Discussing current issues in engineering
Associate Professor Osman Ozbulut at the University of Virginia is no stranger to earthquakes after experiencing them while growing up in Elazığ, Turkey.
The first student in Texas A&M’s civil engineering department to deeply research shape memory alloys, Dr. Ozbulut currently teaches at UVA’s Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. He later set up the Resilient and Advanced Infrastructure Laboratory at UVA. Since 2012, the professor’s time at UVA has been largely dedicated to building resilient, sustainable civil infrastructure systems, and his research on building material is one way to contribute to new engineering design while benefiting communities that suffer from natural disasters.
Dr. Ozbulut’s point of focus in his research are shape memory alloys because they are easily installed, effective, and resilient. The damper system is “the first shape memory alloy-based device that has the potential to be easily and cheaply fabricated to protect buildings from earthquakes in the future.” The device would essentially “absorb” the destructive energy of an earthquake and bounce back to its original shape, keeping buildings largely undamaged.
Studies show that the majority of deaths during earthquakes are due to the collapse of poorly built structures, but if new technologies like this are widely implemented, buildings would take the brunt of the damage while protecting those inside—and buildings themselves wouldn’t suffer as much damage. The technology is still being tested but results look promising! To read more about Dr. Ozbulut’s research on smart metals, see the full article here.
Record rainfall in the past weeks has highlighted the need for improved dam infrastructure after two dams failed in Michigan, and one potential dam failure in southwestern Virginia led to thirteen evacuated homes as a safety precaution.
The two dams that failed in Michigan were high-hazard dams, following a pattern of two-thirds of the state’s dams that are in a similar condition. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials (ASDSO) estimates at least $23 billion in funding is needed to repair high risk state dams across the nation.
Creating and supporting funding efforts by federal and state governments is essential for dam repair because, unlike other infrastructures, most dams in the U.S. are privately owned, which leaves owners responsible for financial upkeep. Occasional upgrades and maintenance are necessary for dams to continue serving their purpose. Deterioration over time, changes in requirements, and a given area’s precipitation can all lead to needed repairs.
Luckily, there are legislations addressing dam infrastructure currently making their way through federal approval. Last week Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Dam Safety Improvement Act, which would better support the existing dam program and additionally provides better definitions for technical terms. The American Society of Civil Engineers fully supports this legislation, as dams are vital structures in protecting communities and driving the economy forward. The ASCE also hopes for the passing of the bipartisan America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2020, which would authorize increased infrastructure projects and awaits a vote in the Senate.
In a paper published by the Structural Health Monitoring journal, researchers give details on how they created an AI system to analyze and assess the damage of bolt connections in metallic structures.
The AI system, named SHMnet, was trained using four repeated datasets and showed a 100% success rate when identifying damage in test structures. SHMnet could be incredibly useful to structural engineers, civil engineers, and government organizations who are responsible for and consistently monitor the structural integrity of metal structures like bridges, towers, dams, and other metal structures. With more fine-tuning, this machine learning algorithm would make engineers’ jobs easier and more accurate while making large structures safer to the public.
Researcher Dr. Ying Wang, one of the paper’s authors and Assistant Professor at the University of Surrey, writes, “While there is more to do, such as testing SHMnet under different vibration conditions and obtaining more training data, the real test is for this system to be used in the field where a reliable, accurate, and affordable way of monitoring infrastructure is sorely needed.”
We love hearing about ongoing developments in the field and hope you do, too! To read more about this study, see the full article here on the University of Surrey’s website.
In this month’s issue of the ASCE’s Civil Engineering magazine, Robert L. Reid and Laurie A. Shuster published a study done on the best places to work in Civil Engineering in the country—and parts of Virginia made the top 10 list!
The study began by studying salary but eventually added in other factors to their index score. Cost of living and job availability were considered alongside average salary to determine the best place for civil engineers to live and work. Houston, Texas claimed the number one spot on the list with an overall score of 264.8. The list puts Washington, D.C. at fourth place with an index of 208.8, but the city listing includes parts of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia with their consideration.
A driving force behind the region’s success is the federal government, which provides contracting jobs well beyond D.C.’s city limits. Virginia’s Department of Transportation provides ample work for transportation engineers that is unlikely to disappear anytime soon considering constant developments in public transportation in the region. D.C. also launched Sustainable D.C. in 2013, a program intended to make the city a healthy, environmentally friendly city to be in. With plans to increase renewable energy use significantly by 2032, environmental engineers have plenty to work to do in the South Atlantic.
Amazon’s recent announcement to locate its second headquarters in Virginia, along with the state’s rapid population growth, also benefit people who work or plan to start working in the area as multifunctional development becomes even more important. To read more about the details of this study, see the ASCE’s article here.
Charles Durrett, co-author of the book State-of-the-Art Cohousing: Lessons Learned from Quimper Village along with Alexandria Levitt, writes about the benefits cohousing communities are providing for residents living in unprecedented times.
Cohousing is a planned, collaborative housing community consisting of private homes, typically clustered around shared common spaces. While cohousing living is a lifestyle anyone can choose, it is especially beneficial for seniors or others who want to live in private homes without losing the sense of a tight-knit community.
Residents at the cohousing complex Durrett interviewed in Port Townsend, Washington showed how the benefits of cohousing are especially helpful during a global pandemic, when people are advised to stay home and go out only for necessities such as groceries. Cohousing complexes often host social activities for residents, but with new social distancing regulations in place, people are finding ways to improvise.
