Finite element mesh generation

30 December 2015

Dr Daniel S H Lo (Croucher Senior Research Fellowship 2004) is a professor and structure engineer in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Hong Kong. Lo is a leading researcher in the field of finite element mesh generation – the process of partitioning an object of interest, such as an airplane or a building, into simple and well-defined elements for computer simulations. 

The method of finite element analysis is a numerical technique that simulates the behaviour of a complex object by dividing the object into a finite number of well-defined components, with relatively well understood properties that are analytically trackable. For example, in building design, engineers would break down the building structure into wall panels, floor slabs, and joints, and carry out analysis that optimises building designs.

Critical to finite element analysis is a process called mesh generation, which automatically breaks down the object into discrete elements – a research topic that Lo has been focusing on for the past 30 years. For simple structures, such as two-dimensional objects or three-dimensional objects or surfaces, the structure can be decomposed into meshes of simple triangular or tetrahedral elements. This process is well studied and has been used extensively in computer simulations and building designs. However, many engineering structures such as spaceship, aircraft, or laminated composite materials, are curved in shape and/or have layers, and for these structures, engineers have to apply complex curvilinear, shell, or higher-dimensional elements to describe the object, but little has been done in curved composite structures. This is a current research focus in Lo’s laboratory. 

Over the past decade, Lo has been in the forefront of this area, having developed techniques that combine shell and plate elements to curved surfaces, and published over 20 journal articles on the mesh generation and the analysis of composite structures.

Apart from advancing our ability to model structures with complex geometry, Lo’s research has also made significant contributions in understanding the impact of earthquakes on buildings in Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong is not located in a seismically active area, research has indicated that there is still a 6-12% chance that Hong Kong may experience an earthquake within a 100 kilometer radius in the next 50 years. Given that many buildings in Hong Kong were built on reclaimed land, and the lack of seismic considerations in building design, a rigorous assessment of the impact of earthquakes on building stability is important. As a result, Lo’s laboratory has designed a procedure based on finite element simulation which allows engineers to evaluate the structural response of reinforced-concrete buildings based solely on ordinary structural analysis software.

With his experience in mesh generation research, Lo has recently written a book that provides a comprehensive review of the application of finite element mesh generation over 2D domains, curved surfaces, and 3D space (“Finite Element Mesh Generation”, CRC Press 2015). The book has received favourable reviews from researcher within the field.


Lo graduated with B.Sc.(eng.-civil) and M.Ph. degrees at the University of Hong Kong and Doc-Ing degree at L’ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees of Paris, France in 1986. He joined the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Hong Kong in 1988, and has been a professor since 2000. He has published more than 170 internationally referred journal papers and 70 conference papers; two books, “Finite Element Implementation” by Blackwell Science in 1996 co-authored with professors Y.K. Cheung and A.Y.T. Leung and “Finite Element Mesh Generation” by CRC Press in 2015. Lo is a senior member of IEEE and a fellow of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers. Apart from research work and daily teaching activities, Lo is currently a member of the Steering Committee of the code of practice for the structural use of glass.