Archive For The “Research Experiences” Category

Italy | Day 1 – July 14th, 2019

Hi guys!

Or should I begin with, Ciao ragazzi! I arrived at the Fumicino Airport at around 7 pm in Rome, Italy. I hope that my spanish and the few italian words I learned before coming are enough to get around the city. The airport is a little far from the city center so I had to take a 30 minute train to the Roma Termini station.

The hostel was only a 10 minute walk from the station. I checked in at the The RomeHello where I will be staying for the next three weeks, it was good to know that they offer a lot of interesting activities during the week that we can attend after classes.

I registered for APESS where I received my badge, general information and two T-shirts for the event. I settled in my shared room and went to the common area where we had the welcome cocktail of the event. I arrived a little late so I only met a couple of classmates that study in the United States, Portugal and Italy. Later, almost at midnight, I met two of my roommates, Callum from Scottland and Panagiotis from Greece. It is very exciting to meet people from all over the world, but its even more special because we are all doing research about Smart Structures!


Italy | Intro

2019 APESS – Asia-Pacific-Euro Summer School on Smart Structures Technology


Congratulations to Alejandro Palacio Betancur!

He is a participant for the summer school in Sapienza University of Rome, which is hosting the APESS 2019 in Italy from 15th July to 3rd August 2019.

APESS 2019 is an intensive three-week program of coursework, lectures, laboratory exercises, technical visit to L’Aquila and exciting non-academic activities in Rome, the Eternal City. During APESS 2019 students will attend lectures given by world-leading experts in Civil Engineering, Structural Dynamics and Control, Smart Structures Technology and Structural Health Monitoring.


Thailand – Day 8: June 11th, 2019



Hello my wonderful readers! 


Today is my last day in Thailand. It is also proposal time.

My group went second to present. The other presentations were great.

So what is this PRECHECS framework we are proposing to be NSF funded?

Keeping potentially impacted communities actively engaged in maintaining sufficient levels of preparedness over the long term when the destructive events have unpredictable time intervals between occurrences is a major problem in natural disaster management. Maintaining infrastructure such as evacuation shelters, warning systems, evacuation plans, and methods of communication with residents and visitors requires investment in time and money that stakeholders may feel is better used for short term community needs. In Thailand, cultural beliefs that fear talking about death, create barriers to planning for life-threatening disasters such as tsunamis. Areas dependent on tourism like Phuket, fear tourists will not visit if tsunami preparedness information is disseminated. One possible solution is to approach disaster management by engaging and educating the local stakeholders in the decision-making process of developing disaster management plans through humanitarian engineering and citizen science.

The PRECHECS, Preparedness Resilience and Engagement with Communities using Humanitarian Engineering and Citizen Science, framework will address gaps in our understanding of the situated nature of disaster management. Specifically, it will add to an understanding of the ways Thai culture may affect how a community perceives and engages with disaster preparedness. The project will incorporate concepts of humanitarian engineering and citizen science. Humanitarian engineering is the use of engineering to create, design, develop, improve, modify, or apply technologies to promote human welfare through social relationships (Passino, 2016).  Citizen science refers to any endeavor where nonscientists contribute to a scientific endeavor (Edwards, 2014).

Our presentation recieved great feedback from the faculty.

The PREEMPTIVE ASI program in Thailand will always hold a deep place in my heart. I learned so much, not only through a technical perspective, but also how to view natural disasters with a social sciences approach. We were able to build a diverse community of researchers across the Pacific Rim and beyond, who share a focused interest in understanding, promoting, and accelerating the adoption of protective systems.

Thank you Dr. Richard Christenson, Dr. Erik Johnson, and Dr. Gisele Ragusa for this amazing opportunity, and a BIG thank you to my advisor, Dr. Mariantonieta Gutierrez Soto for recommending me to take part in this amazing adventure.




Thailand – Day 7: June 10th, 2019



Hello my wonderful readers! 


Now that we got to have a free day to relax and get to know this beautiful Thai culture, it is now time to work! We were given classrooms to work in at Chulalongkorn University. Before lunch, we were given a tour of their Material Testing Lab in their Department of Civil Engineering Building.


We started the day off with a lecture by Dr. Steve Wojtkiewicz from Clarkson University presenting the “Role of Uncertainty in the Assessment of Structural Performance.

For the rest of the day was reserved for research and collaboration with our groups. My group Laura and Atcha split up the work and started to structure our framework created the acronym “PRECHECS,” Preparedness Resilience and Engagement with Communities using Humanitarian Engineering and Citizen Science.

Presentations are tomorrow! Each group will be given 10 minutes + questions to present and receive feedback from the faculty members.


At night a few people and I decided to explore the city of Bangkok a little. I tried the famous street food dish of roti, a wheat flour pan-fried bread stuffed with bananas stirred in with eggs topped with sweetened condensed milk, white sugar, and chocolate.



Thailand – Day 6: June 9th, 2019

Thailand- Day 6: June 9th, 2019


Hello my wonderful readers!


We are back in Bangkok ,but this time closer to the Chulalongkorn University Campus.

