New Civil Engineering Lab Helps Foster First-Class Research and Teaching
By Catherine Probst
If the sound of rushing water greets you as you enter the new civil engineering laboratory, don’t be alarmed. It’s just the sound of the five-meter-long hydraulic flume as it measures the velocity of several gallons of water to help civil engineering students learn the principles of channel design.
This is just one of the impressive new additions to the 1,250-square-foot laboratory in the Volgenau School of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering (CEIE). More than a year in the making, the lab has been fully operational for the past several months and is proving to be a vital asset to the learning and teaching capabilities of the department.
The creation of the lab was made possible by a generous gift from Northern Virginia businessman Sidney O. Dewberry and his wife, Reva. The $1 million gift to the university was used to establish the Sid and Reva Dewberry Fund and support the CEIE Department. Also instrumental in getting the lab up and running by donating construction services were Balfour Beatty, Lane Construction, and Shirley Contracting.
“The need for a civil engineering lab has been a priority for the department for many years, and we are so grateful that the Dewberrys have made this generous donation,” says Mason geotechnical engineering professor Laura Kosoglu. “The lab helps solidify the department as a reputable civil engineering program and creates opportunities for students to gain a better understanding of the various multidisciplinary principles and theories in the field.”
Since the lab officially opened, more than 300 students in CEIE have shuffled in and out of its doors. From measuring open-channel flow properties to analyzing the strength of soil and steel to surveying traffic patterns, the projects the lab has seen have run the gamut.
According to Kosoglu, the lab allows the department’s undergraduate and graduate students to supplement their classroom learning with hands-on training in a variety of areas, including water resources engineering, geotechnical engineering, structural engineering, environmental engineering, and transportation engineering.
“The lab allowed me to get more hands-on experience and helped bring research projects to life,” says Sean Lindenmuth, BS Civil and Infrastructure Engineering ’13, recalling a project he worked on last year that involved a biomediated ground improvement technique.
“In addition, because many engineering concepts can be difficult to understand, the lab offers students more opportunities to work with one another and learn together.”
In addition to the hydraulic flume, the lab boasts some of the leading-edge equipment in the engineering field, most of which was donated from various engineering and construction companies, utility companies, Mason alumni, and other professional engineers.
Some of the equipment include a triaxial testing machine used to measure the mechanical properties of solids such as sand and clay; a benchtop testing machine used to test the compressive and tensile strength of materials such as concrete, steel, and plastic; a spectrophotometer, microscopes, dissolved oxygen sensors, colorimeters, and pH meters to measure the water quality of local streams and lakes; surveying equipment such as total stations to collect topographic data; and traffic data collectors to analyze traffic patterns, such as at various intersections on campus.
The lab also supports undergraduate extracurricular design activities, such as those undertaken by the Mason student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Mason Engineers for International Development. Earlier this year, students from both organizations took full advantage of the lab’s resources when working on two very different projects–the construction of a concrete canoe and the creation of a sand filter for a Peruvian village.
Kosoglu also notes that the lab will be vital in recruiting, retaining, and promoting high-caliber faculty and graduate students. CEIE faculty are already making good use of the lab.
For example, Mason geotechnical and geological engineering professor Burak Tanyu frequently uses the lab for his research on sustainable materials in road construction and earth-retaining structures, as well as characterization of geohazards such as landslides and sinkholes.
“The creation of the civil engineering laboratory has already had a profound impact on the success of the department in allowing opportunities for students and faculty to explore more extensive and comprehensive research and teaching activities. We are very thankful to all who contributed to the construction of this facility,” says Tanyu. “The department is in an excellent position to expose students to fundamental theories and methods that will prepare them for real-world situations.”
Tanyu plans to use the lab for further research evaluating the use of recycled concrete aggregate in conjunction with drainage filters used in roadways, as well as to teach a graduate-level course on how to evaluate soil properties for engineering design.
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