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Matthew Kuhn

Matthew Kuhn photoProfessor of Civil Engineering

“My expertise is in engineering mechanics and geotechnical engineering, and more specifically in granular mechanics. Engineering mechanics is the application of mathematics and mechanics to solve engineering problems, in the tradition of Archimedes, Galileo, and Newton; geotechnical engineering involves soil and rock whereas granular mechanics involves materials composed of grains — anything from soils and coffee grounds to asteroids and beyond. Most of my research is the pursuit of a better understanding of the mechanics that underlies the behavior of these seemingly ordinary materials. Grains can flow like a fluid or be swept along like the rings of Saturn, but can also support us on terra firma. These materials are both ordinary and hopelessly complex.

I became interested in geotechnical engineering while working in industry, and I decided to return to school for graduate work. That’s when I began to wonder why soils behave as they do. The field of granular mechanics was relatively new at that time, but I discovered a physicist doing related work nearby. He was so patient and helpful, and he got me started with using computer methods to simulate materials. I have been doing numerical simulations of granular materials ever since. While I have studied some problems like the liquefaction of soil during an earthquake or the strength of building foundation systems, I am not primarily concerned with the practical application of my work. I feel that the application will come, in time, by others. As with most research, one must be humble about the outcome: the advances that have been made in my field during the past 25 years are both significant and modest.

In my teaching, I recognize that students will face and solve problems we cannot imagine. The best we can do is to teach the fundamental principles of our fields, so they have a solid foundation to pursue their careers and dreams. I want them to gain a curiosity and wonder of the complexity of all that is around them.”

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