CEE Adds Two Faculty

Top photo: Paolo Bocchini works with graduate students in the Computation Laboratory for Life-Cycle Structural Engineering in the ATLSS Center. Bottom photo: John Fox and Reza Chowdury run an experiment with ultrasonic irradiation to examine the changes on natural organic matter in water.


After working two years as a research associate in Lehigh's Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems (ATLSS) Engineering Research Center, Paolo Bocchini became the newest member of the CEE structures faculty in August 2011. It wasn't a tough decision.

"In our field, Lehigh is certainly among the most renowned universities, even overseas. That's why I came here in the first place."

Bocchini's expertise lies at the intersection of computational methods and probabilistic analysis as they relate to civil engineering. The area allows him to combine his passion for computer science and technology with the practical problems of structural mechanics.

For the past few years Bocchini has applied his know-how to the field of distributed civil infrastructure systems. His current research focuses particularly on the resiliency of bridge networks affected by extreme events.

In the wake of events such as Hurricane Sandy, Bocchini's work couldn't be more timely or urgent. He cites several studies that have examined the emotional and economic costs of natural disaster on society. According to Bocchini, the immediate impact of a natural disaster is overwhelmed by the utility losses and distress felt during the recovery period. For this reason, he says, it is vital that our infrastructure systems not only withstand extreme events, but also return to full functionality as quickly as possible.

Currently the new professor is teaching Strength of Materials, one of the core sophomore classes in the structural engineering sequence. Together with Engineering Statics, the class provides the foundational basis in mechanics that Lehigh's future civil engineers will use every day in their profession.

At the graduate level Bocchini is developing a new course, Advanced Finite Element Methods. In this class, students will develop their own code for linear-elastic finite element analyses as well as for either dynamic or stochastic analyses. By the end of the course students will have developed a valuable new research tool and be more knowledgable users of commercial software.

Bocchini is currently advising two doctoral students. It's the part of the job he enjoys most.

"I would never trade my job at Lehigh for a position in a research institute. The continuous exchange of ideas with our young, smart students is the most important added value in my work."


John Fox officially joined the CEE faculty in August 2012 after spending a year in the department as a visiting assistant professor. His appointment deepens CEE's expertise in pollution control and prevention and brings new research endeavors to Lehigh's growing environmental engineering program.

Fox's research focuses on preventing pollution from industrial activities, reclaiming industrial waste for value-added resources, and developing novel materials for environmental engineering applications.

One major research project, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is seeking bio-based alternatives to the petrochemical binders foundries typically use to create cast-metal molds and cores. When a petro-based adhesive is exposed to molten metal temperatures, explains Fox, it pyrolyzes and degrades into volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants. The engineering challenge is to find a binder that performs reliably for the manufacturer while emitting 90 percent less VOCs.

In a separate research project, Fox and CEE colleague Derick Brown, an associate professor of environmental engineering, are exploring how the surface charge of activated carbon can inhibit microbial activity. Activated carbon is commonly used to remove organic contaminants from drinking water to improve its taste, odor, and quality. The issue is that heavy metals are typically needed to produce such a specialized carbon, but their propensity for leaching into drinking water systems is undesirable. Brown and Fox are testing alternative approaches that change the surface chemistry of the carbon without relying on heavy metals. Siemens Industry is funding the work.

The research travels seamlessly from the lab to the classroom. In his Fundamentals of Air Pollution course, Fox and his students examine the effects of air pollution from the twin perspectives of human health and environmental impact. His Hazardous Waste Treatment and Management class focuses on treatment of industrial waste, remediation technologies, and understanding pollution prevention.

Fox believes that tomorrow's environmental engineers must be able to work on the cusp of manufacturing and development to ultimately stop pollution before it happens. Training them is a responsibility he takes seriously.

"As a professor, my goal is to instill in my students excitement about and a vision for the future of environmental engineering. The chance to do that at Lehigh is nothing short of a dream job."