16 in Washington, D.C. Several of the students also presented their work at the conference.

    Wenjian Jia presented posters on “Investigating Virginians’ Heterogeneous Preferences for Electric Vehicles” and “Are Individuals’ Stated Preferences for Electric Vehicles Consistent with Real-World Adoption Patterns?” Shraddha Praharaj presented a poster on “Data-Predictive Approach to Estimate Nuisance Flooding Impacts on Roadway Networks,” and Erin Robartes and Austin Angulo gave a lectern presentation on “The Use of Virtual Reality Simulators in Bicycle and Pedestrian Human Subject Testing.”

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    Pictured from left: Linda Lim, Luwei Zeng, Shraddha Praharaj, Erin Robartes, Professor Chen and Wenjian Jia.

    ESE Graduate Students Recognized as Outstanding Presenters at Graduate Water Symposium

    December 15, 2019

    Charles Burgis and Faria Tuz Zahura, both Ph.D. students in civil engineering in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, were recognized as outstanding presenters at the Global Water Initiative’s Graduate Water Symposium on Nov. 20. Burgis presented “Tracking Denitrification in Green Stormwater Infrastructure with Nitrate Stable Isotopes” and Zahura presented “Assessing a machine learning surrogate for a detailed physics-based model used to predict urban coastal street flooding.”

    The University of Virginia’s Interdisciplinary Global Water Initiative, hosted by the Darden School of Business, brings together UVA scholars from diverse fields to address the world’s water needs through cross-cutting research and scholarship. The initiative recognizes that ensuring water quality and availability in a time of increasing demand for resources and challenges presented by climate change and insufficient infrastructure requires a multifaceted approach.

    Students Attend Virginia Section Institute of Transportation Engineers Meeting and Compete in Traffic Bowl

    December 06, 2019

    The Virginia Section Institute of Transportation Engineers held its fall meeting Dec. 5 with several representatives of the University of Virginia’s student chapter of the Institute in attendance. The meeting was held nearby in Ruckersville, at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. At the meeting, civil engineering graduate students Linda Lim and Wesley Michaelson and undergraduates Emily Chen and Lena Nguyen represented UVA in the Traffic Bowl competition against Virginia Tech. UVA held the lead until the final jeopardy round, but ultimately fell short. It was the closest UVA has come to winning the state title in recent years, leaving the competitors excited about next year’s opportunity.

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    Cody Pennetti Named a Finalist in Society for Risk Analysis’ Student Merit Competition

    November 06, 2019
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    Cody Pennetti, a Ph.D. student working with Engineering Systems and Environment professor James H. Lambert at the Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems, is a finalist in the Student Merit Competition organized by the Society for Risk AnalysisEngineering and Infrastructure Specialty Group. The competition promotes excellence in risk analysis research for engineering and infrastructure management.

    As a finalist, Cody submitted a video and will be prepared to present his research at the society’s annual meeting in December. The video explains his research on multiple objective risk analysis that aims to help decision-makers, community planners and transportation agencies design infrastructure for a future that includes the integration of autonomous vehicles. Watch the video to learn more about Pennetti's research.

    Engineering Systems and Environment Professor Selected to Lead School’s Faculty Council

    September 27, 2019

    Professor Venkataraman “Venkat” Lakshmi, one of the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment’s newest faculty members, has been elected to serve as chair of the University of Virginia School of Engineering Faculty Council.

    The council is composed of UVA Engineering faculty members who serve on the University Faculty Senate. Members are elected by secret ballot, and the council selects a chair from among its membership each year. Lakshmi will take over from Peter D. Norton, associate professor of science, technology and society, who was chair from 2012 to 2014 and from 2017 to 2019. Norton continues to serve on the council, as he has since 2011.

    The council advocates for the interests and values of all UVA Engineering faculty members and is charged with advising deans and department chairs on the faculty members’ behalf. Its responsibilities include consulting with and advising the dean on matters concerning the School, such as long-range planning; liaising with the administration; and providing counsel in the appointment of associate and assistant deans.

    Lakshmi, who earned his Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Princeton University in 1996, began his career as a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. He has held a number of appointments, including two sabbaticals at Stanford University as Cox Visiting Professor in 2006-2007 and 2015-2016. From 1999 to 2018, he served on the faculty of the Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of South Carolina, including a three-year term as department chair from 2008 to 2011. He directed the National Science Foundation Hydrologic Sciences Program from July 2017 to December 2018.

    Professor Lakshmi’s areas of research interest include catchment hydrology, satellite data validation and assimilation, field experiments, land-atmosphere interactions, satellite data downscaling, the vadose zone — the area of that extends from Earth’s ground surface to the water table — and water resources. He specializes in using data collected from space to make observations about the terrestrial water cycle to better understand weather, climate and ecological systems.

    Kelsey Hollenback Awarded a Department of Defense SMART Scholarship

    August 23, 2019

    Kelsey Hollenback, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Engineering Systems and Environment, has been awarded a SMART Scholarship (Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship) by the Department of Defense. She will work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineering Research and Development Center on its Risk and Decision Science Team. Kelsey’s scholarship will cover tuition and fees and includes an allowance for books, supplies and an annual stipend.

    The SMART Scholarship is designed to enhance the Department of Defense's workforce by supporting talented and innovative scientists, engineers and researchers while in school and through summer internships. Upon degree completion, SMART scholars work in a civilian position for his or her sponsoring facility.