Professor Ali Maher (BS ’78, MS ’85, PhD ’88) is the director of the Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT), which launched the world’s first accelerated testing facility for bridges in October 2015.
The facility is called the BEAST, which stands for Bridge Evaluation and Structural Testing laboratory.
“In surveys and discussions with bridge owners and operators throughout the country it became apparent they wished there was a way to accelerate deterioration of bridge systems so we could observe and gather data on this very complex phenomenon much faster than is possible through field observation,” Maher says of the BEAST. “By imposing traffic and environmental loading in an accelerated but controlled way on full-scale bridges, the BEAST replicates loading that an in-service bridge might experience over 15 or 30 years, allowing us to see the effects of decades of wear and tear in as short as nine to 18 months.”
“This will give owners important data that can help predict remaining service life for the various types of bridges in their inventory. This in turn will let owners and operators make better decisions, with a high level of confidence, when it comes to maintaining, repairing and/or replacing bridges,” Maher says.
Maher has three degrees from CEE. He says that he came to U-M because family and friends encouraged him to do so because of their positive experiences at U-M, and that as an undergrad he developed an interest in geotechnical engineering after taking Professor Donald Gray’s course in soil mechanics.
“Following graduation and a few years of work in industry, I decided to pursue graduate work in geotechnical engineering and naturally Michigan was my first choice. I was fortunate to have been at the university during a period of time when Professors Richart, Gray and Woods were actively involved in research and teaching. I learned so much from them academically and beyond. Particularly, the genuine care that they showed in their interactions with other colleagues and students impressed me the most. The experience enriched my life in many aspects and encouraged me to pursue a career in academia.”
Maher says he has many fond memories from his time at the University.
“One unforgettable event was the dedication of the Frank E. Richart’s Soil Dynamics Laboratory in 1986 when ASCE invited top academics and experts in the field to honor the late Professor Richart’s lifelong achievements and his contributions to the field. The event made all of us graduate students proud of the university and its status among peer institutions.”
In 1988 Maher completed his PhD and began working at Rutgers University as an assistant professor and director of geotechnical laboratories. In 1998 he became the director for the Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation.
“With my colleagues at Rutgers, notably Professor Nenad Gucunski, also a Michigan grad and a former classmate, we have grown CAIT into being one of only five USDOT-designated and funded National University Transportation Centers,” Maher says.
“What I most enjoy about directing the center is the opportunity to create synergy among diverse groups of talented researchers from institutions across the globe working on complex infrastructure management problems and developing engineering solutions that incorporate socio-economic and environmental considerations that can be applied in the field now. Like most engineers, I enjoy the fact my work helps people and that all of us at CAIT are contributing to public’s quality of life.”
When asked for advice for current students, Maher replied, “I believe current undergraduate civil engineering students need to sharpen their focus and analytical skills as well as take advantage of what a university with the stature of U-M can help them develop in addition to academics—important qualities like leadership and practical ingenuity, and a solid understanding of communications, business and management.”