Today is a cultural day! Extremely excited and have been waiting for this day for awhile. Today we will be going to the historical city of Ayutthaya.

What is Ayutthaya?

The Historic City of Ayutthaya was founded in 1350 until annihilated by the Burmese in 1767 and was the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom. Ayutthaya is now an archaeological ruin, characterized by the remains of tall prangs and Buddhist monasteries of monumental proportion giving an idea of the city’s past size and the splendor of its architecture. The city was at the focus point of three rivers and had a hydraulic system for water management which was technologically extremely advanced and unique in the world at the time.

Once an important center of global diplomacy and commerce, Ayutthaya was laid out according to a systematic city planning grid, consisting of roads, canals, and moats around all the principal structures. The Royal Court of Ayutthaya exchanged ambassadors far and wide, including with the French Court at Versailles and the Mughal Court in Delhi, as well as with imperial courts of Japan and China.


First, we visited: Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. “Wat” signifies a Buddhist temple. This was built in 1900 B.E. (Buddhist Era: an epochal year 0 from 11 March 543 BC, believed to be the date of the death of Gautama Buddha) by King U to accommodate the monks that once were ordained from Phra Wanratana Mahathera Bureau in Ceylon.


Then, we saw: Wat Phananchoeng Worawihan. This Budhist temple is famous for its 42 ft Buddha and was built 600 years ago.


Finally: We went to the Ayutthaya Historical Park which includes the following temples: Wat Mahathat (Budhha head in a tree), Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, Wat Phra Ram, and Wat Ratchaburana.


We finished the day with a boat tour down the Chao Phraya River.

Thailand – Day 5: June 8th, 2019


Hello my wonderful readers!

Today was day numero dos in Phuket, Thailand. 

Throughout the morning, research groups met during breakfast to discuss details and progress in our NSF proposals. My group includes: Laura Rodriguez, a PhD student from the University of Connecticut and Achat, a Masters student from Chulalongkorn University here in Thailand. Our mentors for the project are Dr. Giselle Ragusa from the University of Southern California and Dr. Jing Tang from Kasem Bundit University. 

We decided to brainstorm and to come up with possible strategies of how to approach this, and we continuously ran into the questions “why didn’t we see any emergency plan signs when driving into Phuket?” “How do the locals know what to do if faced with a tsunami?” “Why didn’t the hotel inform us of or let us know where to find their tsunami plan?” “Do they have a plan?” 

We decided to ask Atcha, since she has lived in Thailand her whole life, and she seemed a bit thrown off by the question. She started typing away in Google translator and passed me her laptop. She wrote “Thai people do not like to talk about inauspicious things like death because there is a belief that if you talk about death, it will become a curse. Phuket people are afraid that tourists will be afraid to visit Phuket, especially Asian people who are sensitive to situations and rumors“. 

This to me, was amazing. I had never paused to think of how strongly culture influences our views of natural disasters. 

Another comment that stood out in particular was one by Dr. Jing about the tsunami shelter we had visited the other day. She had mentioned that although the sirens would play Thai traditional music everyday as tests to assure that the speakers were functioning properly, there was no specific information given to the locals of what particular sound would be projected if in the event of another tsunami. 

After hearing that last comment, we decided to “run with the wolves.” Through our research and from what we had experienced over the past few days, we concluded that what Thailand needed most for tsunami mitigation was a community preparation plan educating and engaging the locals of what it is and how to respond appropriately when a natural disaster like a tsunami is to to hit the community again. We will be bridging the two concepts of “citizen science” and “humanitarian engineering” together to form a tsunami mitigation and preparation framework.

The rest of the day was free for us to enjoy the beautiful Thailand until it was time to leave for our flight back to Bangkok at 7 pm. I decided to get one of those famous Thai massages and take advantage of the beach. (: 

Thailand – Day 4: June 7th, 2019

Hello my wonderful readers!

Today on our first day in Phuket, we went to go visit disaster areas from the 12/26/2004 tsunami in Khao Lak, a local tsunami emergency shelter, and the tsunami museum. 

A tsunami is a series of ocean waves that sends surges of water, sometimes reaching heights of over 100 feet (30.5 meters), onto land. These awe-inspiring waves are typically caused by large, undersea earthquakes at tectonic plate boundaries. When the ocean floor at a plate boundary rises or falls suddenly, it displaces the water above it and launches the rolling waves that will become a tsunami. The Sumatra-Andaman earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra island, Indonesia causing the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The magnitude 9.1 earthquake ruptured a 900-mile stretch of fault line where the Indian and Australian tectonic plates meet. It was a powerful megathrust quake, occurring where a heavy ocean plate slips under a lighter continental plate.Nearly 230,000 people were killed, making it one of the deadliest disasters in modern history.

The Kkao Lak disaster area contained the Baan Nam Kem Tsunami Memorial Park. The Memorial Park dedicated a slanted wall covered in mosaic tiles with the names and photos of some of the people whose lives were taken away by the tsunami. One young woman was just 22 years old when her life was taken from her. She was just one year younger than me. 



