CHEI serves as a catalyst, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of students, postdoctoral researchers, research scientists, staff and faculty in collaboration with the public and private sector, to transform how world cultural heritage is assessed, monitored, preserved and restored.Meet the Team
CHEI’s amazing students are the rosetta stone of its success and their talents are broadly recognized through fellowhips, awards and other recognitions. Paired with truly dedicated staff, researchers, faculty and external collaborators, disruptive thingking and innovation are in our DNA.LEARN MORE
Imagine the overall impact on cultural identity if artifacts that embody the history of a country are damaged or destroyed. Now expand this to a global scale. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines heritage as “…our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.” Whether in the public domain or in private hands, cultural heritage sits at the nexus of science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics (STEAM), as well as commerce, diplomacy, religion and more. Recent events again demonstrated the fragile state of our world cultural heritage and built infrastructure in the face of natural and man-made disasters. These disasters, in addition to the ravages of time, pollution, theft, fatigue, overexposure, mismanagement, and the unintended consequences of existing efforts to preserve our cultural patrimony, have all taken a major toll on monuments, structures, sculptures, paintings, archaeological and other artifacts that constitute cultural heritage. Now, engineering offers the best hope for improving stewardship of these cultural assets and reversing decades or even centuries of damage.
The Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative (CHEI) is focused on “engineering a future for the past,” creating a novel, interdisciplinary research, education and training program to promote a culture of exploration and discovery with technological innovation to advance the development of diagnostic methodologies, analytical models, tools and systems for use in the documentation, analysis and conservation of historic artifacts. The past has shaped who we are and who we hope to be. Our team has demonstrated that a common desire to learn from, advocate for and preserve the past is a powerful enabler for collaboration and innovation. The material and intellectual products of that collaboration and innovation extend well beyond the world of ancient places. This activity can be a catalyst to attract and nurture talent in the form of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who are eager to apply engineering skills to safeguarding our cultural treasures. Cultural heritage engineering can also seed interdisciplinary collaborations, create a sense of ownership, belonging and pride, foster self discovery and develop professional skills for the international workplace. CHEI shapes the field of cultural heritage engineering through an international research network that gives student trainees access to structures, historic monuments, works of art and other artifacts that, quite simply, are among the most valuable ever created.
CHEI has its roots in the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3), which over the past five years alone, has supported a total of 24 domestic Ph.D. students. Seven of them are now tenure-track faculty and two others are research scientists, while others are in their dream R&D positions in industry. We increased the participation of women to well above the typical level found in most engineering disciplines. The center also inspired over 200 participating undergraduate students, many of whom subsequently pursued graduate school. The program contributed to the creation of one-of-a-kind research (125+ publications), curricula (6 new courses) and training opportunities as well as shared-use facilities, making CHEI at UC San Diego the premier venue for cultural heritage diagnostics. On the way, the center seeded multiple new campus-wide initiatives, two spin-offs based on technology licensed from the university, and five startup companies expanding on our research. This work also captured public attention through active media work. Among extensive coverage in mainstream media, the National Geographic Society and NOVA produced three feature-length documentaries about our work, which were broadcast globally. CHEI proves that innovation in engineering, medicine, education, training and entrepreneurism can thrive in an ecosystem aimed at creating diversity and excellence in interdisciplinary research. Beyond its success, CHEI creates strong synergy among students, faculty and professional staff, and clearly demonstrates that experiential learning must be at the core of creating tomorrows talent pool and with it a future for the past.