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Meet Dr. Idil Akin

Dr. Idil Akin

Bio-geotechnical engineers, like new CCEE faculty member Dr. Idil Akin, use methods inspired by nature.

In the hot sandy dunes of the Arizona desert, small rodents scurry across what seems like an inhabitable climate. But that’s the surprising thing about kangaroo rats: They not only survive in the harsh desert elements — they thrive. The furry creatures build complex burrows that withstand the extreme weather conditions for years, a fact that has long fascinated Akin, who joined the CCEE faculty in August as an associate professor in the Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering group. Akin spent time this summer in the scorching desert as part of a three-year, National Science Foundation (NSF) grant enabling her to study kangaroo rats as synergistic bio-geotechnical engineers.

“We are investigating how burrows in loose desert sand can stay stable in extreme environments, and how kangaroo rats tackle a geotechnical challenge,” she said.

Her research is built on the fundamental mechanisms that control the physicochemical, mechanical and hydraulic behavior of soils in saturated and unsaturated conditions. Her current work focuses on post-wildfire slope stability and bio-geotechnics. Specifically, a lot of vegetation is lost during wildfires and that vegetation is essential for stabilizing soils. Thus, understanding when and why unstable conditions develop is critical for protecting communities and infrastructure on or below these slopes.

“I am interested in post-wildfire wetting-induced shallow landslides, erosion and associated debris flows, and hillslope stabilization,” she said. “In ongoing research, we will use a variety of techniques — lab measurements, field sensors, remote-sensing method Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) — to understand how the recovery of a forest environment relates to soil water retention and landslide susceptibility.”

In the biogeotechnics field, Akin said she is interested in the use of biofilms to improve soil mechanical behavior.

Akin is bringing her unique field experiences and creative thinking to the classroom. She is teaching CE 342: Engineering Behavior of Soils and Foundations during the Fall 2022 semester and plans to teach CE 593: Unsaturated Soil Mechanics in the future.

Akin previously served as an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and Colf Distinguished Professor in Geotechnical Engineering at Washington State University. She earned a master’s degree and Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2014 and 2017, respectively. She has a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering from Middle East Technical University in Turkey.

She has received several awards and honors including the NSF CAREER Award and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Excellence in Civil Engineering Education (ExCEEd) Teaching Fellowship.

Although the strong geo-group at CCEE was originally what caught Akin’s eye, she said that meeting department and university faculty members, students and staff members during the interviews is what really sold her on NC State CCEE.

“I think it is the culture; the people are happy, supportive and productive,” she said. “I am looking forward to working with the bright students and the amazing collaboration opportunities within and outside of the department.”

Akin, who moved to Raleigh this summer with her husband and cat, enjoys the great outdoors — you can find her hiking, trail running, skiing, sailing, enjoying the beach and making pottery. Originally hailing from Ankara, Turkey, Akin said she is excited to work in North Carolina.

“I’m looking forward to being close to the ocean and the mountains, and the vibrant life in Raleigh.”

This story was originally published in the CCEE Fall 2022 Newsletter.