“We do not feel like we are socially isolated” said a resident of Mountain View Senior Cohousing. “At Durrett’s community like most others, folks are picking up prescriptions, groceries, and more for folks who should not venture out, as well as social activities at a distance.”
Staying home is an important way for us all to help combat the virus, but it’s important to keep in touch with our local communities too! For the full article, see here at the Civil + Structural Engineer Magazine.
The Governance Lab at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering has collaborated with the Federation of American Scientists and the State of New Jersey Office of Innovation to launch a free tool called “Ask a Scientist,” where users can find answers from science experts about the Coronavirus outbreak.
The tool was developed as a response to a wide spread of misinformation and unreliable tips on how to protect oneself from the virus. Answers include a range of commonly asked questions related to the virus, such as methods of prevention and steps you can take if you feel symptoms.
“We are getting all hands on deck and engaging a global volunteer network of scientists, journalists and other experts to lend their know-how to provide rapid and accurate information that will help slow the spread of this disease and mitigate its impact,” says Professor Beth Simon Noveck, director of The GovLab and Chief Innovation Officer for the State of New Jersey.
“Ask a Scientist” pulls its information from verified sources including the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Users also have the option to submit a new question if they can’t find an answer they want already listed on the website. The site attracts around 4,000 users a day and includes translations in Spanish, Portuguese, Farsi, and Malagasy to make international questions and answers possible. As of March 20th “Ask a Scientist” will also be live on Amazon—try saying “Alexa, ask a scientist” followed by a COVID-19 question to access the tool by voice!
Misinformation can spread as quickly as a pandemic, and it’s important to stay informed on the best ways to slow its reach across the globe. Crowdsourcing fact-checked information is one way scientists are contributing to serving the public during an unprecedented time when facts are more important than ever.
Those who travel through Harrisonburg’s busy Port Republic Road have likely noticed construction work happening at the northbound I-81 exit intersection this week.
Crews are doing infrastructure work needed for realignment and plan to be completed this summer. The project will ultimately align the I-81 northbound off-ramp with Forest Hill Road in order to make the intersection safer. The city deliberately planned the bulk of the work to take place during James Madison University’s spring break to avoid as much traffic as possible while many students travel for the week.
VDOT awarded Harrisonburg a Virginia Department of Transportation Smart Scale grant for this realignment, showing its value and the importance of keeping up to date with street improvements in the city. While construction work can be a pain to drivers who frequent Port Republic, this project’s purpose is to make a busy intersection more breathable in the long run and will ultimately improve drivers’ experience on Port.
A team of geographers in Wales, UK, have recently found a way to insert real landscapes into virtual headsets, allowing people to evaluate land without leaving the office. The $7.74 million program is handled by the Welsh government and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Initially intended to give aspiring young engineers a chance to evaluate landscapes, the project is an effort to introduce sustainable land management. Scientists needed feedback from the public to evaluate the impact of certain landscapes but found that there were few responses from people under the age of 25. To help close the age gap, Professor Ruth Swetnam and Jan Korenko decided to insert mapped landscapes into a gaming system, allowing a virtual reality (VR) experience for survey participants.
The two researchers suggest that VR could be an efficient way of involving more young people in similar surveys in the future. Professor Swetnam concluded that monitoring and assessing landscapes is essential “as they are currently swiftly changing due to climate change.”
VR could help researchers keep track of the ways landscapes change over time, but if it becomes more widely-available over time, it could potentially be used to make surveying more accessible without requiring a physical site visit. Realistic virtual models could make surveyors’ jobs easier and give them the ability to share survey information with more people. For more information on this developing research, see the full article on geoengineer.org.
NASA has recently turned to a team of experts in academia, including civil and structural engineers, to consider the feasibility of space habitats on the moon.
Ramesh Malla, a professor at the University of Connecticut, believes civil engineers will play a key role in designing space habitats because it’s similar to work they’ve been doing “since human civilization began.” Civil engineers are accustomed to addressing the challenges of building structures in various environments, which makes them especially suited to take the lead on these kinds of projects.
In the spring of 2019, NASA established new research institutes that plan to test out habitat prototypes, spacecrafts, robotic maintenance, and other aspects of space-life that could come in handy if life outside Earth becomes a reality. A NASA habitat challenge asked contestants to conceptualize and “build” a shelter to replicate what human shelters might look like in space. The winning prototype was 3-D printed and can be constructed by robots using materials indigenous to Mars. Researchers will have to contend with low gravity, harsh conditions, and other factors not usually considered when designing a typical building.
Thinking about human habitation on Mars and the moon might seem far-fetched for the near future but conceptualizing these kinds of habitats can actually still be useful. Many versatile designs can be adapted and used on Earth, as can other developments that arise out of this research.
For more information about our potential future on the moon, see the full article here on the ASCE website.
On Tuesday, January 14th, the City Council will hear the first phase of Harrisonburg’s Environmental Action Plan (EAP) at Council Chambers. The EAP is “a guide for city leaders, staff, and community members to implement sustainability visions and principles,” according to the draft released by the Environmental Performance Standards Advisory Committee.
The plan has three phases, the first of which will focus on developing strategies to strengthen the City’s environmental sustainability and laying the groundwork for future phases on the plan. This phase will be split into six specific areas:
So far, the City has already taken steps for environmental sustainability, like stream bank restoration projects, LED traffic lights, and a reliable, low-cost public bus system. Phase I will lay the foundation for future phases of EAP development and implementation of proposed strategies. By adopting the plan, the City hopes to improve public health and air quality, reduce congestion, and increase the safety and wellness of our Harrisonburg community.
For more details on the EAP, see the full draft here on the city’s website.
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