Disaster-proof: Major CivMin lab upgrade lets engineers design structures that can better withstand earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis
Funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation will be used to acquire an adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module and other equipment for the Structural Testing Facility
A new adjustable multi-dimensional (AMD) loading system will soon be added to U of T Engineering’s Structural Testing Facility. (Image: Myron Zhong)
An upgraded facility at U of T Engineering — one that is unique in the world — will let engineers test next-generation infrastructure designed to be resilient in the face of natural disasters, from hurricanes to earthquakes.
A grant announced today from CFI’s Innovation Fund 2020 will fund a suite of new tools and equipment to be housed within U of T Engineering’s existing Structural Testing Facility. They will be used to design everything from elevated highways to high-rise residential buildings to nuclear power plants, including replacements for legacy structures across North America.
“Much of our infrastructure is decades old and needs to be replaced,” says Professor Constantin Christopoulos (CivMin), the project leader and Canada Research Chair in Seismic Resilience of Infrastructure.
“The scientific and engineering communities, along with governments and the private sector, are becoming increasingly aware of the inherent vulnerability of our infrastructure. We also need to design new structures to address new pressures, such as a rapidly growing Canadian population, and more frequent extreme weather scenarios due to a changing climate.”
The centrepiece of this new development is the world’s first fully movable, adjustable multidirectional, large-scale and large-capacity loading frame.
“This unique piece of equipment will allow structural elements and structural systems to be tested under more realistic loading conditions,” says Christopoulos. “We’ll be able to better simulate the complex effects of extreme loading events, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes or tsunamis.”
The adjustable, multi-dimensional loading module will be capable of applying up to a total of 2,000 tonnes of force in six translational and rotational directions for specimens of up to eight metres tall and thirty metres long.
The project will also include new state-of-the-art sensing equipment and the redesign of 500 square metres of lab space. Construction is expected to begin in 2022.
To make full use of it, Christopoulos will be working with a large team of experts from within and beyond U of T Engineering. Project partners include U of T Engineering professors Oh-Sung Kwon, Evan Bentz, Oya Mercan and Jeffrey Packer (all CivMin). This team is also collaborating with a team of structural engineering and large-scale testing experts at other leading North American facilities to develop, commission and use this unique equipment. Collaborating institutions include:
Western University’s WindEEE and Boundary Layer Wind Tunnels
University of British Columbia
University of Sherbrooke
University of Illinois
Once completed, the new facility will be used for research by 10 professors from U of T and their national and international collaborators. It is also expected that it will allow for dozens of unique graduate student research projects and industry tests every year once it is fully operational.
Together this team will be able to carry out a technique known as “distributed hybrid simulations.” This means that full-scale portions of real structures — such as concrete pillars or steel beams — will be tested simultaneously in each of these labs across North America.
By integrating all of these physical tests into a single numerical model, they can use the experimental feedback of each of the large-scale elements to more realistically simulate the response of the entire infrastructure system to extreme loading conditions. The data from the physical experiments will be integrated in real-time with models run using high-performance computers and the UT-SIM integration platform.
“This facility will enhance our capabilities not only here at U of T, and across Canada, but will position Canadian engineers as global leaders in the area of structural resilience” says Christopoulos. “It is a critical step toward designing the resilient cities of the future.”
Hart professorships boost research into medical diagnostics, smart cities and more
Seven new Hart Professorships will boost U of T Engineering research into technologies across a range of fields, from improved medical testing to more efficient transportation networks.
Created in 2016 by a landmark bequest from the estate of alumnus Erwin Edward Hart (CivE 4T0), the Percy Edward Hart and Erwin Edward Hart professorships are awarded to faculty members who are within the first 10 years of their careers. They provide increased research funding for a period of three years. Today’s announcement recognizes the second cohort to receive these awards.
“Each of these seven professors has demonstrated a high level of research excellence and exemplary graduate student mentorship,” said Christopher Yip, Dean, U of T Engineering. “These awards will accelerate their work and lead to innovations that can address some of the toughest challenges we face, from supplying safe water, to fighting cancer.”
Khandker Nurul Habib (CivMin), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Civil and Mineral Engineering Planning and optimizing transportation in the age of self-driving cars
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are poised to have a powerful impact on urban transportation. Yet our infrastructure — roads, rails, subways, parking lots — was designed and built well before the rise of AVs. Better design could enhance the benefits of AVs, while minimizing the risks.