The tsunami emergency shelter can be seen in the photo below. The entire first floor is open with four reinforced concrete columns holding up the other two floors. This shelter was built for the elderly, disabled, and children to evacuate to. It’s means we’re for people who cannot reach high elevation easily. Sirens were mounted on the third floor for alerting the locals when a tsunami was coming. The lead engineer in the design of the shelter was Dr. Ruangrassamee from Chulalongkorn University (He’s the man in the yellow shirt!) 


Our next stop was the  Khao Lak Tsunami Museum. Right outside the museum was the “Police boat 812.” This boat was carried 2 kilometers inland by one of the  waves produced by the tsunami. The museum had photographs of the obliterating destruction and videos of the survivors, members of the emergency team, and families of deceased loved ones recounting the events of that day. 


My prayers and heart go out for the ones who lost family and friends from the 2004 Tsunami. You will never be forgotten.


Thailand- Day 3: June 6th, 2019

Hello my wonderful readers!


Second day of our PREEMPTIVE program and we started it off with lectures, first one given by by Dr. Claudia Marin from Howard University. Her lecture topic was “Advancing knowledge on protective systems towards seismic and tsunami resilience.”



Dr. Vicrom Panichacarn from Kasem Bundit University gave his lecture “A study on structural and earthquake engineering at KBU.”
Dr. Vicrom Panichacarn has been our Thai host for the program and today instead of presenting his lecture in person… he made a video referencing the very popular movie of the Avengers: Infinity War/End. It was the BEST way to end the lectures for the day.

The President of Kasem Bundit University came today and welcomed us to Thailand. He gave us a tour of the many labs KBU has to offer, one being an actual airplane on campus for the training pilots to practice on!


After the lab tours and a great lunch (Thai food is so spicy and flavorful), we packed up our bags and went back to the Suvarnabhumi Airport to travel to Phuket, Thailand. The 2004 Tsunami in Thailand left a huge impact on the country. More than 8000 people died. Phuket, Thailand was the first part of Thailand to be hit by the tsunami and till this day it still has affected areas that need to be reconstructed. We came to tour these disaster areas for the purpose of collecting research for our project proposals.


Thailand- Day 2: June 5th, 2019

Hello my wonderful readers!

Today was the official first day of the PREEMPTIVE ASI program. Today was jam packed with extremely informative lectures, great coffee breaks (they gave us delicious Thai pastries to complement our coffee), and a welcome reception to end the day with.

So let me tell you a little bit about the program and why I was given this amazing opportunity to come to Thailand in the first place… PREEMPTIVE stands for Pacific Rim Earthquake Engineering Mitigation Protective Technologies International Virtual Environment. It is a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that aims at training a diverse group of graduate students in the broad areas of protective systems and disaster mitigation. This program provides the opportunity to be able to explore topics in disaster science and resilient infrastructure from a highly multidisciplinary perspective. The program runs a workshop in a different country six times.I was selected to attend the workshop in Thailand, but last February it took place in Costa Rica, and the next few years will be in New Zealand, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Japan.




This year, the program includes students from the US, Thailand, the Congo, and Singapore. Makes it more exciting thinking of how diverse this bunch is!

The lectures today covered topics in earthquakes (Dr. Chintanapakadee) , tsunamis (Dr. Ruangrassamee), the effect from tsunamis to the hotel industry in Thailand (Dr. Jing Tang) , the assessment of tsunami hazard and coastal impacts (Dr. Patrick Lynett), disaster management (Dr. Nattleelawat), and flood and water security (Dr. Piyatida Ruangrassemee). Slider below shows the lecture in order respectively.

At the end of this program, we will be proposing an idea of what can best be done to improve the mitigation strategies and technology in Thailand when faced with a multi-hazard disaster. We will be giving a group presentation and submitting an NSF proposal by the last day.


Welcome Reception photos below. A traditional Thai dance was performed at the restaurant, so we were able to snap a few pictures with the dancers!








Thailand- Day 1: June 4th, 2019


Hello my wonderful readers!

I arrived at around 11:00 pm in the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand on June 3rd and later took a taxi over to the dormitory building at Kasem Bundit University on Romklao Campus (60 Romklao Road, Minburi, Bangkok 10510). We will be staying here until Thursday.

My first FULL day in Thailand was June 4th and it was … a m a z i n g. It was considered a "free day" since not all of the professors and students had arrived yet, so the few early birds planned a trip to go visit the Grand Palace and have dinner on the 83rd floor at the Baiyoke Tower.

So, what is the Grand Palace? The Grand Palace was home to the king, his court, and his royal government since 1782 until 1925. It is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens, courtyards, and the renowned Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Grand Palace consists of 218,000 square meters and is surrounded by four walls. See photos below. Some of the most detailed buildings I have ever seen were here.

So, what is the Baiyoke Tower? It is an 88 story, 1014 ft high skyscraper hotel and it is the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia (the seventh tallest hotel in the world). The buffet dinner was on the 83rd floor, and the 88th floor had a revolving floor that gave you a 360-degree view of the city. Breathtaking views.

Overall, today was exactly how I hoped my first day would be. The people in the program are about approachable and very easy to get along with. I’m excited for what else is in store.



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