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Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Areas

Ever wanted to know the kinds of research the the CEE deparment does? Find out below.

Dams and Levees

Dam and Levee

Please contact any of the following faculties to get more information:


The Division of Environmental Engineering is a multidisciplinary graduate program in the College of Engineering and provides coursework and research experience to enable engineers and scientists interested in the environment to obtain graduate degrees relating to potable water and waste treatment, toxic and hazardous wastes management, air quality management, natural systems engineering, and environmental impact assessment. The program provides an interdisciplinary educational approach to fundamental principles that can be applied to environmental phenomena. Research and training projects are a part of the program and provide the student with appropriate research experience leading to a thesis or dissertation.

Hazardous Waste Management. This specialization has been developed within the broader scope of the environmental engineering program to provide an integrated approach for students with a BS in engineering or natural sciences to deal with the complex issues of toxic and hazardous waste. Aspects of toxic/hazardous waste management, including characterization, treatment, disposal, control, monitoring, and environmental impacts, are dealt with in this program.

Natural Systems Engineering is the study of the interaction of engineered systems with nature, emphasizing impacts to aquatic ecosystems. Techniques include assessment of aquatic habitat through computer simulation and model verification, quantification of aquatic habitat using remote sensing systems, and data analysis and display through integrated statistical and GIS approaches. These tools are used to evaluate impacts on threatened and endangered species, habitat enhancement, instream flow assessments, fish habitat, stream sediment, and hydraulic features.

A bioprocess engineering program has been developed as a cooperative effort between the Division of Environmental Engineering and the Biological Engineering Department. This program provides students with specialized coursework and research experience in areas of bioreactor processing of environmental materials and engineering scale-up of biologically-based environmental reactions. Areas of specialization include waste to energy, fermentation, composting, and industrial waste (agricultural and chemical) reuse, recycling, and technologies based on biological processes, as well as engineering optimization of aquatic habitats


Engineering studies of soils are concerned with the physical and engineering properties of soils and how these are related to engineering projects.

Traditional geotechnical engineering includes the application of engineering principles to the analysis and/or design of building foundations, earth embankments, retaining walls, drainage systems, earthquake motion, buried structures, and other systems involving soil and rock. Engineers and architects cannot ignore the problems of investigating properties of soils in connection with engineering construction. Undergraduate and graduate courses offered by the department provide the basic knowledge necessary for the design of foundations and various types of earth structures. Fundamental concepts and their application are emphasized so that the student will be properly trained for his or her initial job, as well as being prepared to understand future development in this field.

The Geotechnical Engineering Division, in cooperation with the Environmental Engineering Division, is offering a new program in Geoenvironmental Engineering. This new program uses the strengths of both divisions to provide a program involving the geotechnical aspects of hazardous waste management, the investigation of hazardous waste sites, and the design of hazardous waste containment systems.

The geotechnical division has a strong research program. Current research projects in this division include studies on liquefaction, seismic slope stability, pile foundations, landslides, mechanically stabilized embankments, risk analysis of dams, finite element analysis of soil-structure systems, and the long-term properties of clay soils used in hazardous waste containment systems.

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sprinklers irrigating a field

In the irrigation engineering area, USU has attained worldwide prestige through the successful professional contributions of its graduates during a period of 80 years. The CEE Department is substantially involved in overseas research and training activities, for example in the Dominican Republic, Armenia, and Tatarstan, concerned with managing irrigation systems, on-farm water management, water resource development, and soil assimilation and recycling of industrial residues. Specific research projects in the irrigation and drainage engineering option include hydraulics of surface irrigation, consumptive use, return flow quantity and quality of irrigation waters, transient flow in tile drainage systems, drain envelopes, sprinkler irrigation, trickle irrigation, crop production and water requirements, salt movement, regional groundwater modeling for optimizing sustainable yield, conveyance system modeling and control, and remote sensing.

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River Mechanics and Modeling

This field encompasses a broad range of interdisciplinary topics related to fluvial systems, including ecohydraulics, river mechanics, river engineering, surface water quality, physical hydrology, and restoration of aquatic ecosystems. Students in this specialization can design a graduate program to match their individual goals and interests, including both traditional study areas such as hydraulic engineering and applied interdisciplinary research areas related to river restoration and natural systems modeling. Students can supplement department offerings with courses in Watershed Sciences, Geology, Statistics, and other areas to build both the fundamental understanding and breadth of knowledge to solve the pressing challenges in river science and management.

