PhD, civil engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2016
Areas of expertise and bio
Expertise: Numerical simulation of groundwater flow and solute transport, groundwater sustainability, uncertainty quantification and applications of machine learning in hydrology
Be prepared to do math.
That’s the message Tianfang Xu has for students who will take her courses in fluid mechanics, groundwater hydrology and a new graduate course she plans to develop on groundwater modeling.
“I believe that an in-depth understanding of the mathematics underlying physical principles is an essential preparation for students’ future careers as engineers,” Xu says. “But relax, because the math will be illustrated in an engineering context with real-world applications.”
It was a love of math and problem solving that Xu says first sparked her interest in an engineering career. A research project she joined as an undergraduate set her on a course to her area of expertise within the field.
The project used numerical models to investigate a groundwater contaminant plume from a gas station storage tank leakage.
“I was intrigued by how numerical modeling translates a complicated problem into linear systems that a computer can solve,” Xu says.
Groundwater flow and solute transport, processes by which contaminants are transported in aquifers, became her primary research interest. Her specialties entail complexity requiring the use of multiscale physics, chemistry, scientific computing, probabilistic theory and new tools from data science that can digest large amount of hydrologic data.
Xu sees those research tools as critical to improve water systems management around the world, respond to climate change and ensure the sustainability of our built environment’s infrastructure.
She is especially looking forward to joining fellow ASU engineers and scientists on research teams “that foster collaboration and innovation.”
Through those interdisciplinary endeavors, Xu wants to contribute solutions to help society meet the intertwined challenges posed by growing needs for dependable sources of food, water and energy.
When Xu needs a break from the job, she will be engaging in her pastimes of reading science fiction, hiking and kayaking.