Sarah Morton

Ph.D. Civil Engineering
Previous Institution: University of Connecticut
Hometown: Oxford, Connecticut
Primary office:

Why was the KU School of Engineering the right choice for you?

Applying and being accepted into the KU School of Engineering was a life-changing event for me.  I originally came to KU to work for the Kansas Geological Survey and pursue a Ph.D. in applied geophysics, but progressing through the geology program was not completely fulfilling my desire to investigate soil mechanics and their interactions with strong ground motions.  It took me two years, but after working on Kansas Geological Survey projects in conjunction with engineering firms and the KS Department of Transportation to me, I finally realized that the KU Civil (Geotechnical) Engineering program was where I belonged.  I then scheduled an appointment with Dr. McEnroe, who quickly introduced me to the Geotechnical engineering faculty, all of whom warmly welcomed me into their graduate program despite my few deficiencies in engineering.  

My defining moment came for me when I decided what my dissertation research was going to focus on, which would have never been possible without the opportunity to participate in the geotechnical research group here at KU.  Thanks to the regular research presentations, I was able to develop my own unique engineering geophysics project that aims to advance both fields while fulfilling my own interests that I have been seeking since I started university.

What are you currently researching?

My research focuses on using surface wave seismic methods to image changes in different material properties, which has been categorized as Engineering Geophysics.  While surface waves are typically associated with earthquakes, we are able to induce surface waves ourselves using an active source such as a weight drop or explosive to induce wave motion and observe shear-wave velocity changes as the surface waves move through a given medium.  Depending on the material, surface waves will propagate at a specific shear-wave velocity, which gives us an indication of the material's shear modulus or stiffness.   

Surface wave seismic methods allow us to noninvasively understand of what is happening beneath our feet at a less expensive cost compared to borehole drilling and trenching.   More specifically, I have been using surface wave techniques to image voids that are either man-made or geologic in nature all over the world.  Since these voids can endanger overlying buildings and bridges, it's my job to find them before they cause problems at the surface.

What is your favorite thing on campus or in Lawrence that a prospective student should check out?

This program has allowed me to shape my degree and research to be whatever I want it to be, as long as I complete the required coursework, which even that has flexibility.  Since my primary focus is geophysics, I have been able to maintain my position with the Kansas Geological Survey, which provides me with invaluable field experience to further develop my technical abilities including writing, data processing, interpretation, and presentation skills at national conferences every year.  The coursework and interactions I receive from engineering enables me to not only develop my engineering toolbox, but become a better geophysicist because of the interdisciplinary knowledge I am gaining.  

What advice do you have for prospective graduate students?

Research aside, I'm an avid runner and one of the best things I did was join the running community here in Lawrence with Ad Astra Running.  There are group runs every day and no matter your pace, there is always one (or 10) person(s) to run with!​  Grad school has it's ups and downs, so it incredibly important to find hobbies that you can do outside your research space.  Running is my release, what's yours?

Which committee are you on, and what would you like to do in the next year to help current graduate students?

I am on the Public Relations and Marketing committee and my goal over the next year is to help provide students with better information that highlights the research going on across the various departments within the KU School of Engineering.  Finding a graduate program and funding is hard enough, but finding information about the type of work and research groups that are available can be even more difficult whether it's finding the group website or translating select journal papers that professors have listed on their CVs.  I hope to make accessing and understanding that information easier for prospective students so that you can make find out which program is best for you.


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