November Spotlight for Meet the PEER Students - Presented by the PEER Student Committee

November 8, 2021

The PEER Student Committee is pleased to present our next spotlighted researcher in the "Meet the PEER Students'' Series. The series features students and postdoctoral researchers who conduct exciting research projects, engage in leadership activities, and perform exceptional work. This month, we met Dr. Danilo Kusanovic, a postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology.

Dr. Danilo Kusanovic, a postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology.

Danilo received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Civil Engineering at the Technical University Federico Santa María in Chile, as well as a second master’s degree in Analysis and Design of Earthquakes Resistant Structures at the National Technical University of Athens in Greece.

During his undergraduate and postgraduate thesis, he worked in the area of reliability-based optimization for structural systems, while during his Ph.D. at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), he focused on the general aspects of numerical methods in engineering applied to soil-structure interaction (SSI) and Regional Scale effects of SSI. Currently, Danilo is an assistant professor at the Technical University Federico Santa María in Chile.

What made you interested in earthquake engineering?

When I was a kid there was a TV series called Mega Builders. By seeing it, I got really interested in the vibration problems. Also, Chile experiences earthquakes really often so I thought it may be a good idea to study something along the lines of earthquake engineering and to understand more about this phenomenon. That is what made me interested in engineering.

What are your research objectives?

Developing computational tools that can bridge the gap between high fidelity finite element models and data simulation for understanding the behavior of complex phenomena. These tools can then be used to create reduced-order models to estimate global responses of a complex system in a very efficient and accurate way. We try to develop simplified models that can be used by practitioner engineers.

What are your career goals?

I would like to become a good lecturer to be able to provide my students with the knowledge I have obtained during my Ph.D. and experiences as a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech. I believe that in order to move forward, we need to prepare and provide the future generations with all the tools and understanding that they need in their career. That is what drives my career goals. As for teaching, finite elements and dynamic of structures are the classes I enjoy the most.

Can you tell us about Seismo-VLAB and how can other researchers and practitioners use it?

Seismo-VLAB is software I had the opportunity to develop during my Ph.D. It is a C++ finite elements software that was created to simulate and solve high-fidelity wave propagation and soil-structure interaction problems. It is an open-source code that can be installed in Windows, MAC, and Linux operating systems. Researchers and practitioners are more than welcome to use it in any way they want since it's open-source. People will be able to download it from the website starting on December 1, 2021.

What activities in your research have been the most challenging?

I believe that understanding the close relationship between engineering, mathematics, and computer sciences was the most challenging activity that I had to deal with, at least in my Ph.D. In particular, making sense of the mathematics that is involved when you solve soil-structure interaction problems. I believe that, nowadays, if you have weaknesses in one of those three aspects, there are higher chances that research will become difficult at some point. So, trying to relate these three parts is very important with all this boom in machine learning, simulations, and all those branches that our career is moving towards. I would say that taking courses in the math and computer science departments is highly recommended.

Can you tell us about any achievements which you are especially proud of?

Developing Seismo-VLAB during my Ph.D. is what I am most proud of because it took me a lot of effort and discipline. Additionally, it involved the understanding of the mathematics and computer science aspects related to software development. Trying to integrate all the things is not an easy task. It requires you to move in different fields in order to grasp the best of each one and come up with a product that is useful for other people.

Other fun facts about Danilo

Other than your office/lab, what’s a good place you enjoy doing your research?

I like going to a coffee shop in Caltech. It is a really nice place to read papers and think while enjoying the good weather of California.

What has been your favorite moment in grad school so far?

Hanging out with my friends and discussing issues in research while having some beers, of course.

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Essentially, coding, running, weightlifting, and watching movies.

Do you have any daily routines?

My days are pretty similar. After finishing work, I usually hit the gym. If I have free time at night, I enjoy watching movies or playing video games.

Which course have you enjoyed the most in school?

I did like the class Functional Analysis and also Inverse Problems and, of course, I enjoyed the courses in computational mechanics.

Watch the previous Meet the PEER Student spotlights on the PEER Student Committee website. Do you know someone in the PEER institutions who is doing a great job? Nominate them here to be part of this series.