Craig Kluever’s dream was born as he found himself awestruck in front of a grainy black-and-white television screen watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. He was in kindergarten. As he puts it, “that just made a big impact on me. Of course, the first thing I wanted to be was an astronaut.” Those early dreams of becoming an astronaut turned instead into a pursuit of the science behind the rockets. Today, the MU Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering works behind the scenes to solve the kind of problems involved in designing space travel—such as how to take off, how to reach a target, and, more importantly, how to return safely to Earth.
Becoming a geologist was not the original aspiration for Mian Liu, Professor of Geological Sciences. The Chinese government assigned him to the discipline when he was 17 years old, a course of study he later followed at Nanjing University. His initial lack of interest in geology had much to do with the way the subject was taught. “The focus was not on understanding the processes; we were forced to memorize lots of facts,” he explains. Instead, Liu’s earliest interest was in physics, which “just seemed more intuitive.” He began sitting in on a variety of lectures and found that he preferred learning about geophysics, the physics of the Earth, eventually earning a Ph.D. in that area from the University of Arizona.
In the most basic definition of his field, Kluever explains that engineers apply math and science knowledge to real problems, taking existing knowledge from mathematics and the physical sciences to construct some real device or to make some system better. “What do engineers do at work?” he laughs irreverently, “they go to a lot of meetings, they work on projects, and they try to stay on budget!”
Liu is a part of a collaborative pilot study with colleagues at MU and partners in China, trying to understand why intraplate earthquakes happen so frequently in northern China. Their research involves installing seismometers to image the Earth’s structure, using GPS to monitor crustal motion, and conducting computer simulations in order to understand how earthquakes occur.
“I always have to remind my students that computer simulation is an approximation of nature," says Liu. "The most useful part of computer simulation is to allow us to better understand the fundamental physics.”