Nurul Habib and his team are addressing this challenge. They are leveraging digital tools to gain a better picture of how people and goods move in our cities, and building new models to predict how our transportation behaviour will change as AVs become more widespread. Their ultimate goal is a decision-support tool that will help city planners make smarter decisions around transportation.
Oya Mercan (CivMin), Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Civil and Mineral Engineering Better testing for safer construction
A changing climate will bring more extreme weather events, including high winds. In order to understand the effects of these events on man-made structures, Mercan and her team combine computer models and large-scale dynamic experiments in a method known as real-time hybrid simulation, or RTHS.
RTHS models can compare the effectiveness of traditional construction methods with new and emerging methods, such as modular construction. In addition to high winds, it can also assess resilience to other natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Going forward, these tools will help civil engineers and architects proactively mitigate climate change and other challenges through good design, resulting in better, safer buildings.
David Taylor (CivMin, ISTEP), Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Global Engineering Enhancing global water supplies
The United Nations has declared access to safe water a human right. But for more than a billion people around the world, running water comes from “intermittent systems” that are only turned on some of the time. Before joining the Centre for Global Engineering, Taylor worked in places such as India to understand and model these systems, including how changes to them will impact factors such as operation costs and customer satisfaction.
Going forward, he plans to further validate and refine his models using sensors that measure pressure or acoustic responses in the pipes. His insights will inform strategies for operating intermittent systems in more efficient and equitable ways, as well as lower the costs of converting intermittent systems to continuous ones. Ultimately, the research will enable more people to access safe water.
Other U of T Engineering Professors who received Hart Professorships
Ben Hatton (MSE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Materials Science and Engineering Engineering safer surfaces
Hatton and his team study and design surfaces at the micro- and nanometre scale, and will use part of the award to study how bacteria exploit tiny crevices to hide from disinfectant products. The work has important implications for the fight against hospital-acquired infections, which affect hundreds of millions of patients each year.
Other projects include research into how certain plant leaves and insect exoskeletons have evolved to repel parasites, and a study that uses a ‘switchable adhesion’ material created by Hatton to enhance robotic gripping and assistive devices
Xinyu Liu (MIE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Microfluidic nanobiosensors for improved disease diagnosis
Liu and his team are exploring the potential of nanomaterials to enhance a class of medical devices known as point-of-care (POC) diagnostic biosensors. These low-cost tests take samples from a patient — such as a drop of blood — and run fast, reliable analyses for biomarkers associated with various diseases, without the need for complex and costly laboratory equipment.
One material, known as nanofibrillated cellulose, is created from wood and can be made into transparent paper that contains hollow channels. These channels can hold tiny samples in a way that makes them easy to analyze. Another material, molybdenum disulfide, provides a bio-electronic interface that can detect very small amounts of specific proteins, greatly increasing the sensitivity of diagnostics. The research has applications in the detection of prostate cancer, brain injuries and other disorders.
Josh Taylor (ECE), Percy Edward Hart Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering Optimizing power networks
Most of the power lines that supply electricity to cities and towns operate using alternating current (AC). But some direct current (DC) lines also exist, and they can have their advantages: for example, the 2003 Northeastern Blackout largely missed Quebec because most of its interconnections are DC lines. Over the past 10 years, the total installed capacity of DC lines worldwide has doubled.
Taylor and his team will optimize power networks that contain both AC and DC lines. Using analytical and computational tools from control theory and optimization, they can predict how the addition of new lines or the replacement of old ones would impact factors such as capital cost, operating costs and stability. The research aims to guide the creation of power grids that combine the best of both worlds to provide safe, reliable and efficient electricity.
Lidan You (MIE), Erwin Edward Hart Professor in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering A mechanical approach to fighting cancer
You and her team leverage their expertise in mechanical engineering to develop new ways of detecting and combating cancer. One example is the creation of microfluidic devices that can perform analytical chemistry tests that are less costly and more sensitive than current approaches. They are currently developing a microfluidic chip that can detect very low levels of clonal circulating plasma cells, which are considered a biomarker for aggressive forms of multiple myeloma.
Another example is the use of physical exercise and its alternatives to improve treatment. In breast cancer, exercise is known to have both psychological and physical benefits, including reduced risk of metastasis. However, some patients experience significant barriers to regular exercise. You is researching the use of high-frequency mechanical signals to create whole-body vibration, and assessing its potential as a supplement to traditional exercise.