On June 11, Auburn University welcomed a new structural engineering lab to Auburn’s campus as a part of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. The dedication ceremony took place at 4 p.m. in the new facility, on the corner of Shug Jordan Parkway and West Samford Avenue.
Andy Nowak, chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has deemed the $22 million state-of-the-art laboratory “a revolution in structural engineering.” The building has been named the Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory [ASEL], a 42,000-sqaure-foot feat.
"The main types of research that go on in the lab are related to structural engineering and geotechnical engineering,” Justin Marshall, director of the Advanced Structural Engineering Laboratory, said. “Basically, we do tests on different types of buildings and bridges and other infrastructure. And because of the size and the scale of the things that we build, the lab itself has to be pretty large.”
The building includes a high bay laboratory and will accommodate elements up to 140 feet. It is appropriately outfitted with strong architecture specially engineered to handle large testing loads.
“The main feature of the of the building is what we call our high base structures lab, or our large-scale structures lab,” Marshall said. “It has the capability to test full-size, full-scale structural components that would be used in buildings, bridges, electrical poles, [and] light poles.”
Within the lab, there is an area meant specifically for looking at the properties of concrete materials. There, engineering students with possess the equipment needed to create concrete, mix it and batch it. Once the process is complete, the properties can be tested.
“The idea is to complete research to help us understand the properties of concrete throughout the lifespan– from the mixing all the way to the application– as well as improve the properties,” Marshall said. “And for very special applications, to help us understand how to minimize cracking and other bad effects that occur with concrete. Essentially, concrete is about the most used material in infrastructure, and buildings around the world… It's used quite extensively.”
A 4,700-cubic-foot geotechnical chamber is included in the layout within the strong floor. This is one of the few chambers in the nation included in a university laboratory. It will allow geotechnical researchers within the department to conduct testing on foundations, anchorages and towers. Prior to ASEL, this kind of testing was only possible in the field.
“A geotechnical chamber is actually one of the most unique aspects of the high bay structures lab,” Marshall said. “When we do tests, we attach whatever we're testing directly to a very heavy, stiff concrete floor [the strong floor] … This gives us the ability to test the system as a whole with the structure, the foundation and the soil … It’s a very unique capability. I'm not aware of any other labs least in the United States that have the geotechnical chamber within the strong floor.”
The space is also home to wind-testing capabilities that are able to replicate hurricane-level loads. Here, a pressure-loading actuator is used to replicate the variability in pressures that occur during major wind events,” Marshall said.
Of course, the lab would not be complete without its multiple faculty and graduate student spaces, creating a comfortable environment for Auburn engineers to grow and flourish in.
“It really is going to put us on the map as the premier structural engineering lab, definitely in the southeast United States, and it's gonna put us right up there near the top,” Marshall said.
For more information, visit the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering website at https://eng.auburn.edu/leader/structural.
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Emery Lay, junior in journalism, is a lifestyle writer at The Auburn Plainsman.