Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Xilei Zhao, Assistant Professor, UF

Dr. Xilei Zhao, University of Florida

Dr. Xilei Zhao is an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s Department of Civil and Coastal Engineering. She specializes in data science applications for innovative mobility and evacuation.

Dr. Zhao came to UF after graduating from Johns Hopkins University, spending time as a research fellow at the University of Michigan and one year as a post-doctoral researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

As an undergraduate student in civil engineering at the Southeast University in Nanjing, China, Dr. Zhao’s interest in transportation was mostly at the infrastructure level, becoming fascinated in bridge and road design. However, it was during her graduate program that she began to see transportation through the lens of modeling interdependent systems, using high-level mathematics and statistics.

Data and computational science then became a core interest of hers when pursuing a doctoral degree in civil engineering at Johns Hopkins focusing on multi-scale community resilience modeling. This interest led her to complete a separate master’s degree in applied mathematics and statistics, also at Johns Hopkins, where she focused on traffic dynamics modeling using statistical methods.

“In the process of pursuing my Ph.D., I became very interested in transportation system modeling with tools in applied mathematics and statistics, so my master’s thesis in that area was focused on developing statistical methods to model urban traffic dynamics,” she said. “Since then, I became even more interested in transportation problems and spent two years of my postdoc in modeling Mobility-on-Demand Transit systems.”

Scooters are a type of micro-mobility that are becoming increasingly popular in some cities.

At UF, Dr. Zhao is leading a STRIDE-funded project related to micromobility as a solution to reduce congestion. Micro-mobility is an emerging form of transportation which involves shared electric bikes or scooters. The goal of the project is to create a decision-support tool for policy makers so they can make informed decisions on how to best incorporate micromobility in their cities. The STRIDE-funded project is titled “Micro-Mobility as a Solution to Reduce Urban Traffic Congestion,” and includes Dr. Virginia Sisiopiku from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Dr. Ruth Steiner of the University of Florida.

“This project can help key stakeholders (such as cities, MPOs, and state DOTs) understand how people are using micromobility in cities and under what scenarios micromobility can be used to reduce car trips and mitigate traffic congestions,” she said.

One of Dr. Zhao’s major research goals at UF is to create a bridge between transportation and resilience; she has initiated several research projects in evacuation behavior modeling, which can be found on her website at