MSCE 1977, Ph.D. 1980
Vice President Engineering
Panama Canal Authority
Luis Alfaro was born in Panama and received his Civil Engineering degree from the University of Panama in 1976. He was strongly attracted to Soil Mechanics.
He traveled to Indiana with his wife Laury, where they joined the Purdue community later that year. He obtained his MSCE in Geotechnical Engineering in 1977, and she her degree in Dietetics in 1979. He enjoyed learning from Professor Harr's development of probabilistic concepts in Engineering. His book: "Mechanics of Particulate Media" left a lasting impression. He continued working mostly on slope stability issues with Professor Harr until he completed his PhD in 1980. That same year their first son Luis was born in Lafayette. A second son, Juan (who later graduated from Purdue) and a daughter, Laura followed in the next several years.
Back in Panama, Alfaro worked in a private design office until he joined the Panama Canal's Engineering Division in 1983. The work involved a total immersion in the complex geologic environment of Gaillard Cut, the segment of the Canal that crosses the isthmus' continental divide. His education at Purdue enabled significant contributions to a systematic organization of observations and their causal relationships with developing slides.
In 1991, Alfaro was selected as manager of the Canal's Geotechnical Branch. The projected growth of marine traffic, motivated projects to increase the Canal's capacity. Foremost among these was the widening of Gaillard Cut to enable two-way traffic of larger ships.
In 1997, Alfaro was promoted to Manager of the Canal's Engineering Division, which required attention to a greater variety of issues.
Efforts in recent years have been divided between technical support to the Canal Expansion Program, maintenance and improvement of existing structures, and an integral risk mitigation program that strives for a balanced exposure of the Canal's vital structures to a variety of risks. Seismic risk began to be appreciated and investigated. The great significance of caring for Panama's greatest asset is a permanent source of motivation for the entire engineering group. In 2007, he was appointed Vice-President of Engineering of the Canal.
He notes the dramatic contrast between the difficulties experienced during construction of the Canal, and the experience of recent major improvement projects. The conclusion is that the enormous advances the profession has achieved during the past century are truly amazing.