River flowing

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The structural engineer is involved in the design, construction, repair, and retrofit of all types of structures: buildings, bridges, dams, and many others. The safety of the structures we occupy and utilize every day is the responsibility of structural engineers. They must be able to evaluate the loads placed on a structure, determine their effects on the structure, and select the appropriate materials and structural elements, or repair strategy, to withstand these loads. Today’s structural engineer is using new space materials in the design of new structures or the retrofit of older structures.

Mathematics, physics, and materials science constitute a foundation for structural engineering. Structural analysis and design are added to this foundation and become the focus of the structural engineering program. Graduate students in the structures program also engage in structural mechanics, numerical methods, structural dynamics, geotechnical engineering, and the study of new structural materials. Current research in the structures area is focusing on the dynamic characteristics of structures, their potential response to earthquakes, and new seismic retrofit measures, using advanced composite materials, for older structures. Materials research is focusing on cementious materials and constitutive modeling.

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The graduate program in Transportation Engineering offers education and research opportunities in transportation systems planning, design, and management. It is designed to enable aspiring planners, engineers, and managers to obtain advanced degrees while specializing in infrastructure management, traffic network analysis, facility design, traffic operations, transportation economics and finance, and project appraisal. Up-to-date computer and laboratory facilities, as well as the Transportation Division’s close links with local and state transportation agencies, enable students to gain hands-on experience and practical perspectives.


Past and present research undertaken by the Transportation Division faculty and researchers ranges from microscopic traffic flow simulation, dynamic route assignment, and network reliability to traffic accident modeling, pavement management, video image processing, and intelligent transportation systems, as well as travel behavior analysis, transportation planning, and travel demand modeling. The focus remains on effieicnt, effective, and sustanable solutions to transportation problems.

Transportation Division course offerings expose students to the theoretical and practical aspects of goods and passenger transportation. State-of-the-art analytical tools and new research findings are introduced into the courses through periodic revision of notes, examples, problem sets, and computer software. Students are encouraged to design their own programs of study according to their personal and professional goals. Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of transportation, students are encouraged to include in their program of study course offerings from other programs in CEE, as well as from Mathematics and Statistics, Environment and Society, Applied Economics, Economics and Finance, Management, and Sociology.

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Water Resources

Utah Water Reseach Lab

The water engineering program is a multidisciplinary graduate program in the College of Engineering and is intended to enable engineers and scientists interested in water to obtain graduate degrees in the areas of fluid mechanics and hydraulics, hydrology, groundwater, and water resources engineering. Core courses and departmental offerings cover these fundamental areas, as well as essential numerical and statistical methods. The water engineering faculty are committed to a strong academic program. The curriculum offered is one of the most comprehensive offered in the U.S. Elements of ongoing research projects are routinely and effectively incorporated into the classes. The program combines training, research, and experience to understand the water issues and water resources management challenges in the United States and internationally. Graduate students can supplement departmental offerings by selecting courses in Mathematics and Statistics; Watershed Sciences; Applied Economics; Economics; Geology; Biological and Irrigation Engineering; Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; and Plants, Soils, and Climate. This ensures that graduates are well-grounded in the fundamentals, but have a breadth of training and are prepared to contribute professionally to the solution of multidisciplinary local, national, and international water problems. Graduate students in the water program have the opportunity for research support through the Utah Water Research Laboratory (UWRL) while working on theses or dissertations. Excellent laboratory and computing facilities are available. Strong, continuous state and federal research funding keeps the research topics and facilities current. Specialty areas within the program comprise fluid mechanics and hydraulics, hydrology, groundwater, and water resources engineering.

