Global changes, such as population growth, rising sea level and energy demand, create challenges for civil engineers. And advances in data sensing, and analysis can help address them—but researchers must concentrate on significant needs to make useful contributions.

“We see so many people doing research that doesn't help anyone,” laments Ioannis Brilakis, an assistant professor in civil engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. His research focuses on use of computers and information technology in construction.

Inspired by a 2008 survey about engineering challenges for the 21st Century, Brilakis decided to use a scientific approach to identify challenges facing civil engineering that could be aided by improved data sensing and analysis.

The project was supported by a grant from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Brilakis chairs an ASCE subcommittee on data sensing and analysis, and the research his group did led to a report released Oct. 26 that identifies effective areas for inquiry. He hopes the report will get broad exposure and comments. “Any feedback we get back from practitioners will guide researchers and help make research more relevant,” he says.

“Civil Engineering Grand Challenges: Opportunities for Data Sensing, Information Analysis, and Knowledge Discovery,” is a 50- page paper ( that identifies areas for DSA research and gives examples of needs. The challenges include estimating sea levels, enhancing disaster management through infrastructure resilience, reducing soil erosion, improving building energy efficiency, managing groundwater, monitoring the health of infrastructure, reducing traffic congestion, improving construction productivity and enhancing site safety.

“We wanted to help researchers understand where they should focus their efforts, instead of doing things with very little impact,” Brilakis says. Brian Sien, the ASCE liaison to the committee, is collecting comments at