Tampa-Area Undergrad Conducting Engineering Research at NHERI UC San Diego

Original story published by the Englekirk Structural Engineering Center, UC San Diego, June 19, 2024


Meet Michael Morales, a soon-to-be-senior from Tampa, Florida, who is pursuing a degree in civil engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. Influenced by his father, a handyman and carpenter, Michael developed a passion for construction, problem-solving, and enhancing the built environment, making civil engineering a natural career choice.

That passion has led him to the NHERI at UC San Diego shake table this summer as part of the NHERI Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) 10-week summer program, which is dedicated to helping undergraduate college students experience multi-hazard engineering as well as reconnaissance, cyberinfrastructure, data management, simulation, and social science research.

Michael views the REU program as a chance to delve deeply into his field without the typical academic year pressures.

“The REU program stood out immediately as a real opportunity to be immersed in a summer of networking with peers and professionals alike,” he said. “Equally important, the research involvement sets a great pace to deep dive into my career without the stress of a typical academic year.”

Passionate about civil engineering's role in advancing critical infrastructure, Michael is also particularly focused on addressing climate change. He recognizes the importance of robust, climate-resilient infrastructure in a world facing increasing environmental challenges. He is keen on participating in the design and advocacy for facilities that can withstand these pressures.

“As governmental agencies around the world identify a global network of infrastructure unprepared to handle increasing environmental emergencies, the onus will largely fall on civil engineers to perform the research, advocacy, and design of robust, critical facilities required for our way of life to weather them,” he said.

Michael's summer research at the shake table involves studying the impacts of seismic activity on nuclear spent fuel storage, a crucial component in the shift towards cleaner energy. This research aligns with his interest in developing sustainable and resilient infrastructure solutions.

“Where we seek to curb the climate-detrimental effects of power generation by oil and gas burning, nuclear energy is on the table to assume their stake in energy demand,” he said. “Current research at UC San Diego explores the impacts of seismic activity on the spent fuel storage devices necessary to operate nuclear power facilities. As a student research participant, I’m excited to be afforded the insight into current advancements informing the onset of cleaner energy dependence.”

Outside of his academic pursuits, Michael is an avid fisherman and boater, enjoying time on the water whenever possible. As he prepares to enter his senior year, he looks forward to engaging with leading researchers at the shake table and contributing to groundbreaking research in structural engineering.