Fluid mechanics and hydraulic engineering

Fluid mechanics and hydraulic engineering covers both fundamental principles and theory and their applications in a variety of engineering fields. Elementary fluid mechanics, based on fundamental principles of conservation of mass, energy, and momentum, is the logical core for all water-related engineering programs. Consequently, other specialties in water engineering study fluid mechanics. Students specializing in fluid mechanics and hydraulics emphasize theoretical fluid mechanics, hydraulic design, numerical methods, and laboratory hydraulic techniques. A good variety and balance of courses supporting research in theoretical fluid mechanics, open channel hydraulics, hydraulic design, transients, sedimentation, municipal water system design, and cavitation are available at the graduate level. Graduates in fluid mechanics and hydraulics find employment in a broad range of professional engineering fields, including consulting, university teaching and research, and state and federal government agencies.


Hydrology is a branch of geoscience concerned with the origin, distribution, movement, and properties of waters of the earth. The hydrologic cycle encompasses the atmosphere, the land surface, lakes and oceans, and the subsurface. Complex, interacting processes at varied time and space scales describe the hydrologic cycle. The concepts and practice of hydrology derive from an integration of field observations, laboratory investigations, and conceptual, mathematical, chemical, statistical, and probabilistic models.

The hydrology program at USU has strength in both theoretical and applied aspects of modern hydrology. Past and present research focuses on a broad spectrum of hydrologic problems. These range from climate modeling, rainfall processes, floods, droughts, terminal lake analyses, soil erosion, and stream water quality models to groundwater contamination characterization and remediation and watershed analyses. A particular emphasis of the program is on an understanding of the global water and energy cycles at nested scales from the hemisphere to the continent to the watershed from a holistic perspective that recognizes the two-way linkages between water reservoirs and fluxes through oceans, atmosphere, land surface and subsurface, and biota.

Groundwater engineering

Groundwater engineering is concerned with fluid flow and transport of contaminants in the subsurface environment. It encompasses the theory of flow in porous media; groundwater hydrology; fate and transport of contaminants in subsurface; and analytical, numerical, and stochastic modeling of such processes. Emphasis is placed on the quantitative analysis of physical and chemical principles governing these processes and on the application of these principles to practical field problems, with all their difficulties related to the complex structure of subsurface formations. Examples of such problems include groundwater supply and management, capture zone analysis, well hydraulics, subsurface cleanup technologies, health risk assessment, and analysis and remediation of groundwater contamination. These problems are of a multidisciplinary nature, and their solutions require a multidisciplinary approach, involving, among others, soil and water chemistry, chemical engineering, and economics. The groundwater professional is an important team player in solving such problems.

Water Resources Engineering

Water Resources Engineering prepares engineers to be lead members in water resources planning teams, often charged with coordinating the information and concepts supplied from other disciplines. This need for breadth requires considerable flexibility in the training and arrangement of degree programs.

Water resources engineers draw principles from hydrology, fluid mechanics, hydraulics, environmental engineering, economics, ecology, political science, and other disciplines in the design and operation of projects and nonstructural methods for water resources planning and management. They need a sound understanding of how water storage, delivery, and other management systems function; of criteria used in evaluating and selecting among alternatives; of the techniques of operations research that can be used in systems design; and of the institutional aspects of decision-making in the public sector. A focus area of the program is to develop decision support systems for sustainable water quantity and quality management in the United States and in developing regions of the world. Evolving information sources and tools, such as spatial data sets encoded in geographical information systems, climate forecasts, and cognitive models of the human decision process and societal group dynamics, are being integrated in representative institutional contexts.

An internationally-recognized specialized program has been developed in dam safety risk assessment. Students take classes in dam engineering; hydrology and hydraulics; geotechnical engineering; geology; decision analysis; risk assessment; probability and statistics; and natural resources economics, planning, and management. Students work on practical applications, as well as research projects, for improving the state-of-the art.


During the winter months, the air in Utah's Cache Valley can experience some of the highest concentrations of fine particulate matter in the nation. Dr. Randy Martin has been involved in research into the characterization and behavior of the Valley's particulate problem. The results of this work will benefit the residents of Cache Valley and Utah by providing better insight into fine particle formation with the unique conditions of wintertime in the mountain west and by developing effective and economical remediation scenarios.

Similarly challenging projects are also available in other areas in Environmental Engineering as well as in Geotechnical Engineering, Structural Engineering, Transportation Engineering, and Water Engineering.

The Civil & Environmental department teaches and provides some of the most modern and applicable solutions for our local community's environment as well as that for our entire world. Become a part of this exciting movement!

Please contact any of the following faculties to get more information: