Carnegie Mellon University
Following in the Footsteps of Innovation

Following in the Footsteps of Innovation

Today’s young engineers are realizing the dreams of yesterday’s science fiction. Take PhD candidate Irem Velibeyoglu’s innovative Footstep project, for example. Guided by her advisor, CEE Assistant Professor Hae Young Noh, Velibeyoglu is developing cutting-edge technology that will allow a building to assess the characteristics and whereabouts of its occupants, through the vibrations made when their feet hit the floor. “Vibrations are unique to people, like your fingerprints,” she explains. “It’s an amazing feature.”

In the future, she says this technology may be incorporated into the designs of smart structures, as an alternative to additional sensor devices. Not only will it be useful from an engineering and from a security perspective, she says it could be a valuable tool in the retail business, because it allows for more advanced customer tracking.

Velibeyoglu has always had a passion for research. In June 2014, she received her BS in Civil Engineering from Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey, her native country. There she became inspired by two of her instructors, Aysegul Askan Gundogan (PhD ’06) and Asli Akcamete Gungor (PhD ‘11), both of whom earned their PhDs from CMU. “I am very eager to combine new things, and produce new technologies, using many different fields,” says Velibeyoglu. “Carnegie Mellon seemed like the right place for that.”

Now halfway through her first year as a PhD candidate, she says that none of this would be possible were it not for generous funding she was awarded as a recipient of the Dr. Elio D’Appolonia Graduate Fellowship, which honors the legacy of Elio D’Appolonia, an influential former professor in the department who helped to define the multidisciplinary, creative approach that has become the hallmark of Civil Engineering at CMU.

D’Appolonia taught engineering at CMU from 1948 to 1956 before going on to found his own geotechnical engineering consulting firm, D’Appolonia Engineers. He became internationally renowned for his business acumen and innovative approach to solving engineering challenges. Employees under his mentorship went to become leaders in the world of geotechnical and environmental engineering.

“Elio D’Appolonia had a tremendous impact on helping to define the field of geotechnical engineering, and on the careers and lives of many people he attracted to work with him,” says CEE Department Head Dave Dzombak.

Last December, Velibeyoglu was able to meet with D’Appolonia and thank him for the opportunity that the fellowship has provided her. She says he was impressed by her work on Footstep. “We focus on different aspects of engineering. But he appreciates our innovative solu-tions to structural engineering, and I am also interested in structural health monitoring. That interest is a common theme in our work.”

Throughout his career, D’Appolonia was committed to the idea that learning is an ongoing process. Now, the fund that has been created in his name is helping students like Velibeyoglu to continue their education in ways that would otherwise not be possible.

“The D’Appolonia Graduate Fellowship will help us extend his impact and innovative spirit to generations of new students like Irem,” says Dzombak. “Her breakthrough work with Professor Noh in the Footstep project is an excellent example of how that spirit will live on.”

ThoughThe fund was started with a gift from the Devandra and Kshama Shukla Foundation, but lives on through the generosity of Alumni, many of whom were D’Appolonia’s students, as well as several of his friends and former colleagues. Thanks to their continued support, the CEE department plans to sustain the D’Appolonia fund indefinitely.