Professor of Urban Informatics;
Director of Citizen Science
With degrees from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (MS, PhD), NYU (MEng), and Columbia University (BS, BA), Prof. Debra Laefer has a wide-ranging background spanning from geotechnical and structural engineering to art history and historic preservation. Not surprisingly, Prof. Laefer’s work often stands at the cross-roads of technology creation and community values such as devising technical solutions for protecting architecturally significant buildings from sub-surface construction. As the density of her aerial remote sensing datasets continues to grow exponentially with time, Prof. Laefer and her Urban Modeling Group must help pioneer computationally efficient storage, querying, and visualization strategies that both harness distributed computing-based solutions and bridge the gap between data availability and its usability for the engineering community.
In her decade and a half as a faculty member in both the US and Europe, Prof. Laefer has served as the principal investigator for grants from a wide range of sponsors including the National Science Foundation, the US Federal Highway Administration, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, Science Foundation Ireland, and the European Research Council (including a €1.5 million single investigator award from the flagship ERC program for which she is the only civil engineer to have been funded in Ireland).
Prof. Laefer has authored over 160 peer reviewed publications, been awarded 4 patents, and has supervised 15 doctoral and 20 Masters theses. Among many honors from IEEE, ISPRS, and other professional societies, the most notable is perhaps the 2016 commissioning and hanging of her portrait by the Royal Irish Academy as one of eight researchers selected to celebrate Irish women in science and engineering. She currently helps form national research programs and policies in her governmental appointment to the Irish Research Council (2016-2020).