PhD Defense by Naijia Xiao

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School of Civil and Environmental Engineering


Ph.D. Thesis Defense Announcement


Interval Finite Element Approach for Inverse Problem under Uncertainty



Naijia Xiao




Dr. Rafi Muhanna (CEE), Dr. Francesco Fedele (CEE and ECE)


Committee Members: 

Dr. George Kardomateas (AE), Dr. Donald White (CEE), Dr. Abdul-Hamid Zureick (CEE)


Date & Time: July 6, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Location: Room 5134, Mason Building


Inverse problems aim at estimating the unknown excitations or properties of a physical system based on available measurements of the system response. For example, wave tomography is used in geophysics for seismic waveform inversion; in biomedical engineering, optical tomography is used to detect breast cancer tissue; in structural engineering, inversion techniques are used for health monitoring and damage detection in structural safety evaluation. Inverse solvers depend on the type of measurement data and the unknown parameters to be estimated. The work in this thesis focuses on structural parameter identification based on static and dynamic measurements. As an integral part of the formulated inverse solver, the associated forward problem is studied and deeply investigated.


In reality, the data are associated with uncertainties caused by measurement devices or unfriendly environmental conditions during data acquisition. Traditional approaches use probability theory and model uncertainties as random variables. This approach has its own limitation due to a prior assumption on the probability structure of uncertainty. This is usually too optimistic or not realistic. In practice, it is usually difficult to reliably assess the statistical nature of uncertainties. Instead, only bounds on the uncertain variables and some partial information about their probabilities are known. The main source of uncertainty is due to the accuracy of measuring devices; these are designed to operate within specific allowable tolerances, as defined by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Tolerances are performance requirements that fix the limit of allowable error or departure from true performance or value. Thus closed intervals are the most realistic way to model uncertainty in measurements. In this work, uncertainties in measurement data are modeled as interval variables bounded by their endpoints. It is proven that interval analysis provides guaranteed enclosure of the exact solution set regardless of the underlying nature of the associated uncertainties.


This work presents a solution of inverse problem under measurement uncertainty within the framework of Interval Finite Element Methods (IFEM) and adjoint-based optimization techniques. The solution consists of a two-step algorithm: first, an estimate of the parameters is obtained by means of a deterministic iterative solver. Then, the algorithm switches to a full interval solution, using the previous deterministic estimate as an initial guess. In general, the solution of an inverse problem requires iterative solutions of the forward problem. Efficient and accurate interval forward solutions in static and dynamic domains have been developed. In particular, overestimation due to interval dependency has been drastically reduced using a new decomposition of the load, stiffness, and mass matrices. Further improvements in the available interval iterative solvers have been achieved. Conjugate gradient and Newton-Raphson methods together with an inexact line search are used in the newly formulated optimization procedure. Moreover, Tikhonov regularization is used to improve the conditioning of the ill-posed inverse problem. The developed interval solution for the inverse problem under uncertainty has been tested in a wide range of applications in static and dynamic domains. By comparing current solutions with other available methods in the literature, it is proven that the developed method provides guaranteed sharp bounds on the exact solution sets at a low computational cost. In addition, it contains those solutions provided by probabilistic approaches regardless of the used probability distributions. In conclusion, the developed method provides a powerful tool for the analysis of structural inverse problem under uncertainty.



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